By Scott Langley, Chief Technical Director HDKI
I am sitting at home, the sun glaring through my living room window, the summer sloths by and I have a deadline for an article for the first HDKI Shinbun… Oh what to write?
I was once in New Orleans. I’d met-up with the head of the Philosophy Department of the University of New Orleans. He’d offered to show me around the city. As we jumped on and off shaky street cars, the open windows of the old vehicles offering moments of breezy relief in the suppressing heat, I asked him if his department was good? Did it have standing in the world of academia?
“No” he responded with more pride than I expected. I gave him a quizzical look. “It’s just too darn hot to think!”
I now know how he feels.
So, Ì am hoping to come up with something new, something the reader will hear for the first time… I am literally looking for 新聞 – The first character is Shin, it means new. The second is Bun, it means to hear… And thankfully that got me thinking.
So much of our karate training is steeped in Japanese culture. From the moment we bow as we enter the dojo and say osu to our sensei, we are entering the world of Japan and all its esoteric depths. Therefore, I would like to highlight a few of these things.
We all know that zenkutsu-dachi and kokutsu-dachi don’t mean front or back stance, but actually means “standing with your weight forward” and “standing with your weight back”. We use the term front stance and back stance as shorthand, replacing the longer, arguably better, translation of the Japanese terms. However, with this shorthand maybe we short-change the students in their ability to appreciate nuances. Often, by understanding the deeper meaning of the technical terms that are used in dojos throughout the world, students can not only greatly increase their understanding, but also accelerate their learning. For example:
騎馬立 (Kiba-dachi) means standing like riding a horse. When making kiba-dachi or riding a horse, I don’t recommend that you force your knees out. The squeeze of the inner-thigh muscles are far more important.
レの字立 (renoji-danchi); the first symbol is a phonetic character for the sound RE, the second basically means belonging to, like our ‘s. The third means character or letter, the fourth means to stand. So, standing with the shape of the letter RE.
八字立 (Hachiji-dachi); we use it when making 自然体 (shizentai, literally meaning natural body) but basically your feet point out like the shape of the first character of the name… By saying “make hachiji-dachi” you are actually saying “standing with your feet the same shape as this – 八”.
不動立 (Fudo-dachi) means immovable stance… But more importantly, it comes from Fudō Myō-ō, a Shinto God, the fiercest of them all, protector of many realms… When performing the stance, one must channel fudoshin, the spirit of Fudo! (check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acala).
This is just a small example of the stances that we use in karate, however, the terminology we use is vital. Think about how descriptive simple terms can be; cartwheel or hand-spring in gymnastics and midfielder or left wing in football come to mind. Or how mis-translations can cause confusion. In tennis the score zero is called love (from the French l’œuf) and in cricket it is a duck – both refer to an egg and its shape. With a little time and effort these points can be understood, but often the deeper meaning can be lost in simple translations.
Let’s look at other common terms:
基本 (kihon) is a word made from two kanji, the first means base, to be based on, the second means root. It doesn’t mean basic technique but implies more that kihon are exercises based on the roots of karate.
型 (kata) means mold, pattern, law… It is easy to see how these meanings go beyond the simple idea of form.
組手 (kumite) is made up of two characters, the first being association, braid, plait, construct, assemble, unite, cooperate or grapple, the second means hand… Translating it simply as sparring really misses the point.
残心 (zanshin) is made up of two characters, the second means spirit, heart or mind, the first means remaining or left-over… Zanshin is the spirit you left in your previous movement or exchange.
無心 (mushin); again, the second means spirit, heart or mind. When you add 無 before it, it’s like adding the prefix un or the suffix less to an English word; spiritless, heartless… but in this case mindless is best.
受け (Uke) simply means to receive. Age uke, receiving upwards, soto uke, receiving from the outside etc… A massive difference from the inherent meaning in the word block.
蹴り(keri) has the simple meaning of kick, however, 突き (tsuki) can mean stab, protruding, thrust, pierce, prick, collision and sudden and 打ち (uchi) can mean strike, hit, knock and pound.
So, my point is, there is a reason that we use Japanese in the dojo. More often than not, the English words we use to replace these traditional terms for our technique can often hinder and sometimes even inhibit our ability to perform the underpinning principles correctly. So, next time you ask someone to make gyaku-zuki in zenkutsu-dachi with zanshin, maybe you should explain you want them to stand with their weight forward and make a thrusting, piercing action with your fist whilst leaving your spirit and mind lingering in the place that you just made the technique, because if you were Japanese that would be the instructions that you were receiving every time the command was given.