View Full Version : Poll: Do you think we should rename aikido terminology from Japanese to other languages?

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06-22-2003, 01:01 AM
AikiWeb Poll for the week of June 22, 2003:

Do you think we should rename aikido terminology from Japanese to other languages?

I don't do aikido

Here are the current results (http://www.aikiweb.com/polls/results.html?poll_id=171).

06-22-2003, 12:12 PM
A big fat...



06-22-2003, 12:28 PM
I say no.. Here in Taiwan they have done this. Though most teachers while I am here will use Japanese, but while I am not there they will use only Chinese.


06-22-2003, 03:19 PM

I think that most Japanese terms are much shorter and more precise when compared to their Czech equivalents (and this is true for most other languages).

It would also promote lots of misundersandings, especially at international seminars.

And besides, it is not necessary - what would be the long - term benefit?

06-23-2003, 02:03 AM
I've traveled to South America.

I couldn't understand more then 20 words in Spanish and most of the people I've met didn't speak in English,

but on the mat we all spoke Japanese... :)

06-23-2003, 03:03 AM
i think it's interesting to learn other cultures, and that includes their language.

06-23-2003, 03:51 AM
I agree with Reza - the trivial amount of Japanese that's required just adds to the charm.

06-23-2003, 04:39 AM
I agree as well; the Japanese terms not only sound much more elegant than ordinary English; but add a great deal of precision to the study.

By that I mean; it's much easier to say "Katate-tori ikkyo irimi" than to say "Arm-bar achieved by moving inward on attacker after he grab's defender's wrist" or some such. :D

06-23-2003, 10:12 AM
I think that part of learning aikido is learning the Japanese traditions that are associated with aikido - this includes the terminology that is part of aikido.

I don't mean to learn Japanese culture or to learn Japanese (the language).... just the part that is inherent to aikido.

It's not that difficult to learn a few phrases & terms.

06-24-2003, 01:08 PM
It seems that I am in the minority on this. I think it is important to break with the tradition of using Japanese. There are several aspects that have to be looked at to understand my position.

As for techinque? No problem - stay with the Japanese for several reasons. The first is that it allows individuals to learn the archetypal form of a technique without a preconceived notion of what that form is. E.G. Kote Gaishi. We could call it a wrist twist but anyone who understnds the form knows that twisting a wrist is the smallest part of the throw. So, we call it by the Japanese, we learn the technique and it's principle and by not naming it, we create a new name/form conection that is unique, not preconceived by the English term. Fine so far.

However when we start trying to understand the principles of Aikido we find that so many of the terms are from a dead part of the language, archaic and harboring on mystical, we only beat a dead horse while trying to translate, define, untangle, and generally attempt to interpret what was an unbelievably obtuse notion in the first place. Now, there are some who love this, who really enjoy being the one to interpret these ideas - to be the mystic sensei with the esoteric knowledge.

But the fact is that we can define these ideas in English far better for English speakers. Using terms which have to do with human physiology we can define the center, the nexus of energies, triangulation and a host of other ideas with far greater clarity than with an ancient kangi term that is no longer understood by even the Japanese.

To those who are bound to the mysticism, the pagent, the hakima and the bowing the language is vital and I respect your desire to maintain it. However if you really want to understand mastership in this art, you should be looking for someone who can help you bring it home on your (English) terms and not on the back of some dead fifteenth century samurai.

06-24-2003, 03:26 PM
Hurra for japanese terms,...


06-24-2003, 09:24 PM
As was mentioned before, no matter where you go in the world if you use the traditional terms you will always be understood in class.

I like the idea of tradition, even though this usually points to outdated terms, ideals and even dress. It all forms a part of the whole and links us to a foundation. I have nothing against welcoming the 'new'. Just not at the expense of throwing away everything else. (my long rant here is getting to a point...)

If we get rid of the original terms we may as well toss away the hakama, the bowing and the respect towards Sensei. We can all turn up in our cheaper and more worn in track suits, mill around at start of class and talk over sensei when he is addressing us.

ultimately, though i see putting everything into english as just plain lazy.

