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Japanese is the language which is internationally used in traditional Karate classes.

A complete knowledge of Japanese is definitely NOT necessary as, in the UK, teaching/correction is typically still done in English. That said, Japanese terminology is still generally used to name techniques and when giving some instruction, so a basic knowledge of Japanese is always useful. Typically, Japanese is used to only a small extent in beginners’ classes, but is used more frequently in advanced classes, thus giving students opportunity to pick-up the terminology naturally, over a period of time.

Just as travelling to a foreign country and being surrounded by the language is a good way to learn it, so it is good practice for students to get used to using Japanese terminology in class, as they soon become more fluent in it with very little effort.

Because Japanese is used internationally in Karate classes, a major advantage of learning the basics is that a student can then train or compete anywhere in the world and not feel too out of their depth!

Below is a list of some of the Japanese terminology which is commonly used in Cornwall Karate’s classes. It is important that students are not overwhelmed by this list; it is included on this site merely as a reference, not with an expectation that students should immediately try to learn it all!

At the start of classes





Mokuso Yame

Stop Meditating

Sensei ni Rei

Bow to Sensei


Stand Up



After warm-ups, under the instruction of the instructor (Sensei) or most-senior student, the class typically goes through the ritual of kneeling down, meditating (mokuso), performing a kneeling bow, standing back up, and performing a standing bow. This is called “Reishiki” (the kneeling bow ceremony).

The purpose of the short period of “meditation” (which typically only lasts for a minute or so, and is performed silently... not with an “ohhhm!” or similar sound as seen in some Kung Fu movies!) is to clear our mind so students can be fully focused on what will take place in the class. There is absolutely no religious meaning attached to the meditation.

For children, the short period of meditation is ideal for focusing them and getting them to perform to their maximum potential during classes. For adults, it is an ideal way to relax and let the troubles of the day disappear... you may have had a bad day at work, or an argument with somebody; this is the time to forget about it and start afresh.

When performing mediation (mokuso), breathing should be controlled... in through the nose, and out through the mouth. 

The “bow to Sensei” command may seem subservient to some, however it should be noted that whilst the students are bowing to their Sensei, the Sensei is also bowing back to the students; a sign of mutual respect. That said, it is considered impolite for a student to either bow less low than his/her Sensei, or to raise his/her head from bowing before Sensei.

Whilst bowing, students and Sensei say the word “Osu” (pronounced “oss”) which is a greeting or acknowledgement (generally considered to be a shortened version of the greeting “Ohayo gozaimsu”, however some also believe it to be a contraction of the Japanese word “Oshi” meaning “push”, and “Shinobu” meaning “to endure”, thus “Osu” could also be translated as meaning patience, determination or perseverance.


During classes, students may be asked to stand in any one of a number of different stances (dachi). The names of the most commonly used stances are listed below:

Heisoku Dachi

Formal Closed Foot Stance (i.e. heels and toes together, hands by side of body)

Musubi Dachi

Formal Open Foot Stance (i.e. heels together, toes pointing out at 45 degrees, hands by side of body)

Heiko Dachi

Feet Apart (Hip Width), Feet Parallel

Hachiji Dachi

Feet Apart (Hip Width), toes pointing out at 45 degrees..


Ready Position (Parallel Stance), hands out in front of body.

Uchi-Hachiji Dachi (Niafanchi Dachi)

Feet Apart (Shoulder Width), toes pointing IN at 45 degrees.

Zenkutsu Dachi

Forward-Stance (“Standard Stance)

Moto Dachi

Similar to Zenkutsu Dachi, but shorter, and front knee only partially bent.

Neko Ashi Dachi

Cat Foot Stance

Ukiashi Dachi

Similar to Neko Ashi Dachi, but more upright, and with a loose-floating front foot.

Kokutsu Dachi

Looking Back Stance

Sanshin Dachi

Hourglass (Inward Tension) Stance

Shiko Dachi

Sumo Stance (feet pointing out at 45 degrees)

Kiba Dachi

Horse Stance (feet parallel)

Kosa Dachi

Hooked Leg Stance (both legs bent, one knee tucked-in behind the other)

Sagi Ashi Dachi

Heron Foot Stance (supporting leg straight, the foot of the other leg either resting beside, behind or in front of the knee of the supporting leg)

Renoji Dachi

Stance resembling the letter “L”.

