Helpful Japanese Vocab

Like many martial arts, in Shorinji Kempo we have a lot of specialised vocabulary.  Much of our vocab is in Japanese.

This isn’t because we’re just being awkward.

As part of the International Kempo Association, we train with kenshi (students) from many countries.  We need one language to describe what we do, so that everyone can understand – and since the martial art was founded in Japan, it seems only fair that we standardise on Japanese.

However, it does mean that beginners can feel a little lost to start with.  To combat that, here is a list of helpful words – how they’re pronounced, how they’re spelled, and what they mean.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is quite long.  DO NOT try to memorise all of these words straight away!  You will pick them up as you go along.  This list is only intended to be a helpful reminder.

  • Pronunciation (spelling): meaning

Session Admin

  • Sen-say (sensei): teacher.
  • Ser-ritz (seiritsu): line up – the sensei will call this out.
  • Shoe-go (shugo): assemble – the person in the front right will shout this in response to seiritsu.  Line up in a grid with everyone else.
  • Ray (rei): make gassho rei.  We do this a lot.
  • Na-Ray (naore): stop making gassho rei.
  • On-e-guy-a-she-mass (onegai shimasu): please – as in, please train with me, please teach me, etc., usually paired with a rei.
  • Ari-gato-go-zai-i-mash-ta (arigato gozaimashita): thank you – as in, thank you for training with me, thank you for teaching me, etc., usually paired with a rei.
  • Kam-eye (kamae): take up stance.  This is usually said after the sensei has specified a stance.
  • Haj-i-may (hajime): start.  Don’t start doing anything until you hear this word.
  • Ya-may (yame): stop.  If you hear this, stop whatever you’re doing, as soon as possible, and pay attention to the sensei.

Directions to Move In

  • Hid-a-ree (hidari): left
  • Mi-gee (migi): right
  • My (mae): forward
  • A-toe (ato): backward

Bits of the Body

  • Joe-dan (jodan): head level
  • Choo-dan (chudan): middle level (usually solar plexus or side floating ribs)
  • Gay-dan (gedan): lower level (anything below the waist)
  • Kin-teki (kinteki): groin (literally, the golden target)

I hope you’ve found this list useful.  If you’ve heard a word and you’re not sure about it, why not leave a comment and I’ll tell you what it means!

Published by Nicola Higgins

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something* martial artist, Girlguiding Brownie and Ranger Leader, and actuary. She somehow also finds time to read, fuss her cat, and occasionally spends time with her husband. [* please note that "ten or more" is still something.]

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