Glossary of Japanese Michi

Glossaries are provided for those not familiar with terms relating to architecture, urban planning or Japanese martial arts. Terms will be added to these glossaries as the need arises in subsequent posts. The terms are first divided between those relating to architecture and urbanism as one group and Japanese martial arts as another. The glossary below relates to Japanese Michi, particularly Budō.

NB: There are two characteristics of the Japanese language that should be noted with regards to transliteration. The first is that in Japanese there are long vowels such as the long ō and ū. These are indicated by the “dash” over the vowels rather than adding an extra u to represent う as written in hiragana, e.g. “dōjō” instead of “doujou” for the transliteration of 道場/どうじょう. The second is that the Japanese words do not change according to singular or plural. Thus “dōjō” could be either one “dōjō”, several “dōjō” or “dōjō” in general.

battōdō / battōjutsu (抜刀道 / 抜刀術) – see iaidō.

bokken / bokutō (木剣 / 木刀) – wooden sword used to practice kata and suburi.

budō (武道) – lit. Way of War. This is a general term for martial arts with a connotation towards spiritual development. Where the line between budō and bujutsu lies or if such distinctions really exist can lead to long debates (and not the subject of this blog).

bujutsu (武術) – lit. Skills of War. Another term for martial arts with a connotation towards technical proficiency rather than spiritual development. Where the line between budō and bujutsu lies or if such distinctions really exist can lead to long debates (and not the subject of this blog).

bushidō (武士道) – lit. Way of the Warrior/Samurai. A code of conduct for the samurai class similar to the code of chivalry in Europe.

chiburi (血降り) – lit. blood shake. In some iaidō/iaijutsu traditions kata may contain an action representing the throwing off of blood from the blade similar to flicking rain water off an umbrella. Though in reality this is not likely to clean the blade sufficiently for resheathing (noto/納刀) it is likely an expression of zanshin or the mental state of continuing to be “in the fight” even after the opponent is defeated. This is presented in more detail here.

dō/michi (道) – lit. path/road. This is appended to the names of different Japanese arts to indicate that the intention of practice is the journey of the spirit or self development. This is not exclusive to martial arts. Tea ceremony (sadō 茶道) and calligraphy (shodō 書道) are non-martial examples.

dōjō (道場) – lit. Place of the Way. This is where the practice of Japanese arts take place. One could define a dojo as an institution, tradition or group of people. While I recognize the possibility of these other definitions, for the purposes of this blog, a dojo is a physical place. The word dōjō is composed of two kanji: dō (道) – which means “way” or “path” and jō (場) – which means “place”. The term originates from Buddhism and refers to the place where Siddartha Gautama attained enlightenment. As Buddhism, in particular Zen Buddhism, became popular among the bushi class of Japan, Buddhist terminology and metaphors entered into budō terminology. Thus, the dōjō is seen as a place for traveling the “path” towards some ideal.

FIK – Fédération Internationale de Kendo or the International Kendo Federation is the international governing body for kendō, iaidō and jodō with practically exclusive domination in kendō. The name changed from English to French when it joined SportAccord, which was previously called General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF).

fumikomi (踏み込み) – lit. stepping forward of the foot. Fumikomi is typically associated with the “stomp” made during a kendō strike or cut. In other arts, there may or may not be an emphasis on making an appreciable sound. Ideally the timing of the footfall and the strike are coordinated so that they happen at the same time. The ideal cut or strike is made by the whole body moving in coordination and not just the arms.

gendai budō (現代武道) – Modern martial arts. Generally refers to modernized versions of martial arts established since the Meiji Period.

hanshi (範士) – see shōgō

hyōhō (兵法) – military strategy. Some ryūha incorporate this term into their names.

iaidō / iaijutsu (居合道 / 居合術) – The art of drawing a katana from which an attack or counter-attack against an opponent is made. The art is usually practiced as solo kata with either a realistic mock katana (mogitō) or an actual live blade (shinken). The term battōdō / battōjutsu (抜刀道 / 抜刀術) is another name for this type of art.

iaitō (居合刀) – a sword used for the practice of iaidō or iaijutsu. Typically this refers to mogitō but technically speaking could include shinken used for iai practice.

