Japanese to English translations


Most of the terms that we use in class are actually composites of multiple Japanese words. Jodan tzuki for instance, uses "jodan" (upper level) and "tzuki" (punch). We interpret this (slightly inaccurately) to mean "head-level punch".

Just like English, there are lots of words that can be used to clarify the main action. We can specify the side of the body (right, left or alternating), the direction of the action (rising, falling, straight, hooking), the level (upper, middle or lower) and more besides. These words are all combined into terms that express with minimal ambiguity, the required action. Of course, you might argue that having to learn a new language to understand what is being asked of you deliberately creates maximum ambiguity, and I'd be the first to agree with you! But that's a debate for another part of this site...

Anyway, these actions and modifiers are generally just grouped together in a type of dojo abbreviation which, whilst not absolutely grammatically correct, gets the point over with the minimum number of words.

It's usual to specify the side (left, right), the level (high, low, etc), the body part (single knuckle, forefist, etc), the direction (rising, roundhouse, straight, etc), and the technique (punch, kick, block, etc) in that order. For example, migi gedan choku tzuki or jodan kizami ren tzuki. In Japan, they might add the word "no" (of) after the side command, but we tend to leave it out.

In this guide, I have not wasted time listing every single permutation of every single move. You know that a straight punch can be performed at multiple levels and you recognise the word that describes the level at which it is performed - I don't need to insult your intelligence by actually stating each variant in full.

However, I have made a slight exception in the case of moves that are usually performed in a certain way, just so that you can see how karate commands are constructed.

Incidentally, there are lots more expressions and phrases in the martial arts world in general, but I have tried to restrict myself solely to techniques that you may encounter in a GKR dojo, and phrases or commands that you might hear in one.

In constructing this guide, I've consulted numerous Japanese people and they often disagreed about the exact meaning of a word. For starters, many words only exist in a martial arts context, so if Japanese people are not familiar with martial arts, they wouldn't necessarily know the meaning of words, any more than you would know the meaning of medical terms unless you were in that field. To further complicate things, some words are not only context sensitive, but even depend upon the kanji (Japanese characters) used to write them. Take the term "uchi": it means both "inside" and "strike", and the Japanese word sounds exactly the same in both instances. Like the English words "to", "two" and "too", the context is necessary, but when even the context is not enough, you can only be certain of the exact meaning by seeing the word written.

Some words have a literal and intepreted meaning.:For instance dojo literally means "way place", but we use it to mean training hall. Where there is a literal meaning, I have included it in inverted commas "".

Pronunciation notes

Strictly speaking, virtually nobody in a European, Antipodean or American dojo pronounces Japanese words properly. We have adapted them to fit within our language patterns, just as we did with all the Latin, Greek and French words that we've assimiliated into our language over the centuries.

Originally, I started by writing the GKR way of saying the words, but to be honest, I've decided against that approach. We should make an effort to learn the proper pronunciation, or at least the accepted pronunciation outside of Japan - otherwise, we might just as well speak English.

In describing each word's pronounciation, I've tried to break it down into the component sounds, which I've written. Any word in our language can be expressed using a standard set of 41 phonemes (sound elements). Unfortunately, these phonemes require special characters to notate, and unless you know the phonemic "alphabet", the sybols would not make much sense. Therefore, whilst I have used the phonemic alphabet, I've notated it using English-sounding elements. If you encounter an element that you recognise as a word, then it is pronounced exactly as you would normally pronounce that word. For instance "dojo" can be expressed as "doe-joe". Doe, as in a female deer, and joe, as in a person's name. What could be simpler?

Unfortunately, there are a few recurring vowel sounds that can't be expressed using real words, and these are clarified below:

oe - as in toe
ee - as in tree
ah - as in car
uh - as in brush
eh - as in bet
oo - as in zoo
oh - as in lost
ay - as in hay

Alternate spellings

You'll notice quite a few words that are separated by a forward slash like this tsuki/tzuki/zuki. This indicates common alternate spellings of the words. Many Japanese sounds cannot be precisely written in English because we have no exact equivalent sound. Thus, the spelling is down to the transcriber. Common sounds are ts as in tsuki, nm as in empi, gk as in taigyoku and kake, ry as in ryu.

