~ This glossary has been compiled with children and new learners in mind. It is a list of common words and/or titles, and it is not intended to be a complete list of every word a student may hear or see written.
~ The majority of the terms described are universal to all traditional Japanese martial arts. In places however the descriptions will specify how a given term relates to the World Ju-Jitsu Federation (WJJF) specifically. For example, the belt system is described by WJJF standards and would not apply to other martial arts or governing bodies. Where readers wish to learn about those martial arts or their respective governing bodies, they may consult them for more information.
~ Each entry in this glossary is accompanied by the word(s) in Japanese text displayed in dark blue. Clicking on the Japanese text or the
~ Words before translation are displayed in light blue italics, followed by their translation in green italics. These are always in quotation marks.
~ Words in orange will jump to the related entry in this glossary, and purple words will open a new tab to an external site.
~ For quick searching in your browser, press ‘Crtl+F’ to open a search bar, then type the word you are looking for.
Budō | 武道
“Bu” means “war” or “martial” and “dō” means “way” or “path“. Combined they come to mean “Way of war“. This is not a literal path, but your metaphorical journey towards something, in this case to becoming a warrior.
This is why the WJJF membership licence is called your ‘Budō Pass’. It is your record of all your learning!
Budōka | 武道家
As we see above, Budō means “Way of war“. “Ka” primarily means “house” or “family” but can also mean “expert” or “professional”. The “Ka” is added as a suffix to indicate what a person is an expert of. The more literal translation would be “expert in the way of war“, but it is more commonly used to simply mean “martial artist“.
Bushidō | 武士道
This builds on word Budō, adding in “Shi“, which means “A well-respected man“. Put together the meaning becomes “Way of the Warrior“.
Bushidō was the way of the Samurai life, similar to the concept of chivalry. It originates from the Samurai moral code and stresses frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and honour unto death.
The Bushidō code is typified by eight core virtues:
- Benevolence / Compassion | 仁
- (Heroic) Courage | 勇気
- Duty and Loyalty | 忠義
- Honesty | 誠
- Honour | 名誉
- Righteousness | 義
- Respect | 礼
- Self-Control | 自制
Dan | 段
The word “Dan” translates to “rank”. The majority of the dan ranks are the number of the corresponding rank followed by ‘dan’. For example “Nidan” is “2nd rank“, “Sandan” is “3rd rank“, and so forth.
The only exception to this is for “Shodan” as “Sho” means “beginner“, making it actually “beginner rank“. “1st rank” would actually be “Ichidan” but this word is rarly used.
The ‘dan’ grades are all the belts including and above black belt. The WJJF ranks are, in order (with corresponding colours):
Shodan | 初段 (1st Dan) – Pure black. Nidan | 弐段 (2nd Dan) – Black with Green central stripe. Sandan | 参段 (3rd Dan) – Blue and White alternating blocks. Yondan | 四段 (4th Dan) – Black with Blue central stripe. Godan | 五段 (5th Dan) – Red and White alternating blocks. Rokudan | 六段 (6th Dan) – Black and Red twin stripe. Scichidan / Shichidan | 七段 (7th Dan) – Black and Red alternating blocks. Hachidan | 八段 (8th Dan) Black with Red central stripe. Kudan | 九段 (9th Dan) – Pure Red. (Same as Novice) Jūdan | 十段 (10th Dan) – Pure Red. (Same as novice and Kudan)
~ In English these are sometimes called ‘Degrees’. A 1st Dan may say they have a “1st degree black belt”, a 2nd Dan may say they have a “2nd degree black belt”, and so forth.
~ There is a popular myth surrounding the origins of the black belt that claims students traditionally earned a black belt over many years of hard training, by causing their white belts to become so discoloured over time that it turned black. You can read more about this myth here.
