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Home > Columns > Michael J. Hacker > November, 2005 - Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes by Michael J. Hacker


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This month's article focuses on body parts.  (No, not my fabulous Viking legs.)  This month, I'll cover the jōhanshin, or upper body (lit: "up-half-body").

There are several different ways to talk about the body (and parts of the body) in Japanese, many of which show up often in our Aikidō vocabulary.  In this series of articles, I plan to attack the body from head to toe, in hopes that I can clear up some common mistranslations and misconceptions.

The word for body (mi or shin) finds its way into several terms familiar to the aikidōka.  The mi pronunciation is seen in such words as:

  • atemi - to contact / strike the body
  • ukemi - receiving (with the) body
  • hanmi - oblique posture (lit: "half-body")
  • sashimi - raw fish (lit: "sliced-body")

The shin pronunciation is used in the Japanese name for Ki Society Aikidō: Shinshin Tōitsu - (lit "mind-body-unify").

The body also has various levels:

  • jōdan - upper level
  • chūdan - middle level
  • gedan - lower level

and surfaces:

  • shōmen - front surface
  • yokomen - side surface

Starting at the top of the body, I'll go over some of the most commonly-heard terms in aikidō.  This is not, by any means, meant to be an exhaustive anatomical reference, but something to get you started.

While atama (the head) is not often heard in aikidō terminology, kubi (the neck) is.  In fact, the neck shows up in various places, as I'll show later.  Additionally, some styles practice kubishime, or chokes (lit: "neck-strangle.")

Next up are the ude (arms).  I've heard the technique name udekimenage (lit: "arm-lock-throw") used to describe several different techniques.  Tomiki-offshoots have a technique called udegaeshi (lit: "arm-return").

The kata (shoulders -- not to be confused with the 306 other versions of kata) are often grabbed, as in kata-dori.  Note that there are two different kanji for tori/dori, each meaning something rather different: "to take" and "to arrest; to seize."  The difference is, in my mind, significant.  However, I see even the Japanese using them interchangeably (incorrectly?).  When you train, are you "taking" the shoulder, or "arresting" your partner by via their shoulder?  Interesting stuff to ponder.

Next down the arm is the hiji (elbow), which is heard in combinations like hijikime (lit: "elbow lock").  On another note, there are two different kanji for "kime."  One means "to decide," the other "to go to the end (of something); to investigate thoroughly."  Which one is correct?  Again... interesting stuff to ponder.

In Tomiki-based schools, a section of the basic 17-movement kata is called hijiwaza, or "elbow techniques."  Such a naming convention really helps one to know what is actually being worked on.  Even though something may look like a wrist technique, if it falls in the hijiwaza section, you know it's really supposed to be an elbow technique (although all techniques really work on the center, right?).

The final stop on our journey down the arm is the te (hand).  Although grabbing the hand itself is fairly useless (read: multiple articulating joints), it works its way into the picture in a number of other places. 

Kotegaeshi (lit: "forearm-return"), for example, is a very common technique, but is all-too-often mistranslated as "wrist twist."  I'm here to tell you that kote has little linguistically (or anatomically) to do with the wrist.  There are two often-used versions of kote in common use: one kote means "forearm" (lit: "small-hand").  The other kote (lit: "cage/basket-hand") is a gauntlet used in Kendō to cover and protect the forearm area.  Is there a relationship between the two?  Hmmm...

The actual wrist proper is referred to as tekubi (lit: "hand-neck").  In Tomiki-related schools, you'll find another section of the basic kata called tekubiwaza (lit: "hand-neck-techniques"). 

Next month, I'll go over the kahanshin, or lower body (lit: "down-half-body").  As always, I welcome any feedback, questions, and ideas from the mob.


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