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Thread: What is Hidetaka Nishiyama saying?

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    Default What is Hidetaka Nishiyama saying?

    I have been reading James Sidney's "The Warrior Path". Very good book. He has interviews with some of the best living Japanese Martial artists alive. In the chapter with Hidetaka Nishiyama he says the following, "In Japan, they have a word to describe good martial art teacher, shihan. Shi is finger and han is south. Together they mean pointing south like a compass."

    Completely different than any other explanation for the kanji for shihan than anything I ever saw.

    Now I assume Nishiyama Shihan know more about karate and the Japanese language than I ever will so in some sense he is probably right.
    Is there anyone here who can explain this?
    Thanks,
    Len

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    Phonetically, yes; "finger" is "shi" as in "shiatsu" (finger-pressure massage), but it's a different kanji than in shihan: finger is 指, versus the in shihan.
    I have no idea about the "han" meaning south part.
    Yours in Budo,
    ---Brian---

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    Mr McCoy,

    The logic in the final part of your post is suspect. You conclude that Mr Nishiyama is "probably right" about the meaning of the word shihan because he knows more about karate and the Japanese language than you do. The assumption that shihans know as much about the Japanese language as they do about the art in which they are shihans is also suspect.

    I live here and my experience suggests to me that in this case, consulting a Japanese language expert is probably better than consulting a Japanese martial arts expert. Or at least a good Japanese kanji dictionary.

    There are several reputable monolingual dictionaries of Japanese, but none I have consulted give the meaning of 師 as finger. What they do explain is more abstract and subtle, like teaching something by pointing it out, in other words, teaching by showing. But this is only one meaning, out of 15 given in the dictionary. There are a few compounds with shi in the first position, most having to do with teaching. The exceptions include shidan 師団 (army division) and 師走 shiwasu (12th lunar month). There are many more compounds with shi in the final position, but not all have to do with teaching. Interesting examples include 一寸法師 (issunboushi: Tom Thumb), 如何様師 (ikasamashi: swindler), 家庭教師 (katei kyoushi: private teacher), 琵琶法師 (biwa houshi: minstrel playing the lute).

    As for 範, it has the meaning of pattern, model or limit. In other words, what to include but also exclude. So a kihan 規範 is a standard or norm, and this is part of the title of a book on aikido written by the present Doshu. The Japanese is Kihan Aikido 『規範合気道』 which is something like Model Aikido. There are far fewer compounds with han and nearly all have to with limits, model, standards and categories.
    Peter Goldsbury,
    Forum Administrator,
    Hiroshima, Japan

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    Hi Prof. Goldsbury,
    Good point about martial arts skills don't necessarily mean language skills. (More irritating to me personally is when people use equations and terms from physics wrong to explain karate). I still would tend to think however that since Nishiyama Shihan's first language is Japanese that he would know how to spell his own title in Japanese and what the kanji mean. Then again English is my first (only) language and I just used living and alive in the same sentence to describe martial artists. Kind of like the American Dodge-ball Association of America.
    Thank you very much for your post,
    Len McCoy

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    Hello Mr McCoy,

    Thank you for your response. I have quoted the part relevant to this response.

    Quote Originally Posted by len mccoy View Post
    Hi Prof. Goldsbury,
    I still would tend to think however that since Nishiyama Shihan's first language is Japanese that he would know how to spell his own title in Japanese and what the kanji mean.
    If this were the case, I think he would be very unusual, even as a native Japanese. Of course, he would have learned all the relevant kanji as a child (relevant meaning necessary for being able to operate as a Japanese adult). The meanings and etymology, however, are quite a different matter and in my experience very few are able to explain these correctly. In a way, English is similar, for I think people would be hard pressed to explain the etymology of the words which we take for granted in daily use: the words we have used in this correspondence, for example.

    Anyway, on Saturday, I will ask all the Japanese students in the dojo to explain the etymology of the term shihan.


    Quote Originally Posted by len mccoy View Post
    Thank you very much for your post,
    Len McCoy
    And thanks to you, too, for yours.
    Peter Goldsbury,
    Forum Administrator,
    Hiroshima, Japan

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    Hello,

    It is really strange to read this interpretation of "shihan". The character 南 for "south" is spelled "na" or "nan" in Sino-Japanese, certainly not "han". Therefore it really makes no sense. H. Nishiyama passed away around a decade ago, so we can no longer ask him about the matter. Sometimes when typing and publishing interviews errors occure, which may be one possible explanation.

    Regrads,

    Henning Wittwer

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    Speculation:

    Chinese calls the compass zhi nan 指南 or zhi nan zhen 指南針... which would be "finger" and "south" (and needle with zhen..)

    While not apparent in the translation, perhaps he was drawing an analogy between the shihan and the zhi nan, the shihan "pointing the way" as it were, especially with the putative original Chinese origin of karate, and it got all mixed in?
    Kit Leblanc

    In Harm's Way

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    Hello,

    This is what I guess. As I wrote above, perhaps in the process of writing down and editing/publishing the interview the editor misread "shihan" instead of "shinan" 指南, or maybe "shinan-yaku" 指南役 which has indeed the interpretation of "finger to the south" and in Japanese is a term for an fighting arts teacher.

    Regards,

    Henning Wittwer

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gibukai View Post
    ...in the process of writing down and editing/publishing the interview the editor misread "shihan" instead of "shinan"...
    I think you hit the nail on the head. Nishiyama Shihan probably said "shinan," and in the process of writing, editing, and publishing the article it got mistranscribed as "shihan."
    Yours in Budo,
    ---Brian---

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    Well this is embarrassing. I just reread the text and the word Nishiyama uses is shinan. Error entirely on my part.
    Len McCoy

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    Quote Originally Posted by len mccoy View Post
    Well this is embarrassing. I just reread the text and the word Nishiyama uses is shinan. Error entirely on my part.
    Len McCoy
    Quick! Delete the thread before anyone notices!

    Oh...too late. Oh well, it made for some good interaction.
    Yours in Budo,
    ---Brian---

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    Quote Originally Posted by len mccoy View Post
    Well this is embarrassing. I just reread the text and the word Nishiyama uses is shinan. Error entirely on my part.
    Len McCoy
    Do not worry. We all make mistakes and I was bemused to read contributions I made much earlier that I forgot existed.

    Best wishes,
    Peter Goldsbury,
    Forum Administrator,
    Hiroshima, Japan

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    No embarrassment intended, I was searching shinan and that old thread came up and thought it was relevant.

    But it is a reminder that nothing we write on the Internet ever goes away!
    Kit Leblanc

    In Harm's Way

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    Quote Originally Posted by P Goldsbury View Post
    Hello Mr McCoy,

    Anyway, on Saturday, I will ask all the Japanese students in the dojo to explain the etymology of the term shihan.
    Well, I did do this and added a question about the difference between shihan and shinan: no one had a clue. They all knew that shihan meant and a few older students had an idea about shinan, but no one could explain the etymology.

    Best wishes,

    PAG
    Peter Goldsbury,
    Forum Administrator,
    Hiroshima, Japan

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