Why speak Japanese in the Karate dojo? Karate is no longer “Japanese only,” but because of the international scope which Karate has taken, it is practical to be familiar with the original language of Karate. Karate terms in Japanese should not be memorized from a long list of terms, but should be learned alongside the techniques and concepts as one learns.
The secret to pronouncing Japanese correctly is the vowel sounds. There are five vowel sounds in Japanese. These are about the same as the vowel sounds in French – A as father, I as in marine, U as in full, E as in pen, and O as in go. Thus A, I, U, E, O, in this order, are formed with fifteen consonants to form the basic 46 Japanese syllables with some additional sound changes.
Japanese syllables are of one and two letter combinations with an occasional double consonant.
Common Vocabulary Inside a Dojo
Do: Literally means “the way, the path or the approach.” The arts of Japan are usually attached to this “do”. It suggests that the arts are a way for the ultimate perfection of human character.
Jitsu: Art, concerning itself with the physical mechanics of the technique with no emphases on the character development of the student.
Dojo: a hall or place (jo) where the way (do) of the martial arts is practiced.
Seiza: formal Japanese way of sitting on the floor with one’s knees bent under him. It literally means to “sit correctly”.
Mokuso: means meditation or quiet contemplation. The purpose of mokuso is to achieve mental and physical quietnessand tranquility before and after training.
Rei: a command used for bow. Bowing may be done standing or sitting. One bows to the front to show respect to the heritage of Karate, to the instructor and to each other to express mutual respect, trust, and appreciation.
Shomen ni rei: Bow to the front.
Sensei ni rei: Bow to the teacher.
Otagai ni rei: Bow to each other.
Yoi: a command to be mentally alert and ready for action.
Kamae: a command to move into ready position for action either for defense or attack. The open leg stance will allow one to move into action with economy of energy and motion. Zenkutsu Dachi or Shizentai Dachi are used as the ready positions.
Hajime: means the beginning or the start. As a command it is begin, start, or go.
Kiai: command to let out a sound at the moment of focus to aid in the tensing of body muscles and focusing of the mind for a more effective technique. One does not literally say “Kiai”, rather it is an outward burst of air and energy.