Where known, I have used bold to highlight the most common current GKR spelling (no mean feat considering the fact that we use multiple spellings for the same word sometimes.)

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General Terms

Japanese Phonetic English
Autagani or-tah-gah-nee GKR mis-pronunciation of Otagai
Budo boo-doh Martial way
Dan dahn "Level"; one; single
Do doe "Way"
Dojo doe-joe "Way place" - training hall
Gi gee Karate uniform
Go go "Hard"; "five"
Godan go-dahn "Fifth level"
Gyaku gya-koo Reverse; opposite
Hai hay "Yes"
Hajime ha-jim-ay "Begin"
Han hahn "Half"
Hara hah-rah Spiritual centre
Heian he-un Quiet mind
Hombu hom-boo Chief dojo; headquarters
Jiyu kumite jee-you koo-me-tay Free sparring
Ju joo "Soft"; "gentle"; "pliant"; "ten"
Ka kah "Practitioner"
Kage/Kake kah-gay "Hook/ing"
Kai kie "Association"
Kake/Kage ka-kay "Hook/ing"
Kamae Kam-ay Prepare; adopt a combat readiness stance
Kan kahn "School" or "system"
Karate kah-ra teh "Empty hand" Japanese unarmed combat
Ki key "Spirit"
Kiai key-aye Shout of spirit or focus
Kime kim-ay Focus
Kon ni chi wa kohn nee chee wah "Hello"
Kumite koo-mee-tay "Meeting of hands" Sparring
Kyu cue Junior rank below black belt - See mudansha
Maai may-aye Distancing; timing; oppoortunity
Makiwara mah-key-wah-rah Striking post
Mokuso mok-soh "Quiet thought"; Close your eyes; meditation
Mokuso yame mok-sow ya-may "Stop quiet thought"; Open your eyes
Mudansha moo-dahn-shah Junior rank below black belt - See yudansha
Nidan nee-dahn "Second level"
Otagai oh-toe-guy-ee Each other
Rei ray "Bow"
Ryu ree-you School or lieneage of martial arts
Sanbon kumite sahn-bon koo-me-tay Three-step sparring
Sandan sahn-dahn "Third level"
Seiza say-za Formal kneeling
Sempai sem-pie "Senior"; assistant teacher
Sensei sen-say Teacher; instructor
Shihan she-hahn Master teacher
Shodan shoh-dahn First level
Taigyoku/Taikyoku teye-gyo-koo "First cause"
Taikyoku/Taigyoku teye-kyo-koo "First cause"
Tsuki/Tzuki/Zuki tzoo-key "Thrust" strike
Tzuki/Tsuki/Zuki tzoo-key "Thrust"; strike
Waza wah-zuh Techniques
Yame yah-may Stop
Yondan yon-dahn Fourth level
Yudansha yew-dahn-shah Student of black belt rank - See Mudansha
Zennin zen-yin Everybody (see autagani)
Zuki/Tzuki/Tsuki zoo-key "thrust towards" strike