~ The word Yūdansha | 有段者
~ Conversely a Mudansha | 無段者
~ Yūdansha who hold Nidan or above will actually have 2 belts, their formal belt and their practice belt. The formal belts are the coloured ones seen above and are often worn for gradings, seminars or other official functions. Their Shodan (1st Dan) belt is then used as a practice belt during normal training sessions. To show they are actually a higher rank, wearer add thin coloured stripes to the ends, starting with 2 stripes for 2nd dan, 3 stripes for 3rd, and so on.
~ Within the WJJF, once a person reaches Godan | 五段
~ Also within the WJJF, once a person reaches Hachidan | 八段
~ See also the Titles (Shōgō | 称号) section below.
Dōgi | 道着 / 道衣
An alternative name for the Keikogi (see below)
“Dogi” translates to “clothes of the way” as dō” means “way” or “path“, while “gi” generally means “clothes“.
This ‘Dō‘ (着) is the same as used in Budō and Dōjō.
Dōjō | 道場
The term literally translates as “place of the way” from Japanese, though more often it roughly means “Martial Arts School“. This may be a dedicated building or room devoted to practising martial arts, or may be a temporary space. Some dōjōs may have multiple rooms where several classes can take place for different ability levels or skills being learnt.
Honbu Dōjō | 本部 道場
“Honbu” translates to “headquarters“, making a Honbu dōjō the central training facility and administrative headquarters of a particular martial arts style. For the WJJF this is ‘The Clark Centre’, located in Liverpool, UK.
Ju-Jitsu (aka ‘Jiu-Jitsu’, ‘Jiujitsu’, ‘Jujitsu’, ‘Jūjutsu’) | 柔術
“Jū” can be translated to mean “gentle” or “soft”, while “Jitsu” can be translated to mean “technique” or “art“. Put together and it becomes “The gentle art“.
~ Modern Ju-Jitsu is based on the unarmed combat techniques used by the Samurai of medieval Japan, which they might have used if they ever found themselves without a weapon. It was designed to counter attacks from enemies wearing armour (as striking techniques were ineffective against them) instead focusing on throwing, immobilising, joint locks and choke holds.
~ There is no one correct spelling of the word when translating from Japanese to English, which is why the word is often written in various ways. You can read a detailed discussion into why here.
~ An older alternative name for Ju-Jitsu was Yawara | 柔
Ju-Jitsuka (aka ‘Jiu-Jitsuka’, ‘Jiujitsuka’, ‘Jujitsuka’, ‘Ju-Jutsuka’) | 柔術家
“Ka” primarily means “house” or “family” but can also mean “expert” or “professional”. The ‘Ka’ is added as a suffix to indicate what a person is an of. By adding it to the end of Ju-Jitsu it becomes “someone who practices Ju-Jitsu.”
“Jiu-jiteiro” might also be used when referring to someone who practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Kata | 型
This means “Form” or “Pattern“. These are usually exercises consisting of a sequence of the specific movements of a martial art, used in training and designed to show skill in a technique.
For example, ‘stance kata’ is a routine consisting of standing in the different attack stances used in Ju-Jitsu, and would be used to teach student the different stances.
Keikogi (aka ‘Dōgi’ or ‘Gi’) | 稽古着 / 稽古衣
This is the full name of the uniform. “Keiko” means “practice” and “Gi” means “clothes“. In English the word ‘keikogi’ is almost always shortened to just ‘gi’, which would be incorrect when spoken in Japanese, but would be understood in context.
~ As the word translates to ‘practice clothes‘ it is a generic term, meaning it is not uncommon to hear other Japanese martial arts refer to their uniforms with different names such as
~ The Keikogi can be made from a variety of parts. The most common combination is that of an Uwagi | 上着
~ A possible addition to this is a Hakama | 袴
~ The modern Keikogi is widely accepted to have been first designed and implemented by Kanō Jigorō* around the turn of the 20th century. You can read more about the history of the Keikogi / Dogi here
(*In Japan, the family name comes before a person’s own name. If following the western method of personal name followed by family name, we would call him “Jigorō Kanō”)
~ In the WJJF the Kyū grades wear a white Keikogi, while the Dan grades wear a dark blue Uwagi and a white Shitabaki that also has blue trimming on the sides. Very high ranking members of the WJJF may also wear a red Uwagi.
