Haverhill Shotokan Karate-Do

Japanese Terminology and Definitions Used in Shotokan Karate

As Shotokan karate-do is a Japanese martial art, it is important for all students and practitioners to understand the terms and basic words used. Many techniques and expressions can have more than one name or word to describe them, which can be confusing, but in the Japanese language they are often different ways to express the same word.

Japanese Words Everyone Misunderstands in Karate

Karate can be tricky. Just like Medicine has Latin and Mathematics has numbers, Karate has Japanese. Unfortunately, many people are confused by the Japanese words in Karate. But if you don’t understand the terminology of Karate, you cannot learn or teach it optimally. Hopefully, this helps you understand Karate better.

Uke - Misunderstood meaning: “Block.” Real meaning: “Receive.” Explanation: The word “uke” comes from the Japanese word “ukeru”, which means “to receive.” But for some reason, the Western world has interpreted this as “to block.”

This misunderstanding is detrimental to your advancement in higher levels of Karate and doesn’t reflect the original intent of Karate’s defensive moves. Shift your mindset from “blocking” to “receiving”. Your entire perception of how to apply Karate against a bigger or stronger opponent will change. Now you’re relying more on technique, and less on brute force.

Ki - Misunderstood meaning: “Magic super power.” Real meaning: “Energy.” Explanation: The concept of “ki” (spelled “chi” or “qi” in Chinese) has gotten a bad reputation since McDojo charlatans started using it as an excuse to brainwash students into believing they had supernatural martial abilities – like the no-touch KO. But it’s really nothing new. “Ki” – or “energy” as we call it in English – is what life is made up of. It constantly flows through your body, your surroundings, the wind, water, earth and sun. According to the laws of physics, you cannot create it or destroy it, only transferred to other objects or convert into different forms (kinetic energy, potential energy, thermal energy, electrical energy etc…). Humans have been cultivating it for as long as we have been on earth. “Ki” is a beautiful thing – especially when you manifest it using the body mechanics of Karate. After all, Karate is all about efficient energy management.

Sensei - Misunderstood meaning: “Karate instructor.” Real meaning: “One who has come before in life.” Explanation: The word “sensei” consists of two parts: The first is “sen”, which means “before”. The second is “sei”, which means “life”.

In other words, a “sensei” is someone who is ahead of you in the journey of life. That’s why a sensei is not just a person who instructs Karate techniques. A sensei is your mentor. Your life coach. Your sensei can help you bridge the gap between self-protection and self-perfection. Because ultimately, the Way of Karate is the Way of Life. Your sensei knows this, because he/she has walked the path himself and is ready to guide you on the journey. The question is, are you ready to follow?

Bunkai - Misunderstood meaning: “Practical application of kata.” Real meaning: “To break down.” Explanation: Many Karate people like to use kata techniques for self-defense.

After all, that was their original intent. We usually call this aspect of Karate training “bunkai.” But in reality, “bunkai” means to “to break down” – not “practical application of kata.” “Bunkai” is actually just the first step of applying kata for practical self-defense. After you “break down” the kata, you need to analyze the pieces and put it back together in the right context. For most people, it seems the word “bunkai” represents this whole process though.

Dojo - Misunderstood meaning: “Karate studio.” Real meaning: “The place of the Way.” Explanation: Many instructors teach Karate in gyms, dance studios, community centers or other venues not dedicated solely to Karate. But… no matter where you teach/learn Karate, that place is your “dojo.” This holds true for all traditional Japanese martial arts. And the word “dojo” is deeper than most people think:

“Do” means “Way”

“Jo” means “Place”

In other words, a “dojo” is a place where you embark on the journey to self-discovery – through the means of Karate training. The “dojo” is a Place where you are guided on the Way, by someone who has “come before” ( = “sensei”), using Karate as tool for transmitting the knowledge necessary to spark personal progress. Not just a “Karate studio.”

Kiai - Misunderstood meaning: “Battle scream.” Real meaning: “Unified energy.” Explanation: Sometimes it seems people scream “kiai” for the sake of screaming. But “kiai” is not about screaming. It’s not about exercising your vocal chords.

