Japanese/Okinawan terminology in Western classrooms?

Discussion in 'Karate' started by IcemanSK, Feb 19, 2015.

  1. IcemanSK

    IcemanSK El Conquistador nim!

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    In my 30+ year experience in Korean Arts in the US (taught by both Koreans and Westerners) Korean terminology is taught, but usually an English term is also taught for that same term. Often the reasoning, it seems, is that either the technique is considered more important than the term in Korean, or the master what to simply connect with the students quicker and in a simpler way. For whatever reason, there are always English terms for every technique. Sometimes the Korean term is not taught at all.

    My limited experience with Japanese/Okinawan Arts (Karate & Judo mostly) Japanese terms seem to be taught first and held up as the terms one should use for a given technique. This is my experience with both Eastern & Western teachers.

    Can anyone shed some light on why teachers of Japanese/Okinawan Arts stress teaching the terms in Japanese? Is it still the norm, or is it changing?
     
  2. tshadowchaser

    tshadowchaser Sr. Grandmaster

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    thinking back to my training I relive my instructors used more "American" terminology than Japanese but there was a fair amount of terms from Japanese at times. MY Filipino instructor also taught more terms in English. Both felt that people would understand what to do faster if they understood the terms.
    Now I think many of the terms should be taught in both languages to keep some of the tradition and help people remember the roots of whatever system they study.
     
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  3. Danny T

    Danny T Senior Master

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    Have a Chinese instructor who often says; "at this moment I want you to do this" and he demos the move.
    No terminology just 'do this'. When he does use Chinese terms he often also uses an English term as well to assure everyone understands.
    My Filipino Martial Arts instructor uses English terms almost exclusively.
    My Thai instructor uses English only other than 'teep' for foot jab and 'sawk' for elbow.
     
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  4. Seizan

    Seizan Orange Belt

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    This is just another opinion, and as with any opinion, it may be as freely tossed out as it is given…


    Often the imagery conveyed by a native (Japanese, Korean, etc.) word or term has no exact equivalent in English. For example, the word “yawarakaku” – softly – conveys a whole concept of soft pliability, snappiness, relaxation with stability and more. The cultural meaning and application of a word or phrase goes far beyond the mere dictionary definition. The English word “softly” simply cannot be used as a blanket term and doesn’t quite deliver the same feeling or concept.


    Some Japanese instructors use a few English terms because the full explanation of the whole meaning of the Japanese term (in English) is just far too long, difficult, and complex for the brief training time most foreigners have in Japan. I have seen indications that the result is a rough approximation of the required effect of a technique, and the rest has to be taught with many repeated demonstrations, examples, and such. Meanwhile, the Japanese student is merely told a few terms to accompany the demonstrated technique or application, and he absorbs it much faster.


    Ever wonder why, in some dojo, the Okinawa or Japanese students seem to move with so much more solidity, sharpness, power, and grace than the visiting foreign students? Not in all dojo of course, but in many. This is because the understanding of the terms and phrases used in teaching are understood on a cultural basis more than a mechanical “do it like this” basis. The Japanese students have been learning the deeper cultural meaning and application of terms like softness, power, timing, stability, ikkyoichido (“all-in-one-stroke”) and the like for their entire lives from their parent, school teachers and sports coaches, and now in karate classes. Most foreigners hear some of these vital terms for the first time when they visit, and there is no way for them to catch up with their counterparts in the dojo, who have had their lifetime to learn these, and have literally grown into the performance…


    And then, you have the taskmasters who insist that the foreign student understand everything said, all meanings conveyed, and perform on the same level of understanding on which the Japanese student trains. Training is slower and more painstaking, as the foreign student has to learn a lot of cultural concept to accompany relearning what he once thought were simple or familiar techniques – and to that teacher, the effort is not only worth it, but the reason he is a teacher.


    In my personal view, teachers or styles that maintains a connection to its roots would do well to learn and teach the terminology used at the HQ Dojo in Japan (or Korea, or wherever) so to understand the training better if visiting their Honbu Dojo, or to understand better a representative from the Honbu Dojo if they are fortunate enough to host him/them for training.