Kyū | 級
Like Dan, “Kyū” also translates to “rank” but can also mean “[school] class“. If ‘Dan’ is synonymous with ‘degree‘, then Kyū is synonymous with ‘diploma‘ or ‘certificate‘.
The Kyū grades are the coloured belts taken prior to reaching Shodan (1st Dan). These are regarded as the ‘basic’ ranks, and traditionally are numbered in reverse order to indicate how far away the holder is from Shodan. Essentially, the kyū is the number of steps before reaching mastery whereas the Dan gives steps into mastery.
Within the WJJF the Kyū grade belts go as follows:
Mukyū | 無級 (Gradeless) – Red belt. Kyūkyū | 九級 (9th Kyū) – White Belt. Hachikyū | 八級 (8th Kyū) – Yellow Belt. Nanakyū | 七級 (7th Kyū) – Orange belt. Rokukyū | 六級 (6th Kyū) – Green belt. Gokyū | 五級 (5th Kyū) – Blue and White belt. Yonkyū | 四級 (4th Kyū) – Blue belt. Sankyū | 三級 (3rd Kyū) – Purple belt. Nikyū | 二級 (2nd Kyū) – Brown and White belt. Ikkyū | 一級 (1st Kyū) Brown belt.
~ Unlike the Dan grades, in western speaking countries it is common to refer to the colour of the belt rather than the name of the rank, for example saying you are a “Green belt” rather than a “Rokukyū.”
~ The lowest Kyū belt (Red belt in the WJJF) is called the Mukyū | 無級
~ The word Yūkyūsha | 有級者
Obi | 帯
This is the name of belt itself, as “Obi” simply means “Belt“.
~ Traditionally the obi was simply a long piece of cloth used to tie the sides of your clothing together, including in traditional martial arts.
~ It is a modern re-invention to use the colour of the belt to denote the wearers level of experience. Along with the rest of the modern Keikogi uniform, the Obi is widely accepted to have been first designed and implemented by Kanō Jigorō* around the turn of the 20th century. You can read more about the history of the Keikogi / Dogi here
(*In Japan, the family name comes before a person’s own name. If following the western method of personal name followed by family name, we would call him “Jigorō Kanō”)
~ There is also a popular myth surrounding the origins of the black belt that claims students traditionally earned a black belt over many years of hard training, by causing their white belts to become so discoloured over time that it turned black. You can read more about this myth here.
Osu no Seishin | 押忍の精神
These is actually 2 phrases that often get mixed up and used interchangeably.
~ The word “Osu” is a contraction of the characters “Oshi” meaning “push“, and “Shinobu” which means “to persevere” or “to endure“. Put them together and we get “to persevere while being pushed“.
~ “Osu no Seishin” translates to “Oshido spirit” or “Spirit of Osu“. In other words, it means “the spirit of endurance.”
This is a symbolic phrase, used to remind students and yourself to keep trying, to push your limits. It might be used as a “Well done” or show of support to recognise the effort another person has put in. You might say this to your Uke after you have practised with them.
~ A good analogue to this in English is the phrase “No pain, no gain.”
~ Over time however the phrase became shortened to just “Osu” or “Oss”, which both are pronounced “Os”.
Rei | 礼
This word for the most part means “respect”, “thanks” or “politeness”, as it is used to show respect to others. This is most often seen by bowing. The lower a person bows, the more respect they are showing to the person they are bowing towards. This can range from bending at the waist a short distance (around 20 degrees), a deep standing bow (around 90 degrees) to even kneeling on the floor and bending at the waist so that your head is just above the floor.
Common practices are to bow when entering and leaving the dōjō, at the beginning and end of classes, or before performing a Kata.
