Karate Terminology


The Japanese terms are used in all Karate dojos all over the world. Here are the meanings of the common terms:


DAN: Black-belt grades.

DOJO: word used for the place of practice of martial arts.

GI (gee): The Karate uniform. In Shotokan Karate a white, cotton gi is worn.

HIKI-TE (hee-kee-tay): The retracting arm of a punching, blocking, or striking technique. Helps rotate the hips and maintain the stable and precise delivery of the technique.

KARATE: “Empty Hand".

KARATEKA: The practitioner of Karate.

KATA: Prescribed sequences of techniques performed with specific rhythm and timing

KI (kee): Mind. Spirit. Energy.

KIAI (kee-ai): A short, loud shout accompanying a sharp, strong technique. Helps release air from the lungs and relax the upper body so that the technique is more effective. Also helps focus mental energy and display spirit.

KIHON (kee-hon): Basic techniques.

KIME (kee-may): Focus of power.

KOHAI (ko-hai): A student junior to oneself.

KYU (kee-u): Grades 8 to 1 - all color belts. Any grade below a black belt.

OBI (o-bee): The Karate belt.

OSU (Oss): Indicates respect, acknowledgement, willingness and readiness to follow.

SEIZA: A proper sitting position used for the formal opening and closing of the class, and whenever the instructor asks students to sit on the side to watch a demonstration of techniques or kata.

SENSEI (sen-say): A teacher. A term reserved for the chief instructor of the dojo, and other high-ranking members.

SEMPAI (sem-pai): A senior student

SHIHAN (shee-han): A formal title meaning master instructor or teacher of teachers. Very few people in the world have achieved this ranking.

SHOMEN (show-men): The designated front wall of a Dojo. Often the place where the picture of our founder, Gichin Funakoshi and flags are displayed.

REI (ray): Bow. A sign of respect, trust, and appreciation. May be done while standing, or while kneeling such as at the beginning and end of each class.

Shomen-ni-Rei: bow to the front of the dojo

Sensei-ni-Rei: bow to the teacher

Otagai-ni-Rei: bow to each other


YAME (ya-may): Return to starting position (typically hachiji-dachi)

HAJIME (hajee-may): Begin

KAMAE: Get into position, prepare.

MOKUSO: Close the eyes and meditate.

MATTE (ma-tay): Wait.

MAWATE (mawa-tay): Turn into position

YOI (yoh-ee): Ready (both mentally and physically)

YAME (ya-may): Stop

COUNTING in Japanese:

One: ichi (i-chi)
Two: ni (ni)
Three: san (sa-n)
Four: shi (shi) / yon (yon)
Five: go (go)
Six: roku (ro-ku)
Seven: shichi (shi-chi)
Eight: hachi (ha-chi)
Nine: ku (ku)
Ten: ju (ju-u)

WAZA (Techniques):

Tsuki (tsu-kee) or zuki (zoo-kee): punching

Uke (ou-kay): blocking

Uchi (oo-chee): strike

Keri (ke-ree) or geri (ge-ree): kicking

TARGET AREAS on opponent's body:

Jodan (joh-dan): upper level, includes face, neck, and head area

Chudan (choo-dan): middle level, includes the chest, side chest and back area

Gedan (gay-dan): lower level, the lower trunk area

HIDARI: left

MIGI: right

GYAKU: reverse

AKA: red

SHIRO: white

YOKO: Side.

MAE: front

ZENSHIN: Forward.