    The real trick is to learn the meaning vs. the dictionary definition of terms. This may call for some research and a lot of communication with a native speaker who is also a practitioner. Terms could be written and explained fully in essay form, then provided to the students for their better understanding of the uniqueness of their art and of the expected performance level.


    A teacher, group, or system that has broken from the country of origin, or that has been created as a style independent of foreign authority, could get along with using its own terms and meanings if they suffice to convey the concepts and techniques.


    You can tell I had a lot of time on my hands today…:)

    Regards,

    Seizan
     
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  5. K-man

    K-man Grandmaster

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    [QUOTE="IcemanSK, post: 1689483, member: 7494"Can anyone shed some light on why teachers of Japanese/Okinawan Arts stress teaching the terms in Japanese? Is it still the norm, or is it changing?[/QUOTE]
    To me it is incredibly simple. I teach in Japanese which is the traditional way. If any of my students want to train anywhere else in the world where traditional karate is taught the same way, they already know the language being used.
     
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  6. hoshin1600

    hoshin1600 Senior Master

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    i think Seizan is 100 % right. while many western teachers will use foreign terminology for the sake of conformity to a disapline or organization, i believe they are missing out on a key component of training. i have always heard it said that unless you understand the native language of the culture where the art was created you will never fully understand the art...."if you dont understand Japanese/ Okinawan you will not fully understand karate" . Seizan is correct.....to use the term chinkuchi or muchimi is far easier than a 15 minute dialog about what you want from the student.
     
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  7. Tez3

    Tez3 Sr. Grandmaster

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    However it doesn't take in to account regional accents! We have a great many in the UK and they take some understanding at the best of times, when you add 'foreign' words it can be unintelligible. I went to a seminar where the instructors were using Japanese terms and their accents made the words almost impossible to guess.
    It's all very well to say learn the correct pronunciation but when you don't have any native language speakers the way something is said is passed down through the classes through the years. I doubt a Japanese person would have understood what was being asked, they may not have even guessed the language!
     
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  8. Danny T

    Danny T Senior Master

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    Most all of us speak & write English and often have problems in discussions due to misunderstandings within the use of words we know; often we disagree on their meanings. However let's just use a completely different language for instructions knowing of course there will be no confusion.
    And with that we use languages, which we know nothing about, that tone completely changes the meaning of the terms and attempt to use them like we know what we are doing.
    Yea, that makes sense.
     
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  9. hoshin1600

    hoshin1600 Senior Master

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    I am not sure if Danny T post was a rebuttal to mine, but assuming it was....
    I kinda agree with you and in that is a problem which is why I said many teachers use terminology because that's just the way it's done in that organization. My point is that if you dig a little deeper into the language it's possible to gain a better understanding of what it is your doing.
    Take for example in aikido, partners are called uke and tori/nage. Uke can not be accurately be called the defender.
    A wauke in karate cannot be accurately called a block. But people who practice these things learn the terminology and it's no big deal. They learn what it means and they get it.
    It is no different in any occupation. If I said to you I was a CNC programer who likes to use boolean operators. Most of you would have no clue what I am taking about. Nurses will say "oh man I had 4 code blues today". Sales people will say they had 3 ups and that they had to drop the price down to pack.
    Everthing we do has insider language and if you learn it you are probably better off.
     
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  10. hoshin1600

    hoshin1600 Senior Master

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    Nobody has to use Japanese to study karate. You can still wear a gi and do karate without the terminology. Oh but wait those are Japanese words too....well have fun doing pretend fighting wearing your white pajamas, if that's what people want to do.
     
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  11. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    To me it is incredibly simple. I teach in Japanese which is the traditional way. If any of my students want to train anywhere else in the world where traditional karate is taught the same way, they already know the language being used.[/QUOTE]
    This is the way it was explained to me and makes very good sense, in my opinion.


