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Aikido Vocabulary


Aikido techniques are almost exclusively referred to by their Japanese names. To a novice these names are overwhelming. Here are the core words that you need to know to understand the names of the techniques.

A Note on Pronunciation

Here are all of the syllables making up the Japanese language, along with their English phonetic equivalents. Just pronounce the phonetics in standard English and the sounds will come out "in Japanese". For example, "Uke" is "oo-kay", "Nage" is "nah-gay".
A ah I ee U oo E ay O oh
KA ka KI kee KU koo KE kay KO koe
SA sa SHI she SU sue SE say SO so
TA tah CHI chee TSU t'sue TE tay TO toe
NA nah NI nee NU noo NE nay NO no
HA hah HI hee HU who HE hay HO hoe
MA mah MI mee MU moo ME may MO moe
YA yah I ee YU yoo E ay YO yoe
RA rah RI ree RU rue RE ray RO roe
GA gah GI ghee GU goo GE gay GO go
ZA zah ZI jee ZU zoo ZE zay ZO zoe
DA dah JI jee ZU zoo DE day DO doe
BA bah BI bee BU boo BE bay BO boe
PA pah PI pee PU poo PE pay PO poe

 

Dictionary

Ai
Same.
Ai hanmi
Mutual stance where Uke and Nage each have the same foot forward (right-right, left-left).
Aiki
The blending of energy.
Aikido
The word ``aikido'' is made up of three Japanese characters: ai - harmony, ki - spirit, mind, or universal energy, do - the Way. Thus aikido is ``the Way of Harmony with Universal Energy.'' However, aiki may also be interpreted as ``accommodation to circumstances.'' This latter interpretation is somewhat nonstandard, but it avoids certain undesirable metaphysical commitments and also epitomizes quite well both the physical and psychological facets of aikido.
Aikidoka
A practitioner of aikido.
Aikikai
``Aiki association.'' A term used to designate the organization created by the founder for the dissemination of aikido.
Ashi
The feet, step.
Ashisabaki
Footwork. Proper footwork is essential in aikido for developing strong balance and for facilitating ease of movement.
Atemi
(lit. Striking the Body) Strike directed at the attacker for purposes of unbalancing or distraction. Atemi is often vital for bypassing or ``short-circuiting'' an attacker's natural responses to aikido techniques. The first thing most people will do when they feel their body being manipulated in an unfamiliar way is to retract their limbs and drop their center of mass down and away from the person performing the technique. By judicious application of atemi, it is possible to create a ``window of opportunity'' in the attacker's natural defenses, facilitating the application of an aikido technique.
Ayumi
Walking.
Bashi
Stretch.
Bokken
Bokuto = Wooden sword. Many aikido movements are derived from traditional Japanese fencing. In advanced practice, weapons such as the bokken are used in learning subtleties of certain movements, the relationships obtaining between armed and unarmed techniques, defenses against weapons, and the like.
Budo
`Martial way.'' The Japanese character for ``bu'' (martial) is derived from characters meaning ``stop'' and (a weapon like a) ``halberd.'' In conjunction, then, ``bu'' may have the connotation ``to stop the halberd.'' In aikido, there is an assumption that the best way to prevent violent conflict is to emphasize the cultivation of individual character. The way (do) of aiki is thus equivalent to the way of bu, taken in this sense of preventing or avoiding violence so far as possible.
Chikara
Power.
Chokusen
Direct. Thus chokusen no irimi = direct entry.
Chudan
``Middle position.'' Thus chudan no kamae = a stance characterized by having one's hands or sword in a central position with respect to one's body.
Chushin
Center. Especially, the center of one's movement or balance.
Dasu
Extend.
Dan
Black belt rank. In IAF aikido, the highest rank it is now possible to obtain is 9th Dan. There are some aikidoka who hold ranks of 10th Dan. These ranks were awarded by the founder prior to his death, and cannot be rescinded. White belt ranks are called kyu ranks.
Do
Way/path. The Japanese character for ``do'' is the same as the Chinese character for Tao (as in ``Taoism''). In aiki-do, the connotation is that of a way of attaining enlightenment or a way of improving one's character through aiki.
