The Shotokan Tiger
Sports competition, although spectacular and with great appeal for spectators, represents only a small aspect of Karate, because it is not the competition with its victories and defeats that is at the forefront of our efforts, but the intense and consistent training, the analysis of the intricate and complex movements in Karate with the goal not only to command mind and body, but also to bring them in harmony. Time and again, the great old karate masters, and not only the Japanese, focus on the educational value of our martial art when insisting on having Karate taught as “Do” (path).
The term “Do” means something like “path through life” or “path to shaping one’s life” and includes the path to self-perfection.
Thus, Karate is closely associated with the spirit of Zen and influenced by the Bushido - the code of honor of the Samurai warrior.
The goal of all martial arts of the Samurai is to incapacitate the enemy with lightning speed and preferably in one move (Ikken Hissatsu). Even today, this objective is still at the basis of Karate.
First of all, this is an inhumane and destructive objective which demands without fail a commitment to the moral value system of a mature personality.
Thus, Karate instruction has the great task and challenge to teach the student to recognize and understand his responsibility and to teach him to always keep one’s emotions under control.
Strength and superiority should manifest themselves in assertiveness and confidence. To avoid hubris and arrogance, the karate student must learn respect, courteousness, modesty, yes, even humility: as a sign of absolute respect towards others and as proof of his self-control.
The tiger crest – the Shotokan Karate emblem we all know – illustrates very well the goals and intentions of Karate-do. We see a tiger depicted within a circle. (Design by the Japanese artist Hoan Kosugi, a friend and student of Funakoshi Gichin).
Both elements of the image – the tiger and the circle – are of particular importance.
For that matter, the tiger represents the animalism, ferocity, courage, unrestrained combativeness, primal power and absolute determination.
To fight successfully requires learning to fight like the tiger.
However, the tiger is not depicted unrestricted, but shown in a circle and thus constrained. In turn, the circle represents reason and the human spirit.
To fight victoriously and honorably requires control of one’s emotions and calmness.
The circle (i. e. the mind) encloses the tiger thereby taming it.
Reason and the human spirit prevail over the animalistic powers, rule and control them, in order to harness them if needed.
In my opinion, the nature and the objectives of Karate-do can hardly be more clearly illustrated than with the example of this small emblem.
However, it also becomes transparent, how closely very genuine karate instruction remains tied to the spirit and the atmosphere at the dojo. These, in turn, are determined and decisively shaped by the paragon and the example of the karate instructor teaching there.
translated from German into English by Sabine Becker