Jason Mcleod
06-24-2003, 11:58 PM
Learning a new language and and culture are a good sign that a student has an open mind and is willing to learn.If a student is unwilling to learn a few simple terms then how are they going accept what is being taught to them ? To change all the terms into your own language would be easy, but learning the terminology while struggling with the physical and mental demands of Aikido helps to sort out committed students to those looking for everything handed to them on a silver platter.

06-25-2003, 01:34 AM
I would say to keep the original language for a couple reasons. On is because of international/ interdojo use. If 5 people translate something, you get 5 different answers.

Secondly (bear in mind I train in Japan), my aikido teacher acutally doesn't care for the names at all. He says that they focus too much on a part of the move. (like someone stated before, calling the kote-gaeshi a 'wrist twist' focuses too much on the last and least important part of the move). If we tried to translate everything, I think that we'd have a fragemented understanding of what is going on. Techniques (I think) need to be viewed as a whole, not just the flash at the end. If we changed irimi-nage to something like "aiki-clothesline" then I think a lot of what makes the technique work/important would get lost. As far as ikkyo through gokkyo- would learning them as techniques 1-5 really help?

Charles Hill
06-25-2003, 07:23 AM
I have not made up my mind on this subject, but would like to comment on some of the reasons given not to change terminology from the Japanese.

One of the main answers given is to make training with people from other dojo, even other countries easier. I have trained in a few different countries and all over the U.S., but I have never found a need to actually name a technique. People teaching classes always show techniques and the people practicing do them. Any talking that goes on is going to be on details of movement, principles, or spiritual/psychological points the teacher is going to convey. This is certainly going to be done in the language the teacher is most comfortable with. There is never a need to name any techniques.

The second point made a number of times here is that using Japanese terminology is difficult and that is good. Paul even thinks it is a way of weeding out people. I remember someone asking Akira Tohei Shihan why he continues to practice Aikido even after so many years. He answered that Aikido is difficult for him and he has never been able to master it. If Aikido is so difficult for someone like him, it must be a million times more difficult for regular people like me. I'm all for making it easier.

A third point(but not really clear in my opinion) is that of tradition. About that, the point must be made that tradition is not a fundamental part of the Japanese character. Tradition is considered important in Japan, but that seems to reflect a Chinese influence. "New" is very important to the Japanese. I feel that Aikido is an extension of that. We must remember that what the Founder himself taught was radically different than what came before him. Whether people agree with him or not, there is no doubt that he was an innovator.

Again, I really don't have an answer of my own. It's just that Mr. Linden has been the only one to offer something clearly thought out. It's also his own opinion and different from the norm, all of which makes it closer to what I see as the spirit of Aikido.


Fiona D
06-25-2003, 08:15 AM
Charles Hill wrote:

..There is never a need to name any techniques.'

What about gradings? How would the grading examiner ask for a technique without naming it according to standard convention?

Also, the teaching style might vary from instructor to instructor. Where I train, 90% of the time the techniques are demonstrated (and named according to the Japanese terminology) then we go and practice them. However, one of our instructors is quite fond of reversing this if everyone in the class that day has at least a few months of experience - he'll call out an attack/technique, see what we do in response, and then show us how it should be done.

I don't really see any problem with naming the techniques in Japanese. In all walks of life - martial arts, sport, dance, work, study... everything has its own specific terminology that the people involved understand, worldwide. Could be in any language, or a completely new set of words. Japanese is the original language of Aikido; the terminology is already there. Why not keep it?

06-25-2003, 09:36 AM
I really think some of you need to spend a few minutes thinking about this. Laziness is sitting and absorbing and accepting without putting in the effort to define and understand, really understand, the terminology. In order to really understand so many of these principles takes decades of study, not a surface understanding.

In order to define, interpret into English, and teach these ideas in English requires far greater effort than merely parroting what your previous instructor taught you. But the effort is worth it if we can achieve better results and greater understanding in a shorter period of time. It would be nice to achieve sandan expertise and wisdon in the normal time it takes to reach nidan, no?

By interpreting the concepts into English I believe that we can accomplish this. Look at it this way...