Dojo cho
The head of the dojo. A title. Currently, Moriteru Ueshiba (grandson of the founder) is dojo cho at World Aikido Headquarters (hombu dojo) in Tokyo, Japan.
Dojo
Literally ``place of the Way.'' Also ``place of enlightenment.'' The place where we practice aikido. Traditional etiquette prescribes bowing in the direction of the shrine (kamiza) or the designated front of the dojo (shomen) whenever entering or leaving the dojo.
Domo arigato gozaimashita
Japanese for ``thank you very much.'' At the end of each class, it is proper to bow and thank the instructor and those with whom you've trained.
Dori
See Tori.
Dosa
Exercises.
Doshu
Head of the way (currently Kisshomaru Ueshiba, son of aikido's founder, Morihei Ueshiba). The highest official authority in IAF aikido.
Eri
The back of the collar.
Fukushidoin
A formal title whose connotation is something approximating ``assistant instructor.''
Furi kaburi
Sword-raising movement. This movement in found especially in ikkyo, irimi-nage, and shiho-nage.
Gaeshi
Inwards.
Gamae
See Kamae.
Garami
Entanglement.
Gatana
See Katana.
Gedan
Lower position. Gedan no kamae is thus a stance with the hands or a weapon held in a lower position.
Gi (do gi) (keiko gi)
Training costume. Either judo-style or karate-style gi are acceptable in most dojo, but they must be white and cotton. (No black satin gi with embroidered dragons. Please.)
Giri
Cutting.
Go
Five, fifth.
Gokyo
The fifth wrist pinning technique
Goshi
See Koshi.
Gyaku
Opposite.
Gyaku hanmi
Opposing stance (if Uke has the right foot forward, Nage has the left foot forward, if Uke has the left foot forward, Nage has the right foot forward).
Haishin
Spine.
Hakama
Divided skirt usually worn by black-belt ranks. In some dojo, the hakama is also worn by women of all ranks, and in some dojo by all practitioners.
Handachi
Sitting techniques.
Hanmi
Triangular stance. Most often aikido techniques are practiced with Uke and Nage in pre-determined stances. This is to facilitate learning the techniques and certain principles of positioning with respect to an attack. At higher levels, specific hanmi cease to be of importance.
Hanmi handachi
Position with Nage sitting, Uke standing. Training in hanmi handachi waza is a good way of practicing techniques as though with a significantly larger/taller opponent. This type of training also emphasizes movement from one's center of mass (hara).
Happo
8 directions; as in happo-undo (8 direction exercise) or happo-giri (8 direction cutting with the sword). The connotation here is really movement in all directions. In aikido, one must be prepared to turn in any direction in an instant.
Hara
One's center of mass, located about 2'' below the navel. Traditionally this was thought to be the location of the spirit/mind/(source of ki). Aikido techniques should be executed as much as possible from or through one's hara.
Hasso no kamae
``Figure-eight'' stance. The figure eight does not correspond to the arabic numeral ``8,'' but rather to the Chinese/Japanese character which looks more like the roof of a house. In hasso no kamae, the sword is held up beside one's head, so that the elbows spread down and out from the sword in a pattern resembling this figure-eight character.
Henka
Changing.
Henkawaza
Varied technique. Especially beginning one technique and changing to another in mid-execution. Ex. beginning ikkyo but changing to irimi-nage.
Hidari
Left.
Hiji
Elbow.
Hineri
Twist.
Hishigi
Smash.
Ho
Exercise.
Hombu dojo
A term used to refer to the central dojo of an organization. Thus this usually designates Aikido World Headquarters. (see aikikai)
Ichi
One.
Ik
First.
Ikkyo
The first wrist pinning technique
Ireru
Use.
Irimi
(lit. ``Entering the Body'') Entering movement. Many aikidoka think that the irimi movement expresses the very essence of aikido. The idea behind irimi is to place oneself in relation to an attacker in such a way that the attacker is unable to continue to attack effectively, and in such a way that one is able to control effectively the attacker's balance. (See shikaku).
