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10 Martial Art Terms You Should Know

10 Martial Art Terms You Should Know | Empire Dojo

At Empire Dojo we teach both traditional and modern martial arts.  Our traditional Japanese martial arts of Ninpo Taijutsu and Jujutsu have a very long and rich lineage that is steeped in the way of the ninja and samurai!

Should you or your child ever attend (or observe) one of our traditional martial arts classes, you will notice that a lot will be spoken in Japanese. Since this is a traditional martial art, we do this to show respect for the rich history that the art we are studying comes from.

So, here are 10 martial art terms that you would likely hear and what they mean:

1. Reiho

Arguably one of the most important words/concepts in Empire Dojo’s vocabulary is ‘reiho’. This refers to an individual’s level of etiquette, or manners. Anything taught within the Dojo is practiced to also be taken home with the student. A few examples of this are: respect (knowing to put your best foot forward and be mindful of others), focus (listening intently to instruction and following through on the 1st time), perseverance (accepting that failure is necessary for success and you shouldn’t quit as soon as something becomes difficult), and a proper attitude/mindset (acting like a leader).

2. Dojo

Dojo; a word we know well, but maybe not exactly. Dojo is often used to describe a martial arts center, building, or location. However, it more specifically refers to the room or hall in which martial arts are physically practiced.

3. Gi

Gi (pronounced ghee) is the formal and traditional Japanese name for a martial arts uniform. Today, we have many phrases that describe just that, but this is the name from which it originally stemmed.

4. Sūji

Simply put, sūji are numbers. There are slight differences in the ways in which numbers are said in English vs. Japanese. See below for how the languages compare:

JapaneseEnglishNumber
IchiOne1
NiTwo2
SanThree3
Shi (yon)Four4
GoFive5
RokuSix6
Shichi (nana)Seven7
HachiEight8
Ku (kyū)Nine9
Ju (jū)Ten10

5. Sensei

A sensei is an official instructor and teacher of martial arts. This is used as a title of honor for those who are remarkable in their field. At Empire Dojo, you become a ‘Sensei’ when you attain an adult-level black belt.

6. Senpai

A Japanese honorific that is used when someone is older than you in age or they have more experience in a field than you.

7. Ki-ai – “Spirit Focus” / a focusing yell. Ki-ai has many conceptual and physical benefits. Conceptual: If someone is harassing you, yelling loudly to 1) intimidate them, 2) grab a 3rd party’s attention, or even 3) distract them is paramount to keeping yourself safe. Physically, yelling forces you to exhale (when in a stressful situation like working out or having to use self-defense), when your body may otherwise hold its breath, because of the situation at hand.

8. Zanshin – Meaning ‘awareness’. Taking or having zanshin refers to one’s understanding of themselves and their surroundings. For example, once you complete a technique, it’s best to keep your eyes on your partner and guard raised, to show an anticipation of further combat; creating the habit in your mind of always needing to have your head on a swivel.

9. Rei – Bow

Examples:

  • Shomen-ni-Rei: Bow to the front of the dojo
  • Sensei-ni-Rei: Bow to the teacher

10. Onegaishimasu – Please

(pronounced oh-nee-guy-she-mas)


This list is by no means exhaustive, but will give you a little peek into some of the language we use and traditions we follow at Empire Dojo.  We hope to see you soon.

Arigatō gozaimashita! (Thank you very much!)

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