Shizen Dachi

Natural Stance

Hand / Arm Strikes

Zuki / Tsuki




To the left is some of the basic general terminology which students will encounter in respect to hand and arm strikes. By combining this terminology with more descriptive words, more detailed descriptions of hand / arm techniques can be used, such as those in the following table:

Jodan Zuki

Head-Level Punch

Chudan Zuki

Mid-Level Punch

Gedan Zuki

Low-Level Punch

Age Zuki

Rising Punch

Choku Zuki

Straight Punch

Gyaku Zuki

Opposite Punch (e.g. left leg forwards but punching with the right hand, or vice versa)

Oi Zuki

Stepping Punch

Heiko Zuki

Parallel Punch

Kagi Zuki

Hook Punch

Kizami Zuki

Snap / Jab Punch

Maeken Zuki

Front Hand Punch

Mawashi Zuki

Roundhouse Punch

Nakadaka Ippon Ken Zuki

Middle Finger Knuckle Punch

Nihon Zuki

Double Punch

Ura Zuki

Upper Cut Punch

Empi Uchi

Elbow Strike

Haishu Uchi

Backhand Strike

Haito Uchi

Ridge Hand Strike

Kote Uchi

Forearm Strike

Ko Uchi

Bent Wrist Strike

Nukite Uchi

Spearhand Strike

Shotei Uchi

Palm Heel Strike

Shuto Uchi

Knife Hand Strike (the Karate chop!)

Tettsui Uchi

Hammerfist Strike

Ura Ken Uchi

Backfist Strike

Foot / Leg Strikes



Kicking strikes (plus some other striking techniques carried out with parts of the leg such as the knee) are called “geri” (actually, strictly speaking the correct pronunciation is more like “keri”, as “geri” actually means “diarrhoea”, but no matter!). By combining this word with more descriptive terminology, more detailed descriptions of leg striking techniques can be used, such as those in the following table:

Mae Geri

Front Kick

Yoko Geri

Side Kick

Mawashi Geri

Roundhouse Kick

Ushiro Geri

Back Kick

Ura Mawashi Geri

Back / Reverse Roundhouse Kick

Ura Yoko Geri

Spinning Side Kick

Mikazuki Geri

Crescent Kick

Kakato Geri

Axe Kick

Hiza Geri

Knee Strike

Ashi Barai

Foot Sweet

Kin Geri

Groin Kick

Fumikomi Geri

Heel Stamp Kick

Tobi Geri

Jumping Kick

Some styles of Karate have both Keage (snap) and Kekomi (thrust) variations of some kicks such as side kick and front kick. In the style of Shukokai Karate as taught by Sensei Kimura, “front kick” tends to be somewhere between the keage and kekomi front kick used in most other styles of Karate.

Different kicks are performed with different parts of the foot, such as:


Instep (as used for roundhouse kick)


Knee (as used for knee strikes)


Ball of the foot (as used for front kick)


Heel of the foot (as used in back kick and heal stamp kick)


Edge / Blade of the foot (as used in side kick)




Blocks (or “uke” as they are known in Japanese) are defensive techniques used to stop/deflect an attacking technique, thus preventing or reducing injury. Blocks can be performed with the hands, arms, legs or feet. Examples of common blocks include:

Age Uke

Rising Block

Soto Uke

A block from the inside (centre) of the body, towards the outside of the body.

Uchi Uke

A block from the outside of the body, towards the inside (centre) of body.

Gedan Barai

A sweeping low level block from the inside (centre) of the body towards the outside of the body.

Gedan Uchi Barai

A sweeping low level block from the outside of the body towards the inside (centre) of the body.