Iriminage
A throw that uses an entering motion
Jiyu
Free-style.
Jiyuwaza
Free-style practice of techniques. This usually involves more than one attacker who may attack Nage in any way desired.
Jo
Wooden staff about 4'-5' in length. The jo originated as a walking stick. It is unclear how it became incorporated into aikido. Many jo movements come from traditional Japanese spearfighting, others may have come from jojutsu, but many seem to have been innovated by the founder. The jo is usually used in advanced practice.
Jodan
Upper position. Jodan no kamae is thus a stance with the hands or a weapon held in a high position.
Jotori
A technique applied against an attack with a jo
Juji
``+'' shaped throw. Also the number 10.
Kaeshiwaza
Technique reversal. (Uke becomes Nage and vice-versa). This is usually a very advanced form of practice. Kaeshiwaza practice helps to instill a sensitivity to shifts in resistance or direction in the movements of one's partner. Training so as to anticipate and prevent the application of kaeshiwaza against one's own techniques greatly sharpens aikido skills.
Kaiso
The founder of aikido (i.e., Morihei Ueshiba).
Kaiten
Forward step and pivot.
Kaitennage
A throw that holds Uke's head down and pushing the arm on a diagonal
Kamae
A posture or stance either with or without a weapon. kamae may also connote proper distance (ma ai) with respect to one's partner. Although ``kamae'' generally refers to a physical stance, there is an important parallel in aikido between one's physical and one's psychological bearing. Adopting a strong physical stance helps to promote the correlative adoption of a strong psychological attitude. It is important to try so far as possible to maintain a positive and strong mental bearing in aikido.
Kamiza
A small shrine, frequently located at the front of a dojo, and often housing a picture of the founder, or some calligraphy. One generally bows in the direction of the kamiza when entering or leaving the dojo, or the mat.
Kansetsu
Joint.
Kansetsuwaza
Joint manipulation techniques.
Kata
Shoulder. One of the .... Also a ``form'' or prescribed pattern of movement, especially with the jo in aikido.
Katamewaza
``Hold-down'' (pinning) techniques.
Katana
What is vulgarly called a ``samurai sword.''
Katatetori
An attack in which Uke grabs one of Nage's hands in one of his hands
Katatori
An attack in which Uke grabs at Uke's shoulder or lapel
Keiko
Training. The only secret to success in aikido.
Ken
Sword.
Kensho
Enlightenment. (see mokuso and satori)
Ki
Mind. Spirit. Energy. Vital-force. Intention. (Chinese = chi) For many Aikidoka, the primary goal of training in aikido is to learn how to ``extend'' ki, or to learn how to control or redirect the ki of others. There are both ``realist'' and anti-realist interpretations of ki. The ki-realist takes ki to be, literally, a kind of ``stuff,'' ``energy,'' or life-force which flows within the body. Developing or increasing one's own ki, according to the ki-realist, thus confers upon the aikidoka greater power and control over his/her own body, and may also have the added benefits of improved health and longevity. According to the ki-anti-realist, ki is a concept which covers a wide range of psycho-physical phenomena, but which does not denote any objectively existing ``energy'' or ``stuff.'' The ki-anti-realist believes, for example, that to ``extend ki'' is just to adopt a certain kind of positive psychological disposition and to correlate that psychological dispositon with just the right combination of balance, relaxation, and judicious application of physical force. Since the description ``extend ki'' is somewhat more manageable, the concept of ki has a class of well-defined uses for the ki-anti-realist, but does not carry with it any ontological commitments beyond the scope of mainstream scientific theories.
Kiai
A shout delivered for the purpose of focussing all of one's energy into a single movement. Even when audible kiai are absent, one should try to preserve the feeling of kiai at certain crucial points within aikido techniques.
Kihon
(Something which is) fundamental. There are often many seemingly very different ways of performing the same technique in aikido. To see beneath the surface features of the technique and grasp the core common is to comprehend the kihon.
Kiza
Sitting stance.
Kohai
A student junior to oneself.
