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Japanese Karate Words & Terms

1. Sensei (先生)
Sensei is an honorary term that can be loosely translated as “teacher”. In Japanese, it literally means “a person born before another” or “one who comes before”. The word sensei is used not only used to refer to a Karate teacher but can also be used to demonstrate respect towards someone who has reached a certain level of mastery in an art form, a craft or some other profession.

2. Gi (着)
The gi or Karate-gi is a traditional uniform used during Karate training. The gi is generally white and is made of thick cotton or canvas. Other colors such as blue, black, and red have also become popular in more contemporary styles. Its design is based upon the traditional Japanese kimono and was first created for Judo by Kano Jigoro. The gi is composed of three parts – a jacket (uwagi), pants (shitabaki) and a belt (obi).

3. Rei (礼)
Rei means “bow” and is one of the most important practices of Karate and is an important aspect of the etiquette. Bowing is not only a sign of respect and gratitude but is also a way to discipline the mind and bring it in the present moment. Bowing should always be performed with sincerity of the heart and mindfully, not mechanically. There are two ways to bow in Karate. The bow can be performed from a standing position or kneeling.

4. Counting (1-10)
Many Karate schools require their students to know basic Japanese numbers as they often use the Japanese counting system during practice. Usually, numbers from one (1) to ten (10) are used.
One – Ichi (一)
Two – Ni (二)
Three – San (三)
Four – Shi (四)
Five – Go (五)
Six – Roku (六)
Seven – Shichi (七)
Eight – Hachi (八)
Nine – Kyu (九)
Ten – Ju (十)

5. Kata (型)
Kata, a Japanese word meaning “form”, is a system of solo training incorporating practical combat techniques and notions that have been developed and refined for centuries. To an inexperienced person, kata can appear to be dance-like drills, but in fact, they contain the fundamental principles and concepts of Karate like stances, footwork, punches, kicks, blocks, holds, and throws. Kata is very important as it develops proper body mechanics, builds muscle memory, develops proper breathing and favors mindfulness. Each Karate style has its list of Kata.

6. Kiai (気合)
Kiai is a Japanese term used to describe the quick and powerful shout used in martial arts when performing an attacking move. A well-executed kiai doesn’t involve the use of the throat, but of the diaphragm that expels air out of the lungs. At a higher, more advanced level, the kiai manifest itself into the simultaneous union of body and the spirit.

7. Seiza (正座)
Seiza is the traditional Japanese way of sitting on the floor, kneeling. It’s the primary way of sitting in Karate and should be done with great attention. People who are not used to sitting in seiza style may become uncomfortable after a few minutes, but with time, the position gets more comfortable. There are many benefits sitting seiza including strengthening your core and back muscles, fix slouching posture, improve circulation and enhance concentration and mindfulness.

8. Dachi (立)
Dachi means “stance’ in Japanese. Karate has many different stances, each used for different purposes and different situations. Stances are fundamental and represent the foundation of a good Karate. The most common Karate stances are musubi-dachi, kiba-dachi, zenkutsu-dachi, sanchin-dachi, kokutsu-dachi, and neko-ashi-dachi.

9. Hajime (始め)
Hajime is a verbal command used in various martial arts like Karate, Judo, and Kendo. It is given to start or mark the beginning of a practice. It literally means “begin” or “let’s begin”. Hajime commands must be carefully observed and obeyed.

10. Yame (止め)
Yame literally means “stop” in Japanese. Like hajime, yame it’s a verbal command given by the Sensei in order to stop a form or other practices. Yame, like any other command, must be carefully observed and obeyed.

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