A poet's pen name
The names given to the various styles of martial arts found around the world are as varied as the people who created them.
Each culture places it's own particular imprint on what is created within it's borders, and the art of Shotokan Karate is no different.
Founded by an Okinawan school teacher named Gichin Funakoshi, Shotokan Karate-Do, as his style is known today, officially took it's first breath in Tokyo Japan. For it was here that Sensei Funakoshi opened his first dojo in Zoshigaya, Toshima Ward, in the Spring of 1936.
The name Shotokan, however, came about as a result of events that took place in Sensei Funakoshi's youth.
As a young man he would often walk into the hills and the pine forests surrounding his Okinawan home town of Shuri, where as he says, "he would often listen to the sound of the rustle of the pines when the wind blew". In his book 'Karate-do, My Way of Life" he says, "to me the murmur was a kind of celestial music.
As a result of his love for these forests he decided to adopt a "pen name" with which to sign all of his calligraphy and poems. Master Funakoshi therefore got into the habit of signing all his works with the name "Shoto". In Japanese "Sho" literally translates into "pine" and the word ""to" translates into "waving" hence, "Shoto" means "waving pines".
The word "kan" on the other hand means "hall or building", and so when his students were asked where they went to study karate they would say, " to "Shoto's kan" or the "hall of the waving pines" and so over time the name "Shotokan" became associated with Sensei Gichin Funakoshi and his particular style of karate.
Today the name Shotokan is recognized world wide and is the only style of karate in Japan that is sponsored by the Ministry of Education.
Along with the name Shotokan, Sensei Funakoshi's style of karate is also identified by it's symbol, that of a Tiger surrounded by a circle. This design came about as the result of Sensei Funakoshi's meeting with the painter Hoan Kosugi in Tokyo shortly after his arrival. In fact it was Hoan Kosugi who encouraged him to write a reference book on the subject of karate-do. This ultimately led to his first book "Ryukyu Kempo" being published by Bukyosha, in 1922.
The tiger symbol was then drawn for Sensei Funakoshi's book by Hoan Kosugi. The irregular appearance of the circle it's self suggests that it was drawn free hand and with one continuous stroke of his brush. The kanji found in the upper right hand corner is Hoan Kosugi's own name.
Why the Tiger was selected is not entirely clear and while there are several theories, all are speculation as far as I can tell, and as such I will not elaborate on them here.
Suffice to say that without either the name Shoto-Kan, or the symbol of the Tiger, our art would in many ways be greatly diminished.
What master Gichin Funakoshi said,
"The great virtues of karate are prudence and humility"
Part the clouds - see the way.
"The objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
of the human spirit through physical and mental training."
Sensei Peter Lindsay