There are rules to how a proper rei should be performed:
- A rei should be done slowly and in a controlled manner, pausing for a moment at the bottom of the bow before returning to standing.
- You must keep your back and neck straight, bowing at the waist. Slouching while bowing is seen as disrespectful.
- As you are keeping your neck straight, you would not look at the person you are bowing to until you have returned to normal standing.
- Most of the time a rei is done silently, but talking is allowed. When performing a kata you will often say the name of the Kata you are about to do as you bow. Shouting however is not allowed and is considered rude.
- Men bow with their hands beside their body, while women do so with their hands in front of their hips.
- See also this video guide
Ryū | 流
This roughly means “style”, “system”, “syllabus”, or “school”. It is most often used in the names of martial arts schools to describe what style that school teaches. This makes the dōjō the place of learning, while the Ryū is the content you learn.
~ There can be many different styles of any given martial art. For example, Kanō Jigorō* studied both ‘Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū Jūjutsu‘ and ‘Kitō-ryū Jūjutsu‘, two different styles of Jūjutsu.
Samurai | 侍
The word “Samurai” literally means “to serve”, though it is more synonymous with “Warrior“. The Samurai were warriors who were usually associated with a clan and their lord (the Daimyō | 大名
~ The Samurai were trained to use a wide range of weapons, including the Katana (sword), Naginata (glaive), Rokushakubō (staff), and Yumi (Longbow). The Samurai also used Ju-Jitsu as a method of unarmed combat.
~ The Samurai existed as a social class for around 1,100 years. Many parts of their life changed over this time period, including their role(s) in society, the privileges they held and how they fought battles. Because of this there isn’t one definitive answer as to who the Samurai were.
~ A Samurai who didn’t serve a lord would be known as a Rōnin | 浪人
Tatami | 畳
A Tatami is a floor mat. Traditionally these were woven from rice-straw and/or rush grass and reenforced with thin bamboo, and were placed over the earth or wooden floors inside Japanese buildings. This includes the training mats used in a dōjō. Modern training Tatami tend to be made from foam, rubber or vinyl.
Uke | 受け
“Uke” roughly means “receiver“. The uke is your training partner who provides an attack for you to practice defending against, ending up as the person who gets thrown. When you attack a training partner, you are their Uke.
~ The terms for the person practising a move depends on what it is they actually do to defend from the attacking Uke. The 3 main terms used are Nage | 投げ
Ukemi | 受身
“Ukemi” translates to “passive“, but in the martial arts means “the art of falling safely“. In English this might be known as a ‘Breakfall practice’ or ‘tumbling’. The Ukemi is the action an Uke takes to prevent injury to themselves. It is the art of knowing how to respond correctly to an attack and often incorporates skills to allow one to do so safely. Ukemi practice is a valid exercise in itself.
Titles / Shōgō | 称号
~ These titles are primarily used in relation to martial arts classes, and generally are not used outside of the dōjō. For example imagine a person, “Mr John Smith“. Once they enter the dōjō they may be addressed as “Sensei John Smith“, “Sensei John“, “Sensei Smith” or even simply “Sensei”.
~ Many of these titles overlap as some refer to a persons rank or skill as a coach/teacher, while others refer to their rank within a wider organisation. For example, a person could be both Sōke and Hanshi. In this situation you refer to them by their higher title which in this example would be Sōke.
~ In western dōjō’s different people will have their own preferences for how they prefer to be addressed, but it is a polite formality to address them as their title or simply as “Sensei” if you are unsure of their exact title. In traditional Japanese dōjō’s however you would always address a person by their family name followed by their title, as in “Smith Sensei.”
Uchi-deshi | 内弟子
~ Literally meaning “inside student“, this is a Japanese term for a live-in apprentice who assists and trains under a Sensei at their Dōjō on a full-time basis. They would help the Sensei carry out tasks such as sweeping the floors, opening the Dōjō to students or other tasks that the Sensei might have done, as well as training in all classes that Sensei runs. A student would become an Uchi-deshi in order to learn how to run a Dōjō.
