From Self-Defense Karate
Jump to: navigation, search

Since this is an English language guide intended for all levels, the English translations of Japanese terms will be used as much as possible, since it would be cruel obfuscate the material while we teach it. For the sake of consistency, though, it is important that you learn the Japanese words and names. Many different styles use these terms, and translations always include some degree of artistic license from the translator. This can lead to confusion, since a translation may not correspond with those of other practitioners, authors, and teachers that you may encounter. However, some Japanese terms will still be used throughout this guide, since some terminology has no clear or convenient English translation.

The name of individual techniques are listed on their respective pages; the names general concepts are listed below:


Please keep the following conventions in mind when reading this site:

  • All techniques are described from the defender's perspective; so “right” and “left” will always refer to the defender’s right or left side.
  • The “centerline” refers to the body’s line-of-symmetry; an imaginary line running from the top of the head, between the eyes, down the middle of the nose, dividing the navel, etc.
  • Movements directed towards centerlines are “inside” techniques. Likewise, “outside” techniques are directed away from centerlines.
  • When facing an opponent, they are treated like a reflection in a mirror. When the opponent uses their right hand to grab the defender's left hand, this is a “same-side” grab. Same-side techniques do not cross the centerline. Likewise, if an opponent uses their right hand to grab the defender’s right hand, this is a “opposite-side” grab, since the opponent must reach across their centerline. While this may seem confusing at first, this convention is the only thing in the entire martial arts community seems to agree upon -- so please, don’t take this from us!

[Photo explaining same and opposite-sides]

Common Japanese Words

Please keep the following in mind when using Japanese terminology:

  • The Japanese language has terse vowels, which require a clear and sharp pronunciation; you could inadvertently say a completely different word if the vowel sounds are slightly off. This can cause great embarrassment, since the Japanese love pun-based humor.
    • "a" is the central-a, as in the "Aaah!" noise you make when a physician inspects your throat.
    • "e" is the middle-e, as in "get".
    • "i" is the short-i or long-e, as in "we".
    • "o" is a middle-o, as in "old".
    • "u" is a close-near back sound, as in "soon", but without pouting the lips.
  • Both "tsu" and "su" are pronounced like "sue"; but "tsu" has a hissing-s.
  • Japanese has no plural tense, so do not add a "-s" when using Japanese words; it just make things weird.
Ashi Foot
Bunkai Practical applications of a kata's movements. (Literally: “picking apart / analysis / disassembly”)
Dachi Stance
Dan Degree (Literally: "step")
A path which leads to enlightenment. Typically, this is an art which is practiced as a way of life. (Literally: “the Way.” Dō is the Japanese pronunciation for Tao / Dao.
Dōjō Training hall (Literally: “Way-place”)
Goshin-Jutsu Self-defense (Literally: “body-protection art”)
Gi A slang term for uniforms (Literally: a suffix meaning “clothing”)
Hajime "Begin!"
Hanshi A rarely-granted title reserved for the greatest of masters and teachers-of-teachers. (Literally: "model gentleman")
Hidari Left
Ibuki Long breathing methods.
Joseki The founder of a system. (Literally: “set-stone”)
Karate Empty hands
Karateka “Karate-person”