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk HD
     
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  12. Tez3

    Tez3 Sr. Grandmaster

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    This however only works if everyone pronounces the words uke and tori ( used in karate too btw) the same, if they do, it does help understanding and everyone will know what is meant. The problem is when people pronounce them differently ( as passed from person to person like Chinese Whispers) then it's confusing and annoying.
    I trained a while back with some Belgian karateka, you would have thought that using the Japanese terms would aid understanding because we'd be on the same hymn sheet but they pronounced the words differently from us and we had to resort to a sort of Franglais and mime.
     
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  13. clfsean

    clfsean Senior Master

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    Two thoughts of this from my POV.

    First, I've learned & teach in Cantonese (two different dialects). It makes it easy. There's no translation or physical misunderstanding. I say or hear "So Choi" , a so choi happens. I don't need to hear "sweeping roundhouse punch". If I travel & visit another school of the same styles I study... a "so choi" is a "so choi". Probable slight differences, but the heart of the technique is still there. Sure there's a learning curve on the front side, but on the back side it is totally simple & clear. At least it has been in my experiences.

    Second, I'm not doing an American martial art. I'm giving it my all to get it right with Chinese martial arts. If I were doing an American martial art, I'd expect to hear American English.
     
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  14. Instructor

    Instructor Master Black Belt

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    With rare exception we stick with English in my school. I find that my local students relate best in their native tongue and most of my foreign students usually speak some English so we are able to communicate. I myself do not speak Korean so I always feel very awkward when trying to do so in front of others, thus I don't.

    Someday I may sit down with Rosetta Stone and start learning Korean, but currently, not in the cards.
     
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  15. twendkata71

    twendkata71 Black Belt

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    In our schools we teach Japanese terminology to remind us of the origins of our art. Also over the years I have trained with several Japanese instructors and if I had not learned the terminology I would have been lost in the class. It is good to learn the culture of a given art and not just the moves. My sensei spent a lot of time in Japan and felt it essential that we learn the language and culture.
     
  16. Andrew Green

    Andrew Green Grandmaster

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    Cultural pride would be my guess. Or among westerners an attempt to use terminology to give a sense of legitimacy and "uniqueness" to what they do. Lots of groups (and cults especially) use terminology that is only for "insiders" to help build a sort of internal group bond. 10th Planet JJ is sort of a modern example of this, but using English words to create a unique set of terms to form the "culture" of the group and make the people in it special.

    Japanese didn't keep the Chinese terms in most cases, the Koreans got rid of the Japanese terms and used Korean.

    My personal opinion is it is always better to use the terms that are from the language you teach in. Otherwise it's a game of telephone as to what the meaning of the term actually us and it just ends up with a altered meaning anyways.

    Obviously some things can, and probably should keep their names. The name of a kata is the name of a kata, that's fine.

    It's things like "Soke" that are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Where we have all sorts of people using that term to give themselves legitimacy from it when they are using it in a completely different way then a native speaker would.

    It's not limited to Asian arts either... I'm not found of BJJ use of "Professor", which carries a very specific meaning, one that no amount of martial arts knowledge gives you.
     
  17. JR 137

    JR 137 Grandmaster

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    I think the amount of Japanese spoken (naming techniques and etiquette stuff) is directly related to how far from Japan/Okinawa the head of the school is.

    I study Seido Juku, founded by Tadashi Nakamura. Nakamura was born and raised in Japan. His use of terminology, Japanese traditions and culture are integral in our training.

    Terminology is taught from day one. At the lower kyu ranks, my teacher says the names of the techniques in Japanese first, then English. For example, he might say "Right foot back, zenkutsu dachi, both hands up; kamaite." Then he'll say (not adding the English words) "...forward leaning stance... get ready."

    Then he'll say "right jodan uke, same hand chudan uchi uke, gedan brai, chudan soto uke." He'll immediately follow up with "high block, inside-out block, low block, outside-in block."

    Progressing up in rank, it no longer needs to be said in English because everyone knows what it is.

    As stupid as it sounds, sometimes the Japanese terms are easier to understand and shorter.

    I think the more removed from a native Japanese speaker the system is, the less Japanese will be used.123
     

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