Selected Glossary


Nana karobi ya okii

Attributed to 15th century Zen monk Bokuden it translates as 'fall seven times, get up eight times' or its okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.

Seishin tanren Forge

Fortify your spirit. Karate movements when repeated 1,000 or 10,000 will forge the body, fortify the mind and strengthen the spirit. In this way the benefits of Karate are not limited to the dojo alone.


'Mind of no-mind' refers to a mind that is undistracted and untroubled, yet focussed exclusively on the task at hand.

Nyumon no kokoro

'The heart of a beginner' is the attitude to carry at all levels of learning to truely progress.

Fuden no den

Transmitting the untransmittable. Learning Experientially or through Observation of others is at the heart of karate training.

Ma-ai (Distance)

Ma-ai is a bit hard to explain, especially in the unarmed fight. The distance between two persons as in judo is very small. Though when the distance is to wide, if you want to throw your opponent, he can pull you backwards easily and you can not make a proper technique anymore. This is the same when you are to close to one another. In kata ma-ai is also applicable, in the beginning of a kata distances are wide (to-ma), no direct danger yet. When you come nearer (chika-ma) danger is increasing and in the end (uchi-ma) you are at a distance where in one step you can perform an attack (I to no mai). At this moment there is zanshin ! It can be compared with a tiger on a long chain. It is lying there looking at you approaching towards it. Out of reach of the chain there is no danger, but when you come into the circle...

Kime (Check, decision)

We know the name kime from kime no kata, a well known judo and ju justsu kata (for godan and up) Every time you perform a technique you must use kime. It has to do with the timing and the moment of reacting on an attack. When you react to early for instance, your opponent will notice this and will adjust his attack at the last moment so you can not defend properly against it. There are three moments of reacting to an attack. This is called mittsu no sen. The first form of sen is to wait until the attack of your opponent can not change anymore and then react to it. This is called go no sen. The second form of sen is to react simultaneously with your opponent. This is called sen no sen. The third form of sen is the ideal the samurai where striving for. A sixth organ of sense; to feel when a foe is thinking of attacking, before he actually has made a move. With this sense you can avoid a fight !

Ri-ai (Coherence)

With ri-ai coherence is meant between ma-ai, the knowing what or where we are going to hit and the very moment (kime). If you would be to close to your opponent so that you would strike him with the middle of your sword or jo, you could consider to use a shorter weapon. It is also logical to first choose a target to aim for. Both cases sound very simple and are simply learned, but the third part, the right moment is a more difficult to understand. Bringing these all together is ri-ai. It is important to try to train the element of danger (opponent) in practising kata. Only when you feel danger can real coherence can be approached.

Yoyu (Margin)

When you see a martial arts master perform a technique or a kata, you will experience this as a special happening. Hard to tell what is so different..... With a minimum of exertion gaining a maximum of effect. Also minimal movement, only the most necessary, is typical for the real master. Yoyu is not a technique to learn, but points to the interspaces that appear between different techniques. It looks as if there is a lot of time in-between techniques. Only when such techniques are fully mastered you can speak of yoyu. It is important therefore to make the different moves as sober as possible.

Zanshin (Lingering Mind)

Zanshin, the "spirit that lingers on," is an inevitable characteristic of the more experienced martial artist. They exhibit it in the most chaotic moments of battle as well as in the periods of their life that are perfectly peaceful.

The concept of Zanshin is a complex one, integrating physical presence, technical skill, and emotional attitude. Vigilant calm. Action in repose. Mentally, Zanshin is the quality of diffusion, a steadfast awareness of all that transpires without focusing on, and so being distracted by, any one phenomenon. Bodily, Zanshin is expressed through a posture that is relaxed yet resonant with potential power. When an accomplished martial artist moves decisively, his technique appears to vibrate past the conclusion of the action. Facing multiple opponents, his concentration is never arrested by one of the many. Both these occurrences reveal a state of advanced Zanshin.

The beginner is apt to mistake a fierce grimace and a stance of rigid aggression for Zanshin. But such artifice is only a charicature that cannot be maintained for very long. It is too exhausting an effort, and in misses the point. True Zanshin developed over a lengthy period of rigorous training, is never so concentrated a force. It is not a tsunami, a single wave expended at one place in one moment and then gone. Zanshin is like a great ocean, bottomless and alive with latent, surging energy. Like the rhythmic pounding of its surf, the force of Zanshin lingers on.