When I began studying in 1969 most teachers were either shihans in the major markets or shodans out in the burbs. We learned Aikido the way a shodan knew it. Then as he progressed we learned it the way a nidan knows it. And so on. We had to keep updating our knowledge and understanding as our sensei progressed. Would have been a lot easier and quicker to have just learned it the way a shihan does it. But most shihans were obtuse and entrenched in their Japanese mystique.

Then came Saotome Sensei who studied hard to learn English and has written books defining the Japanese concepts into English, it was easier and faster. Saotome Sensei doesn't belabor the Japanese terms - he is proud of speaking English and defining the art in English.

Can we do any better than emulate him? O'Sensei wanted the art to be world wide, so let it be. I have books showing Shioda
sensei teaching in a suit and tie. No hakima, no gi. Tomiki students never where a hakima.

Tradition is nice. Sometimes fiercely adhearing to it is just plain lazy.

Ron Tisdale
06-25-2003, 10:09 AM
No beef here with Saotome Sensei, but just another perspective.

Keiko: to reflect upon the past. Some would translate it as "training" or "practise". I think meaning is lost in those two translations. To reflect upon the past is to study traditions, things (beliefs, practises, customs) handed down because a group of people found them to have value. To reflect upon these traditions gives us the opportunity to use their meanings, their value in the present. Hopefully enriching us today and tomorrow.

Everyone practises for different reasons...but I like the cultural connections in keiko...and find value in it. Sometimes that means putting the effort into learning snippets of another language. I may not learn it as well as a linguist, but I can make my best effort. And that effort is not out of laziness...it is an effort to learn as much as I can about my keiko. I still have to do my best to understand the meaning behind those foriegn words. I read, research, struggle on the mat with the concepts and meanings. Doesn't sound lazy at all to me. In fact, sounds like the same thing others do who teach in english.

I simply choose to express the concepts as close as they were expressed to me as I can.

And **that** is a struggle, and is not at all about laziness. Or "parroting".

Ron Tisdale

Dave Miller
06-25-2003, 10:26 AM
As a biologist, I often find it necessary to explain to folks why we name everything in Latin. The answer is quite simple, it gives every scientist around the world, from any language group, an immediate handle with which to hold this critter. When I was in Japan, I was walking through a botanical garden with my wife and some friends. I couldn't read a word of Nihongo but I could tell what most of the plants were by their Latin names.

There are two classic examples of the Felis concolor and Equus caballus. The first animal, in North America, has over 200 local or common names. They range for "mountain lion" and "puma" to all the various names assigned by every native american group that encountered it. The second animal is called a "cheval", "el caballo", "pferd", "horse" and many others depending on what language you speak. Having one single Latin for any given animal takes away any confusion as to exactly what a person is talking about.

The same thing applies to the techniques of Aikido (or any martial art). We could come up with various name for them in every language in which people practice Aiki-budo. Then, when we tried to talk amongst ourselves, we would have to re-translate them into the language of the person to whom we were speaking. The end result of this would be extreme confusion. However, by having one name in one language for a technique (or set of techniques), it lessons this confusion considerably. Granted, still might have to explain which sort of ikkyo you're doing, but at least we know, essentially, what is meant by ikkyo.

As far as most Aikido terms coming from a "dead" portion of the language, one of the advantages of using Latin in science is that it is a "dead" language. This means that none of the words are going to shift their meanings due to usage changes and such. We often criticize the Japanese terms of Aikido because the ordinary Japanese person doesn't know what they mean. However, if you were to walk up to the average Roman today and speak Latin, they would probably just look at you funny and write you off as a silly tourist.There is never a need to name any techniques.Will all due respect, Charles, that's just plain silly, IMHO. If you don't have some sort of name for a technique then you are severely limited in being able to teach it to someone else. Not to mention the fact that you will give it some sort of designation, if only in your mind, so that you can recall and perform it.

06-25-2003, 10:45 AM
It's just plain common sense to keep the Japanese terminology. It is part of the practice of aikido that I accept and embrace. I don't agree that such a respect to the roots and tradition of aikido can be seen as being bound to mysticism or as being lazy. At least where I train, I know we are neither bound to the mysticism nor are we lazy, but we still use the Japanese terminology.

