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Guest Post: Terminology

This Guest Post is by my friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata. Nakata Sensei is the head of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Association in Hawaii. He was a student of Chosin (Choshin) Chibana in Shorin-Ryu, and also studied Ryukyu Kobudo under Sensei Fumio Nagaishi. When he was a young man, he studied Wado-Ryu Karate under Sensei Walter Nishioka.

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A Karate instructor once told me, "I teach Karate in the traditional way". I asked, "and what way is that?" He answered, "Oh, I teach in the traditional way by counting in Japanese". I must admit that in my classes, I do count in Japanese, because try as I may, I don't seem able to give a spirited count with one, two, three, four. My counts seem more emphatic and with more kimochi (spirit) when I count ich(i), ni, san, shi. Do I need to use Japanese terms and counts to be more traditional? Karate seemed to have been developed in Okinawa, so to be traditional, shouldn't we be counting in Okinawan dialect (Hogen)? What is traditional? It seems that many instructors feel that to be traditional, we need to use Japanese terminology. Actually, the counting is just cadence (hyoshi). When I was training in Nichidai (Japan University), the Sempai count(?) was more of a "gutteral" sound. I don't see anything wrong with counting; one, two, one, two, or ich, ni, ich, ni, or ich, ni, san, shi, ich, ni, san, shi, or whatever, this is just cadence. I am just used to (habit) counting to ten and in Japanese.

In April 2007, I visited Yonamine Kousuke Sensei's dojo at his home in Sashiki, Okinawa. The night we (John Oberle and I) visited Yonamine Sensei, he was preparing his students for their Shohei-Ryu (Uechi-Ryu) promotion testing. As I was observing his review of Karate terminology, I realized that this was jargon even for Japanese (Okinawan in this case). It is difficult for even Japanese students to remember terminology in Japanese. What advantage would it be for American students to memorize the terminology in Japanese? Wouldn't it be more advantageous for American students to use or be taught Karate terminology in English?

As soon as I started learning from Chibana Sensei, I noticed that he used very little terminology, choosing to demonstrate instead. Discussing this with Chibana Sensei, he pointed out that in the old days (when he was a student), there were no set terminology. Teaching was done with standard conversational Hogen (Okinawan) or Japanese. Actually, there were very little explanations, because as much as possible all techniques and movements were demonstrated.

Some terminology examples are; yoko-te (side of the hand) became shuto (shu[hand], to[katana or sword]), yubi-saki (finger tips) is now nukite ([penetrating] spear hand), yoko-ashi (side of the foot) is now called sokuto (foot sword), mae nagai-dachi (forward long stance) now referred to as zenkutsu-dachi (forward bent knee stance).

Knowing the meaning of the terminology is not enough, the term must be demonstrated for new practitioner to visualize the term. In comparing some of the old to the modernized Kata, it seems that when in the old version of a Kata a move or stance did not fit into the new terminology, then that move or stance was modified: For example; the first move in Naihanchi Sandan.

Among the most confusing terms is yoko-geri (side kick). Originally, it was called yoko-ashi yoko-geri (side of the foot kick to the side), now yoko-ashi (sokuto) geri (keri) is simply called yoko-geri. The tsuma-saki (tsuma [toe], saki [tip or front] geri is referred to as a mae-geri (front kick) either because you are kicking forward or using the front part of your foot. In Shorin-Ryu there is a yoko tsuma-saki geri (side kick with the toe), but many schools only call a tsuma-saki geri, a mae-geri and a yoko-ashi, a yoko-geri. In the Kata where it is a tsuma-saki yoko-geri, the move has been altered in that the performer turns to face the side, so as to execute a mae-geri. To eliminate confusion (a little) we dissuade the use of the term mae-geri and yoko-geri, and use instead, tsuma-saki geri and sokuto geri, or toe kick and side (foot) kick. On the side kick with the sokuto (with all the toes curled down) is usually a striking (uchi) kick, while the thrusting (tsuki) kick uses the kakuto (kagato, heel) with the toes curled down except for the big toe that points up and the forward part of the foot is pulled backward stressing the heel. In other words, a thrusting side kick in this manner can be called a yoko kagato or kakuto geri, or simply in English, a side heel kick. Most of the side kicks in Shorin-Ryu is with all the toes (including the big toe) curled down for a striking and thrusting kick.

Another confusing term in Shorin-Ryu is shuto-uke (sword hand block). In Shorin-Ryu there is no shuto-uke, it is rather a shuto ude (forearm) uke, the ude, in this case, is the outside wrist or just below the wrist. A better term for this is wanto (sword arm). This explanation may help the reader to visualize the part of the arm that is being used, but the proper execution or application would have to be demonstrated.

After Karate was introduced to the public, practice became more militaristic where classes were conducted and directed with commands (gorei). Some of the terms were ki-o-tsuke (attention), rei (bow), yoi (get ready, prepare), hajime (begin,start), yame (stop, end), naore (relax, gather yourself) or naotte which is softer and less of a command. The enunciation of these terms when used as a command is very curt. For instance, ki-o-tsuke would be enunciated in the manner it is written if it was softer, but as a command it would be more curt, sounding like "kyoske" (ten-hut).

It seems like in our Ryukyu Kobudo practice we use the modern (militaristic) commands, as follows: "Kyoske", rei, yoi, yame (parade rest), rei (at the end), and naore (fall out).

In Shorin-Ryu, we do not call a rei at the beginning of the Kata nor at the end, it is an option and left to the discretion of the performer. We do not call out a yoi, because when a Kata is called, we go into the ready position to start that Kata. The only time Ki-o-tsuke is called, is the first movement of the Kusanku Dai Kata and it is not a "kyoske" like calling one to the attention position, but rather, "put yourself on alert". Yame is used only in the Kihon Kata after the last back step, to come back to the original starting position. We do our Kata (with count or no count [kazoenashi]) to the end position, which in most case is the starting position (the exception is Naihanchi Shodan and Kusanku Dai), because even returning to the original starting position, you should be ready. After completion, we call, naote.

Would the command and direction terms be easier if it was given in English? I think it should be left to whomever is conducting the practice and to that person's preference.

My biggest hang-up is the word, "snap". I don't know the meaning of "snap". I think when practitioners use "snap", they are referring to kime or focus. I can speak to someone about focus, kime, or kikomi. But "snap"?

Speaking of kikomi, I am often asked about this term. Chibana Sensei normally used the term kime, but when he spoke of penetration, he used the term kikomi. In other words, kikomi is kime plus penetration. With this understanding, kime is the better universal term, because kikomi still involves kime. I use kime and focus interchangeably.

Some of the other terms, I use interchangeably are osae and press, hara with lower abdomen or center of balance, uchi and strike, tsuki and thrust, koshi and hip, uraken and back-fist, imi and meaning. When I can remember to, I use English for the various terminologies. After all is said and done, this whole discussion is on communication and the most effective way to communicate.

Pat Nakata