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Home > Columns > Michael J. Hacker > Septmeber, 2005 - What's in a Name?

What's in a Name? by Michael J. Hacker

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"What's in a name?" Do you remember what it was like the first time you ventured outside your home dôjô, whether it was on the internet or into the school of another style? Did you find yourself befuddled by the different terminology you may have heard? Still confused?

Things can get a bit linguistically scary out there if you're not careful. Not unlike traveling to another country, the local lingo is often a little different than we're accustomed to hearing. But this doesn't need to get in the way of a good training session! My intent with this month's article is to give you a basic Berlitz guide to some of the different ways we all talk about (more-or-less) the same things. I'll start off with a few technique names.

Some schools are known for naming some of their techniques with numbers followed by a suffix (-kyô) which means "lesson" or "teaching." Ikkyô, it would follow, means "first lesson," and nikyô "second lesson." (You can fill in the rest.) Yôshinkan also numbers some of their techniques, but they use a different suffix (-kajô) which basically means "section" (i.e. section 1). There are, of course, other ways to translate these suffixes, but this should give you a pretty good idea of what's going on.

Tomiki-based systems, on the other hand, tend to use descriptive terms (which are really only descriptive if you understand Japanese) instead of numbering. In place of ikkyo, for instance, you may hear oshi taoshi, which, somewhat loosely translated, means "push and knock 'em down." Instead of nikyô, you are likely to hear "kote mawashi" (forearm turn).

Although Ki Society tends to use Aikikai-type naming conventions in many cases, you may be surprised to hear "kote oroshi" (forearm drop) instead of kote gaeshi (forearm return).

An interesting point is that in Ueshiba Kisshômaru sensei's book "Aikidô" (1985), he uses both the numerical and descriptive system in many instances, i.e. "sankyô (kote hineri)." I personally feel that there is a huge advantage (as a speaker and understander of Japanese) in using the more descriptive terms. "Do technique #4 against attack #17-B" doesn't quite make sense to my monkeybrain, but it works for some.

As always, watch out for homonyms! Just because a technique bears the same (or similar-sounding) name, doesn't mean it is the same thing. Case-in-point is the elusive kokyû nage (breath throw). Since the specifics vary so much from place to place (and person to person), I generally translate kokyû nage as "I don't quite know what to call this technique." Many styles also use sumi otoshi to describe a technique that is different from the sumi otoshi that others do. Caveat emptor: when in doubt, pay attention to how the locals do things.

The differences aren't limited to technique. Some styles call the person doing a technique nage (thrower) and the person receiving it uke (receiver). Some use tori (taker) instead of nage. Still others use shite (protagonist) in place of nage. Uke, it seems, is pretty common usage across the board.

In closing, I'll leave you with a cross-reference chart here on AikiWeb which will give you some of the jargon used by some of the major systems of aikido:


Again, I open the forum to you. If there's a particular topic, no matter how far-fetched or odd you may think it is, I'd love to hear it. Contact me via the website or through e-mail here!

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