Japanese vocabulary

Guide to Japanese Pronunciation

Although the Karate terminology is in Japanese, it is very easy to pronounce if you follow a few simple rules:

In the case of vowels, that is the letters a, e, i, o, u, pronounce them in the following manner (this is the only way they are ever pronounced):

  • pronounce “a” like the “a” in the word “at”
  • pronounce “e” like the “e” in the word “egg”
  • pronounce “i” like the “e” in the word “be”
  • pronounce “o” like in the word “awe”
  • pronounce “u” like the “o” in the word “do”

In the case of the double vowel “ei”, its pronunciation has no equivalent in standard English, but is to be pronounced as the “ay” is pronounced in words like “nay” in the Yorkshire dialect

In the case of the letter “y”, it is never pronounced like the letter “i” as it is often in English in words like “cry”, but always pronounced like the “y” in the word “yes”

In the case of the letter “g”, it can be pronounced like the letter “g” in “go” and also like the “ng” in the words “bring”, “king” and “sing”, but never pronounced like the “g” in the word “gentle”. With the exception of the words “gedan”, “geta” “go”, “gohon” and “gyaku”, the “g” will be pronounced like “ng”.

The other letters in the Karate terminology are pronounced as they are in English.

Glossary of Japanese Words

The following is a table of Japanese words which are commonly used in martial arts, their phonetic pronunciation and the English meaning:

Japanese Word Phonetic Pronunciation English Meaning
Sensei Sen – sei Teacher
Sempai Sem – pai Senior Student
Dojo Do – jo Training Hall
Kiai Kee – ai Yell of Spirit
Hai Hi Yes
Gi Ghee Uniform
Seiza Say – zah Kneel or sit
Rei Ray Bow
Arigato Are – e – ga – toe Thank you
Yasume Ya – sue – may Relax or rest
Yame Ya – may Stop
Mukuso Muk – kuh – so Meditation
Karate Kar – rah – tey Empty Hand
Kumite Coom – i – tay Sparring
Kata Cat – ah Forms
Hidari Ha – dar – ree Left
Migi Mig – ee Right
Shomen-ni Sho – men – nee Front
Jodan Joe – dahn Face level
Chudan Chew – dahn Chest level
Gedan Gay – dahn Low level
Keage Kay – ah – geh Snap
Kekomi Keh – koh – me Thrust
Hajime Hah – ji – me Start
Mawate Ma – wa – teh Turn
Otagai – Ni O – teh – gai – nee Turn and bow

Counting

Japanese Word Phonetic Pronunciation English Meaning
ichi itch one
ni knee two
san san three
shi shee four
go goe five
roku rook – u six
shichi shee – see seven
hachi hach – ee eight
ku ku nine
ju ju ten

Stances – “dachi” (dah – chee) is added at the end of each stance

Japanese Word Phonetic Pronunciation English Meaning
Hachi ji Hah – chee – gee Open-leg (relax)
Heisoku Hay – so – koo Attention
Zenkutsu Zen – kut – sue Front
Kokutsu Koh – kut – sue Back
Kiba Key – bah Horse riding
Sanchin San – chin Hour glass
Shiko Shee – ko Horse riding (45 degrees)
Musubi Moo – sue – bee Attention (45 degrees)
Neko Ashi Nee – ko ash – ee Cat

Blocks – “uke” (U – key) is added at the end of each block

Japanese Word Phonetic Pronunciation English Meaning
Jodan Joe – dahn Face
Soto So – toe Outside to inside
Uchi Oo – chee Inside to outside
Shuto Shoe – toe Knife – hand
Gedan Barai (no uke) Geh – dahn bar – eye Low Block

Punches – “tsuki” (tsue – key) is added at the end of punch

Japanese Word Phonetic Pronunciation English Meaning
Oi Oh – ee Lunge
Gyaka Gya – koo Reverse
Yama Yah – mah U – punch

Strikes – “uchi” (U – chee) is added at the end of strike

Japanese Word Phonetic Pronunciation English Meaning
Shuto Shoe – toe Knife – hand
Tettsui Tet – Tsue Hammer Fist
Empi Em – pee Elbow
Uraken Er – rah – ken Back – fist

Kicks – “geri” (gary) is added at the end of kick

Japanese Word Phonetic Pronunciation English Meaning
Mae Mah – eh Front
Yoko Yoh – koh Side
Mawashi Mah – wah – she Round
Ushiro Oo – she – row Back
Mae – keage Mah – eh kay – ah – geh Front snap
Mae kekomi Mah – eh keh – koh – me Front thrust
Yoko keage Yoh – koh kay – ah – geh Side snap
Yoko kekomi Yoh – koh keh – koh – me Side thrust