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What is Shotokan?

Shotokan is a Japanese style of karate founded by Gichin Funakoshi (1868 – 1957). Master Funakoshi brought together two systems of martial arts that flourished in his native Okinawa to form a new system called Shotokan. Shotokan advocates advancement, but in the quality of individual technique rather than in superficial knowledge of numerous techniques. Shotokan instructors advocate the belief that proper study eliminates ego and promotes hard honest work, humility, and excellence. Shotokan students are distinguished by their excellent posture, low stances, and hip power. (The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia)

The Shotokan Tiger

Master Funakoshi’s pen name “Shoto,” literally means “pine waves,” and today is synonymous with the tiger symbol and Shotokan Karate-do. When Master Funakoshi was a young man, he enjoyed walking in solitude among the pine trees which surrounded his home of Shuri. After a hard day of teaching in the local school and several more hours of strenuous karate practice, he would often walk up Mt. Torao and meditate among the pine trees under the stars and bright moon. Mt. Torao is a very narrow, heavily wooded mountain which, when viewed from a distance, the road going up the mountain resembles a tiger’s tail. The name Torao, in fact, literally means “tiger’s tail.”

red tiger 1In later life, Master Funakoshi explained that the cool breezes which blew among the pines on Mt. Torao made the trees whisper like waves breaking on the shore. Thus, since he gained his greatest poetic inspiration while walking among the gently blowing pine trees, he chose the pen name of Shoto, “pine waves.”

The tiger commonly used as the symbol for Shotokan karate is a traditional Chinese design that implies “the tiger never sleeps.” Symbolized in the Shotokan tiger, therefore, is the keen alertness of the wakeful tiger and the serenity of the peaceful mind which Master Funakoshi experienced while listening to the pine waves on Tiger’s Tail Mountain.

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