Sandoval Freestyle Karate’s Martial Arts Glossary

Discover Japanese Terms Used in Karate

Welcome to Sandoval Freestyle Karate’s karate glossary, where we’ve listed the most common karate terminology one will encounter. If you cannot find the term you’re looking for or would like to learn more, please contact us today!

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Bo Staff

This is a long wooden stick that is usually 1.8 meters in length. Although pine wood and bamboo are sometimes used, hardwood such as red or white oak is the favored material for a bo staff.


This refers to kata applications being used in a demonstration with real opponents. Bunkai is very useful, as it shows how each stance and movement in karate is used.


A general martial arts term rather than being strictly a karate one. It is a Japanese word for the Samurai life and is loosely based on the concept of chivalry. Its literal meaning is “military scholar road”. Bushido is believed to be a relatively modern term, developed in the 16th century according to many scholars.


In karate, there are three heights when it comes to striking, and chudan refers to strikes to an opponent’s mid-section.


The name given to stances in karate.


A ranking system used in modern Japanese martial arts such as karate. It was adopted in 1924 by Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate. Different-colored belts signify a student’s ranking, and the highest ranking is typically the 10th dan. Belts above 6th dan are normally classified as “honorary”.


The formal gathering place for students of martial arts such as judo or karate. Dojo literally means “place of the way” in Japanese. A dojo is considered to be a special place and must be treated with respect. Shoes must not be worn inside a dojo, and in some martial arts, it is customary to ritually clean the dojo before and after training sessions.

Dojo Kun

This is a set of guidelines all karate practitioners are expected to follow. Not only do these guidelines apply within the dojo, they also apply to everyday life.


This refers to a lower-body strike in karate.

Gedan Barai

A karate method for blocking an attack. It means “low-level sweep” and is one of the first techniques learned by karateka.

Gedan Uke

A low block technique in karate and the best technique to use when practitioners are being kicked and their blocking arm is at waist level or lower when they get kicked.


The term for karate kicks.


The name for the traditional karate uniform. It has a similar origin to the judogi, the judo uniform, but the Gi is made from much lighter material. It is important to purchase a high-quality Gi, because an inferior-quality garment will quickly shred under the stresses of karate practice. The lighter material makes it easier for the karateka to practice.


A reverse punch where the non-lead hand is used.

Heiko Dachi

This is known as the “natural stance” in a kata where a karateka’s feet are approximately shoulder width apart and the other edges of their feet are parallel.


This simply means “left” in karate. A left forward stance would be hidari zenkutsu dachi.

Ikken Hissatsu

A term derived from traditional karate that literally means “to annihilate at one blow”. In karate, this is deemed to be the pursuit of landing a single strike that ends the contest. It is one of the most advanced techniques in karate and takes many years of practice and immense skill to perfect. Few karateka ever reach this level.


This is the third of the three heights in karate. Jodan refers to strikes aimed above the shoulders of an opponent.

Jodan Age-Uke

An upward or rising block used to deflect an attack to the upper part of the body. It can also receive an incoming attack and sweep it overhead while still keeping contact with the attacker’s instrument (arm, leg, or weapon).


This word refers to posture in karate. It is differentiated from tachi, which means stance. While tachi refers to the body’s position from the waist down, kamae refers to the entire body’s posture and is said to encompass a practitioner’s attitude.


This should not be confused with the word kamae, which means posture. Kamae-te is an instruction given by a sensei to his students. For example, a sensei looking to get students to assume a straddle stance would say, “Kiba-dachi kamae-te!”


Its literal meaning is “empty hand”, and it is a martial art originally developed in Okinawa’s Ryukyu Islands. It is known as a striking art where practitioners use knees, kicks, punches, and elbows; open hand techniques such as palm-heel strikes and knife-hands are also used. Certain types of karate also focus on grappling moves.


The name given to someone who practices karate.


A sequence of movements that represent different defensive and offensive moves. Kata postures are based on idealized combat applications and should be practiced regularly by all students.


This is known as “the way of the sword” and involves the use of bamboo swords and protective armor. It has had a major influence on modern karate despite the fact that few karateka ever practice it.


A battle cry used by martial artists either before, during, or after performing a technique. It can also be a word used to describe fighting spirit. There are mental imagery techniques that ask students to imagine starting a kiai in the hara or dantien-Chinese, so the cry should begin in the diaphragm rather than in the throat.


This is occasionally called a straddle stance and involves keeping both feet wide and parallel, with a person’s weight kept low and central. The back should be straight and the feet should be pointed slightly inwards. It requires strong tension and is not used in all karate styles.


