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Home > Columns > Michael J. Hacker > October, 2005 - What's in a Name?, Part 2

What's in a Name?, Part 2 by Michael J. Hacker

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What's in a name?  Continuing with last month's introduction to technical terminology, I'd like to present another example. 

Shihō nage (also called tenkai kote gaeshi or "rotating forearm return" by some schools) is a technique commonly practiced in aikidō dōjō world-wide.  Often translated into English as "four-direction throw," shihō nage would seem to suggest that you can throw your partner in any of four directions.  This translation is a bit limiting, though, as a touch of linguistic context is missing. 

The Japanese often number things, when in actuality they mean all things.  Although happō bijin literally translates to "eight-direction beauty," it really means that someone is "everybody's friend" (not necessarily in a positive sense).  Banbutsu doesn't literally mean "10,000 things," but rather "all things." 

Following this trend, it should be easy for you to see that "shihō" doesn't only mean "four directions."  The implication is, of course, that shihō nage works in every conceivable direction. 

Why not just say "every direction" in the first place?  Well, that would make things too easy, of course.  Besides, this concept isn't really foreign to the English language at all.  For instance, when someone says "the four corners of the globe," do they really mean to suggest literally what they said?

Allow me to pose a question to the reader: Does this information change how you think about or understand this technique?  If you have a native or near-native level of Japanese comprehension, did this meaning always occur to you?

As always, I welcome questions and suggestions from everyone. Contact me via the website or through e-mail here!

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