Karate Terminology

Sounds kind of Japanese to you? - Well, it is. :-)

For some karate expressions that come up again and again you can find brief explainations below.

More Karate expressions with kanji at Wikipedia (German). (Please point me to a similar page in English if you find one).

Bowing in and out

Karate begins and ends with respect (Gichin Funakoshi).

Japanese Expression Explanation Kanji
Karate empty hand 空手
Rei (to take a) bow, salute, expression of gratitude
Seiza kneeling with the tops of the feet flat on the floor, and sitting on the soles (literally: righteous sitting) 正座
Mokuso silent contemplation - the meditation phase, usually with eyes closed and concentrating on breathing 黙想
Shomen ni Rei (to take a) bow to the front side (of the dojo; bowing to the ancestors) 正面 に 礼
Sensei ni Rei (to take a) bow to the teacher (literally: ahead life) - a command spoken by the highest ranking student before bowing when the group is lined up 先生 に 礼
Senpai senior (at work or school), more experienced fellow - somebody who practices karate for a longer time, highest ranking student when lined up 先輩
Kiritsu standing up 起立
Otagaini Rei bowing to one another / together - e.g. in partner training or in a circle お互いに
Ossu hello, OK, Yo! - a multi-purpose exclamation within the context of karate. In Japan a greeting used between close male friends;  Hi!;  Yes Sir!;  Yo!. 押忍
Narande to line up 並んで

Basic expressions in karate training

Japanese Expression Explanation Kanji
Yoi! Attention! or Get ready! 用意
Hajime! Begin! 初め
Yame! Stop! 止め
Kamae posture (esp. fighting pose) 構え
Mawate! Turn around! - step across with back foot if required 回て
Kiai join spirit/mind, fighting spirit, gather courage - focussing a technique, also fighting scream 気合
Kime decisiveness, ruling decision 決め
Zanshin continued alertness, remaining on one's guard 残心
Kihon basis, foundation 基本
Kata form (in the sense of shape, style, method OR in the sense of template, model, pattern, mould, type) - in karate especially: standardised sequence of techniques or
Kumite grappling hands; cooperating hands, working hand in hand - sparring, partner work 組手
Bunkai taking apart, analysis - in karate the study of practical applications (oyo) of kata sequences 分解
Oyo Application - in karate the practical application of karate techniques 応用
Goshin-Jutsu the art of personal protection - self-defence techniques 護身術 - more
Mochimi being sticky, being adhesive (literally: rice cake person) 餅身
Muchimi being like a whip (wörtlich: whip person) 鞭身
Omomi heaviness, weight (also: importance, emphasis) 重み
Atifa / Shougekiha / Tsuunami shock wave 衝撃波

Basic karate techniques

Japanese Expression Explanation Kanji
Dachi stance, that one assumes at the end of a movement 立ち
Zenkutsu-Dachi front-bending stance / forward submitting stance 前屈 立ち
Kokutsu-Dachi rear-bending stance / backward yielding stance 後屈 立ち
Kiba-Dachi horse-riding stance 騎馬 立ち
Neko-Ashi-Dachi cat foot stance 猫足 立ち
Kosa-Dachi crossing stance 交差 立ち
Jodan upper level (head and neck) 上段
Chudan middle level (from neck to belt) 中段
Gedan lower level (from belt to knee) 下段
Hiza-Shita knee and below (sic!) 膝下
Hikite pulling hand (drawing the fist back to the hip) 引手
Gedan-Barai lower-level sweeping 下段 払い
Uke receiver, accepting 受け
Age-Uke rising receiver (upper block) 上げ 受け
Soto-Ude-Uke (from) outside (to inside) arm receiver - in many other styles than Shotokan this is called Uchi-Uke 外腕 受け
Uchi-Ude-Uke (from) inside (to outside) arm receiver - in many other styles that Shotokan this is called Soto-Uke 内腕 受け
Shuto-Uke hand (like a) sword receiver 手刀 受け
Morote-Uchi-Ude-Uke paired hands (from) inside (to outside) arm receiver 双手 内腕 受け
Manji-Gamae swastika posture 卍構え
Koshi-Gamae hip posture (both hands at he hip like cup and saucer) 腰構え
Tsuki thrust, lunge, stab - a straight punch 突き
Oi-Zuki straight lunge punch (literally like "pursuit thrust" or "chasing lunge") 追い突き
Kizami-Zuki straight punch with the leading hand (literally like "mincing thrust" or "chopping stab"), also called a jab 刻み突き
Gyaku-Zuki straight punch with the rear hand - reverse punch (literally like "opposite thrust") 逆突き
Ura-Ken backside (of the) fist 裏拳
Tettsui-Uchi iron hammer strike 鉄槌打
Nukite piercing hand 貫手
Gaiwan outside-arm, the ulna side/little-finger side of the lower arm (could also be pronounced "Soto-Ude") 外腕
Haiwan backside-arm, the back-of-the-hand side of the lower arm 背腕
Naiwan inside-arm, the radius side/thumb side of the lower arm (could also be pronounced "Uchi-Ude") 内腕
Shuwan hand-arm, the palm side of the lower arm 手腕
Empi / Hiji monkey-elbow / elbow/arm 猿臂 bzw. 肘
Mae-Geri forward kick 前蹴り
Yoko-Kekomi side kick thrust (literally like "crowded", "in bulk", "including", "all-in") 横蹴込み
Yoko-Keage side kick raising (and snapping back like a whip) 横蹴上げ
Mawashi-Geri roundhouse kick 回し蹴り
Ushiro-Geri backwards kick 後ろ蹴り
Hiza-Geri kneeing, knee strike (literally "knee kick") 膝蹴り
Kin-Geri gold kick, testicles kick - a kick in the crown jewels 蹴り

Types of stepping

Japanese Expression Explanation Kanji
Tai-Sabaki to position oneself (literally: bodywork, body handling) -さばき
Suri-Ashi sliding step without leaving the ground (literally: sliding feet) 摺足
Yori-Ashi closing-in step (literally: to draw the feet near, to send the feet forward) 寄り足
Kae-Ashi full step (literally: to exchange the feet) - with one foot passing the other 替え足
Ashi-Fumi-Kae switch step (literally: feet-step-exchange) - pull one foot in to the other foot, then set the other foot out in reverse direction 足踏み替え
Okuri-Ashi stretching step (literally: to send a foot) - step out with one foot, then pull the other foot in to maintain the distance between them 送足
Tsugi-Ashi transmitting step (literally: sequential feet, next foot) - pull one foot in, then step out with the other foot to maintain the distance between them 次足 or 継足
Sashi-Ashi stealthy steps - lift foot when stepping and set down with the ball of the foot, often passing the other foot, then again with the next foot, without changing the lead hand side 差し足
Ayumi-Ashi (normal) (literally: walking feet) - usually setting the foot down with the heel first and then rolling the foot from heel to toe 歩み足

Weapons and other parts of the body

A nice overview of weapons in karate and other parts of the human body in Japanese has been compiled by Christian Sroka on his Website www.karate-do.de. (The page is in German but the terms are in Japanese and the parts of the body are illustrated.)

Pronuncing Japanese transcriptions

For English speakers there is a quick guide to pronouncing Romaji by Dizzy H. Muffin or you could turn to the more in-depth description on Wikipedia.

For German speakers Christian Sroka briefly describes rules for pronouncing Japanese transcriptions on his Website www.karate-do.de.