Japanese used in my karate class

A fair amount of Japanese is used in the karate class I recently joined. Here are the terms I’ve heard so far.

End of class

First the teacher says “line up” in English. The students get in line in front of the mirror in order of rank, with white belts to the left and brown belts to the right. Students stand with feet shoulder width apart and hands in fists held out down and to the front. The teachers stand along the left wall.

The teacher says the name of the highest-ranking student, who is of course standing on the opposite side of the room. The highest-ranking student says:

気を付け! 【きをつけ】 (ki wo tsuke) – Attention!

Students slide their feet together and swing their hands to clap the backs of their hips.

礼! 【れい】 (rei) – Bow!

先生に礼! 【せんせいにれい】 (sensei ni rei) – Bow to the teacher(s)!

先輩に礼! 【せんぱいにれい】 (senpai ni rei) – Bow to your senior(s)!

The first bow is to the mirrors. Students turn left to bow to the teachers and spin around to bow to the higher-ranking students.


In karate, forms are called

型 【かた】 (kata)

The one kata I’ve learned so far is called taikyoku 1. I believe the Chinese characters for taikyoku are 太極, but I’m not positive. Here’s some information about the taikyoku kata.

Sensei Beall’s school has a traditional way of opening and closing a form. To begin a form, you stand with your left foot held lightly in front, similar to kung fu’s cat stance. Your hands are held flat in front of you and down, left hand on top of right.

This position has a name. At first I thought the senseis were saying

娘 【むすめ】 (musume)

which means “girl” or “daughter”. However, it’s apparently something like issume. Since I don’t know the exact pronunciation, I haven’t been able to find the actual word or what it means.

After this position you 気を付け (ki wo tsuke) and 礼 (rei) as described above. Then you bring your left hand up about a foot in front of your face, palm facing inward and fingers held at a height just below your eyes, so you can see over them. Simultaneously and silently, your right fist slides up behind your flat left hand, palm facing you. The senseis seem to be calling this position “ready” in English. You then lower your hands, keeping them together so that your left hand rotates on top of your right, until your arms are straight down in front, hands still together. This is also called “ready”.

From there you go right into your form.

Once you’re finished with your form, you go out by stepping your feet together, slapping your fist into your left hand for the first “ready” position (you can make noise with your fist this time because you’ve defeated all your opponents), and shifting into the second “ready”. Then you 気を付け (ki wo tsuke), 礼 (rei), and step into the “line up” stance.


During forms or drills, any time you’ve done a series of the same maneuver, you shout on the last one. The word traditionally said is

気合 【きあい】 (kiai)

which literally means scream or yell, and also means fighting spirit. Sensei Beall says the point is not to say 気合 (kiai) perfectly, but to let out air rapidly so that if you get punched, your opponent can’t knock the wind out of you. The yell should come from your gut, not your throat.

I have to tell you, being in a situation in which Japanese is used regularly makes me want to speak Japanese! I’m afraid one night I’ll slip and say はい (hai) instead of “Yes, sir!” :)

Frank Beall’s US TAI Karate

This week I went to a martial arts class for the first time in 15 years.

I took kung fu for about three years when I was in high school. I still look back on class as some of the best–and worst–times of my life. I accomplished a lot, learned a lot, and was in great physical condition. But I was very down on myself in high school, and that affected my happiness with myself and how I was progressing in class. When rising costs and other factors caused me to quit my junior year, I didn’t seek out another class.

When I first moved to Augusta in 2003, I searched online for local martial arts schools without much success. I actually found an essay written by a female soldier who was highly unimpressed with the classes she’d investigated here, and that turned me off towards local schools. I thought about simply practicing the things I’d learned in kung fu–back then I still had my notebook with detailed information and instructions–but I never ended up doing so. The most martial arts have been in my life in the last 15 years has been through movies and the occasional pondering on situational self-defense.

Now, seven years later, I seem to have found a good school: Frank Beall’s US TAI Karate. My friend Brandon from work trained under the late 10-dan black belt and TAI Grandmaster Virgil Kimmey, Sensei Beall’s teacher, back when he was a kid. He’d thought about it off and on ever since, and last August he started back again at Sensei Beall’s dojo.

Last week I watched a class to see what it was like, and this Tuesday and Thursday I participated, in blocks and katas respectively. Obviously I couldn’t expect things to be the same as my old kung fu class, but enough of the core values are the same that I felt very comfortable there.

Senseis Beall and Long both create an environment of respect and diligence. They are also quite obviously experts in their art. Both are black belts, but nowadays that rank seems to mean less and less. In watching them execute various movements and simply observing their general bearing, though, it’s apparent that they’re the real thing. Instant reaction time, fluid, efficient, strong. And when they teach, they explain exactly what they’re doing and why, they’re very patient, and they pay close attention to students, answering questions and correcting form.

On Thursday I was especially pleased when Sensei Long said movements in forms should be executed just as they would be in a match–full strength. Too often I see martial artists flowing through their forms without putting any power into the punches. To me, that defeats the purpose of learning forms. Forms are pretty and impressive to watch, but the main purpose is to build muscle memory. If your muscles remember weak movements, you’re going to be in trouble in a real fight.

It’s kind of rough going directly from work to karate, but I’ve felt so good this week. At this point I’m leaning towards formally joining the school.

Attending this class has brought back a flood of memories and sparked much thought about martial arts. I’ll be writing more on this soon.