Punches and strikes

Japanese Phonetic English
Age tsuki ah-gee tzoo-key Rising punch
Choku tsuki choh-koo tzoo-key Straight punch
Chudan tsuki chew-dahn tzoo-key Mid-level punch
Empi uchi em-pee oo-chee Elbow strike
Furi uchi foo-ree oo-chee Reverse back-hand strike
Gedan tsuki geh-dahn tzoo-key Low-level punch
Gyaku tsuki gee-ah-koo tzoo-key Reverse punch
Haishu uchi hi-shoe oo-chee Back-hand strike
Haito uchi high-toe oo-chee Ridge-hand strike
Heiko tsuki hay-koh tzoo-key Simultaneous double punch with both hands parallel to the ground - Compare to Ura tsuki
Hiji ate hid-jee ah-tay Rising elbow strike
Hiza geri he-zah geh-ree Knee kick
Jodan tsuki joe-dahn tzoo-key Upper level punch
Kake tsuki kah-kuh tzoo-key Hooking punch
Kizami tsuki kay-zah-me tzoo-key Front jabbing punch
Mae-ken tsuki mah-eh-ken tzoo-key Strike with the front hand
Mawashi empi mah-wash-ee em-pee Round elbow strike
Mawashi tsuki mah-wash-ee tzoo-key Roundhouse punch
Morote tsuki moh-row-teh tzoo-key Augmented punch
Nakadaka-ippon-ken tsuki nah-kah-dah-kah ee-pon-ken Middle-fingered one-knuckle-fist punch
Nukite noo-kay-tay Spear-hand
Oi tsuki oh-ee-tzoo-key Stepping or lunging punch
Sanbon tsuki sahn-bohn tzoo-key Three-punch combination
Seiken say-ken tzoo-key Front of the knuckles (as used for a straight punch) - GKR mistranslates this as "straight wrist" - Compare to Uraken
Shita tsuki sheet-ah tzoo-key "Underneath thrust"; Short punch
Shuto uchi shoe-toe tzoo-key Knife-hand strike
Teisho uchi tay-show oo-chee Palm-heel strike
Tetsui uchi tet-sue-ee oo-chee Hammer-fist strike
Tsuki tzoo-key "Thrust"; punch
Tsuki waza tzoo-key wah-zuh Punching techniques
Uchi oo-chee Strike; inner, inside, interior
Uchi waza oo-chee wah-zuh Striking techniques
Ura oo-rah Back or other side; opposite; reverse
Uraken oo-rah ken Back of the knuckles (as used for a back-fist)
Ura tzuki oo-rah tzoo-key Close punch (see shita tsuki)
Ura uchi oo-rah oo-chee Back-fist strike
Ushiro empi uchi oo-she-row em-pee Back elbow strike
Yama tsuki yam-ah tzoo-key Double punch with one hand aiming for the body and the other for the head - Compare with Heiko tsuki
Yoko empi uchi yoh-koh em-pee oo-chee Side elbow strike


Japanese Phonetic English
Age uke ah-gee oo-kay Rising block
Barai bar-eye Sweep
Chuge uke chew-gee oo-kay Double block
Gedan barai geh-dahn bar-eye "Low-level sweep"; down block
Gedan uke geh-dahn oo-kay Low-level block
Haishu uke hi-shoe oo-kay Back-hand block
Haito uke hi-toe oo-kay Ridge-hand block
Haiwan uke hi-wahn oo-kay Back-arm block
Hiji uke he-jee oo-kay Elbow block
Hiza uke he-zah oo-kay Knee block
Jodan age uke joe-dahn ag-ee oo-kay Upper level rising block
Juji uke joo-jee oo-kay X block
Kake uke kah-kuh oo-kay Hooking block
Kakuto uke kah-koo-toe oo-kay Bent-wrist block
Mawashi uke mah-wash-ee oo-kay Round block
Morote uke moh-row-teh oo-kay Augmented block
Shuto uke shoe-toe oo-kay Knife-hand block
Soto uke so-toh oo-kay Outside block
Tate shuto uke tah-te shoe-toe oo-kay Vertical knife-hand block
Teisho uke tay-show oo-kay Palm-heel block
Uchi uke oo-chee oo-kay Inside block
Uke oo-key or oo-kay "Receive"; block
Uke waza oo-key wah-zuh Blocking techniques


Japanese Phonetic English
Ashi barai ash-ee bar-eye "Foot sweep"
Fumi Kiri Geri foo-me-key-ree geh-ree Cutting kick with the edge of the foot
Fumi komi Geri foo-me-koh-me Stamping kick
Geri/Keri geh-ree Kick
Geri waza geh-ree wah-zuh Kicking techniques
Gyaku geri gyah-koo geh-ree Kick with the back leg
Gyaku mawashi geri gyah-koo mah-wash-ee geh-ree "Reverse round kick" hook kick (AKA ura mawashi geri)
Kin geri kin geh-ree Groin kick using the instep (top) of the foot
Mae ashi geri mah-ee ash-ee geh-ree A kick with the front foot
Mae geri mah-eh geh-ree Front kick
Mae tobi geri mah-ee toh-be geh-ree Jumping front kick
Mawashi geri mah-wash-ee geh-ree Round kick
Mikazuki geri mekah zoo-key geh-ree Crescent kick
Nidan geri nee-dahn geh-ree Double kick
Tobi geri toe-be geh-ree Jumping kick
Uchi mawashi geri oo-chee mah-wash-ee geh-ree Inside round kick
Ura mawashi geri oo-rah mah-wash-ee geh-ree Hook kick (AKA gyaku mawashi geri)
Ushiro geri oo-she-roe geh-ree Back kick
Yoko geri yoh-koh geh-ree Side kick


