View Full Version : The use of Japanese in the dojo

Walter Kopitov
22nd July 2001, 17:00
I have just finished reading Mr. Lynch’s article at Aikido Journal http://www.aikidojournal.com/articles/ajArticles/lynch_111.asp. The heart of the article is the use of Japanese language in the dojo that is not Japanese. I have felt there is a certain elitism that many Aikidoka have about using Japanese in class even though all the students are English speaking.
Nihon Goshin Aikido techniques are all in English. The class is run using the English language, but there is a test for Sho-Dan on Japanese terms so knowledge of Japanese terms is important.
My question is why do Aikidoka look down at schools that don’t use the Japanese terms. Its as if the school is perpetrating a fraud if they don’t use the Japanese language.

Walter V. Kopitov

Jussi Häkkinen
22nd July 2001, 23:34
Well, generally it's easier to learn terminology while training, without need of translated names.
Japanese is also the universal language of aikido, so japanese terms help student when travelling (like exchange student years and so on) and when in seminars that have japanese teachers.

I don't see anything bad in using translated terms if the teaching is still correct. Bottom question is still: Why?

Jeff Hamacher
23rd July 2001, 01:12
apparently there's been a similar discussion in tea ceremony. the headmaster of one school of tea once wrote, "as french terminology is used in ballet schools around the world, i think it most appropriate to retain japanese terminology for tea training." to me it makes sense to learn the japanese terminology for martial arts and to use it as consistently as possible even when training outside of a japanese language environment.

on the other hand, i don't see anything wrong with translating various terms in order that students unfamiliar with japanese to understand more clearly what's going on. this can only lead to more efficient training. and i don't think any student of martial arts should make a habit of looking down on other students or dojo. better to spend time working on your own training.

cheers, jeff hamacher

23rd July 2001, 02:02
It really depends on what the intent is.

I not only want to do Aikido but want to be able to make the journey to Japan or have Japanese teachers come to me. I don't expect anyone to be fluent but the names of basic techniques, exercises, movements, etc. are required if one is going to be comfortable in either situation.

I must say the number of required terms is really not that large and they can be introduced slowly and surely just as the techniques themselves.

As far as elitism - that level of competition is a joke which unfortunately some people don't get. Techniques should be explainable in the language understood by the students but part of the pleasure and mystic is the use of Japanese terms.

23rd July 2001, 02:22
The techniques and philosophy of aikido are the shared culture of aikidoka throughout the world. They should be be discussed as much a possible using a shared language - in this case the Japanese names for techniques and ideas.

Is there a single word in any other language that represents the ideal of aikido as well as "aiki"?


23rd July 2001, 02:32
Hi Peter;

Nice post - I have heard people saying that because there are such a large number of English speaking AIkidokas the language should be English. This of course fails to address the issue of why German, French or (name your nationality) would want to do that. As you say, with Japanese the culture is shared worldwide.

It is my opinion (freely and often given) that half the trouble in the Aikido world is derived through mistranslation of Japanese concepts, Aiki being one of them, Shi-ai another. Far better to understand the Japanese word than to get lost in the translation.

Originally posted by dakotajudo
The techniques and philosophy of aikido are the shared culture of aikidoka throughout the world. They should be be discussed as much a possible using a shared language - in this case the Japanese names for techniques and ideas.

Is there a single word in any other language that represents the ideal of aikido as well as "aiki"?


Mike Clarke
23rd July 2001, 02:41
But then again... look how many different Japanese names does a single technique have? We just saw this with the shihonage thread. Different styles often call the same technique different names so this does not make for a universal terminology - untill the travelling aikidoka sees the technique, s/he may not have a clue what you are talking about.



23rd July 2001, 03:08
Too true - but why add another level of complexity.

Just because I am bored at work at the moment I'll toss in another idea. The big problem learning Japanese or any other non-native language is getting used to the sounds and the meaning. For example I learnt and remembered the term Tenkai Kotehineri by understanding the component parts. Most other techniques are made up of combinations of shorter words which show up again and again. Those same smaller words trancend most styles and even most Japanese martial arts.

Finally, English or Japanese, if you visit another style the names are not that relevant. Just concentrate on what you see. For longer term training - see above.

Originally posted by Mike Clarke
But then again... look how many different Japanese names does a single technique have? We just saw this with the shihonage thread. Different styles often call the same technique different names so this does not make for a universal terminology - untill the travelling aikidoka sees the technique, s/he may not have a clue what you are talking about.