~ A person might typically do this for 2-3 years prior to earning their Shodan belt though in many martial arts it is not a requirement.
~ In contrast to Uchi-deshi, students who live outside of the dōjō are referred to as Soto-deshi | 外弟子
~ The WJJF recognises the position of Uchi-deshi, but nobody in the WJJF currently holds this title.
Sensei | 先生
The term literally means “one who has gone before”. Within the martial arts it is generally used to mean “instructor” or “teacher“, though in Japan this is a more general term for “someone more experienced” and as such ‘Sensei’ is an not a protected word in the same way ‘Doctor’ or ‘Dentist’ are.
~ A good analogue to this in English may be “Sir” or “madam“.
Renshi | 錬士
This can be translated to “Polished Instructor”. This is a rarely used title that can be used to indicate a relatively ‘junior’ level instructor who doesn’t coach full time or professionally. This may akin to volunteer who has been helping out for several years.
Kyōshi / Kyoushi | 教師
In Japan this is a classification of a job, like a bank clerk or a secretary. In this case it most commonly translates to “teacher” or “educator“. The word may also be written as “Kyoushi” and carries the same meaning.
Shihan | 師範
This word refers to an “expert teacher“, though the individual Kanji that make up the word directly translate to “expert” and “example” or “model“.
As such, it is synonymous with a “good example” or a “role model“. In this case, it would be an expert teacher who is considered a good role model to other teachers, though not specifically a ‘teacher of teachers’.
Hanshi | 範士
Hanshi translates literally as “exemplary gentlemen“, though it is more synonymous with “teacher of teachers“. This person is deemed so experienced as a teacher that they will teach other dan grades how to be Sensei’s. Because of this, many English speaking martial artists will use the term “Professor” interchangeably with hanshi, in a similar way to how some people refer to a dan belt as a ‘degree‘.
Kanchō | 館長
The most accurate translation of “Kanchō” is “superintendent” or “director“, though in essence it generally means “Head of School“. This is distinct from the title of Sōke, as the Sōke is generally the most experienced martial artist in a school, where as the Kanchō would run the business side of the school.
Within the WJJF, this is Kanchō Robert Hart, who is the current managing director.
Sōke | 宗家
The English translation of “Sōke” can be “grand master“. It can mean one person who is the leader of any school or the master of a style, but it is most commonly used as a highest level Japanese title, referring to the singular leader of a school or style of martial art.
Within the WJJF, this is Sōke Robert Clark (2nd February 1946 – 9th February 2012) who founded the WJJF in 1976.
Shodai Sōke | 初代 宗家
“Sho” means “first” while “dai” means “subject“, “theme” or “topic“, when combined with sōke it comes to specifically denotes the founding sōke of a martial art. This is the one person who first created a new style and begun teaching it by opening a new dōjō.
Weapons / Buki | 武器
These weapons are all taught and used within the WJJF, starting at Nidan (2nd Dan). The WJJF does not permit the use of sharp or ‘live’ blades, as well as metal swords. When buying a weapon you should choose a training version. These will usually have modifications such as dull edges, foam padding or being made of a flexible material such as rubber.
Jō | 杖
The word “Jō” translates to “cane“, “walking stick“, or “staff“. It may also be called a “Jo Staff” but this would be incorrect as that would be akin to calling it a “staff staff.”
The Jō itself is a short wooden weapon, usually around 1.3m (50 in / 4’2″) in length and around 1 inch thick. It is often taught and/or used as a defence to other weapons, in particular sword attacks.
As such, it is a ‘generic’ practice weapon as the techniques used can be transferred to other items, such as walking sticks, canes or other shorter pole-like items so that should someone find themselves without a traditional weapon they can use makeshift weapons instead.
Kama | 鎌
The Kama is a farming tool used for reaping crops. In fact the word “Kama” translates to “Sickle.”