"Ki" literally means energy.

"Ai" literally means to unify.

This helps explains what the purpose of kiai truly is. Unifying the total energy of your mind, body and technique ("shin-gi-tai"), in a split-second moment of intense culmination. Kiai is an essential expression of your unification within your self.

Rei - Misunderstood meaning: Bow. Real meaning: Respect. Explanation: Karate contains a lot of Japanese etiquette and culture.

One of the most important things is the bow – commonly known as "rei.” The word rei comes from the Japanese word reigi, which means respect, courtesy, manners. But the bow seems to have lost much of it’s respectful intention these days, especially when you look at people who compete in kumite. It looks more like a sloppy head nod. Rei is an integral part of dojo etiquette. It’s a physical manifestation of your gratitude for those helping you on the Way. That’s why we bow to both the dojo itself, as well as the people in it.

Often we say “onegaishimasu” at the same time too. Without respect, you cannot progress in Karate. Karate begins and ends with the bow.

Kumite - Misunderstood meaning: "Sparring/fighting." Real meaning: "Entangled hands." Explanation: The modern concept of "kumite" has lost much of it’s essence. When you look at the way we practice kumite today, it seems like a game of tag. Distant, jerky and disconnected.

But the original intent of Karate’s two person combative exchange was very different. You see, the word “kumite” actually means "entangled" or "intertwined." The concept of entangling/intertwining arms with your opponent sounds like you’re at a much closer distance, doesn’t it? Interestingly enough, if you look at the way old masters taught Karate, it was often close distance. The combination of grabbing your opponent while delivering strikes, kicks, punches, knees, elbows, joint locks and takedowns was simply much more practical than our modern interpretation of kumite. Of course, this all changed when Karate was modernized and we started competing. What used to be a great fighting technique can now get you disqualified.

Osu/Oss - Misunderstood meanings: "hi", "hello", "goodbye", "okay", "thanks", "excuse me", "hey there", "come here", "go there", "what’s up", "look at me", "do it this way", "that way", "do you understand?", "I understand” and “train harder." Real meaning: A rough, masculine Japanese cultural expression that many Westerners abuse. Explanation: First of all, you should know that "Osu/Oss" is a very touchy subject. Second, the correct spelling is “Osu”. But since the “u” is silent, some people think it’s spelled “Oss.” Third, no matter how you want to spell it, you should understand that “Oss/Osu” expresses a very strong assertiveness, masculinity and “let’s-kick-butt” spirit in Japanese. It’s not a word you should use carelessly. For example, you should never say it to a Japanese person unless he is younger than you, lower in rank, or wants you to say it. And if you’re a woman, don’t say it at all. Japanese society is hierarchical and strict with proper etiquette when it comes to language.

Numbers 1-20

  • 1 - Ichi
  • 2 - Ni
  • 3 - San
  • 4 - Shi
  • 5 - Go
  • 6 - Roku
  • 7 - Shichi
  • 8 - Hachi
  • 9 - Ku
  • 10 - Jyu
  • 11 - Jyu Ichi
  • 12 - Jyu Ni
  • 13 - Jyu San
  • 14 - Jyu Shi
  • 15 - Jyu Go
  • 16 - Jyu Roku
  • 17 - Jyu Shichi
  • 18 - Jyu Hachi
  • 19 - Jyu Ku
  • 20 - Nijyu

