Gichin Funakoshi’s pen name “Shoto” literally means ‘pine waves’, and today is synonymous with the tiger symbol and Shotokan Karate-do. But few people understand the relationship of Shoto to what is commonly known as the “Shotokan Tiger”. When Gichin Funokoshi was a young man, he enjoyed walking in solitude among the pine trees which surrounded his home town 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 Mount Torao and meditate among the pine trees. Mount Torao is a very narrow, heavily wooded mountain which, when viewed from a distance, resembles a tiger’s tail. The name “Torao” in fact literally means “tiger’s tail”.
In later life, Funakoshi explained that the cool breezes which blew among the pines made the trees whisper like waves breaking on the shore. Thus, since he gained his greatest poetic inspirations while walking there, he chose the pen name of Shoto, “pine waves”.
The tiger which is commonly used as the symbol for Shotokan karate is a traditional Chinese design which implies that “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 Gichin Funakoshi experienced while listening to the pine waves on Tiger’s Tail Mountain.