Shuto Uke

Knife-Hand Block

Sukui Uke

Scooping Block

Ura Uke

Back-of-Hand Block

Morote Uke

Double Forearm (Reinforced) Block

Juji Uke

Cross (or “x”) Block

Shotei Uke

Palm Heel Block

Otoshi Uke

Dropping Forearm Block

Kake Uke

Open Hand Hooking Block

Empi Uke

Elbow Block

Hiza Uke

Knee Block

Some styles of Karate use the opposite definitions for Soto Uke and Uchi Uke, as they believe that soto (outside) and uchi (inside) refer to the part of the arm that is being used to block, rather than the direction that the arm is taking. This, however, takes little account of the fact that the inside of your arm (when your arm is hanging naturally beside your body) becomes the “outside” of your arm when making a block (since the forearm is twisted when blocking so that the knuckles are facing away from you), and vice versa. There seems to be little convention amongst different styles of Karate (and even within clubs of the same style) on the correct useage of the words “soto” and “uchi” in reference to blocks; irrespective of that, the most important thing is for a student to be able to block properly! 

Other Useful Terminology

Ashi o kaete

Change legs (stance)

Ashi Tanden

Leg conditioning


The art of striking vital points


The martial way or path


Martial warrior


The way of the warrior (code of conduct)


Applications of kata


Middle area


A level of competence in the martial arts, above the basic. A Dan grade must be awarded to a karate practitioner before he or she may wear a black belt. In a reputable school, Dan Grades (and Black Belts) are only awarded when the student has reached a good level of competence, although there is a modern and irresponsible tendency for some martial art schools to award black belts based upon “time served”. The first level of black belt (Shodan) could be seen as graduation from primary school level, with each subsequent black belt being equivalent to graduation from middle school, high school, bachelor degree, masters degree and doctorate level! The black belt is thus seen not so much as an end, but rather as a beginning, a doorway to advanced learning: the individual now "knows how to walk" and may thus begin the "journey."


Martial arts training place


Martial arts training camp


Lower area


Karate uniform


Hard / Rigid




Central point of body


Start / Begin





Honbu Dojo

Main dojo




Soft / Flexible

Junbi Undo

Warm-up exercises




Fighting stance


Empty hand


The way of Karate


A person who practises Karate


A series of pre-determined techniques


Spirit / Energy


A shout to focus spirit and energy


Basic techniques




Junior Student


A junior grade in the martial arts. Kyu-level practitioners are, by the Japanese, considered to be “mudansha” (that is, “initiates”, not even students; “mu” literally means “nothing”).


Turn around

Menkyo Kaiden

Licence of Total Transmission. It is a certificate granted by a school meaning that the recipient has learned everything that the school can teach, and is therefore licensed to pass on all aspects of their training.






School or tradition


A member of the Japanese warrior class (feudal era)


Fist with the emphasis on the first two knuckles


Senior student / lower dan grade


Instructor / Teacher


Master instructor


Headmaster or Head of Family. The singular leader of a school or style of martial art. The term “Soke” does not necessarily mean the founder of the martial art, although many current Soke are both founders and Soke.


Outside (inside to outside)


Strength centre of body




Inside (outside to inside)

Uchi Dechi

A Japanese term for a student who lives at a Dojo (or the home of his Sensei), to train under and assist a Sensei on a full-time basis. The term literally means “inside student” (“uchi” = inside, “dechi” = “student”)

Ude Tanden

Arm conditioning




Awareness in defence or attack


Some styles of Karate (particularly those with strong roots in Okinawa) incorporate weapon use as a part of their system. Because conventional weapons (such as swords) were outlawed in Okinawa under Chinese and Japanese rule, the people of Okinawa developed a unique range of substitute weapons, many of which were derived from farming tools.

Some traditional weapons include:


The Bo is the Japanese equivilent of the wooden staff. It is typically 6” long, and made from hardwood. The Bo is one of the more popular weapons to learn, as a broom handle or similar can be used in its place. Depending upon the position of the hands, the Bo can be used at either short- or long-range. Training with the Bo is known as “Bojutsu”.

Jo / Han Bo

The Jo / Han Bo is a 4” version of the Bo (see above).


Once used to harvest rice, the Kama (Sickle) is a wooden handle with a sharp metal blade fixed to one end. It is a single-handed weapon, though typically used in pairs. It can be used at close range to slash an attacker, or to trap a sword or Bo.


Originally used as a rice flail, the Nunchaku consists of two sticks of hardwood (each 12”-14” in length), joined joined by either a cord, or chain and ball-bearing swivel. The handles of the Nunchaku are typically round of octagonal. The ideal lengh of each of the wooden handles should be the same as the distance between your elbow and wrist. The Nunchaku was made popular by Bruce Lee’s use of them in the film “Enter the Dragon”. 