General Terms

  • Budo - Way of combat
  • Bunkai - To break down (interpretation) of kata techniques
  • Dan - Level
  • Do - Way
  • Dojo - School, training room or hall (the place of the way)
  • Seiza - traditional Japanese kneeling (sitting on your heels)
  • Agura - 胡坐, sitting cross-legged
  • Domo Arigato - Thank you
  • Domo Arigato Gozaimashita - Thank you very much
  • Embusen - Floor pattern/performance line of a kata
  • Gi - Uniform
  • Gohon Kumite - Five-step sparring
  • Hiki Te - Withdrawing hand, pulling in block
  • Ippon Kumite - One-step sparring
  • Jiyyu Ippon Kumite - Semi-free one-step sparring
  • Jiyyu Kumite - Free Sparring
  • Karate - Empty Hand
  • Karate Do - The Way of Karate (Empty Hand)
  • Karateka - Practitioner of Karate
  • Ki - Energy
  • Kiai - Spirit shout/focus of spiritual energy
  • The Way of Hara - The area between the navel and the top of the pubic bone
  • Kime - Focusing, concentration and power
  • Kihon - Fundamentals
  • Kohai - Junior student
  • Kyu - Rank
  • Kumite - Entangled hands
  • Maai - Distance
  • Mawate - Turn around, or about face
  • Mokuso - Meditate
  • Naote - Relax
  • Obi - Belt
  • Usu - I understand and will try my best. Also used to show respect and enthusiasm (let's kick but spirit)
  • Sanbon Kumite - Three-step sparring
  • Sempai - Senior student
  • Sensei - Instructor (one who has come before in life)
  • Shihan - Master
  • Shotokan - 'House of Shoto'; pen name of Gichin Funakoshi

Major Concepts

  • Zanshin - Awareness; Following through a technique while maintaining awareness
  • Sen No Sen -Attacking at the same moment your opponent attacks Video
  • Sen Sen No Sen - Attacking before your opponent attacks (a preemptive attack)
  • Go No Sen - Allowing your opponent to attack first for counter attacks Video
  • Jiga - Know oneself
  • Tiga - Know one's opponent
  • Muga - Know nothing, just do
  • Shorin - Light & quick, with rapid motions to the front and back
  • Shorei - Emphasises development of physical strength, muscular power and forcefullness

Body Parts

  • Ashi - Leg
  • Ashikubi - Ankle
  • Atama - Head
  • Chudan - Mid-level
  • Empi (Also Hiji) - Elbow
  • Ensho - Back of the heel
  • Gedan - Lower level (groin)
  • Heisoku - Top (Instep) of the foot
  • Hiza (Also Hitsui) - Knee
  • Ippon Ken - Single-point index-finger fist
  • Jiku Ashi - Pivot leg
  • Jodan - Head level
  • Kaishu - Open hand
  • Kakato - Shoulder
  • Ken - Fist
  • Koshi - Ball of the foot
  • Naiwan - Back of arm
  • Sokuto - Outer edge (knife) of the foot
  • Tate Ken - Vertical fist
  • Te - Hand
  • Teisho - Palm heel
  • Teisoku - Bottom of the foot
  • Tekubi - Wrist
  • Tsumasaki - Toe tips
  • Ude - Forearm
  • Wan - Arm


  • Age-Te - Hands up (cover position)
  • Hajime - Begin
  • Mawate - Turn around
  • Naore - Return to Shizen-tai
  • Narande - Line up
  • Otaigai Ni - Face towards each other
  • Rei - Bow, respect
  • Seiretsu - Line up by rank
  • Seiza - Kneel
  • Sensei Ni - Face towards the teacher
  • Shomen Ni - Face towards the front
  • Yame - Stop
  • Yasume - Relax (or ready position)
  • Yoi - Get ready


  • Age - Rising
  • Gyaku - Reverse
  • Hidari - Left
  • Mae - Front
  • Mawashi - Round
  • Migi - Right
  • Otoshi - Dropping
  • Sokumen - Side
  • Soto - Outer
  • Tate - Vertical
  • Tobi - Jump
  • Uchi - Inner
  • Ushiro - Back
  • Yoko - Side
  • Tai Sabaki - Whole body movement, or repositioning

Tsuki Waza (Punching techniques)

  • Age Tsuki - Rising punch
  • Awase Tsuki - 'U' punch
  • Choku Tsuki - Straight punch
  • Gyaku Tsuki - Reverse punch
  • Ippon Ken Tsuki - One-knuckle fist punch (Hangetsu)
  • Kagi Tsuki - Hook punch
  • Kizami Tsuki - Jab
  • Mawashi Tsuki - Round house punch
  • Morote Shita Tsuki - Augmented upper inverted punch
  • Morote Tsuki - Parallel punch
  • Ni Jodan Shita Tsuki - Double inverted upper punch
  • Ni Yoko Chudan Tsuki - Double middle side punch
  • Oi Tsuki - Lunge punch
  • Oi Tsuki Maeude Hine - Lunge punch with turning forearm
  • Oi-Gyaku Tsuki - Lunging reverse punch
  • Otoshi tsuki - Dropping punch (Empi)
  • Ren Tsuki - Double punch
  • San Tsuki - Triple punch
  • Shita Tsuki - Inverted punch
  • Ura Tsuki - Close punch
  • Yama Tsuki - Wide 'U' (Mountain) punch
  • Yoko Tsuki - Side punch

