Friday, November 19, 2010

Some Common Karate Terminology

I remember back to my very first karate lesson back in January 1982 in Darlington, England.  I had such a hard time following the different movements.  The idea that I had to remember the names of the techniques in a foreign language too was almost too much to bear.
I often get questions on this “mysterious terminology”.  What does “oss” mean?  What is “seiza”?  Did I just do an “oizuki” or was it a “maegeri”?  What language is this?
Let me try to put you at ease a little with this “crash course” in karate terminology.

Common Terms
Karate—empty hand (literal meaning)
Seiza—traditional kneeling position
Kiritsu—stand up
Mokuso—meditation and breathing
Dojo—training hall
“Oss” or “osu” - formal greeting used to convey the meanings of hello, thank you, and, I understand (quick tip—when in doubt just say “oss”.  It’s a catch-all word.)
Basic Punches
Oizuki– front punch
Gyakuzuki—reverse punch
Kizami-zuki—front snap punch
Basic Blocks
Age-uke—rising block
Soto-uke—outer block
Uchi-uke—inner block
Gedan-barai—downward block
Shuto-uke—knife hand block
Basic Kicks
Maegeri—front kick
Mawashigeri—roundhouse kick
Yokogeri-keage—side snap kick
Yokogeri-kekomi—side thrust kick
Basic Stances
Shizentai—natural stance
Musubi-dachi—stance for bowing (heels together, toes apart)
Zenkutsu-dachi—front stance
Kokutsu-dachi—back stance
Kiba-dachi—horse-riding stance
Kata Names
Heian Shodan—White belt kata
Heian Nidan—Yellow belt kata
Heian Sandan—Orange belt kata
Heian Yondan—Green belt kata
Heian Godan—Blue belt kata
Tekki Shodan—Purple belt kata
Kumite Terms
Gohon kumite—five-step sparring
Sanbon kumite—three-step sparring
Kihon ippon-kumite—basic one-step sparring
Jiyu ippon-kumite—free one-step sparring
Jiyu kumite—free sparring
Etiquette (said at the beginning and end of each class)
Shomen ni rei—bow to the place of honor (to the front wall representing the past masters of karate and the style that we practice)
Sensei ni rei—bow to the instructor (to whoever is teaching that day)
Otagai ni rei—bow to each other (to all students who are present for the class that day)

Here is a free bonus link to a more detailed terminology list on the upcoming Shotokan Sensei member website where you will be able to view full technique lists, kata and kumite terminology, directions, body parts, etc.

Karate Terminology

Please don’t let the terminology of karate stress you out, it is just part of the overall experience of learning something new.  In the early stages of your training you are not expected to remember it or learn it.  As you progress through the ranks, the Japanese terms will probably become something that you want to learn as part of your training.
Good luck with your study of the art of Karate-do.


  1. Sensei,

    Your Youtube videos are easy to understand. The best that I have seen for beginners to try and understand what is happening.

    Thank you.


  2. Thank you John. I'm glad that you are finding the videos to be useful.

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