Kokyu
Breath. Part of aikido is the development of ``kokyu ryoku,'' or ``breath power.'' This is the coordination of breath with movement. A prosaic example: When lifting a heavy object, it is generally easier when breathing out. Also breath control may facilitate greater concentration and the elimination of stress. In many traditional forms of meditation, focus on the breath is used as a method for developing heightened concentration or mental equanimity. This is also the case in aikido. A number of exercises in aikido are called ``kokyu ho,'' or ``breath exercises.'' These exercises are meant to help one develop kokyu ryoku.
Kokyuho
A method of co-ordinating breath and body movement to increase ones intention
Kosa
Across, diagonally.
Koshi
Hips.
Koshinage
A throw in which Uke is thrown over Nage's hips
Kote
Wrist.
Kotegaeshi
An outer wrist throw
Kotodama
A practice of intoning various sounds (phonetic components of the Japanese language) for the purpose of producing mystical states. The founder of aikido was greatly interested in Shinto and neo-Shinto mystical practices, and he incorporated a number of them into his personal aikido practice.
Kubi
Neck.
Kumijo
Jo matching exercise or partner practice.
Kumitachi
Sword matching exercise or partner practice.
Kuzushi
The principle of destroying one's partner's balance. In aikido, a technique cannot be properly applied unless one first unbalances one's partner. To achieve proper kuzushi, in aikido, one should rely primarily on position and timing, rather than merely on physical force.
Kyo
Teaching, instruction, lesson.
Kyu
White belt rank. (Or any rank below shodan)
Ma ai
Proper distancing or timing with respect to one's partner. Since aikido techniques always vary according to circumstances, it is important to understand how differences in initial position affect the timing and application of techniques.
Mae
Front. Thus mae ukemi = ``forward fall/roll.''
Mawari
Movement.
Mawashi
Outwards.
Men
Head.
Menuchi
Head strike (?).
Migi
Right.
Mokuso
Meditation. Practice often begins or ends with a brief period of meditation. The purpose of meditation is to clear one's mind and to develop cognitive equanimity. Perhaps more importantly, meditation is an opportunity to become aware of conditioned patterns of thought and behavior so that such patterns can be modified, eliminated or more efficiently put to use. In addition, meditation may occasion experiences of insight into various aspects of aikido (or, if one accepts certain buddhist claims, into the very structure of reality). Ideally, the sort of cognitive awareness and focus that one cultivates in meditation should carry over into the rest of one's practice, so that the distinction between the ``meditative mind'' and the ``normal mind'' collapses.
Moro
Both together.
Morotetori
An attack in which Uke grabs Nage's forearm with both hands
Mudansha
Students without black-belt ranking.
Mune
Lapel.
Mushin
Literally ``no mind.'' A state of cognitive awareness characterized by the absence of discursive thought. A state of mind in which the mind acts/reacts without hypostatization of concepts. mushin is often erroneously taken to be a state of mere spontaneity. Although spontaneity is a feature of mushin, it is not straightforwardly identical with it. It might be said that when in a state of mushin, one is free to use concepts and distinctions without being used by them.
Nagare
Flowing. One goal of aikido practice is to learn not to oppose physical force with physical force. Rather, one strives to flow along with physical force, redirecting it to one's advantage.
Nage
The person performing the technique
Ni
Two.
Nik
Second.
Nikkyo
The second wrist pinning technique
No
Belongs to, of.
Obi
A belt.
Omote
``The front,'' thus, a class of movements in aikido in which Nage enters in front of Uke.
Omotokyo
One of the so-called ``new-religions'' of Japan. Omotokyo is a syncretic amalgam of Shintoism, neo-Shinto mysticism, Christianity, and Japanese folk religion. The founder of aikido was a devotee of Omotokyo and incorporated some elements from it into his aikido practice. The founder insisted, however, that one need not be a devotee of Omotokyo in order to study aikido or to comprehend the purpose or philosophy of aikido.
Onegai shimasu
``I welcome you to train with me,'' or literally, ``I make a request.'' This is said to one's partner when initiating practice.
Osae
Pin or hold.