IKF – see FIK

jōdō / jōjutsu (杖道 / 杖術) – The way of the stick is a martial art employing a 127cm (4ft) wooden staff. The kata in jōdō involve defense against a sword wielder.

jūdō (柔道) – an empty handed martial art emphasizing grappling, throwing, joint locking and holding. It was established by Kanō Jigorō as a “modernized” synthesis of a number of traditional jūjutsu. Its teachings methods, including the awarding of kyū and dan grades, had a profound influence on the modernization of other Japanese martial arts.

jūjutsu (柔術) – is a term that applies to a number of different empty handed arts that emphasize grappling, throwing, joint locking and holding. These arts, many of which are continuations of traditional koryū schools, vary considerably in their curriculum and techniques but were born out of the necessity of feudal Japanese warriors needing to fight empty handed against armored opponents, against whom striking techniques were not effective.

kamidana (神棚) – a small shrine often found in Japanese homes and dojos. This is specific to the Shinto belief system. Bowing to the kamidana is given with the pronouncement “shinzen-ni rei”, lit. bow to the place of the gods. Since kamidana are specific to Shintō, they are often absent from dōjō outside of Japan.

kata (形) – preset choreographed forms used to practice or teach techniques and principals of a particular art. Kata in budō are either practiced solo, as seen in iaidō, or paired, as in kendō, kenjutsu, judō, aikidō, jujutsu, etc. Although often associated with budō, they also exist in non-martial arts such as shodō (書道).

katana (刀) – in Japan this is a general term for any sword. In the West this tends to refer to a Japanese sword within a certain blade length range as such a range was defined by the Bakufu during the Edo period. See Nihontō.

kendō (剣道) – lit. Way of the Sword. A gendai budō in which Japanese fencing is practice with armor (bogu) and bamboo swords (shinai) which allow for full spirited strikes that make contact. Kendō also has set forms (kata) which are practice with wooden swords (bokutō / bokken).

kenjutsu (剣術) – lit. Skills of the Sword. In Japan this refers to any kind of fencing. In the West this tends to refer to koryū kenjutsu or styles of Japanese fencing established prior to the Meiji Restoration.

kiai (気合い) – the projection of energy from the body. In kendo this refers to the audible “shouting” made during practice. In other arts, such as Ono-ha Ittō-ryū ((小野派一刀流) kenjutsu or the iaijutsu of Musō Shinden Ryū (夢想神伝流) and Musō Jikiden Einshin Ryū (無双直伝英信流), the kiai may be internalized and inaudible.

koryū (古流) – lit. Old Stream. This is a term generally used to describe schools or styles of martial arts prior to the Meiji Restoration.

kyōshi (教士) – see shōgō

kyūdō/kyūjutsu (弓道/弓術) – Japanese traditional archery. The bow used in kyūdō/kyūjutsu is asymmetrical with the top portion significantly longer than the bottom portion. Traditional mounted archery is called yabusame.

menkyo kaiden (免許皆伝) – license of transmission given upon completion of training, generally in koryu arts. The terms of the license vary from art to art but generally means the holder may teach the art.

metsuke (目付) – lit. placing the eyes. This refers to how to focus one’s gaze. In kendō, focusing too much on one part of an opponent leads to the opponent being able to read one’s intentions. In iaidō, metsuke gives an indication of where one imagines the enemy.

mogitō (模擬刀) – an imitation sword. In Japan this is legally defined as being made of non-ferrous alloys. For iaito this is usually zinc-aluminum.

nafuda (名札) – a name plate. In a dōjō a nafuda refers to the typically wooden name blocks hung on a wall board, or nafudakake (名札掛け). Kenshi247 has an article describing this in more detail here. Sometimes this indicates who is present and sometimes it provides a list of (sometimes well known) members past and present. A nafuda can also refer to the cloth name plates wore on the uwagi (jacket worn during training), particularly in iaidō. Technically, the cloth name plates worn in kendo are also nafuda though they are usually referred to as zekken, a word borrowed from German.

naginata (薙刀) – a traditional Japanese weapon wherein a blade is mounted to a pole similar to an European glaive. The art of using the naginata may be practiced as a gendai budō called atarashi-naginata (新し薙刀 new naginata) or within a koryū dedicated soley to naginatajutsu or along with other weapons or skills.

