Dictionary of Martial Arts Terms

NOLO’s Everybody’s Legal Dictionary


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Dictionary of Martial Arts Terms

Acupuncture- a traditional Chinese therapeutic science in which the placement of needles in specific locations or “points” of the body, along passageways through which chi (vital energy) flows, called meridians, can restore physical health. It is often included as a part of the healing arts studied by kung-fu students.

Aggressive offense- The activation of the first attacking move of which the opponent is not aware.

Aikido- “way of harmony” of “way of the spirit meeting” – An unarmed method of self defense founded in Tokyo in 1942 by Morihei Uyeshiba, and based on the principle of harmony and non resistance to one’s opponent.

Amateur karate-The branch of competition in which participants compete in light-contact or non-contact sparring contest, as well as regulation form of competition, without receiving financial rewards.

Arm lock- A restrictive hold in which one is rendered helpless by a twisting grip or a locking force on the arm joints. It is widely used in judo, jujitsu, and aikido.

Arnis- “harness of hand” – The best known and most systematic fighting art of the Philippines. Originally known as kali, arnis centers around three distinct phases: stick, blade, and empty-hand combat.

Axe kick- A hybrid tae kwon do technique, similar to the spinning crescent kick, in which the kicking foot traverses above the opponent’s head in a wide elliptical arc and lands downward on the opponent’s neck or shoulder.

Backward Sweep- In Chinese boxing, the spinning of the body in a full circle from a crouched position while extending one leg to sweep an opponent or temporarily offsets his or her balance.

Bassai- “to penetrate a fortress” or “thrust asunder” – A karate kata formulated in the shorin-ryu school of Okinawa.

Bo-a 6 foot staff used as a weapon.

Bokken- A wooden training sword for Iaido. It may be used as a weapon in its own right.

Bow- To bend the head or body in greeting or respect, a traditional practice indigenous to almost all martial arts. In Japanese, it is called rei; in Korean, kunyeh.

Breaking-The practice of destroying bricks, boards, and other resistant materials with empty- hand and foot techniques of the martial arts, usually as a test of power or display of showmanship. In Japanese, it’s called tameshiwara; in Korean, kyupka.

Bushido- “way of the warrior” – A strict code of ethical behavior followed by the samurai. Bushido was formulated during the Tokugawa Era (1603-1868) of Japan, surprising perhaps, in peaceful times. The premise of the code was to advise a samurai how to conduct himself in battle and how to find a meaningful place in a peacetime society.

Bushi no te- “warriors hand(s)” A nebulous term used to Okinawa in the 1920s to represent karate.

Butterfly kick- In kung-fu forms, the successive execution of two crescent-type kicks, the second usually slapped against the kicker’s own open hand at its uppermost peak.

Chi Do Kwan- “wisdom way training hall” – A Korean martial art founded by Yoon Kue Pyang. Chi Do Kwan joined the Tang Soo Do organization but broke away, then in 1965 rejoined the group. Known also as Jee Do Kwan.

Choke locks- In judo, an attack on the neck or throat strangulation to produce choking or unconsciousness.

Circular Block- A method of redirecting or neutralizing an opponent’s attack by employing circular hand movements . In tae kwon do it is called dolli myo makgi.

Close-range techniques- Maneuvers suitable for close-quarter fighting relying especially on the use of the hand, elbow, and knee.

Combination- Any series of techniques executed successively.

Committed Action- To move in such a manner as to bind oneself to certain line of action.

Daeryon – “sparring” – The tae kwon do counterpart to karate kumite.

Deceptive Rhythm- A planned sequence of an irregular flow of an action used to deceive an opponent.

Defense- Protection against attack.

Disciple- A pupil or follower of a particular teacher or school.

Dojo- the school or training hall where martial arts are practiced (Jp.) Dojong (Kr.)

Drop Kick- The act of dropping to the floor and delivering a kick upward.

Empi- (Flying Swallow)- Kata formulated in the Shorin-Ryu Karate School of Okinawa.

Empty Hand- (Karate)- One translation of the word “Karate.”

Encho – “Continuation” or “Extension.” – The overtime period of a match.

Explosive Pressure- Bursting aggressive action that keeps constant force on an opponent.

External Power- Power generated through external sources or muscular power as in most so-called “hard” karate systems.

Fade Out- To move back from an action.

Falling Throws- Judo techniques coming under the category of sacrifice throws.

Flying Back Kick- In karate a linear thrust kick directly backward and launched with a jump.

Follow Through- To continue execution of a technique to its absolute completion.

Front Kick- A kick delivered forward with the rear foot using the ball, heel or instep of the foot.