USHIRO: back

KEKOMI: thrust

KEAGE: snap


EMPI (em-pee): elbow

HIZA (hee-zah): knee

KAISHO (kay-sho): open hand, such as in shuto-uke

KENTSUI (ken-tschuee): hammer fist (also known as TETTSUI)

SOKUTO (sokoo-toh): edge of foot, such as in side thrust kick

URAKEN (oo-raken): back of fist

SHUTO (shoo-to): outer surface of hand alongside the small finger

HAITO (haee-to): inner surface of hand alongside the thumb


JODAN TSUKI: upper level punch

CHUDAN TSUKI: middle level punch

GEDAN TSUKI: lower level punch

CHOKU TSUKI: straight punch

GYAKU TSUKI: reverse punch

KAGI ZUKI: hook punch

HASAMI TSUKI: scissor punch


MAWASHI ZUKI: roundhouse punch

MOROTE ZUKI: U-Punch with both fists simultaneously

TATE ZUKI: punch with fist along vertical plane

URA ZUKI: upper cut punch at close range

YAMA ZUKI: mountain Punch, a U-punch, resembles the character for mountain, thus the name.


AGE UKE (ah-gay oo-kay): rising block

UCHI UKE: inside-out block

SOTO UKE: outside block

GEDAN BARAI: lower level block

SHUTO UKE: knife hand block

MOROTE UKE: reinforced (augmented) block

JUJI UKE (joo-jee): X block


MANJI UKE: double block with one arm in gedan barai and the other in uchi uke.


EMPI UCHI: elbow strike

HAITO UCHI: ridge-hand strike

KENTSUI UCHI: (Or TETTSUI UCHI) hammer fist strike

MAE EMPI: forward elbow strike

MAWASHI EMPI UCHI: roundhouse (circular) elbow strike

OTOSHI EMPI UCHI: dropping elbow strike

TATE EMPI UCHI: rising elbow strike

TATE URAKEN UCHI: vertical back-fist strike

USHIRO EMPI UCHI: elbow strike aiming behind own body

YOKO MAWASHI EMPI UCHI: side elbow strike

NUKITE: stabbing using the extended index finger or both the index and the middle fingers


ASHI BARAI: Foot Sweep

GERI (kicks)

MAE GERI KEAGE: front snap kick

MAE GERI KEKOMI: front thrust kick.

MAE ASHI GERI: front kick with the front leg (KIZAMI GERI)

MAWASHI GERI: roundhouse kick

GYAKU MAWASHI GERI: reverse roundhouse kick

USHIRO MAWASHI GERI: inside-out roundhouse kick

HIZA GERI (hee-za): knee kick

MIKAZUKI GERI (meeka-zooki): crescent kick

TOBI GERI (to-bee): jumping kick

USHIRO GERI (oo-shee-ro): back kick

YOKO GERI KEAGE: side snap kick

YOKO GERI KEKOMI: side thrust kick

YOKO TOBI GERI: flying side kick

FUMIKOMI: stomping kick


DACHI (da-chee): stances

HACHIJI DACHI (ha-chee-jee): natural stance, feet about one shoulder width apart, toes pointing slightly outward

HEISOKU DACHI: informal attention stance. Feet together, toes pointing straight forward

ZENKUTSU DACHI (zen-koo-tsoo): front stance

KIBA DACHI (kee-ba): horse stance

KOKUTSU DACHI (ko-koo-tsoo): back stance

FUDO DACHI (foo-do): immovable stance, a cross between front and back stance (SOCHIN DACHI)

SANCHIN DACHI (san-cheen): hour-glass stance

HANGETSU DACHI (han-gay-tsoo): "half-moon" stance

GANKAKU DACHI (gan-ka-koo): crane stance

KOSA DACHI: crossed-leg stance

SHIKO DACHI (shee-ko): square stance

KUMITE (koumi-tay) Sparring:

GOHON KUMITE: five step basic sparring

SANBON KUMITE: three step basic sparring

IPPON KUMITE: one step basic sparring

JIYU IPPON KUMITE: one step free sparring (semi-free sparring)

JUI KUMITE: free sparing


GO NO SEN: allow the opponent to attack first so as to open up targets for counterattack

INASU: avoid an on-coming attack by removing your body from the line of attack

SEN NO SEN: attack at the exact moment that the opponent attacks

SEN SEN NO SEN: attack before the opponent attacks

TAI SABAKI: shift to remove your body from the line of attack


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