Nihontō (日本刀) – a Japanese blade forged in the traditional folding process. This has a specific legal term in Japan as only licensed blade smiths using traditional methods can produce certified Nihontō. Note that Nihontō has no specific length and can range from small daggers (tantō) to very long ceremonial swords that are a few meters long. It is the manner in which it is forged that defines a Nihontō.

nitō-ryū (二刀流) – in kendō this refers to a style in which two shinai are used, a long and a short shinai representing the daishō (long and short pair) sword set as famously worn by samurai in the Edo Period. Some koryū kenjutsu traditions have curricula in the use of two swords. Nitō-ryū is also sometimes referred to as ryōtō (両刀), lit. both swords, as is the case with Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū. The most well known, though not the first, koryū tradition to employ two swords simultaneously is Miyamoto Musashi’s Niten-Ichi-ryū Hyōhō.

nōtō (納刀) – resheathing a blade. The manner in which this is done varies between iaidō/iaijutsu ryūha.

renshi (練士) – see shōgō

ryū / ryūha (流 / 流派) – lit. stream/stream-branch. in the context of Japanese arts this refers to various schools or styles, usually pre-Meiji Restoration but not always the case.

sadō (茶道) – lit. Way of Tea, is the practice of Japanese Tea Ceremony.

shinken (真剣) – lit. Real Sword. A sword with a live blade, though not always Nihontō.

shinai (竹刀) – split bamboo sword used in kendō.

shodō (書道) – lit. Way of Writing, is the Japanese art of calligraphy.

shōgō (称号) – in the context of modern budō, shōgō is a series of titles conferred upon senior practitioners in parallel with their dan grade. Usually (though there are exceptions) renshi (練士) is obtained sometime after achieving 6-dan, kyōshi (教士) is obtained sometime after achieving 7-dan and hanshi (範士) is obtained after achieving 8-dan. Within the FIK/ZNKR these ranks are award upon successful passing of a written exam covering theory. The following article explains the background to this system.

shugyō (修行) – ascetetic training.

taihojutsu (逮捕術) – lit. arresting techniques, is a martial art practiced by Japanese police with the aim to develop skills for apprehending suspects. The art incorporates techniques from a wide variety of disciplines such as kenjutsu/kendō, jūjutsu/jūdō, jōjutsu/jōdō, juttejutsu/keibōjutsu (truncheon arts) and others.

tokuren / tokubetsu renshū (特練 / 特別練習) – lit. special practice, is the name given to Japanese police departments’ special martial arts practices. Competitions in kendō, jūdō and taihojutsu (arresting techniques) are held regularly within the police at various levels. Those who take part in these competition are given leave to attend special “tokuren” practices in preparation for these competitions. These practice are known for being very intense and of long duration.

yabusame (流鏑馬) – Japanese mounted archery practiced as a Shinto ritual.

ZNKR – Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (全日本剣道連盟) or All Japan Kendo Federation, is the largest governing body for kendō in Japan. Although there are other smaller bodies, the ZNKR is so dominant that it is practically the only governing body for kendō. It also covers iaidō and jōdō though it does not have near exclusive domination in these arts.

zōkingake (ぞうきんがけ) – a traditional style of cleaning wooden floors in Japan in which the person cleaning pushes a wet towel in front of them using their hands and pushing with their feet. The person would be bent over at the hips making an inverted V shape. This method requires some practice to get the right balance to do this. Cleaning in this way is considered part of training or shugyō (修行).