This makes it an improvised weapon which has been formalised through the use of Kata. In particular it may be used to defend against traditional weapons.
They are often used in pairs when used as weapons, but they can be used as individually as well.
Katana | 刀
The Katana is just one of the many types of swords used by the Samurai of ancient Japan, though it arguably the most iconic of them. These curved swords are sharpened on the outer edge and blunt on the inner edge. An Iaitō | 居合刀
Kubotan / Kubaton / Kobutan | クボタン
A Kubotan is a small rod on a key-chain, usually around 5-6 inches long and half an inch thick, made out of aluminium or high-impact plastic. This is a modern weapon developed in the late 1960’s by Japanese Karate master Takayuki Kubota who originally designed it as a tool for female police officers in Los Angeles.
The Kubotan is a modern version of a Yawara and is used in a very similar manner, notably by using it to attack pressure points or to add leverage for joint manipulation.
Naginata | 薙刀
The word roughly translates to “mowing sword”. It consists of a wooden or metal pole with a curved single-edged blade on the end. The pole alone could range in length from 1.2 – 2.6 meters long, while the blade would be an additional 0.3 – 0.6 meters long.
~ This weapon was used to create space in a battle and would often be used as if were a sword with a very long handle, at the cost of it being heavier and slower to swing.
Nunchuku / Nunchaku | ヌンチャク
These are two short batons connected in at one end by a short chain or rope. The two batons commonly made out of wood or lightweight metal, while the link is a cord or a metal chain. The batons may also feature metal studs or be wrapped in cord/fabric for extra grip.
~ In English they are often known as “Nun-chucks” or “Nonechucks“, neither of which is correct.
Rokushakubō (aka ‘Bō’) | 六尺棒
This nearly literally translates to “six foot pole”, as “Roku” translates to “Six”, a “Shaku” is a Japanese unit of measurement that is equal to 30.3cm (just under 1ft) and “Bō” means “pole”.
~ Due to the long name, it is often shortened to just “Bō”. This means that calling it a “Bō Staff” is not correct as that is like calling it a “pole pole”
~ As the name implies, the Bō is a long wooden pole-arm that is typically around 1.8 m (71 in / 5’11”) tall and about 1-1.5 inches thick.
Sai | 釵
The Sai is a traditional piercing melee weapon originally from Okinawa. The basic form of the weapon is that of a thin baton, with two curved side prongs projecting from the handle. While it may look like a knife or dagger, the prongs were often rounded rather than flat and it was only sharpened at the point of the main prong.
~ The weapon was designed with a number of functions in mind, and would be used in pairs. Firstly it was used to counter attacks from other weapons by catching and trapping them between the prongs in order to redirect an attack or stop the enemy from using it properly.
~ The sharpened point could also be used to stab enemies through gaps in their armour.
Tonfa / Tonfua | 旋棍
The Tonfa is a stick with a handle attached roughly a third of the way down, and the name means “rotation stick“, which reflects the origin of the weapon. Like the Kama it was a tool that was repurposed to be a weapon.
In this case, the Tonfa was used to grind rice and wheat into flour. The underside of the stick is flat under the handle, but rounded at the other end. This is from where the user would grind the flour.
They would hold the handle with the stick under their forearm, pressing it against a hard surface. As they worked they would lift the flat end of the stick to grind the flour while still leaning on the other end, which resulted in it becoming worn away and rounded.
Yawara | 柔
The Yawara takes the form of one or two small thick sticks that protrude about an inch from each side of the hand. They are usually used in pairs to initiate throws, bone breaks, and pressure point strikes, in a similar way to how a Kubotan may also be used.
~ An interesting note is the kanji for Yawara is 柔 (meaning “Soft“) which is the same as the 1st kanji in Ju-Jitsu | 柔術 or Judo | 柔道. “Yawara” was also an older term for Ju-Jitsu that was used interchangeably until “Ju-Jitsu” became the favoured term.
六四天安門事件 June 4th Tienanmen square massacre