In this section, you'll find English translations of the Japanese expressions that you hear in class week after week. After each term, is a phonetic pronunciation guide to help you to pronounce each word or expression.

You'll also find Japanese translations of English karate expressions, so you can increase your vocabulary of Japanese words for use in class.

Unfortunately, it's surprisingly difficult to find a definitive martial arts lexicon. I've read numerous books and web sites, and spoken to a number of Japanese speakers, both natives of Japan, and foreigners, and one thing seems certain - there is NO definitive dictionary of Japanese martial arts expressions. Many of the words that we use are only ever used in martial arts situations, and thus have no alternate "real world" meanings beyond the ones we ascribe to them in the dojo. Thus, ordinary Japanese people have no greater idea of their pronunciation than the average English speaker would have about words only used in scientific or medical circles.

The expressions have also been quite westernised to a lesser or greater degree, either through laziness, or in a conscious effort to make them more palettable to our western tastes - we want oriental, but we don't want it enough to learn the correct pronunciation of a few dozen words!!!!

To complicate things still further, although most Japanese karate styles have evolved from common origins, practitioners of each style may pronounce and even use words differently. It's like the game Chinese Whispers - I'll tell you a foreign word and its meaning, then you tell someone else, and they tell someone else for 100 re-tellings. Then let's see if the result bears even the slightest resemblance to the original...

As if that wasn't enough, words can have different pronunciations even within a style, according to the dialect of its speaker.

Add to that, the fact that there are often numerous words for the same thing. Even a relatively precise word such as "forehead", has many different Japanese translations. Clearly, some are medical, and some are slang, but even discounting those, there are still three or four alternate words remaining.

Last but not least, is the problem of phonetically expressing words from a language that is is not even constructed in ways that can be fully represented using English language phonetics alone... Take the word "Ryu" in Japanese, R sound actually sounds more like a mixxture between an R and an L. Its the same for the first letter of zuki, which actually sounds like T Z sound (with a very soft T).

Well suffice it to say that this terminology list is little more than a guide, and certainly does not pretend to be the ultimate list of all Japanese martial arts expressions or their definitive pronunciations. That being said, it's not bad and I'm pretty pleased with it! ;-)

On a final note, remember that the use of Japanese in class is generally optional. We should never use it to confuse or belittle inexperienced students. We use it for convenience, clarity, or to create a more authentic martial arts experience. If you are uncomfortable using Japanese, don't worry. You're no less of a good student because a few Japanese words may elude you. After all, a lot of the old Japanese Masters never fully mastered English, despite teaching with it for years!

Japanese to English terminology

English to Japanese terminology

Essential terminology

Compiled with the help of the following reference sources

Japanese-English Dictionary Interface (JEDI)

Jeffrey's Japanese<->English Dictionary Server

The Official GKR Basic Terminology List

The Official GKR Tournament Referee's Manual

Karate for Everyone
by Robert Sullivan

Advanced Karate Do
by Elmar T.Schmeisser

The Beginners Guide to Shotokan Karate
By John Van Weenan

Introduction to Karate
By Shingo Ohgami

Shotokan Planet Web Site
By Rob Redmond

Tuttle Dictionary of Martial Arts

A Dictionary of Martial Arts by Frederic

The Overlook Martial Arts Dictionary

With direct input from Michael and Yoshiko Yeomans in Tokyo