First, we do get a lot of Non-english speaking visitors. Our visitors have come from a variety of non-english speaking countries such as South America, Europe, and Asia (Japan and Korea). Some of these visitors did not speak English or spoke very little, but they were able to know what techniques we were doing because we used the Japanese terminology. They are visitors to this country and it would be rude and arrogant of us to expect them to be fluent enough in English to understand some translated name for shihonage or kotegaeshi. Also, during our annual Winter Camp, we get international visitors as well and knowing Japanese terminolgoy does help clear up some confusion.

Second, we also get visitors from out of state and even from different associations, the Japanese terms help provide a common denominator for understanding what is being taught. And the usual difference in naming iriminage and kokyunage doesn't cause very much confusion.

I'm glad this poll was made, because I'm glad to know that I'm not in the minority on this. I have seen this discussion come up in the past and it appeared as though most felt a need to stop using Japanese terminology.

Charles Hill
06-25-2003, 02:27 PM
Dave and Fiona,

You have quoted my sentence out of context. I realize now that I should have been more careful to make my meaning clear. The idea of there being no need to name techniques is only in a situation where one is practicing with people they don't know, for example, at a seminar in a different country. I certainly don't think the techniques shouldn't have any names. Please consider that paragraph one complete thought.

I have practiced with many people from all over the world at the Aikikai Honbu dojo. Often, we never say a word. That in no way inhibits our practice. The common language is our body movement.

My point was (and is) that I just don't understand some of the arguments people have used to support keeping the Japanese. Anne Marie writes, "..they were able to know what techniques we were doing because we used the Japanese terminology." This reflects what a number of people wrote. I don't understand it. I have never seen a class where the teacher gets up and says, "Everybody, do shihonage," without demonstrating. And I hope I never do.


Dave Miller
06-25-2003, 02:50 PM
I have never seen a class where the teacher gets up and says, "Everybody, do shihonage," without demonstrating.It is fairly common in our dojo for a sensi or sempei to ask a couple to several competent students to spend time working on a particular technique and not feel the need to demonstrate it unless specifically asked to do so. In my mind, this helps to impart to the student that they are beginning to grasp the basic concepts of a technique and are able to work "without a net" unless they feel they need one. It may also serve to help a student who resents help to see the need for seeking it.

06-25-2003, 03:17 PM
Anne Marie writes, "..they were able to know what techniques we were doing because we used the Japanese terminology." This reflects what a number of people wrote. I don't understand it. I have never seen a class where the teacher gets up and says, "Everybody, do shihonage," without demonstrating. And I hope I never do.
There is an unlimited range of the use of the Japanese terminology other than the sensei demonstrating the technique in front of the class. Sometimes you get a confused partner, or they forget which technique your doing, or which attack, or you want to train with them after class, or you want to ask them what they did, or your sensei will call out techniques such as during randori or jiyuwaza, etc.

I should have made myself more clear. In my four years of aikido training in south florida, I have had personal experiences where using the Japanese terminology was helpful. I fortunately train under a wonderful sensei and at an excellent dojo where folks come to visit our dojo during their vacations, and sometimes these folks don't speak English. The Japanese terms certainly helps in communicating what is happening on the mat. Think about it: Your not sure if it was ura/ tenkan or omote/ irimi. You ask your non-english speaking partner -- ura? omote? Another example your partner is not sure about the attack -- you say "yokomenuchi" etc.

The best example was when Masafumi(sp?) Sensei from Venezuela came to our dojo for a seminar. Well, he brought a few of his students with him. They spoke mostly Spanish, and I only spoke English, the one common language that we had between us all was Japanese. Sometimes it was hard for Masafumi Sensei to convey an idea because of the language barrier, but he would try his best to include Japanese terms so that we could better understand the point he was making. (although he did have a translator). Using the Japanese terms helped him convey his point and sometimes he wouldn't have to use the translator and just say the Japanese term.

06-25-2003, 04:46 PM
Actually I thought I had made clear that I have no objection to the common terms for technique - in fact I find it helpful to keep students from any preconceived ideas of what the English translation might suggest.

