Vocabulary

Disclaimer: this page is maintained by an American student whose extremely limited Japanese vocabulary was learned almost entirely in martial arts classes. Any corrections or suggestions, especially from native speakers, would be very much appreciated.

Hints for Japanese pronunciation

Japanese pronunciation is fairly simple, and actually pretty consistent compared to English. The hardest things for Americans tend to be:
  • Long vowels: if you see a double vowel (ii) or one with a bar over it like ō or ū in a word, drag the vowel out for two beats — Tōkyō is not "Tokyo", but "To-o-kyo-o".
  • Doubled consonants, as in matte ("wait") or kekkō ("adequate", "OK"): say the preceding vowel more quickly than usual, and insert a little pause between the consonants -- mat-te, kek-ko.
  • The letter r. Americans generally don't touch their tongue when saying r; the Japanese r is more like l, or d. If you know Spanish, it's kind of like an r trilled once. Once you get it and you're feeling good about yourself, move on to ryū, as in isshin-ryū.
  • The "ts" sound at the beginning of words, like tsuki. We're used to it at the end: "cats", or "boots".
  • The muddiness between m and n. N is rarely as sharp as in English, it's more like in French un, and when followed by a p or b the sound becomes something closer to m, but there's no way to represent an m in Japanese writing without a following vowel. There is a character for a standalone n, so that's the way it's written, and most transliterations have used n. This means the word for newspaper, shinbun, actually sounds like "shimbun". Some writers show the pronunciation in transliterations, so you'll see kenpō written kempō, or enpi as empi.
In Japanese, the initial consonants of certain words change when they're used as the second part of a compound word. It's called rendaku. K, for example, becomes g; t changes to d; h to b or p.
If you're really dedicated, there are lots of resources on the web. This is a good intro to Japanese pronunciation, and About.com has a good set of basic lessons with audio.

Basic Vocabulary

dōjō
training hall
gi
uniform
karate
empty (kara) hand (te)
kiai
spirit yell
kiotsuke!
"Attention!" The literal translation means to attach or adhere (tsukeru) one's spirit and mind (ki).
obi
belt
rei
bow
sensei
teacher
tachi rei
standing bow
za rei
seated bow

Intermediate Vocabulary

gyaku
reverse or opposite
hajime
"Begin!"
harai
noun from the verb harau, to sweep or brush off, to us this means a sweeping technique. It is an example of rendaku: harai becomes barai in a compound like gedan barai or tegata barai.
kata
formal exercises; standard sequences of movements or techniques.
keri
a kick, from the verb keru, to kick. This is a great example of rendaku: since we almost always use keri in a more descriptive compound phrase, you'll usually hear it as geri in the dōjō: mae geri, yoko geri. If you want to say "kick" by itself, though, say keri
kumite
sparring: controlled fighting to practice the application of techniques from kata. Several types of kumite exist: Jyu-kumite (free-sparring) and yakusoku-kumite (planned technique).
kyū
rank under black belt
tsuki
a strike with the sense of lunging, thrusting, stabbing: straight punches.
uke
a defensive block; it can also describe the attacker (and therefore recipient of a defensive technique) in a demonstration.
uchi
a battering, crushing or circular strike: backfists or hook punches, not straight punches.

Advanced Vocabulary

bo
wooden staff
dan
black belt ranks
kime
mental focus
no
of, from. Japanese grammar is very different from English, and the object precedes the preposition. "My name is John" would be "Watashi no namae wa John desu" — "The name of me is John." (More literally, it's "me of name John is.") This should help you make sense of names like Kyan no sai ("the sai of Kyan" (Chotōku, Shimabuku's Shōrin-ryū sensei)) or hiji no ato tsuki ("backward strike of elbow").
o
In Japanese, prefixing words with o- implies that they are bigger, or grander, or more honored. Here, for example, o-uchi means "big punch".
otoshi
a drop or fall, from the verb otosu. Commonly seen in the names of judo techniques. In our kick otoshi geri, it probably refers to the relatively low position from which the kick is delivered, or dropping off the fight line. In some styles, otoshi geri is used to describe an axe kick, where the contact is made as the foot is coming down.
ryū
school of thought; style (of martial arts), method, or mode.
sai
pronged metal weapon

Shinpan
       Referee

shiai
competition

Polite conversation

arigatō gozaimasu
Thank you.
dō itashimashite
You're welcome, don't mention it.
dōmo
Thanks.
dōmo arigatō gozaimasu
Thank you very much.
dōzo
please, as in "This way please." or "Please begin."
hai
yes; but also many other uses: "I'm listening", "I understand", or even "Pardon?"
hai, sō desu
yes, that's right; I agree
iie
no (very blunt and direct; it's more polite to give a negative answer by repeating the verb in the question in its negative form: if you're asked wakarimasu ka? ("Do you understand?") it would be better to answer with wakarimasen ("I don't understand.") than a curt iie).
konban wa
good evening
konnichi wa
good afternoon
ohaiyō gozaimasu
good morning
onegai shimasu
please, when asking for something, as in "Please help me." or thank you for doing this for me.
sumimasen
Excuse me; pardon me; sorry; thanks.

Numbers

ichi
one
ni
two
san
three
shi
four
yon
four (We tend to count with yon instead of shi, as some say shi is a homophone for death. It's certainly not wrong to use shi.)
go
five
roku
six
shichi
seven
nana
seven
hachi
eight
kyū/ku
nine
ten
jū-ichi
eleven
ni-jū
twenty
ni-jū-ichi
twenty-one
san-jū
thirty
hyaku
100

Movement, direction or place

ato
behind (also: after, later)
choku
frequent (many times) direct; straight
chūdan
middle level: used to describe techniques generally used between the obi and the shoulders.
gedan
lower level: used to describe techniques generally used below the obi.
hidari
left
jōdan
upper level: used to describe techniques generally used at the shoulders or above.
mae
front; forward
migi
right
shoba
could be an Okinawan pronunciation of soba, "beside"; the standard Japanese s is reportedly softer in the Okinawan dialect. The kicks shoba geri and shoba konate are delivered to the side or at an angle.
ushiro
reverse; to the back: ushiro geri is a kick delivered to an attacker behind you.

Anatomy

ashi
foot
atama
head
empi
elbow (the front)
hiji
elbow (the point)
hiza
knee
kakato
heel
koshi
the ball of the foot, or, confusingly enough, the hip or waist. We're typically referring to the ball of the foot.
kote
forearm

nukite
hand held open and stiff like a spear for a fingertip strike
seiken
the front of the first two knuckles of a fist, which is what we most commonly strike with.
shotei
the heel of the palm
shutō
the outside edge of the hand.
sokutō
the outside edge of the foot, specifically the last few inches by the heel
te
hand
tegata
hand used like a sword in striking
tettsui
hammer fist
uraken
the back of the fist; more specifically the backs of the knuckles of the seiken.

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