The suffix "-ka" refers to a practitioner of a given activity. (e.g., jūdō players are jūdōka; aikidō practitioners are akidōka, etc.)
Kata Formalized solo practice drills, with the goal of developing proper biomechanics. Because each movement has an associated bunkai, kata is much more than calisthenics. (Literally: “a set form or format / mold / model”)
Keage Snap
Kekomi Thrust
Keri Kick
“-geri” is used when combined with other words.
Ki Aliveness; Will-to-Power, inner power; spirit; energy. (Literally: “Spirit / feeling / psyche”)
Kiai A spirited yell which accompanies a technique (Literally: “spirit-joining”)
Kihon Basics / fundamentals. (Literally: "Basis")
Kime Focus of physical or mental energy.
Kiotsuke "Come to attention!" (Literally: “(Attention) posture!” / “Join spirits!”)
Kumite Sparring. (Literally: Blending / braiding hands.)
Kūsankū A slang term for a simultaneous block-counterattack combination.
Kyōshi A title awarded to refers to masters who are the teachers-of-teachers, who usually have shichidan or hachidan rankings. (Literally: "teach gentlemen")
Kyū Grade / rank
This suffix denotes the ranking of students who have not yet completed the basic curriculum. These ranks are typically denoted by color-coded belts. The number of kyū ranks, and their color codes tend to vary greatly between different dōjō.
Also, this is a slang term which collectively refers to all non-black belt students.
Kyūsho The weak points of the human body. (Literally: "places of suffering.")
Matte "Wait!"
Mawate "Turn!"
Makiwara Punching board (Literally: “a bundle of straw”), a common training tool which was used in Asian striking arts before the padwork and bagwork became common.
Migi Right
Mudansha People who have not yet earned a black belt ranking. (Literally: “without-a-degree people”)
Obi Belt / sash.
Otagai ni, Rei! "(Respectfully) Bow to each other!"
Naka Inside
Nogare Short breathing methods.
Rei A respectful bow (Literally: “salute / appreciation”)
Renshi A title given to those who have achieved mastery and earned a good reputation. (Literally: "polished gentleman". This title is derived from the verb renshu, "to practice.")
Sempai ni, Rei! (Respectfully) Bow to the senior students!
Sensei A title given to teachers. "Sensei" literally translates as “one who came before you;” a sensei is not an exalted sage, but someone who was once like you, and thus knows what you need to improve. As such, within Goshin-Jutsu there is no formal criteria to earn this title; one becomes a sensei whenever students decide to start calling you that.
Traditionally, “sensei” is a suffix (e.g., Jones-sensei), but it is commonly used as an honorific in English-speaking countries (e.g., Sensei Jones). Sensei is not a title you use when describing yourself.
Sensei ni, Rei! "(Respectfully) Bow to the teacher!" Remember, you bow to people, never before them. If respect is not reciprocated, then it is not respect.
Shiai Competition or tournament. (Literally: “ordeal-meeting”)
Shihan A title given to esteemed masters, usually with shichidan or hachidan rankings. (Literally: "expert/master/exemplar-example")
Soto Outside
Suawre "Sit!"
Tatami Mat
Te Hand
Tori The partner who successfully completes a technique. Typically, this is the partner taking the defender role in waza practice. (Literally: “taker / winner / chooser”)
Toshiage "Stand!"
Tsuki Punch (Literally: “thrust”)
Uchi Strike
Uke Block or opponent. (Literally: “catcher / receiver” because blocks, and opponents, receive techniques.)
Ukemi Breakfalls (Literally: "receiving-person”)
Waza Skills or techniques
Yame "Stop!"
Yūdansha People who have earned black belt rankings. (Literally: “have-a-degree people”).
Zanshin "Lingering Mind"


Ichi 1
Ni 2
San 3
Shi / Yon 4
Go 5
Roku 6
Shichi / Nana 7
Hachi 8
Ku 9
Hyaku 100
Sen 1000

Common numbers and their Japanese translations are listed for your use. Combining these list items generates other common numbers (e.g., 49 is "yonjūku," 4*10 + 9). Please note that this is a "quick-and-dirty" guide. The Japanese language uses different words for ordinals; and separate, oddly-specific counting forms counting people, and another for the days of the month. In particular, please be mindful of the following conventions:

  • “Shi” and “yon” both mean “four,” but there are oddly-specific cultural and linguistic restrictions on when and how to use “shi,” since it is a homophone for “death” in Japanese. The Japanese are thus extremely superstitious about the number four; buildings rarely have fourth floors, and items rarely come in 4-packs.
  • Likewise, since "ku" is a homophone for "suffering," it is often drawled out into "kyū."
  • “Shichi” and “nana” both mean “seven.” “Nana” is used when there is a risk of miscommunication due to words being garbled (e.g., over a telephone or radio connection) because “shichi” (7) could be misheard as “shishi” (44).