My opposition is to the more obscure, technical and mystical concepts. English helps clarify and develop understanding among English speaking people when someone has studied them for thirty or more years and where understanding is almost by osmosis.

Maybe some Spanish students can help me, didn't some very famous writer, I don't remember if it was San Luis Martin or Gabrial Garcia, one of the greats , write about a thousand pages trying to explain the simple word 'machismo' to the English speaking world? And didn't he wind up saying it was impossible to translate? Could japanese terms be any more obtuse?

I am trying to make this easier for my students. I already understand the terms. My object is to make them more understandable to them.

06-25-2003, 10:00 PM
i figure its my turn to backtrack and make clear my ramblings.

our instructor uses the japanese as a common term. an identifier.

then proceeds to translate to english (which often doesn't make sense when done literally) and then demonstrate.

much like a swimming instructor who wants his students to do 'freestyle' (which also makes no sense really as an identifying word) he won't have to demonstrate the stroke and explain every motion each time they get in the pool. Simply say "freestyle".

does it matter what language these terms are in when ultimately they will have to be shortened and possibly make no identifying sense on their own?

i have nothing against english being used to clarify terms for english speakers. but why get rid of the original only to replace it with something similar but in another language?

06-25-2003, 10:26 PM
My personal reference to laziness in my first post was more to do with english speakers often expecting everything to already be in english - whether they are in New York or Istanbul - than a swipe at anyone's effort to find another way of understanding Japanese terms.

06-26-2003, 12:36 AM
Paul even thinks it is a way of weeding out people.

When did I say that? :freaky: My comment was that the english translations would all be different, and would probably get in the way. For example- how would you translate "tsuki"? If you just change it into "punch", how is it different from a haymaker, jab, cross, hook, etc?

I'm definitely not for using japanese as a screening device. If being allowed to train or not was solely dependent on my japanese, I wouldn't be doing aikido.

As far as deeper meanings of techniques go, I think that there is something to be gained by puzzling it out for yourself (guidance is a plus...but as for making something yours, you have to do it on your own). Based on what I see from the reactions of the people around me in my dojo, having all of the terms in your native language (japanese) doesn't seem to make it easy or instantly understandible. There is still a LOT of explaination that goes on about what things "really" mean anyway.

06-26-2003, 03:44 AM
Yes we definitly should change the language of aikido.

So what should it be? Finnish, Navaho or Tamil?

Charles Hill
06-26-2003, 10:04 AM
Sorry Paul, that was actually Jason's comment in the post above yours.

BTW, It is interesting to me that Morihei Ueshiba might have voted for putting names of techniques into one's own native language. He reportedly encouraged students to make up their own names for techniques, "..the more poetic the better."


Vic Robinson
06-26-2003, 02:00 PM
I usually keep quiet in these forums, however this is actually a fairly important issue, so I will weigh in...

As Dave pointed out earlier, there is an accepted terminalogy in all specialties, whether it is the Latin in scientific nomenclature or English terms in physics, which are unintelligible to the rest of us. To borrow from some other arts which use phrases like "horse stance" or "child's pose" or "Dragon claw" it doesn't matter whether or not it is English, they are still specific terms used in that specialty. It simply remains that with Aikido's roots in Japan our specialized terminology is Japanese. It doesn't matter that the phrases are not used in everyday language, we don't use "horse stance" in everyday conversation either.

As Anna pointed out, to throw away the many Japanese links, be it the etiquette, the bowing or the hakama, etc, we would be throwing out the roots of the discipline. And Aikido with it's traditional roots has kept that discipline much more so than most martial arts in the western world. The discipline is important and makes us better individuals.

Of course Daniel is also correct that we need to define these concepts to beginning students, this is important. As was discussed previously in this Forum, Aikido continues to evolve and our explanations of these concepts continues to evolve as well. Our explanations to our students may sound nothing like the explanations our Senseis made to us.

I find that beginning students need time to learn the terminology and when calling for a given technique on a students's first test I call for it first in Japanese (as in "katatekosatori kotegaeshi")and then say the attack in English (as in "cross-hand grab kotegaeshi"). There is no substitute for the name of the technique (kotegaeshi), that is it's name, and nothing else will do.

