Glossary


Karate hails from Okinawa and Japan, so the formal terminology has both Japanese and English versions. The writing of Japanese using the Roman alphabet is referred to as Romaji. Sometimes the same word is spelled in different ways, this can just be different romanizations, or it can be because the Japanese words sound slightly different depending on whether you use the word at the start, or middle/end of a phrase. For example front kick is mae geri, but kick is keri [1].

General Vocabulary

In approximate order that you might encounter them…

RomajiEnglishPronunciationJapanese
DojoTraining Halldoh-joh道場
GiUniformgee (hard G like golf)
SenseiTeachersen-say先生
SempaiSenior student/assistant teachersem-pie先輩
HaiYeshighはい
SeizaKneelsay-zah
Mokusou“quiet meditation”/eyes closedmoh-koo-soo
ReiBowray
YoiReadyyoh-ee
KamaeMove (to position)kah-may
HajimeStarthah-jee-may初め
YameStopyah-mayやめ
KiaiShout (of spirit)kee-eye気合い
KihonBasic techniqueskee-hon基本
KataFormal pattern/formkah-tah
KumiteSparringkoo-mee-tay組手
JodanUpper/head leveljoh-dan上段
ChudanMiddle/stomach levelchoo-dan中段
GedanLower levelgeh-dan下段
MaeFrontmay
UshiroBackoo-shee-row後ろ
HikitePulling handhee-kee-tay
MawateTurn (with position)mah-wah-tay
WazaTechniquewah-zah
KanchoFounderkan-choh
ShihanMaster teachershee-han
OtagaiEach other (followed by ni rei to bow to each other)oh-tah-gighおたがい
EmbusenKata pattern/pathem-boo-sen演武線
ShomenFrontshow-men正面
Hanmi“half body”/sidehahn-mi半身

Numbers (counting)

When counting in class we can abbreviate the numbers to their first syllable.

Four and seven have alternate words for when you are using the number on its own, or at the end of a count; e.g., if you are only counting to 4, you would end with yon, but if you are counting through to a later number, you would count through san, shi, go etc.

NumberRomajiPronunciation
1ichiitch
2ninee
3sansun
4shi/yonshee/yon
5gogoh
6rokurock (or rook)
7shichi/nanashitch/nah-nah
8hachihutch
9ku (kyuu)kyoo
10juujoo

Strikes

The general term for a strike is uchi, specifically a punch is tsuki, but when you specify the type of punch (put a word before it), the pronounciation is more like zuki.

RomajiEnglishPronunciation
TsukiPunch; thrust/pierce/stabtsoo-kee
UchiStrikeoo-chee
Jodan zukiHead level punchjoh-dan zoo-kee
Chudan zukiStomach level punchchoo-dan zoo-kee
Shita zukiShort punchshee-tah zoo-kee
HijiateRising elbow strikehee-jee-ah-tay
Mawashi empiRound elbow strikemah-wah-shee em-pee
Ura uchiFront backfist strikeoo-rah oo-chee
Yoko ura uchiSide backfist strikeyoh-koh oo-rah oo-chee
UrakenBackfist (another term for)oo-rah-ken
Haito uchiRidge-hand strikehigh-toh oo-chee
Shuto uchiKnife-hand strikeshoo-toh oo-chee
Oi zukiLunge (front-hand) punch)oy zoo-kee
Gyaku zukiReverse (back-hand) punchgee-ah-koo zoo-kee
Kizami zukiJab punch (front-hand from guard, or block)kee-zum-ah zoo-kee
Tetsui uchiHammer fist striketet-soo-ee oo-chee
Teisho uchiPalm-heel striketay-show oo-chee
NukiteSpear hand thrustnoo-kee-tay
Ippon kenOne knuckle strikeeep-on ken
Tate zukiUppercuttah-tay zoo-kee

Blocks

We usually translate the term uke to mean block, but it literally means receive. Blocks should generally receive and redirect an attacker’s energy.

