Some time back while attending a seminar with Kanazawa shihan, on several occasions, I heard him say have zanshin,like a tiger, when in training,and also in normal life, when working or playing, it is important to know zanshin also when relaxed, after the class I was approached by a black belt shodan who asked me, Sensei, why is the tiger the symbol of s.k.i. and other Shotokan groups, "there are no tigers in Japan" this urged me to research one of the symbols of Shotokan karate do, "the Shotokan tiger".
We are all familiar with the symbol of the rising sun, proudly displayed on hundreds of thousands of dogi's, world-wide, and can immediately associate it with Japan, but the Shotokan tiger!! Where did this concept come from.
The idea for the tiger came from a famous Japanese artist, Hoan Kosugi, who was the president of the Tabata poplar club, a artists guild, and who was a very important figure in the development of Shotokan karate-do in Japan.
It was Kosugi, and judo master Jigoro Kano sensei, who encouraged, o sensei Gichin Funakoshi, to teach karate in Japan in the early part of this century, when he arrived from Okinawa. Some time later, Hoan Kosugi promised Funakoshi shihan, that if he would write a book about karate,he Kosugi, would design a symbol for the cover of the book, when Funakoshi wrote the book, "RyuKyu Kempo, Tode", Kosugi produced the now world famous Shotokan tiger in 1922.
His idea for the tiger came from the expression, "Tora no maki" which in Japanese tradition, is the official written document, of a art or system, which is used as the definitive reference source for that particular art, since no book had ever being written about karate do, Kosugi told Funakoshi shihan, that his book was the Tora no maki, of karate-do.,, And since Tora also means tiger he designed the tiger, as a representation of o sensei's work.
Like many historical facts, this has also being shrouded by the mists of time, to legend, and philosophical argument, one of the most popular of these symbolic explanations, is that when Funakoshi was a young man on Okinawa, in his home town of Shuri he would often walk up Mount Torao, and train and meditate among the pine trees, Mount Torao is a very narrow, heavily wooded mountain, which when viewed from a distance, resembles a "tigers tail", the name Torao, in fact means "tigers tail"
In the last years of his life Funakoshi shihan, would often speak of his time on Mount Torao, as a young man, and remember the cool breeze blowing from the mountain, with the scent of pine's carried by it, and the sound of the trees whisper like waves breaking on the sea shore, since he had gained some of his greatest poetic inspirations, while meditating, and training on mis pine mountain, he chose the pen name of shoto, which means "pine waves".,, The symbol of the shoto-kan tiger, is similar to a traditional Chinese design, which implies that the tiger never sleeps. For many modern practitioners of karate-do the Shotokan tiger has come to symbolise,the zanshin, of the wakeful tiger, and the serenity of the peaceful mind, which o sensei Gichin Funakoshi, experienced, while meditating on Mount Tora in Okinawa in the latter half of the last century.
This article is kindly reproduced with permission from the author, Greg Manning.