Refers to the foundations of Japanese martial arts, such as karate. It means “fundamentals” or “basics” in Japanese. Practitioners must master kihon in order to reach an advanced level, and it also helps karateka show the correct attitude and spirit at all times.


This word has a different meaning depending on the martial art. In karate, it means power and/or focus. It comes from the Japanese verb kimeru, which means “to decide”.

Kizami Tsuki

A punch involving the lead arm; it should not be confused with a jabbing punch.


A back stance that involves bending the rear leg strongly at the knee. The karate style used dictates whether the front leg should be straight or slightly bent. It is known to be an excellent defensive stance due to the amount of energy one stores in the rear leg.


Karate sparring; its literal meaning is “meeting of the hands”. It is practiced as self-defense training and as a sport in its own right. There are kickboxing and full-contact forms of kumite amongst others, and it can be practiced as free sparring or as structured kumite.


This is a form of karate that was founded by Masutatsu Oyama in 1964. It is a form of full contact, stand-up karate and has approximately 12 million practitioners worldwide.

Mae Geri Kaege

This is known as a front snap kick. In karate, there is a snap kick (kaege) and a thrust kick (kekomi). A mae geri kaege involves using a snapping action from the knee, and the ball of the foot is used as the striking surface.


This simply means “right”. For example, a right forward stance would be migi zenkutsu dachi.


This is deemed to be an informal stance where the heels are kept together and toes are open at a 45-degree angle. It is the most common stance when it comes to performing the traditional bow.

Nage Waza

Relates to a series of karate throwing techniques; the aim is to successfully throw an opponent to the ground. Unlike judo, karate throws are often practiced at a distance, as the aim of a karateka is to keep the opponent out of striking range.


An obi is part of a Japanese martial arts exercise outfit and is basically a belt made from thick cotton. In karate, as in many martial arts, the obi signifies a person’s skill level. Typically, they will wear a white obi if they are a beginner while a black obi wearer is deemed to have significant skill. Increased ranks can be earned through practice where the improved abilities are demonstrated.


A thrust punch where the lead hand is used.


This is generally deemed to be a respectful greeting or the understanding of a command given by a sensei.

Otagai ni Rei

The term used for a bow in karate. It is traditional for students to bow to their sensei as a sign of respect. It is also traditional to bow to an opponent before and after combat.

Ren Geri

This is a generic term for the execution of consecutive kicks. It is also a term used for a double front snap kick where the karateka kicks off the front leg first.


This is a weapon originally used by martial artists in Okinawa and comes in pairs. It is a pointed metal baton with a pair of yoku (curved prongs) protruding from the handle. Karate practitioners typically use a pair of sai to trap or block an incoming attack.


This word literally means “proper sitting” and is one of the traditionally formal ways of sitting in Japan. The correct seiza position involves a person kneeling on the floor, folding their legs underneath their hips and ensuring their heels are resting on their buttocks.


This is the common name for a karate teacher. It means “person born before another” and is a title used as a mark of respect.


A karate style developed by Gichin Funakoshi that is credited with popularizing karate in the modern era. It is considered to be the most influential and traditional form of karate because it is now the most practiced.

Soto Uke

This is an outside block that deflects a strike across the attacker and away from the defender. Due to the angles involved in this type of block, it is best used to block strikes to the face while the inside block may be better for strikes aimed to the mid and lower body.


This is a weapon used by some karate practitioners; it is a stick with a perpendicular handle attached one-third of the way down. Its maximum length is about 20 inches, and it is usually made from red or white oak and is used as a pair.


Karate punching techniques. In karate, contact is made with the first two knuckles.


Another form of striking in karate. Uchi refers specifically to punches using a different technique to tsuki and may involve blows with the bottom or back of the fist.

Uchi Uke

An inside hooking block used to deflect a strike away from the attacker and away from the defender. This is a good method of blocking for those seeking a counter attack.


The name for a block in karate.

Ushiro Geri

A form of back kick said to be the most devastating kick in karate. Advanced karateka will use a spinning variation of this kick, and the end result can be an exceptionally powerful kick.


The name of the command used to signal the beginning of kata.


A linear thrusting kick that is normally used in Shotokan Karate. It is capable of delivering a blow of great force because it combines the thrusting motion of the leg with the power of the hips.


This refers to a state of awareness in Japanese martial arts. It literally translates to “remaining mind”. In a number of martial arts, zanshin also refers to the body’s posture once a technique has been executed.