This is not, nor is it intended to be, a comprehensive Japanese-English dictionary. Nor is it a treatise on any of the concepts listed. It’s purpose is mainly linguistic.
A note on pronunciation
Japanese pronunciation is simpler than many languages. There are only five vowel sounds; a given vowel is always pronounced the same way. Where two vowels are adjacent, without a consonant in between, they may be run together somewhat, but both sounds are voiced. They are not combined to form a different syllable as often happens in English.
Some Japanese consonant pairs (t/d, k/g for example) can be substituted depending on the preceding syllable (e.g. keiko/katageiko), or for personal preference (e.g. shinto/shindo).
There are (mutually intelligible, to a greater or lesser degree) regional dialects which affect pronunciation. They are referred to as Osaka-ben, Kobe-ben, etc. SMR originated in Fukuoka. Tokyo, where our lineage has been based for a century, has a distinctly different pronunciation style (Tokyo-ben). The most noticeable difference is in words containing the letter ‘g’. In Tokyo-ben it is pronounced with a soft ng as in ‘bang’, not as in bag. In Tokyo-ben, ranai is pronounced rangai.
ashi - foot.
arigato, arigato gozaimasu - thank you.
awase - blending/matching; crossing weapons at the beginning of a kata.
baka - “foolish person”. Not to be used in polite company, unless they do something really stupid.
bokken/bokuto - wooden practice sword. In Japan, bokuto is the more common term.
chigau - lit. “different”. A polite way of saying “not exactly” rather than a blunt “no” or “that’s wrong”.
chudan - middle level. The second series of kata in SMR.
chudan no kamae - sword stance, middle level kamae.
dame - no good.
dojo - lit. “place of the Way”. Not entirely synonymous with “gym” or “hall”. That is why one takes off one’s shoes and bows before entering. To pay respect.
embu - demonstration, but there is a subtle difference between an embu and a demonstration. An embu is more for the benefit of the participants than the audience. It is sometimes a kind of offering to one’s SMR forebears, to show them that the ryu is in good hands. As such it is treated seriously, not just as a performance for the audience.
fundo - metal weight at the end of the chain of a kusarigama
fuzoku ryu - associated/assimilated/subsumed ryu. (“Fuzoku” can also refer to prostitution, so you should be careful using it in conversation).
geidan no kamae - sword stance, lower level kamae.
gohon no midare - A series of kata in SMR. This series was developed by Shimizu sensei. It is not one of the traditional series.
gokui - secret teachings.
go mokuroku - final index. Scroll denoting rank in SMR.
gyaku te ni kamae - the command to assume gyaku te no kamae.
gyaku te no kamae - reverse hand stance.
ha - cutting edge of the blade.
hajime - begin (command).
hakama - wide divided ‘skirt’ traditionally worn by men, now usually worn when practicing sword arts etc.
hanmi - lit. “half body”. Side on, or partially side on stance.
hasso no kamae - standard ready sword kamae. The sword is held with the tsuba level with the right ear, angled slightly to the rear and slightly to the right. A left hand version is used much more rarely.
hasuji - the angle/orientation of the cutting edge of a blade. The direction of the hasuji should match the trajectory of the blade. Otherwise there will be inefficient mechanics of both the body movement, and any resulting cut.
henka - variation.
hidari - left.
honte ni kamae - the command to assume honte no kamae.
honte no kamae - basic hand stance
iaito - unsharpened practice sword
ichi kotai - lit. “one change”. Shidachi and uchidachi swap places.
Ikkaku Ryu jutte - one of the fuzoka rhuha of SMR.