The concept of Zanshin is handed down in two stages. At the first stage, the beginner will have to be content with copying only the external aspects. Attention concentrated on the opponent's eyes, body position straight and firm (but allowing rapid displacements), and a "always just out of range" meticulous observance of distances. energetic Kiai, a good control of the movements and proper timing add the final touch to the overall picture of Zanshin. A feeling of powerful bearing and strong presence should emanate.

But this is only an image if it does not reflect an inner Zanshin, a Zanshin much deeper, more real. The second stage consists of giving a deeper dimension to these right movements and correct attitudes, a much more arduous task than the first stage. It is a process of elimination, until one attains total inner emptiness. One can be completely receptive only when one is devoid of all subjective emotion. Alertness is not the same as a state in which worry, fear, anxiety and nerves rule. Neither is it a state of overwhelming calmness. If an attempt at defining Zanshin is to be advanced, it is the attitude of someone whose physique is in a latent state of alert and whose mind is totally emptied, and is hence receptive to the most subtle signal. Zanshin in its pure form is a state of grace where one feels totally ready. This is one of the most amazing experiences felt by a martial arts 'trainee'. From an undefinable vibratory phenomenon, Zanshin then becomes a practical reality. The concept of Zanshin is developed very early and throughout all stages in the study. From the first Kata onwards, an extreme alertness is required of the beginner. Unaccustomed to this effort, he will sometimes experience a seemingly unbearable strain.

Moreover, it is quite interesting to watch people go about their everyday activities to realize just how much our civilisation lacks Zanshin. To stand behind a door that might suddenly open at any moment, tripping over an obstacle, grabbing a hot plan, bumping one's head when getting up, shoving back when being shoved, plus all the countless oversights of day-to-day living: keys left inside the car, mislaying valuable objects, etc. It is all typical of a cluttered mind, a sensitivity lacking in the body.

The notion of Zanshin, developed to a high level, will not fail to have very positive consequences on one's everyday activities.

Metsuke (Looking, seeing)

We all probably saw a picture of an old Japanese master gazing as if to mount Fuji on a distant. This man or woman sees everything and nothing. Metsuke means to see everything around you but not focusing to anything. This is the way we have to look when we are performing a martial art. In kumite or kata don't focus exclusively on the point you want to hit. You will not see other movements your foe(s) makes.

Kan (Intuition)

Kan, the ability to see with both the eyes and the heart, may be seen to be the natural outgrowth of enlightened approaches to martial training. In this state the swordsman and the sword become one. This is a psychophysical state of non-support and non-separation; not mind, body, and spirit as entities but as a true holism, meaningless and formless when apart. For the warrior, awareness of hazard, whether in the body of an enemy or the fall of a tree, is essential to survival. Kan allows the warrior to "see" danger and advantage; the lay of the land, the position of the sun, the state of agitation of another being, the temperature of the air, the "rightness" or "wrongness" of a decision; to know the hazards and the benefits of any situation, and to circumvent them or make use of them when and if they are needed.

Shu Ha Ri (Steps to mastery)

Shu Ha Ri are three kanji which describe the cycle of training, or perhaps more properly the cycle of progress of a student in a martial art under, I would add, idealized circumstances. The application of Shu Ha Ri is not confined to the study of a martial art or way, but can also serve as a model of any sort of learning.

Shu, or Mamoru means to keep, protect, keep or maintain During the Shu phase, the student builds the technical foundation of the art. Shu also implies a loyalty or persistance in a single ryu or, in the modern interpretation, a single instructor. In Shu, the student should be working to copy the techniques as taught without modification and without yet attempting to make any effort to understand the rationale of the techniques of the school/teacher. In this way, a lasting technical foundation is built on which the deeper understanding of the art can be based.

The point of Shu, is that a sound technical foundation can be built most efficiently by following only a single route to that goal. Mixing in other schools, prior to an understanding of what you're really up to is an invitation to go down a wrong path. A path where the techniques developed will not have sound theoretical or practical value. In the traditional interpretation of the Shu stage, it is the instructor that decides when the student moves on from Shu to Ha, not the student. It's up to the student to follow the instructor's teaching as an empty vessel to be filled up.

Ha, is the second stage of the process. Ha means to detach and means that the student breaks free from the traditions of the ryu to some extent. In the Ha stage, the student must reflect on the meaning and purpose of everything that s/he has learned and thus come to a deeper understanding of the art than pure repetitive practice can allow. At this stage, since each technique is thoroughly learned and absorbed into the muscle memory, the student is prepared to reason about the background behind these techniques. In academics, the Ha stage can be likened to the stage where enough basic information is available to the student that research papers of a survey nature could be expected.

