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Japanese Terms for Beginners

All of the major karate styles originated in Japan and Japanese training etiquette and Japanese language terms remain an essential part of classical karate training. Most of the Japanese terms used refer to specific techniques, such as blocks, kicks or punches. During classes, the instructor will use both the English and Japanese names, so that the students slowly learn the Japanese words.

There are a few basic terms and commands that are used only in Japanese and even new students should know them. These would include:

- Pronunciation - English Meaning

dojo       doe-joe              martial arts training hall

gi          gee                    martial arts training uniform

sensei    sen-see              martial arts teacher

There is a formal opening and closing to each karate class in which the entire class lines up, side by side, with the highest grade students at the far left and the lowest grade students at the far right. The instructor will be in front, facing the class. The class is first called to attention and then told to kneel down (left knee first). Once everyone is kneeling, the command is given for all of the students to bow to the instructor. Then they are again commanded to bow, this time as a mark of respect for their fellow students. The instructor then tells the students to stand up and a third command to bow is given and the class and the instructor bow to one another. All of these commands are given only in Japanese.

Command  -  Pronunciation  -  English meaning

musubi dashi  masuba - dashi     stand to attention, heels together

seiza              say-za                  kneel down

sensei ni rei    sen-See-nee-ray   bow to instructor

otagai ni rei    o-tagenee-ray       bow to the class

kritsu             carrit- su              stand back up

rei                 ray                       standing bow

There are some very common commands that students normally learn very quickly. They are used very often and are pretty important. These words are:

Command  -  Pronunciation  -  English meaning

yoi                 yoi                        ready stance

hadjime          hedge-im-aa         start

yame              yam-aa                 stop immediately

kiai                 kee-eye                shout

mawatte         ma-wat-aa            turn around

Students preparing for their first grading (yellow belt) will be expected to be able to count from one to ten in Japanese. The numbers are as follows:

one - ichi
two - ni

three - sun
four - shi
five - go
six - roku
seven - shi chi
eight - ha chi

nine - ku
ten - ju

There are also a few terms that will often be combined with other terms. When executing blocks, kicks and punches, it is essential to know the target area for the technique. It’s also important to know the words for left and right.

Term   -    English meaning

jodan         head

chudan       solar plexus / stomach
gedan        low

hidari         left
migi           right

There are a very large number of different kicks, punchs and blocks in karate. Some of them are very common while others may be very unusual and rarely taught or used. Some of the most common and basic techniques include:


jodan uke       upward rising block w/ forearm & closed fist

shuto uke       edge of hand block (inward or outward)

gedan barai    downward block w/forearm & closed fist


mae-geri                front snap kick

mawashi-geri          roundhouse kick

sokuto                    edge of foot kick

ushiro-geri              back kick

gayku mawashi-geri  sole of foot reverse roundhouse kick

Punches & Strikes

jun zuki       punch w/leading fist

gyaku zuki   punch w/back fist

tettisui         strike w/ bottom of closed fist
uraken         strike with back of closed fist

shuto           strike w/ edge of open hand (karate chop)

nukite          strike w/fingertips of open hand (spear hand)
empi            elbow strike

There are also dozens of different stances, or ways of standing. About a dozen stances are often used; others are difficult and seldom employed. When learning the names of the different stances, it is also important to learn the position of the feet, so rather than give the Japanese terms for the stances and the translations, there is a separate page for stances which also shows the positioning of the feet for each stance.