Japanese Phonetic English
Ashi sabaki ash-ee sah-bar-key Foot movement
Dachi dah-chee Stance
Gankaku dachi gan-car-koo ash-ee datchee "Crane on a rock stance" One-legged stance - See also Sagi ashi dachi - Sometimes AKA Tsuru ashi dachi
Gyaku neko ashi dachi gee-ya-koo nek-oe ash-ee datchee Reverse cat stance (AKA suri ashi dachi)
Gyaku zenkutsu dachi gee-ya-koo zen-coot-sue datchee Reverse forward stance
Han zenkutsu dachi hahn zen-coot-sue datchee "Half forward stance"; short stance; fighting stance
Heisoku dachi hay-sock-oo datchee Informal attention stance (feet together, toes together) See musubi dachi
Heiko dachi hay-coe datchee Parallel stance
Kiba dachi kay-bah datchee Horse-riding/straddle stance
Kosa dachi coe-zuh datchee Cross-legged stance
Kokutsu dachi koh-koot-sue datchee "Back stance"
Musubi dachi moo-soo-bee datchee Informal attention stance (feet together, toes apart) See heisoku dachi
Neko ashi dachi neck-oh-ash-ee datchee "Cat foot stance"
Sanchin dachi sahn-chin datchee Pigeon-toed or hourglass stance
Sagi ashi dachi sa-gee-ash-ee datchee Propped stance (one foot tucked behind the knee of the other) - See also gankaku dachi
Shiko dachi sh-koe datchee Sumo stance
Shomen ni neko ashi dachi shoh-men nee neck-oh ash-ee datchee Open cat stance
Tsuru/suri ashi dachi sue-ree ash-ee datchee Sliding foot stance - sometimes used to describe Gankaku dachi (AKA Gyaku neko ashi dachi)
Tai sabaki tie sah-bar-key Body movement
Yoi yaw-ee Ready posture - (used as a command to return to heiko dachi from musubi dachi after a bow)
Zenkutsu dachi zen-coot-sue datchee Forward stance


Japanese Phonetic English
Kata kah-tah Pre-arranged sequence of techniques against imaginary opponents
Taigyoku/taikyoko shodan tah-eeg-yoe-koo show-dahn "First cause, 1st level" - 1st kata - Required for adult yellow belt
Taigyoku/taikyoku nidan tah-eek-yoe-koo nee-dahn "First cause, 2nd level" - 2nd kata - Required for adult orange belt
Saifa/Saifua sigh-fah "Rolling wave; smash and break" - 3rd kata
Bassai Dai bas-eye dye "Storm a fortess" - 4th kata - Required for red and brown belts
Seiunchin/Seyunchin/Seiyunchin say-oon-chin "Marching/Conquer far, quickly; control and pull in battle" - 5th kata - Required for 1st black tag
Empi/Enpi em-pee "Flight of the swallow" 6th kata - Required for 2nd black tag
Sanseru/Sanseiru/Sanseryu San-say-roo "36 hands" 7th kata - Required Sho-dan ho
Sepai/Seipai seh-pie "18 hands" 8th kata - Required Sho-dan ho and 1st dan black belt
Han getsu hahn-get-sue "Half moon" 9th kata - Required for 1st dan black belt
Kanku-dai kahn-koo "View the Sky" 10th kata - Required for 2nd dan black belt
Karurunfa car-er-run-fah "Draw and suddenly break" - 11th kata - Required for 2nd dan black belt


Japanese numbers are structured even more logically than English numbers. In English, we have unique words for 20, 30, 40, etc. In Japanese, they simply prefix the number 10 by the number of single units to get the right value - ie, 60 = 6 x 10 rokujyu (sixten). To get additional single units, you add the appropriate word for the single unit required. For example to make thirteen 13. you simply add 10+3 to come up with jyu san, 77 would be 7x10+8 or shichijyu hachi (seventen eight in English).