Uchi Waza (Striking techniques)

  • Age Nihon Nukite - Two finger spear hand strike
  • Empi Uchi - Elbow strike
  • Gyaku Haito Uchi - Reverse backfist strike
  • Haishu Uchi - Back hand strike
  • Haito Uchi - Back fist strike
  • Hiraken Uchi - Foreknuckle strike
  • Hiza Age Ate - Rising knee strike
  • Hiza Geri - Knee strike
  • Ippon ken - One knuckle strike
  • Ippon Nukite Uchi - Single finger strike
  • Koko Uchi - Tiger mouth strike
  • Kumade Uchi - Bear claw strike
  • Mae Empi Uchi - Front elbow strike
  • Mawashi Empi Uchi - Round elbow strike
  • Nakadaka Ippon Ken - One knuckle strike
  • Nihon Nukite Uchi - Two finger strike
  • Nukite Zuki - Spear hand strike
  • Shuto Uchi - Knife hand strike
  • Shuto Zuki - Sword hand strike
  • Soto Shuto Uchi - Outside knife hand strike
  • Soto Uke - Forearm strike
  • Tate Empi Uchi - Upward elbow strike
  • Tate Mawashi Uchi - Vertical roundhouse strike
  • Teisho Uchi - Palm heel strike
  • Tetsui Zuki - Hammer fist strike
  • Uchi Shuto Uchi - Inside knife hand strike
  • Uraken Uchi - Back fist strike
  • Washide Uchi - Eagle beak strike (Gojushiho Dai)
  • Yoko Empi Uchi - Side elbow strike
  • Yoko Mawashi Empi - Side roundhouse elbow strike

Geri Waza (Kicking techniques)

  • Ashi-Barai - Foot sweep Video
  • Fumikomi Geri - Stomping kick
  • Hiza Geri - Knee kick/strike
  • Mae Geri - Front kick
  • Mae Geri Keage - Front snap kick
  • Mae Geri Kekomi - Front trust kick
  • Mawashi Geri - Round kick
  • Mika Zuki Geri - Crescent kick
  • Ni Mae Geri - Double front kick
  • Nidan Geri - Double kick
  • Soto Mikazuki Geri - Outside crescent kick
  • Tobi Geri - Flying (Jump) kick
  • Uchi Mikazuki Geri - Inside crescent kick
  • Ushiro Geri - Back thrust kick
  • Yoko Geri Keage - Side snap kick
  • Yoko Geri Kekomi - Side thrust kick

Uke Waza (Blocking/Receiving techniques)

  • Age Uke - Rising block
  • Awase Shuto Age Uke - Combined rising knife-hand block
  • Empi Uke - Elbow block
  • Gassho Uke - Double palm heel block
  • Gedan-Barai - Down block
  • Haishu Uke - Back hand block
  • Haiwan Nagashi Uke - Sweeping back-arm block
  • Juji Uke - X block
  • Kakiwaki Uke - Reverse wedge block
  • Kosa Uke - Cross block
  • Manji Uke - Hi/low block
  • Morote Uke - Augmented inside-outward block
  • Nagashi Uke - Sweeping block
  • Ni Jodan Uke - Double rising block
  • Osae Uke - Pressing block
  • Otoshi Uke - Dropping or falling block
  • Ryowan Uchi Uke - Double inside block
  • Shuto Uke - Knife block
  • Sokumen Awase Uke - Side combined block
  • Soto Ude Uke - Outside forearm block
  • Soto Uke - Inward middle block
  • Sukui Uke - Scooping block
  • Tate Shuto Uchi Uke - Vertical inside outward sword hand block
  • Tate Shuto Uke - Vertical knife-hand block
  • Te Nagashi Uke - Sweeping hand block (parry)
  • Teisho Oshi Uke - Pressing palm heel block
  • Tetsui Zuki - Hammer fist
  • Tsukami Uke - Grasping block
  • Uchi Otoshi - Falling block
  • Uchi Ude Uke - Inside forearm block
  • Uchi Uke - Inside-outward block
  • Yoko Uchi Barai - Side sweeping block

