Problems with Japanese Terminology

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Problems with Japanese Terminology

Postby HanshiClayton » Wed Feb 18, 2009 8:51 am

There are some well-known terminology issues in the karate world, but they are relatively rare. For instance, there is the controversy about "inside block" and "outside block." We also know that "Heian Shodan" is really "Pinan Nidan," and the label "Shorin Ryu" can mean just about anything. For the most part, though, karate terminology is fairly simple and standardized. This is partly due to the fact that much of the terminology is newly translated into Japanese within the last century, and has not had time to drift.

The situation in the Japanese grappling arts is entirely different. The grappling arts (judo, jujutsu, aikido, aikijutsu, etc.,) have a documented history spanning centuries. For much of that time, the schools jealously guarded their techniques and never discussed them with rivals from other schools. Separate, independent systems of nomenclature developed. In modern times the masters of "new" variants have felt free to revise the old names into new standards that the masters of other schools have felt free to ignore. Some of the best modern books on the grappling arts have dealt with this mess by simply using English names instead. Some others dropped the Japanese names and just numbered the techniques. For instance, Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere is a brilliant book, profusely illustrated, but it omits most of the Japanese names of the techniques. Here's a throw that I'd like to recommend to you on page 292, but telling you to try "projection #14" isn't likely to communicate to you.

This creates grave problems for the researcher, because the identical basic wrist lock is te nage in Budoshin, but kote gaeshi in Aikido, and kanoha gaeshi in Hakkoryu, unless you apply it with the other hand and call it te kagami. Te nage, in turn, is not a throw but a class of throws in judo, none of which are wrist locks. One Aikido instructor identifies a painful grip as "yonkyo," but the next instructor calls it "yonkajo," and the jujutsu instructor calls it "gakun." The opposite problem is just as common: there must be ten different throws called tai otoshi. They are not all the same, and usually they have other names in other arts.

And then we encounter the ancient Chinese terminology for these techniques. Grab the opponent's hair with one hand, and his chin with the other hand. Now crank his head in a circle to throw him on the ground. That's called "beautiful woman putting on makeup," according to the Bubishi. Isn't that helpful?

For this reason, I have attempted to reference each technique to multiple arts in the hope that you will recognize one of the names, or at least you'll have one of the indicated books on your shelf.
Bruce D. Clayton, Ph.D.
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