Jeff Hamacher
23rd July 2001, 05:14
Originally posted by Mike Clarke
But then again... look how many different Japanese names a single technique [has]? We just saw this with the shihonage thread. Different styles often call the same technique different names so this does not make for a universal terminology
the assumption is that the student will train within one "school" or "style" of aikido and thus avoid problems with varying terminology since that school should be using the same terminology no matter where you train. it certainly isn't uncommon these days for students to start with one school and for various reasons end up training in another, but i don't think that japanese teachers would generally approve of this. the situation in foreign countries may be quite different, of course.

bear in mind that even if the term for a given technique is the same each and every teacher has their own interpretation of that technique; a student who starts with a new teacher has to resign themselves to some initial confusion, never mind problems with terminology.

and i think that Peter's "extra layer of confusion" line is right on the money. translating different japanese terms into various foreign languages doesn't really help narrow things down, it just adds to the number of words we use.

23rd July 2001, 08:05
its so hard to get close to what the founders and pioneers of aikido were teaching, just so we can pioneer our own aikido, why would we want to dilute the legacy further with dispatching with the language of aikido?

Jack B
23rd July 2001, 14:15
Some japanese terms came up in the "judo vs aikido yonkyu deathmatch" thread.

"maai" is distance of meeting. That's pretty standard vocabulary. But the next two terms might mean many things:

"shikaku" can be translated: assassin, square, blind spot, sense of sight, qualifications. Which is it? (Really any of them might apply!)

"rokkyo" might mean "sixth teaching" which if it denotes an aikido technique, is pretty obscure advice for a yonkyu.

I agree with the poster that specialized jargon in the language of origin of the art makes sense and provides universal terms. In pursuit of this, can anyone help with the terms above?

Jack Bieler
Denton TX

Walter Kopitov
23rd July 2001, 15:04
I understand there are some japanese concepts that don't have a good translation, but many of the technique names are descriptive. Thrust to the stomach and do an entering throw.(Tsuke irimi nage)Whats the big deal?
I'm not against using Japanese terms, but I dislike the holier then thou attitude some practitioners have.

I started my training in 1974 and after more then two decades in the Martial Arts I find it easier to teach using the English language. The students learn quickly in their native language. I also learned a little Spanish to help the students that don't speak english, and on the rare occasion I have a Japanese student I practice my Japanese.

In my opinion it is the instructors responsibilbity to teach in a manner that all students can understand. It shouldn't be a test and those that fail aren't allowed to learn because they have difficulty with the Japanese language.


23rd July 2001, 20:02
You're absolutely right that it's important to address students in a way that they will understand. No reuptable teacher should allow students to get left behind simply because of terminology issues (within limits; if they don't speak English, and you don't speak Nepali, no one is to blame) But also, it's important to provide them with skills that will enable them to continue their training if they are so inclined.

My first (and current, once I get back to Boston) teacher employed the following strategy: He usually explains and describes techniques in English. He will give the Japanese form of the basic form of the technique (ikkyo), but not the extend form (shomen-uchi ikkyo nage). As the term (we go on semesters) progresses, he introduces more of the Japanese terminology, but retains the English explanations. Since it is a college rec class, there are new students dropping in all the time. They are not prevented from learning because they don't know the complete Japanese terminology. For continuing students who remain with the club for multiple semesters or years, you gradually pick up more and more terminology as you go along. This way, if you decide to continue at another dojo or read up on the background of aikido, you are equipped to address the subject as it is most commonly described.

So why is Japanese used at all? Well, like every focused subject, aikido has a technical vocabulary that is distinct from everyday language. In normal life, we don't have call to describe different ways of pinning someone's wrist (at least <b>I</b> don't). In fact, very little of this vocabulary exists in English, since systematic unarmed fighting systems were never a big deal in the English speaking world. Japanese has an excellent vocabulary for describing these things. So reason one is, "because it's there". Another reason is that the naming system in Japanese is quite systematic for aikido. Once you get the basics, you can easily anticipate the mechanics of a technique based on the name alone. Beneficial when improvising, or when you can't get a good look at how the technique is performed.