Osaewaza
Pinning techniques.
Osensei
Literally, ``Great Teacher,'' i.e., Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido.
Otoshi
Drop.
Oyo
Applied.
Randori
Free-style ``all-out'' training. Sometimes used as a synonym for jiyuwaza. Although aikido techniques are usually practiced with a single partner, it is important to keep in mind the possibility that one may be attacked by multiple aggressors. Many of the body movements of aikido (tai sabaki) are meant to facilitate defense against multiple attackers.
Reigi
Ettiquette. Observance of proper ettiquette at all times (but especially observance of proper dojo ettiquette) is as much a part of one's training as the practice of techniques. Observation of reigi indicates one's sincerety, one's willingness to learn, and one's recognition of the rights and interests of others.
Renzoku
Continuous.
Ryo
Both.
Ryokatatori
An attack in which Uke grabs both of Nage's shoudlers or lapels in both of his hands
Ryotetori
An attack in which Uke grabs both of Nage's wrists or lapels in both of his hands
Ryoku
Power.
Sabaki
Movement.
San
Three, third.
Sankyo
The third wrist pinning technique
San kaku tai
Triangular form.
Seika tanden
One point or center.
Seiza
Sitting on one's knees. Sitting this way requires acclimatization, but provides both a stable base and greater ease of movement than sitting cross-legged.
Sempai
A student senior to oneself.
Sensei
Teacher. It is usually considered proper to address the instructor during practice as ``Sensei'' rather than by his/her name. If the instructor is a permanent instructor for one's dojo or for an organization, it is proper to address him/her as ``Sensei'' off the mat as well.
Setsuzoku
Connection. Aikido techniques are generally rendered more efficient by preserving a connection between one's center of mass (hara) and the outer limits of the movement, or between one's own center of mass and that of one's partner. Also, setsuzoku may connote fluidity and continuity in technique. On a psychological level, setsuzoku may connote the relationship of action-response that exists between oneself and one's partner, such that successful performance of aikido techniques depends crucially upon timing one's own actions and responses to accord with those of one's partner.
Shido
Shaking, flapping.
Shidoin
A formal title meaning, approximately, ``instructor.''
Shihan
A formal title meaning, approximately, ``master instructor.'' A teacher of teachers.
Shiho
Four corners, four sides.
Shihonage
A throwing technique is which pressure is applied against Uke's wrist and wlbow using a sword-swinging motion to throw Uke down
Shikaku
Literally ``dead angle.'' A position relative to one's partner where it is difficult for him/her to (continue to) attack, and from which it is relatively easy to control one's partner's balance and movement. The first phase of an aikido technique is often to establish shikaku.
Shikko
Samurai walking (``knee walking''). Shikko is very important for developing a strong awareness of one's center of mass (hara). It also develops strength in one's hips and legs.
Shizentai
Natural stance.
Shime
Choke, lock.
Sho
Top, front.
Shodan
First degree black belt.
Shomen
Front or top of head. Also the designated front of a dojo.
Shomenuchi
A strike to the top of the head
Shumatsu
Afterwards.
Sotai
Paired, couples.
Soto
``Outside.'' Thus, a class of aikido movements executed, especially, outside the attacker's arm(s). (see uchi)
Suburi
Basic jo or bokken practice in striking and thrusting.
Sukashiwaza
Techniques performed without allowing the attacker to complete a grab or to initiate a strike. Ideally, one should be sensitive enough to the posture and movements of an attacker (or would-be attacker) that the attack is neutralized before it is fully executed. A great deal of both physical and cognitive training is required in order to attain this ideal.
Suki
An opening or gap where one is vulnerable to attack or application of a technique, or where one's technique is otherwise flawed. suki may be either physical or psychological. One goal of training is to be sensitive to suki within one's own movement or position, as well as to detect suki in the movement or position of one's partner. Ideally, a master of aikido will have developed his/her skill to such an extent that he/she no longer has any true suki.
Sumi
Corner.
Suwari
Sitting.
