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“Eye of the Tiger” — Here’s What It Actually Means

“Eye of the Tiger” — Here’s What It Actually Means

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There are very few of us who wouldn’t recognize the intro to the 1982 hard rock hit “Eye of the Tiger.” 

The song was written by the band Survivor at the request of Sylvester Stallone. It became the highlight of the soundtrack of Stallone’s hit boxing movie Rocky III.  

The punchy, staccato riff of the song was intended as a “pulse” that would recall the sound of boxing gloves and the to-and-fro footwork of a boxer’s bounce-step. 

Most of us now vaguely associate the expression “the eye of the tiger” with perseverance and sporting achievement. However, there are very few people who understand the real meaning of the expression, from which the song gets its name. 


What is the meaning of “eye of the tiger?”

Having the “eye of the tiger” means being laser-focused on achieving a singular goal. Being “in the eye of the tiger” refers to being in a “kill or be killed” situation, because tigers in the wild cock their heads to reveal eye-like spots on the backs of their ears just before striking their pray.


The “eye of the tiger” as a symbol of single-minded determination

Like humans, tigers have eyes that face forwards. This gives us both what is known as binocular vision.

Binocular vision derives from the fact that our two fields of vision overlap to create a three-dimensional image. 

However, tigers’ binocular vision is far more advanced than that of humans. 

This allows them to assess distances and spatial depth with extraordinary accuracy. 

Another unique thing about tigers’ eyes is that they have more rods than cones. 

Rods are what allow us to accurately see shapes, while cones are responsible for the ability to see color. 

Tigers hunt their prey at night, and a high rod count allows them to detect the movements of their potential kills due to a heightened sensitivity to spatial changes. 

Cats only require 1/6 of the light that humans do to see. 

The fact that tigers do not need much light to be able to stalk their prey serves as a good metaphor for the fact that those who are fighting to survive can persevere despite the fact that they do not have many external resources (symbolized by light). 

Instead, as in the ideal of the American Dream, they are drawing on inner resources and a single-minded and sharp determination to do what they have to do to win.

In this interpretation, the specific characteristics of having the eye of the tiger are a sharpness and a heightened spatial awareness that have to be drawn upon in order for the tiger to survive, or, in the analogy in Rocky III, the boxer to win. 


The “eye of the tiger” as the last thing you see before you die

Another interpretation of the expression “the eye of the tiger,” as it is used in the 1982 hit song, refers to someone who is not the tiger.  

In this interpretation, the tiger’s eye represents a situation of existential, immediate danger. It requires incredible tenacity, intensity, willpower, and strength of character to survive when facing “the eye of the tiger.” 

This interpretation derives from the fact that in the wild, seeing the “eyes” of a tiger is a sign of certain death.

Before a tiger attacks, it turns its ears forward, revealing a black spot on the back of each of its ears to its prey. These “eyes” normally serve to protect the tiger.

They are intended to confuse potential predators about which direction the tiger is facing. This serves to prevent attacks from behind. 

However, once the tiger is close enough to strike its prey down, it will turn its ears to face its kill.  

Support for this interpretation can be found in the lyrics of the 1982 song. 

For example, in the line “for the kill with the skill to survive,” the human protagonist (the tiger’s potential victim, the boxer) is the “kill.” He is being called upon in this moment of desperation to demonstrate that he does have what it takes to defeat his rival and survive. 

Similarly, the line “just a man and his will to survive” implies that the protagonist of the song (and film) is in danger of not surviving. He is in a tough spot, facing the eye of the tiger, and will have to use considerable skill to escape his predicament. 

Whichever interpretation was meant by the band Survivor, and whichever interpretation you prefer, both have merit.

They conjure up the same image of a desperate, determined and laser-focused determination that can help one achieve unbelievable things. In either case, one will have to prove that one has the heart of a lion.

It is therefore hardly surprising that the song “The Eye of the Tiger” has remained a huge hit among athletes and sporting fans alike. 


Other meanings of “the eye of the tiger”

While most people who refer to the “the eye of the tiger” are referencing the 1982 song, or the sentiment of single-minded determination it describes, there are a few other things they could be referring to. 

“The Eye of the Tiger” might also be a reference to a specific, cognac-colored and very impressive diamond. It is also the name of a beautiful, iron-toned kind of gemstone. 

The former “Eye of the Tiger” is a 61.50-carat diamond, which was mounted by Cartier on a turban aigrette for the Majarajah of Nawangar in 1937. 

This whiskey-colored whopper of a crown jewel is now a part of the Al Thani Collection, which is owned by the royal family of Qatar. 

The latter “Eye of the Tiger” is a stone that gets its name from the eyes of this jungle-dwelling, stripy feline: the “Tiger’s Eye.” Tiger’s Eyes have a silky, opaque luster and are reddish-brown to orange with vivid iron striping. 

In the 16th century, Tiger’s Eyes were so rare that they were considered more valuable than gold. Since then, however, much more of the stone has been discovered, and it is now relatively inexpensive. 

However, it is still highly popular among gemstone and crystal enthusiasts, who believe it can help us tap into our willpower and inner strength. It is also said to protect the wearer against ill-wishes and curses.