It takes different students varied lengths of time to know and understand the terminology, but by their second test most students are quite comfortable with the terminology. Of course, we have all seen tests, even with advanced students who stare at you as if they've never heard those words before in their life! And in those cases it would make no difference what language we are speaking.

However, as Daniel points out "kotegaeshi" means nothing to a beginner, no matter what the language. So our task as instructors is to explain and show. Written descriptions would be very nice, and Daniel, if you use them in your dojo, I would love to see them as they are perhaps applicable to us all.

Richard Harnack
06-27-2003, 09:56 AM
1. The Japanese names are technical terms which vary somewhat between different Aikido organizations. As such keeping them at least gives a common starting point in training.

2. Those who confuse knowledge of the name with the ability to actually practice the art soon discover the error of their ways. I ask all of my students to learn the names so that they can go anywhere to train. At the same moment I discourage beginners from focusing too much on learning the names, as I rather they practiced the art.

3. My "gripe" with those who "translate" the name, is that oftentimes we get some equally obscure and tendentious phrase in English (or any other language) that does not necessarily illuminate the technique any better than the Japanese name.

Karl Urquhart
06-27-2003, 01:10 PM
Do you think we should rename Aikido terminology from Japanese to other languages?

Take in mind I am new to Aikido, but not the arts. However! From what I have studied and read in the last year, it should be a resounding Yes! And it should be in the true sprit of one in harmony and sprit; this can best be done in unity as one family (the purpose of Aikido is not to learn to speak Japanese / that should be left to the individual, as a sign of respect for O’ Sensei). As I have read it every where, it was O sensei‘s fondest wish that Aikido be used to awaken mankind to the realization that the world is one family, and that world does not all speak Japanese! It will not hurt but only help by making AIKIDO understandable in many languages with out confussion.


Karl Urquhart
06-27-2003, 01:24 PM
BTW.... It is my strong belief that Aikido should retain at its root the original terminology, in Japanese! But it should also include the other languages to avoid confusion.

Charles Hill
06-27-2003, 07:24 PM
Anyone else find it interesting that no one posting has been for the changing of terminology from Japanese? Surely someone who voted yes could post their reasons.


11-11-2005, 03:03 PM
IMHO the Japanese language terminology should indeed continued to be used in the study and practice of Aikido. The first reason(s) I believe this tradition should be continued to be practiced is to honor the founder and all of those who followed for the many years they devoted to the study and practice of Aikido so that those of us alive today and those who will follow us will also be able to study and practice Aikido should they wish to do so. We must remember that although they may not be alive with us here today it was in fact those people who carried the ball for all of us and we in turn are carrying the ball for those who will follow us... An equally compelling reason for keeping the tradition of using Japanese terminology in Aikido is to continue to show respect to these same people. There is the unspoken yet common awareness we have that we respect those who had and have and were and are were willing to share with us who did and do not have.
I do believe that it would be entirely appropriate to build upon that which we are given if and when new knowledge deemed worthy to be included is brought to light, but to think that tearing down the entire structure, foundation and all, and continue to call that new thing Aikido
and believe doing that is a good idea is, IMO, incorrect reasoning. If and when one should decide to do that sort of thing it is best to begin an entirely new system with a completely different name, etc.. Just my two cents plus LOTS MORE!!!!! Peace, Justice & Love.



11-12-2005, 03:05 AM
The more intelligent among us already have.

11-12-2005, 07:34 PM
I think the entire thread is too narrow minded. Rather than translate to one language or another, we should completely rename the techniques something descriptive and yet as poetic as the essence of aikido itself. To retain the Japanese culture, of course, they should all be named as haiku.

diving kingfisher,
intercepted by the wren,
twists its wing, and falls.

Isn't that much more beautiful than Munetsuki kotegaeshi? And someone who is truly a poet cold come up with images that are much more accurate. I'm just a hack at haiku.

the swelling waves crash
against the falling oak tree
drowns it in the surge

That's so much clearer than the Japanese!