The most common phrases you will encounter when you start training.
One of the first difficulties you might encounter during formal training sessions is understanding what your instructor is saying. Sometimes we train with a guest instructor, or train overseas with people that speak different languages. To make sure everybody understands each other, we use Japanese as a common language. We also use Japanese out of respect and tradition. The following list of words and phrases is by no means complete, but these are the most common things you will hear or say. A slightly more complete list of karate terms including less frequently used words is also available. Because most of us don’t speak Japanese, we also use English for many things.
After each Japanese word (written in bold) a kind of simple phonetic spelling is included so you know what the word should sound like. This is followed by the meaning of the word as we use it in karate.
General Words and Commands
- karate /kahrah-tay/ – “Empty hand” or weaponless art of defense.
- dojo /doe-joe/ – Literally “way-place,” or “place for learning the way,” name for karate school/training room.
- obi /oh-bee/ – Belt
- gi /ghee/ – Karate uniform (or dogi /doe-ghee/).
- sensei /sen-say/ – Instructor
- sempai /sem-pie/ – Senior student
- hajime /hah-jee-may/ – Begin at your own speed, continue to your own count, as in free sparring or kata.
- yame /yah-may/ – Stop.
- migi /me-ghee/ – Right side
- hidari /he-dah-ree/ – Left side
- mokuso /mohk-so/ – Meditation (eye’s closed)
- yoi /yoy/ – Ready position (for kata etc.), in musubi dachi stance, hands one fist in front of belt, crossed left over right, palms down.
- ashi o kaete /ah-she oh kie-tay/ – Change stance, as from left foot to right (ashi means foot/feet)
- te o kaete /tay oh kie-tay/ – Change hands, used for all hand techniques (te means hand/hands)
- mawatte /mah-wah-tay/ – Turn around/other way
Directions (to strike, etc.)
- mae /my/ or /may/ – Front
- yoko /yoe-koe/ – Side
- mawashi /mah-wah-she/ – Around, eg round-house
- ushiro /oo-she-roe/ – Back
Areas (to strike, etc.)
- jodan /joe-dahn/ – Upper level, collar and up (e.g. face, head, throat)
- chudan /choo-dahn/ – Middle level, belt up to collar (e.g. stomach)
- gedan /gay-dahn/ – Lower level, “below the belt” (e.g. abdomen, groin, legs)
For example, a jodan mawashi geri would be a round-house kick at head height, whereas a gedan mawashi geri would be a round-house kick to the leg. A chudan mae geri is a front kick at stomach/chest height, and so on.