Why not use a translated vocabulary? Well, I'm not convinced that it is really any simpler. In the example given above, "Stomach thrust entering throw", what, if anything, does "entering throw" mean to a beginner? A throw for passing through doorways? A throw that enters? Enters what? To a beginner, the English forms of the technique names don't mean that much more than the Japanese forms (consider, additionally, 'ikkyo' vs. 'first control'). As such, a student is going to be in for a little bit of an adjustment no matter what is used. <br><br>The fact that the words are familiar does not mean that their specific technical meaning is clear. It may even be a barrier to performing the technique (if you think you know what a 'throw' <b>ought</b> to be, you may try and do what you think it is instead of what you observe in the dojo. A comperable problem to the art instruction mantra "Draw what you see, not what you know." Nage, however, has no preconceived notion. Might as well do what sensei's doing, 'cause that must be 'nage-ing')<p>So there are a few benefits that I can conceive of to learning the Japanese terminology. In addition, until there is any great consensus on the use of the vulgate for instruction, Japanese will be the language of international training, aikido literature, and cross-dojo, cross-style exchange. So for serious students, there is always a good incentive to learn the Japanese forms.<br><p>Finally, I don't know of many teachers that spout Japanese and then ignore the blank stares of their students. A teacher who does not allow for the different levels of familiarity with technical jargon of their students, whatever the language, is doing them a disservice and lands squarely in the catagory of Bad Budo. And for students who brag about their Japanese language skills- be kind to them. They obviously have little to be proud of in life, if they exude such pride for halting accomplishment in a language spoken fluently by tiny children all over Japan. :D

George Ledyard
24th July 2001, 14:29
I am always amused when this subject comes up because I find myself in a funny position. I was trained by Saotome Sensei and my Assistant chief Instructor, Kevin Lam, is a student of Imaizumi Sensei.

Aside from the most basic set of Japanese terms covering the basic techniques Saotome Sensei was not apt to name techiques at all, English, Japanese or otherwise. He just did stuff. He'd demonstrate a technique and if you were experienced you might catch that he had actually done three variations. The technique might, or might not, have a specific name and the variations would almost certainly not have.

Kevin Lam on the other hand, was given very meticulous instruction in the use of the Japanese technical terms. It is great for my students to have him at the dojo because they can learn these from him. Often I will do a technique in front of the class and then look at Kevin and ask what it is called. We often end up laughing because I might do a set of techniques that Saotome sensei, if he referred to them by name at all, may have described each as a "Nikkyo variation" whereas Kevin will have a specilaized name for each technique and variation.

People who look down at someone because they don't know the terminology miss the point. Terminology is just a tool. It's the doing of the techique that is most important.

Don Cunningham
24th July 2001, 20:55
I am not an aikidoka, and I don't even play one on television, but I have a comment to interject. I have practiced judo all over the world. I admit it is difficult to learn all the Japanese terms for the many throws, holddowns, armlocks, chokes, etc., not to mention those used in running and scoring a judo match. However, it is because of the common language that I have been able to practice in such diverse cultures and far away countries.

I may not be able to speak a word of German, but I could communicate with the judoka in Munich nearly as well as with those here in Chicago. I have trained in Singapore with Cantonese speaking Chinese judoka, but we could pretty much all understand and agree about what seoinage or taiotoshi meant. In addition to the U.S., I've trained and competed in Japan, Scotland, Germany, Singapore, Holland, Canada, and many other places with no significant communication problems. (Well, maybe the Canadians were a bit difficult to understand. ;) )

Personally, I agree that many U.S. dojos have an elitist attitude when it comes to use of Japanese terms or not, but a common language does come in handy when crossing borders for training. Just my 2 cents worth.

25th July 2001, 22:59
Rokkyu can be executed over the shoulder or under the arm pit. The short explanation is to manipulate the uke into a position where their arm is straightened and the palm is either up when under the arm pit or facing towards the front when the arm is over the shoulder. The area just above the elbow is the leverage point. This is the area where your elbow or your clavicle applies pressure. If performed under the elbow, lift up slightly on the hand and wrist with one or both hands while applying downward pressure on the area just above the elbow with your armpit and sink you weight down to he ground. The uke is forced to the ground or their elbow will break. If applied over the shoulder, be sure the palm is facing outward, that is towards the front, the area just above the elbow is placed on or about your clavicle. Pulling the uke’s hand or forearm towards yourself will lock out his arm and raise him onto his toes. Slightly bending forward will assist in the execution. If you really want to hurt the uke, go down to your knees and bow your head to the ground. The uke will either fly over your shoulder into a modified roll/fall or dive headfirst into the ground.