Dachi Waza (Stances)

  • Fudo Dachi - Fighting (rooted) stance
  • Hachiji Dachi - Open-legged stance (Yoi)
  • Heiko Dachi - Parallel stance
  • Hangetsu Dachi - Wide hour-glass stance
  • Heisoku Dachi - Formal attention stance (Yoi)
  • Hidari Ashi Dachi - Left legged stance
  • Hidari Ashi Orishiku - Left leg kneeling
  • Kamae - Posture (Yoi)
  • Kiba Dachi - Straddle (Horse) stance
  • Kokutsu Dachi - Back stance
  • Kosa Dachi - Cross-legged stance
  • Migi Ashi Dachi - Right legged stance
  • Migi Ashi Orishiku - Right leg kneeling
  • Musubi Dachi - Informal attention stance (feet in a 'V')
  • Neko-Ashi Dachi - Cat stance
  • Renoji Dachi - 'L' stance
  • Sanchin Dachi - Hour-glass stance
  • Shizentai - Soto hachiji-dachi - (Natural posture with both fists positioned in front of the hips)
  • Teiji Dachi - T stance
  • Zenkutsu Dachi - Front stance
  • Shirasagiashi-Dachi - Crane or One-legged stance

Katas (English Interpretation)

  • Heian Shodan - Peaceful Mind First Level Video
  • Heian Nidan - Peaceful Mind Second Level Video
  • Heian Sandan - Peaceful Mind Third Level Video
  • Heian Yodan - Peaceful Mind Fourth Level Video
  • Heian Godan - Peaceful Mind Fifth Level Video
  • Bassai Dai - To Penetrate or Storm the Fortress Major Video
  • Bassai Sho - To Penetrate or Storm the Fortres Minor Video
  • Hangetsu - Half Moon or Crescent Moon Video
  • Tekki Shodan - Iron Horse First Level or Horse Riding First Level Video
  • Tekki Nidan - Iron Horse First Level or Horse Riding Second Level Video
  • Tekki Sandan - Iron Horse First Level or Horse Riding Third Level Video
  • Kanku Dai - Viewing The Sky Major or To Look At The Sky Major Video
  • Kanku Sho - Viewing The Sky Minor or To Look At The Sky Minor Video
  • Jion - Originated And Named After "Jionji" (literally "Jion Temple") in China Video
  • Jitte - Ten Hands Video
  • Jiin - Temple Grounds Video
  • Empi - The Flight Of A Swallow or Flying Swallow Video
  • Gankaku - Crane Standing On A Rock Video
  • Wankan - King's Crown or Crown of Kings Video
  • Meikyo - Brightly Polished Mirror Video
  • Sochin - Strength And Calmness. Also, Immovable In The Face Of Danger Video
  • Niju Shiho - The Name Is Derived from The 24 Foot Moves In The Kata Video
  • Chinte - Extra-ordinary (Strange/Unusual) Hands, Chinese Hands Video
  • Unsu - Cloud Hands or Hands In The Sky Video
  • Gojushiho Dai - 54 Steps Major Video
  • Gojushiho Sho - 54 Steps Minor Video
  • Sanchin - 'Three Battles Sequence' (Goju Ryu Kata) Video

Bo Katas

  • Sho-No-Kon Bo Video
  • Shushi-No-Kon Bo Video
  • Jitte No Bo Video
  • Shuushi-No-Kon Sho Video
  • Shuushi-No-Kon Dai Video
  • Nagayoshi-No-Kon Bo
  • Sakugawa-No-Kon Sho
  • Sakugawa-No-Kon Dai