Japanese Phonetic English
Ichi itch 1
Ni nee 2
San sahn 3
Shi she 4 - This version sometimes not used as it has the same sound in Japanese as the word for death
Yon yon 4 - Preferred version of 4 in Japan
Go go 5
Roku rook 6
Shichi shitch 7
Hachi hutch 8
Ku koo 9
Ju joo 10
Niju nee-joo 20
Sanju sahn-joo 30
Yonju yon-joo 40
Goju go-joo 50
Rokuju rook-joo 60
Shichiju shitch-joo 70
Hachiju hatch-joo 80
Kuju koo-joo 90
Hyaku he-ah-koo 100

Body parts

Japanese Phonetic English
Ashi ash-ee Foot or leg
Empi/Enpi/En bi em-pee "Monkey's elbow" elbow - See Hiji
Haito hi-toe Ridge-hand
Haiwan ha-ee-wahn Back of the [fore] arm - see also Heiwan
Heiwan hah-ee-wan Forearm - see also haiwan
Hiji hid-jee Elbow - See empi
Hiraken he-rah-ken Fore-knuckle fist
Hiza he-zah Knee
Hizagashira he-zah-gah-she-rah Kneecap
Ippon nukite eepon noo-kay-the One-finger spear-hand
Ippon-ken eepon-ken One-knuckle fist
Kakato kah-kah-toe Heel
Koshi ko-she Ball of the foot
Seiken say-ken Forefist (front two knuckles)
Shuto shoe-toe Knife hand
Sokuto sow-koo-toe Foot edge
Te te Hand
Teisho tay-show Palm-heel
Tetsui tet-sue-ee Hammer-fist
Ude oo-day Forearm
Uraken oo-rah-ken Back-knuckle fist


Japanese Phonetic English
Age ah-gee Rising
Chudan chew-dahn Middle level
Gedan geh-dahn Lower level
Hidari he-dah-ree Left
Ima ee-mah Fast
Jodan joe-dahn Upper level
Keage kay-ah-geh Snap
Kekomi kay-koh-me Thrust
Mae mah-ee Front
Mawate mah-what-eh Turn
Migi me-gee Right
Oroshi oe-roh-shee Descending
Ren tsuki ren zoo-key Striking with alternate hands
Soto soh-toe Outer
Tate tah-teh Vertical
Tobi toe-be Jump
Toshi tosh-ee Descending, dropping
Uchi oo-chee Inner/inside
Yoko yoh-koh Side


Japanese Phonetic English
Aiuchi eye-oo-chee Simultaneous scoring techniques
Aka ah-kuh The competitor to the referee's right (wearing a red belt)
Aka no kachi ah-kuh noh catch Red side wins
Autagani/otagai moto no ichi or-tah-gah-nee moe-toe noh itch Competitors move to starting position
Hansoku hahn-sock-oo Disqualification on technical grounds (stepping out of ring too often for instance)
Hansoku chui hahn-sock-oo chew-ee Warning with a full point penalty
Hantei hahn-tey Judgement
Hikiwake he-kay-wah-kay Draw
Ippon ee-pon One full point
Ippon kumite ee-pon koo-me-tay Single point, tournament sparring
Jogai joe-guy When a competitor steps out of the ring during a fight
Keikoku kay-koe-koo Warning with a half point penalty
Mubobi moo-bow-bee Conduct that puts the competitor/s at risk of injury
Shikkaku she-car-koo Disqualification for breach of etiquette (swearing for instance)
Shiro she-row The competitor to the referee's left (wearing a white belt)
Shiro no kachi she-row noh catch White side wins
Shobu hajime show-boo ha-jim-ay Start the extended bout (if match is drawn)
Shobu sanbon hajime show-boo sahn-bon ha-jim-ay Start the bout (first time only)
Shomen ni rei show-men-nee Competitors turn to face the front
Shugo shoe-goh Judge called
Torimasen toh-ree-mah-sen Unacceptable as a scoring technique
Tsuzukete tsue-zoo-ket-ay Fight on
Tsuzukete hajime tsue-zoo-ket-ay ha-jim-ay Resume fighting
Waza-ari wuz-ah-ree Half a point