RomajiEnglishPronunciationUsage
UkeBlock/receiveoo-kay
Jodan age ukeRising head level blockjoh-dan ah-gay oo-kay
Uchi ukeInside hooking blockoo-chee oo-kay
Soto ukeOutside hooking blocksoh-toh oo-kay
Gedan baraiDownward blockgeh-dan bar-eye
Gedan ukeLower sweeping blockgeh-dan oo-kay
Shuto ukeKnife-hand blockshoo-toh oo-kay
Chuge ukeDouble blockchoo-geh oo-kay
Kake ukeHooking block (open hand)kah-kay oo-kay
Mawashi ukeRound block (double open hand)mah-wah-shee oo-kay
Morote ukeReinforced blockmoh-roh-tay oo-kayBassai-dai, Seiunchin
Shotei ukePalm heel blockshow-tay oo-kayBassai-dai, Empi, Kanku-dai
Juji ukeX blockjoo-jee oo-kaySanseru, Kururunfa
Keito UkeChicken Head Wrist Blockkay-toh oo-kaySanseru (final move)
Oliver ukeSide double blockoh-lee-ver oo-kay
Hariatoshi uke3 point lower/circular blockhah-ree-a-toe-shee oo-kaySeiunchin, Sepai
Hari ukeArcher blockhah-ree oo-kaySeiunchin

Stances

The word for stance, dachi, has two syllables, but when speaking of a particular stance in class we tend to shorten the second syllable, to the point that it’s not really audible.

RomajiEnglishPronunciationNotes
DachiStancedutch-ee
Heiko dachiReady stancehay-koh dutch
Zenkutsu dachiLong forward stancezen-koot-soo dutch
Han zenkutsu dachiShort fighting stancehun sen-koot-soo dutch
Kiba dachiHorseriding stancekee-bah dutch
Shiko dachiSumo stanceshee-koh dutch
Sanchin dachiHourglass/three-pointed/pigeon-toed stancesun-chin dutch
Neko ashi dachiCat stanceneck-oh ush-ee dutch
Kokutsu dachiBack-leaning stancekoh-koot-soo dutch
Kosa dachiReverse cat stancekoh-sah dutchFoot may be beside, or hooked behind other foot
Heiko sanchin dachiParallel stancehay-koh sun-chin dutchOne foot is in front of the other, as in sanchin dachi, but is parallel (not turned in)
Musubi dachiV-stance (heels together)moo-soo-bee dutchWhat we do when we bow
Heisoku dachiFeet togetherhay-soh-koo dutchAs in Bassai-dai, Empi
Sagi ashi dachiHeron stancesah-gee ush-ee dutchFoot is beside supporting knee (as in Saifa)
Tsuru ashi dachiCrane stancetsoo-roo ush-ee dutchFoot tucks behind supporting knee (as in Empi)
Hangetsu dachiHalf moon stancehun-get-soo dutchAs in kata Hangetsu
Renoji sachiL-stanceren-oh-jee dutchIn Kankudai

Kicks

When speaking of a kick on its own, the Japanese is keri, but when the word kick is after another word, the sound is more like geri [1].

RomajiEnglishPronunciation
KeriKickkeh-ree
Mae geriFront kickmay geh-ree
Mawashi geriRound kickmah-wah-shee geh-ree
Yoko geriSide kickyoh-koh geh-ree
Ushiro geriBack kickoo-shee-roh geh-ree
Kin geriGroin kick with instepkeen geh-ree
Mikazuki geriCrescent kickmee-kah-zoo-kee geh-ree
Ura mawashi geriHook kickoo-rah mah-wah-shee geh-ree
Kansetsu geriSide kick to knee jointkun-set-soo geh-ree

Footwork

RomajiEnglishPronunciationNotes
AshiFootah-shee
Ashi sabakiFootworkah-shee sah-bah-kee
Suri ashiSliding stepsoo-ree ah-sheeGliding between stances (maintain height and balance)
Ashi baraiFoot sweepah-shee bar-eye
Oi ashiLunging feetoi-ee ah-sheeFront foot moves forward and back
Yori ashiSliding feetyor-ee ah-sheeFront foot moves then back foot follows
Sugi ashiShuffling feetsoo-gee ah-sheeBack foot moves up then front foot lunges
Ayumi ashiWalking feetah-yoo-mee ah-sheeBack foot steps through

Principles

RomajiEnglishPronunciationJapanese
Kime“decision”/focuskee-may決め
Push-pull
GojuHard-softgoh-joo剛柔
Zanshin“remaining mind”/awarenesszun-chin残心
Zentai ryokuFull body powerzen-tie roh-koo全体力
Gamaku“center”/hip movementgum-ah-koo
SenjutsuTactics/battle strategysen-joot-soo
Kuzushi“destroy”/controlling opponent’s balancekoo-zoo-shee崩し
IkimiFloating (light and swift)ick-ee-mee
ItsokuStability (grounded)it-soh-koo

Further Reading

Footnotes

  1. Geri without a prefix means diarrhoea, so don’t get that one wrong with a Japanese speaker 😜