Gari- A reaping action with the leg commonly used in judo.

Gedan-Tsuki- “Downward Thrust”- a karate punch usually directed toward the groin area.

Gekigan-Jutsu- A combat system centered around the use of the ball and the chain.

Grappling Techniques- A composite group of judo techniques with which the competitors attempt to fight on the ground.

Guard- The position of the hands and legs when squaring off to fight.

Haibu- Back area – A primary target area in sport karate.

Haito- “Ridge Hand”- In Kendo, the command to hold the shinai at a level just below the waist.

Hakama- “Divided Skirt”- The skirt like trousers primarily worn in Kendo, Aikido, Iaido and sometimes in the upper ranks of Judo and in some styles of Jujitsu.

Hip Throw- A throwing technique delivered from the standing position using primarily the hips.

Hook Punch- A punch executed from the hip toward the side of the body.

Iaido- “Way of the Sword” – The modern art of drawing the samurai sword from its scabbard.

Initiative- The ability to make the first threatening attack.

Instep- Part of the foot commonly used as a striking point for various martial arts kicking techniques.

Iron Palm- A method reputedly enabling one to produce a psychological heat internally.

Itsutsu-No-Kata “Kata of Five Principles” or “Forms of Five” – Though not actually named by Judo founder, Jigoro Kano, these five principles are generally considered to be energy/action, reaction/non-reaction, circle/whirlwind, pendulum/motion, and void/inertia.

Jamming- a term denoting any forward motion used to neutralizing a kick or punch by pressing into a close or tight position relative to the opponent.

Jo- the 4-foot staff used as a weapon.

Jodo- “way of the stick” – The Japanese method of stick fighting using a stick.

Judo- “gentle way” – A Japanese art of self-defense and a sport with Olympic recognition.

Jujitsu- “art of gentleness” “art of suppleness” or ” art of pliancy” – Literally the technique or art of suppleness.

Jushin- “center of gravity.”

Kabuto- The helmet worn by the Japanese samurai.

Kachi- “win” or “victory.”

Kama- Small hand-held sickle-like weapons from Okinawa. When training two are used, one for each hand.

Katana- The Japanese sword with a blade length of 26-30 inches.

Karate- “empty hand” or “China hand” – An unarmed method of combat in which all parts of the anatomy.

Kata- “formal exercise” – A series of prearranged maneuvers practiced in many of the Oriental martial arts.

Kendo- “way of the sword” – The modern art and sport of Japanese fencing.

Leverage Points- Fixed points at which force, minimum or otherwise, can be used to overthrow an opponent or prevent an action from taking place.

Lift-pull- A judo term meaning a fishing action of the hands and arms as a prerequisite to throwing an opponent.

Lock- A martial arts term designated a technique that immobilizes the part of the body to which it is applied.

Logistics- The aspect of positional theory concerned with the use of tactical footwork on a given battlefield to effect the most favorable fighting distances from an opponent.

Lunge Punch- A karate punching technique performed with a step forward. The punch is delivered from the same side of the body as the forward foot.

Major Moves- Strong and positive moves which cause immediate devastation.

Maneuver- A method one uses to close or extend range.

Marriage to Gravity- The uniting of strength, mind, and breath while dropping with the weight of the body.

Martial- Military, warlike, fighting.

Moo Duk Kwan- “Association of Virtuous Warriors” -A style of Korean martial arts similar to tae kwon do.

Nafudakake- The name board posed in the dojo to show the names and seniority of the members.

Nage-No-Kata- The “forms of throwing.”

Naginata- “reaping sword” – A curved blade spear, once used by Japanese monks and samurai.

Natural Weapons- Parts of the anatomy used as offensive weapons, including parts of the hand, arm, foot, leg, and so on.

Neutral Range- The distance between two opponents at which neither fighter can reach the other with a kick or punch.

Ninja- “stealer in” or “spy” -Japanese warriors hired as spies, assassins, and terrorists in feudal Japan.

Nunchaku- Small hand-held flails used as weapons. Originally from Okinawa. When training two are used, one for each hand.

Offensive Check- A single move which first acts as a check before becoming a strike or a hit.

One Finger- A purported Chinese training method in which the forefinger is repeatedly struck against an iron bell until, through this practice, one can supposedly cause serious injury or death to anyone at whom one points.

One-Steps- A method practicing martial arts techniques where one step is taken and then a technique is delivered.

Opposing Force- Two forces going in opposite directions from each other.

Ouchi-Gari- “major inner reap” – A judo foot throw in which one foot is swept out from under an opponent in a circular sweeping motion.