Ri means to go beyond or transcend. In this stage, the student is no longer a student in the normal sense, but a practitioner. The practitioner must think originally and develop from background knowledge original thoughts about the art and test them against the reality of his or her background knowledge and conclusions as well as the demands of everyday life. In the Ri stage, the art truly becomes the practitioner's own and to some extent his or her own creation. This stage is similar in academia to the Ph.D. or beyond stage.

Mu Shin

Mu Shin means no mind. When you enter into a state of mu shin you are void of thought, you have no emotion, no expectations, or anticipation's. The idea behind this is you leave your mind and let your body do what it has been trained to do. When someone begins to practice a martial art and learns his first techniques, he will have to think hard to remember what his sensei told him, were to look at, how to move and so on. After learning some (or a lot) of these techniques, some people stop with budo, thinking they know everything there is to learn. But they are only half-way. Someone who is practising martial arts for many years, often does not have to think anymore. He moves and reacts naturally and adjusts his defences according to the attacks. In a fight, fear is a bad advisor. In feudal Japan a samurai was thought that whoever took up his sword, had to be prepared to die. If he wanted to survive than, he could not win without muga mushin. In our modern society this seems a bit exaggerated, but for making the adjust defensive moves, human thinking and than reacting is to slow.


True fudoshin is not a rigid, immobile state of mind, but the condition of stability which comes from the most rapid movement. In other words, like the steadiness of a spinning top, the state of perfect spiritual and physical stability arises from movement which continues infinitely and is so infinitely rapid that it is imperceptible. This movement is condensed at the one point in the lower abdomen. By putting everything into the one point, we can experience fudoshin and not loose our stability no matter what happens.

Satsujin-ken / Katsujin-ken

In the 17th century, the Zen monk Takuan became a spiritual advisor to Munemori Yagyu, a famous swordsman employed as the Shogun's sword instructor. Later in life, Yagyu wrote a treatise on swordsmanship which talked of the progression of sword technique from the Satsujin-ken ("the Sword that Takes Life") to the Katsujin-ken ("the Sword that Gives Life") to Muto no to (The Sword of No Sword). Satsujin-ken simply means becoming skillful in killing one's opponent; Katsujin-ken involves forestalling one's enemy to defeat him without bloodshed; Muto-ken a third concept was the pinnacle of Swordsmanship for Yagyu, it means not only not killing one's opponent, but dealing with one's opponent with the 'emptiness' of Zen buddhism.

Miyamoto Musashi was a younger contemporary of Yagyu's and by any account, an incredible swordsman and artist. Musashi is known as "Kensei" or "Sword Saint" in Japan and is famous for his many successful duels (it is said that he fought over 60 duels and never lost). Both Miyamoto and Yagyu perfected sword technique, but came to somewhat different conclusions about what true swordsmanship was. To Yagyu, Katsujin-ken (The Sword that Gives Life) was a higher mark of fine swordsmanship than Satsujin-ken (The Sword that Takes Life); to Miyamoto, the pinnacle of swordsmanship was to kill one's opponent -- Satsujin-ken, pure and simple.

This short story, likely not true, contrasts Satsujin-ken and Katsujin-ken and these two sword masters.

Musashi was a ronin, a masterless samurai, who roamed Japan looking to perfect his sword technique and make a name for himself. As a young man, Musashi heard of the great Yagyu the teacher of the Shogun and sought out the old man for a duel. Musashi approached Yagyu's home (Yagyu had retired by this point and spent most of his time arranging flowers and enjoying other gentlemanly pursuits) and watched as the old master cut and arranged flowers. As Musashi watched, his desire to fight the old man completely disappeared and his confidence that he could beat Yagyu withered. The concentration, the intensity, the casualness by which Yagyu arranged his flowers completely took the wind out of young Musashi's sails. Musashi left without ever approaching Yagyu in what might be considered a victory for the older master.

Hence, Satsujinken kara katsu-jinken, going from the sword that takes life to the sword that gives life. As training progresses students move beyond the focus on striking and grappling to realise that the real value in Karate training is in being aware of and giving to the life around us.

These details are compiled from various sources.

Living Karate - Sydney Matsubayashi Ryu