Isshin Ryu kusarigama - one of the fuzoku rhuha of SMR.
jo - stick used in SMR. 4 shaku, 2 sun, 1 bu - 128 cm, the length of the jo in traditional Japanese units. (See sun dome).
jodan no kamae - sword stance, upper level kamae.
jodo/jojutsu - way of the stick / stick techniques. In general usage they are not meaningfully different.
jutte - steel truncheon with a tine in front of the grip.
kaeshi - counter.
kage - shadow. A series of kata in SMR.
kamae - stance. E.g. honte no kamae (basic stance), gyakute no kamae (reverse hand stance), hiki otoshi no kamae, hasso no kamae (standard ready sword kamae), waki gamae (rear lower level kamae), jodan no kamae (upper level kamae), chudan no kamae (middle level kamae), geidan no kamae (lower level kamae), seigan no kamae (“aiming at the eye”, sword tip at eye level) tsune no kamae (ready stance with the jo hanging at one’s side, gripped in the middle), taito (sword kamae with the sword in the obi, or held in a position to simulate this).
kamidana - lit. “god shelf”. Small Shinto shrine in a home or dojo.
kamiza - top seat, place of honour. In a dojo that does not have a separate alcove at the front, it may be represented by a picture of a teacher, scroll etc.
kasari - formal bow with shidachi and uchidachi crossing weapons, performed at the beginning and end of paired practice.
kata - a pre-arranged sequence of techniques performed by two people. Kata is the principle pedagogical tool by which the teachings of a ryu are preserved and transmitted.
katana - see tachi.
keiko - practice, training.
keiko shokon - “practice illuminates the present (moment)”. Breaking down the individual kanji in “keiko”; “Relive the past to understand the present”.
ken - see tachi.
kesa giri - diagonal cut, named because the trajectory is basically parallel to the overlapping edge of the jacket.
ki ken tai (ichi) - ki (spirit) ken (sword/weapon) tai (body) are one. Specifically, they all arrive at a focus at the same moment at the completion of a technique.
kiai - a focused ‘shout’ produced by a sudden contraction of the diaphragm, not the vocal chords. It does not have to be loud. If you repeatedly kiai as loudly as you can, and your throat hurts, you’re doing it wrong. There are two kiai sounds in SMR; “i-ate” used for strikes, and “ho-ot” for thrusts. The sounds should not be subject to individual interpretation.
kihon - lit. “foundation”. Basics.
kime - focus. See ki ken tai.
kiri/giri - cut. (from the verb kiru).
kiri otoshi - dropping (on top of) a cut.
kissaki - tip of the blade.
kodachi/shoto - short sword.
kohai - a (relative) junior.
kokoro - lit. “heart”. Spirit, ‘ticker’.
kokyu - breath.
koryu - old school. A ryu predating the Meiji era (which began in 1868).
koshirae - sword mounting; saya, tsuba, tsuka, etc.
kote - lit. “small hand”. Usually means wrist, but can also refer to the back of the hand.
kubi - neck
kusarigama - weapon based on the form of a sickle, with a weighted chain attached to the end of the haft.
kuzushi - breaking (an opponent’s) balance, a critical factor in performing some techniques, e.g. kuri waza.
kyoshi, renshi, hanshi, shihan - teacher. Note that there is a common kanji (shi) in each of these words. If you want to say to someone “I am a teacher”, you would use the word kyoshi. Hanshi/shihan are master teachers.
kyusho - vital points; often the targets of strikes.
maai - combative distance; not just the distance between uchidachi and shidachi. Maai can be different for the two people in an encounter. For example, if one has a longer weapon, she might have a longer maai than her uchidachi. Many Shinto Muso Ryu jo techniques use the jo to control uchidachi’s arms and/or weapon so that his maai cannot overlap with the space occupied by shidachi.
mada mada mada - no good.
mai - front.
maware migi - turn around to the right.
menkyo - licence. Scroll denoting rank, listing techniques, and showing the lineage of teachers of the scroll’s owner.
menkyo kaiden - licence of complete transmission. Denotes learning of the complete curriculum of a ryu, including all secret techniques.
metsuke - eye contact.
migi - right.
mo to no ichi, mo ichi go - once more, one more time.
mogito - unsharpened practice sword.
mokuroku - lit. “index”. Scroll containing a list of techniques of a ryu. Receipt of such a scroll denotes rank. In SMR there are two such ranks; sho mokuroku (initial index) and go mokuroku (final index).
mokuso - meditation
monouchi - the optimal portion of the blade for cutting, about 10 cm back from the tip.
motoe - go back to tsune no kamae.
mune - back of the sword blade.
muso - dream. In Shinto Muso Ryu it refers to the dream in which Muso Gonnosuke received the vision that formed the basis for Shinto Muso Ryu.