Sai are three-pronged, fork-like metal weapons, used as a pair. The Sai’s main use was in defence against the sword or Bo, as these could be trapped in the forks, thereby disarming the attacker. To be effective as a weapon, the Sai must be of the right size for your own body size; the main (middle) prong should protrude just past the elbow when holding the handle.


Tonfa are short hardwood sticks with an extra side-handle, used as a pair. The Tonfa was originally a farm instrument (created as a handle to turn the millstone), but later adapted for use in defence against a sword. The Tonfa is held in the hand with the length lying along the forearm. Each Tonfa is typically to 20 inches long with a handle attached about 6 inches back from one end, though when holding the handle, the length of an ideal Tonfa should just reach past your elbow. Tonfa are excellent weapons for both offence and defence in that they provide protection for the arms against striking weapons, whilst allowing either the short or long end to be used for striking. Many police departments around the world now use a single Tonfa instead of a traditional straight baton, due to the greater number of offensive/defensive techniques which it is suitable for, and because the side-handle assists the officer with retaining it during use.


The Shinai is a bamboo sword, used in the Japanese martial art of Kendo, in place of a sword. It is made of four strips of bamboo, bound together with leather.


The Bokken is a wooden sword, similar in size to its metal equivalent. It is used in practice for defence against the sword. It is also used for practice in the Japanese martial art of Kendo. The Bokken was made famous by the legendary samurai Miyamoto Mushashi who, using two Bokken simultaneously, defeated many Samurai armed with metal swords.

Katana / Wakizashi / Tanto

The Katana (a type of curved, single-edged long sword, at least 24” long), Wakizashi (a curved, single-edged short sword, at least 12” but less than 24” long) and Tanto (a knife, less than 12 inches long) were weapons traditionally worn and used by the Japanese Samurai warrior class. The Katana and Wakizashi were typically worn together (sometimes also with the Tanto) by the Samurai, and were collectively called the “daisho”, which reflected the social power and personal honour of the Samurai. The long sword was used for open combat, whilst the short sword was considered more of a sidearm and therefore more suitable for stabbing, close-quarter combat, and decapitating beaten opponents when taking heads on the battlefield, and seppuku (a form of ritual suicide).

Yawara Bo / Kubotan

The Yawara Bo is a short stick (when held in the palm of the hand, it sticks out about an inch from either side of the hand), slightly thicker than a marker pen. It is used to stabilise the fist when punching, to gain leverage for breaks and throws, for applying pressure to the sensitive parts of an opponent’s body, or for striking with using the end/point.

The Kubotan is a variation on the Yawara Bo, being slightly shorter in length, and usually attached to a set of keys so that it appears as an innocuous “keyfob” to the untrained eye. It can be used in the same way as the Yawara Bo, plus the keys attached to the other end can be used a a flail of sorts.

Training with weapons can help to develop similar muscles to those used in Karate, as well as improving reflexes and hand-eye co-ordination. Furthermore, many of the striking/blocking techniques practised in Karate can be easily adapted for use when armed with these weapons, making the transition to training with weapons relatively easy.

The major shortfall with all weapons is that you would need to carry them with you at all times for them to be of any practical self-defence use. Carrying a weapon with you would, realistically, be impractical (not to mention probably illegal in the UK!). For this reason, weapon study should arguably be considered a secondary interest to the studying of unarmed combat techniques.








Chi or Yon






Sichi or Nana









One Hundred


One Thousand

Numbers are regularly used by the instructor (Sensei) to count techniques as students practice them.

Beyond 10, counting is still easy providing you have a good memory for the first ten numbers. For example:

18 is Ten plus Eight = Ju Hachi

52 is Five times Ten plus Two = Go Ju Ni

105 is One Hundred plus Five = Hyaku Go

The reason that there are alternative words for Four and Seven is that the standard words (Chi and Sichi) both contain the sound “Shi” which can mean death! Therefore, when using these numbers above 10, you typically use the secondary word for the number, e.g:

43 is Four times Ten plus Three = Yon Ju San (not Chi Ju San).

We hope that students find the Japanese terminology listed above to be a useful reference to improve their understanding.

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