Suwariwaza
Techniques executed with both Uke and Nage in a seated position. These techniques have their historical origin (in part) in the practice of requiring all samurai to sit and move about on their knees while in the presence of a daimyo (feudal lord). In theory, this made it more difficult for anyone to attack the daimyo. But this was also a position in which one received guests (not all of whom were always trustworthy). In contemporary aikido, suwariwaza is important for learning to use one's hips and legs.
Tachi
Standing. Also a type of Japanese sword (thus tachi-tori = sword-taking).
Tachitori
Techniques applied against attacks with a sword
Tachiwaza
Standing techniques.
Tai
Body.
Tai no henko
Tai no tenkan = Basic blending practice involving turning 180 degrees.
Taisabaki
Body movement.
Taijutsu
``Body arts,'' i.e., unarmed practice.
Tandoku
Alone.
Taninsugake
Training against multiple attackers, usually from grabbing attacks.
Tanto
A dagger, or knife.
Tantotori
Techniques applied against attacks with a knife
Te
Hand.
Tegatana
``Hand sword,'' i.e. the edge of the hand. Many aikido movements emphasize extension ``through'' one's tegatana. Also, there are important similarities obtaining between aikido sword techniques, and the principles of tegatana application.
Tekubi
Wrist joint or forearm.
Tekubitori
An attack in which Uke grabs both of Nage's forearms or wrists
Tenchi
Heaven and earth.
Tenchinage
A throw similar to irminage in which Nage breaks Uke's balance by extending one hand up and the other one down while moving toward Uke
Tenkai
Pivot.
Tenkan
Turning movement, esp. turning the body 180 degrees. (see tai no tenkan)
Tenshin
A movement where Nage retreats 45 degrees away from the attack (esp. to Uke's open side).
Tori
Taking away, e.g. tanto-tori (knife-taking).
Tsugi
Shuffle.
Tsuki
A punch or thrust (esp. an attack to the midsection).
Uchi
``Inside.'' A class of techniques where Nage moves, especially, inside (under) the attacker's arm(s). (But also a strike, e.g., shomen uchi.)
Ude
Arm.
Ueshiba Kisshomaru
The son of the founder of aikido and current aikido doshu.
Ueshiba Morihei
The founder of aikido. (see O-sensei and kaiso).
Ueshiba Moriteru
The grandson of the founder and current dojocho at hombu dojo.
Uke
Person being thrown (receiving the technique). At high levels of practice, the distinction between Uke and Nage becomes blurred. In part, this is because it becomes unclear who initiates the technique, and also because, from a certain perspective, Uke and Nage are thoroughly interdependent.
ukemi
Literally ``receiving [with/through] the body,'' thus, the art of falling in response to a technique. Mae ukemi are front roll-falls, ushiro ukemi are back roll-falls. Ideally, one should be able to execute ukemi from any position and in any direction. The development of proper ukemi skills is just as important as the development of throwing skills and is no less deserving of attention and effort. In the course of practicing ukemi, one has the opportunity to monitor the way one is being moved so as to gain a clearer understanding of the principles of aikido techniques. Just as standard aikido techniques provide strategies for defending against physical attacks, so does ukemi practice provide strategies for defending against falling (or even against the application of an aikido or aikido-like technique).
Undo
Exercise.
Ura
``Rear.'' A class of aikido techniques executed by moving behind the attacker and turning. Sometimes ura techniques are called tenkan (turning) techniques.
Ushiro
Backwards or behind, as in ushiro ukemi or falling backwards.
Waza
Techniques. Although in aikido we have to practice specific techniques, aikido as it might manifest itself in self-defense may not resemble any particular, standard aikido technique. This is because aikido techniques encode strategies and types of movement which are modified in accordance with changing conditions. (see kihon)
Yoko
Side.
Yokomen
Side of the head.
Yokomenuchi
A strike to the side of the head or neck
Yon
Four, fourth.
Yonkyo
Fourth wrist pinning technique.
Yosei
Development.
Yudansha
Black belt holder (any rank).
Za gi
Seated.
Za ho
Sitting method.
Zori
Sandals worn off the mat to help keep the mat clean!
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