Muso Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi - founder of Shinto Muso Ryu.
obi - a wide belt worn under a hakama.
okuden/oku shiai guchi - A series of kata in SMR.
oku iri - lit. “entering the far side”. The first rank of SMR. A letter from teacher to student, indicating official entry to the ryu and promising to teach without reservation.
omote - front, entrance, surface, exterior. Complementary concept to ura. The name of the first series of kata in SMR, and the first series of kata in Isshin Ryu and Ikkaku Ryu.
onegaishimasu - thanking someone in advance for something they are going to do, or that your are by implication asking them to do.
osame - end, closing. In SMR, the transition from the end position of the last waza at the end of a kata to tsune no kamae while maintaining zanshin.
osu - "yes", "no", "hello", "good-bye", “sorry”, “excuse me”, “thank you", "please" and just about anything else. Not to be used in a koryu dojo under any circumstances. There are a few theories about the origin of "osu" in modern karate and aikido dojo. It started in Japanese university dojos, with adolescent young men who thought it was cool to mimmic a style of speech used by (for example) construction workers and dock workers among themselves. They thought it made them sound ‘gangsta’. It may be an extreme contraction of onegaishimasu, or arigato gozaimasu. Some Kyokushin people believe it’s a contraction of ‘oshi shinobu’, meaning something like “push on”. Whether or not it is polite to say it depends very much on context. In those circles where it is common (or indeed ubiquitous) it is obviously fine to say it. On the other hand, if you said it to someone from more conservative social circles, or someone from an older demographic, it would be quite rude. An analogy in English might be the use of the 'F' word in conversation. In some occupations, it is common for people to use the 'F' word in every sentence without meaning anything offensive by it. They might greet each other by saying "How the f___ are you?" But they wouldn't say that to their boss, or their doctor. Or their budo teacher. ”Osu" is a bit like that.
ran-ai - a series of kata in SMR.
rei/reishiki/reiho - etiquette/manners generally, but as a command, “rei” means “bow”. E.g. shomen ni rei - command to bow to the front of the dojo; otaga ni rei - bow to each other. Also sensei ni rei, kamiza ni rei etc. Ritsurei - standing bow. Zaire - kneeling bow.
renshu - practice
riai - the real meaning underlying a kata.
ryu - lit. “flow”. Loosely translated as ‘school’. The social group/organisation that perpetuates a body of teachings.
ryu ha - a ‘ha’ is a derivative variant of a ryu, similar enough to the original ryu to still be referred to by the same name, but different enough to warrant a new designation.
sageto - “carried sword”. Sword or bokuto carried in the left hand, with the arm extended straight at one’s side.
saigo - last, final.
samidare - a series of kata in SMR.
saya - scabbard.
seigan no kamae - sword stance “aiming at the eye”, sword tip at eye level.
seitei jo/seiteigata/“Zen Ken Jo” - a set of 12 kata originally based on Shinto Muso Ryu kata, but since repeatedly modified by committee so as to not interfere with kendo form, and for other arbitrary reasons that have nothing to do with riai or tradition. Specific command sequences used in seitei jo may vary from those given here.
sempai - a (relative) senior.
sen (go no sen, sen no sen, sensen no sen) - initiative. Go no sen - responding to an attack after it has occurred. Sen no sen - responding to an attack while it is developing, before it has been completed. Sen sen no sen - pre-empting an imminent attack.
sensei - honorific, polite form of Mr/Mrs. It is used only after a person’s family name (e.g. Nishioka sensei). It is not a noun. It does not mean “teacher”. It is used to denote respect, and as such it is used when referring to teachers. But it is also used to refer to or address doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, politicians, scientists, etc. Anyone in a respected position or profession. It can be used as a form of address on its own, (e.g. “excuse me Sensei”). It is never used in reference to one’s self. See also kyoshi.
shaku - a unit of length, slightly less than a foot, 30 cm. Sword lengths are usually expressed in shaku/sun/bu.
shi uchi kotai - shi (shidachi) and uchi (uchidachi) swap weapons, exchange places and roles.
shiai - contest. In modern usage shiai means a sporting contest, but it used to also refer to more serious challenges.
shidachi - the person performing the technique. The kata’s ‘winner’. Often abbreviated to “shi”.
shinken - real sword.
shinken shobu - a real (life and death) fight.
Shinto - Way of the gods/true path.
Shinto Muso Ryu - koryu founded in the early 1600s by Muso Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi, specialising in the use of the short staff. Sometimes spelled and pronounced “Shindo”. Both are correct and have the same meaning. The meaning of the characters that comprise the name have changed during the ryu’s history. Since the late 19th century the ryu has used kanji meaning “way of the gods” for “Shinto”, the same kanji used in the Shinto ‘religion’. The original kanji used in “Shinto” mean “true path”. This is the name used by Muso Gonnosuke. For many years there were two branches of the ryu that used different kanji with the same pronunciation. The other branch’s name meant “new just”. The history and eventual unification of these lineages is beyond the scope of this glossary, but should be studied by students interested in the history of the ryu.
Shinto Ryu kenjutsu - one of the fuzoka rhuha of SMR. In some lineages it is referred to as Kasumi Shinto Ryu. The name Kasumi Shinto Ryu has not been handed down by tradition, but has been ‘rediscovered’ by recent historical documentary research. It has not been universally adopted.
shinzen - “in front of the gods”; the direction towards the small shinto shrine at the front of some dojo.
shisei - posture
shomen - front
sho mokuroku - initial index. Scroll denoting rank in SMR.
sono mama - stay as you are.
suburi - weapon practice wielding the weapon in repeated cuts, sometimes using a heavy version of the weapon.
sugi - next.
sun - a unit of length slightly more than an inch or 3 cm. One tenth of a shaku.
sun dome - stop (a technique) in one inch (or less).
tachi/katana/ken/to - sword. Often in SMR a wooden sword will be referred to as a tachi. Tachi can also refer to uchidachi, the person wielding a sword in SMR. Strictly speaking a tachi is a sword worn with armour, and carried slung from a belt with the cutting edge down, while a katana is (possibly the same blade mounted in a different koshirae) worn with civilian dress, and carried tucked into the obi with the cutting edge upwards. But in common usage in SMR, “tachi” is used to refer to the Japanese long sword. “To” also refers to swords generally, and is used as a suffix. E.g. nihonto (Japanese sword) bokuto (wooden sword) iaito (unsharpened practice sword) mogito (unsharpened practice sword).
taito - sword kamae with the sword in the obi, or held in the hand in a position to simulate this.
tameshigiri - test cutting. Cutting objects such as rolled mats or bamboo to test cutting skill and sword quality. (Tameshiwari is similar; the breaking of objects, such as boards, bricks, stones, etc. as a test of skill, usually in unarmed arts).
tandoku - solo
tanjo - short stick, walking stick.
te no uchi - lit. “inside the hand”. Hand grip; relationship between the hand and the weapon.
tessen - iron weapon in the form of a closed fan.
tsuba - guard at the front of the hilt. The tsuba’s two sides are referred to as its omote and ura sides. The omote side is the one visible to a person in front of you when the sword is in its scabbard. Its ura side is the one visible when the sword is out in front of you.
tsuka - hilt of the sword.
tsuki - thrust.
tsune - shin, lower leg.
tsune no kamae - ready stance with the jo hanging at one’s side, gripped in the centre.
uchi - strike.
uchi komi - entering and striking.
uchidachi - the person who receives the technique being practiced by the jo-wielding shidachi. Usually the senior of the two, especially in embu. Often abbreviated to “uchi”.
Uchida Ryu tanjo - one of the fuzoka rhuha of SMR.
ura - rear, hidden. Complementary concept to omote. The second series of kata in Isshin Ryu and Ikkaku Ryu.
ushiro - behind.
waki gamae - “side/flank” stance, rear lower level kamae.
waza - technique.
yame - stop (command).
yoi - prepare, get ready.
yukuri - slow.
zanshin - a state of situational awareness and readiness.
zen/go - before/after.