Pachigi- A Korean martial art in which the head is used to butt an opponent.

Pak Sao- A wing chun kung-fu exercise to develop control over reflex actions.

Palm-Heel Strike- A karate techinque delivered with the heel of the hand in a thrusing mothing, usually at the face or chin.

Parry- to evade, ward off, or redirect the force of a blow or kick.

Pressure Points- Nerve centers located on various parts of the body and serving as primary target areas for most martial arts. These points include the temple, throat, solar plexus, kidneys, etc.

Quando- A large, heavy shafted weapon with an axelike cutting blade affixed to one end.

Randori-No-Kata- “forms of free exercise” -An overall judo term given to the nage-no-kata and the katame-no-kata.

Range- That distance between opponents.

Reactionary Set-up- Having an opponent respond to a fake stimulus, thus creating vulnerability to one’s attack.

Rei- A command to bow.

Roundhouse Kick- A karate kick in which the kicking foot is snapped outward in a motion from the knee, thereby acting as a pivot like that of a gate, to strike the intended target.

Sacrifice Throws- A system of judo throws in which one sacrifices the uprights posture to bring down anopponent.

Sai- A small, hand-held weapon shapen like a trident from Okinawa. When training two are usually used, one for each hand but some experts use three.

Salutation- A traditional greeting or paying of respects indigenous to the Chinese martial arts. It is generally performed by placing one clenched fist against the open palm of the opposite hand.

Sam- The traditional uniform of kung-fu.

Samurai- “warrior” or “one who serves” – The swordsmen of fuedal Japan who were impeccably adept at a wide variety of martial practices, particulary the sword, and served a lord and fief.

San-Shou- “free fighting” – One of the three stages of tai chi ch’uan.

Shinai- A split bamboo training sword for Kendo that generall comes in three sizes: 40″, 44″ and 48″.

Tachi- A Japanese long sword slung from a swordbelt. The tachi had a single-edged blade.

Tae Kwon Do- “kick-punch way” or “way of hands and feet” – The primary form of Korean unarmed combat name during a conference of chung do kwan masters in 1955.

Tai- The first judo technique of koshiki-no-kata.

Takedown- A term used in judo when referring to matwork or holding down techniques.

Tang Soo Do- “art of Chinese hand” – A Korean combative differing only slightly from tae kwon do.

Uchi- “strike” – A collective term for karate striking techniques usually performed with the snapping motion of the elbow.

Uechi-Ryu- “Uechi way” – An Okinawan style of karate founded by Kanbum Uechi. It is characterized by linear patterns and forceful sanchin breathing.

Uke- “receiver” – 1. The partner upon whom the technique is executed in judo and aikido. 2. To Block.

Ura-Waza- “reverse technique” – The judo action in which one nullifies an opponent’s intended technique by anticipation coupled with the application of an effective counter technique.

Utsuri-Goshi- “changing hip throw” – A judo technique chiefly used as a counter throw against hip techniques.

Vajramushti- A system of unarmed combat that allegedly existed in India prior to 1000 B.C.

Vertical Punch- A clenched fist karate blow executed straight forward and terminated with the first held in a vertical position.

Vertical Zones- One of the three categorical zones of protection encompassing four vertical, or width, segments requiring protection: left outside shoulder to middle of left chest; middle of left chest to sternum; sternum to middle of right chest; and the middle of right chest to the outside of the right shoulder.

Vibrating Palm: also called Iron Palm. A method reputedly enabling one to produce a psycho-physical heat internally, which, with control, can be made to project into the palms of the hands or to any area of the body. … Today, any practitioner who achieves “a hand like iron,” as the saying goes, is credited with possessing an iron palm. This technique belongs almost exclusively to the domain of Kung-Fu.

Vital Areas- Essential body parts that, when struck, can be injurious or fatal.

Wakizashi- The small Japanese sword with a blade length of 18-22 inches.

Weight Distribution- The apportionment of weight to each leg related to a particular stance and/or movement. It may vary from 50/50, 60/40, 90/10, and so on.

Wheel Kick- In karate or tae kwon do, a circular kick whose delivery is characterized by the turning of the body 180 degrees.

Wide Hour Glass Stance- A defensive karate position in which the knees are tensed inward, the feet are spread approximately twice shoulder-width, and the body weight is evenly distributed.

Wing Chun- “Beautiful Springtime” – A form of Chinese kung-fu that chiefly centers around strong linear punches.

Wushu- “war arts “ – Although wushu can properly be said to encompass all martial arts, today it is used primarily to denote that strain of martial art being developed by the People’s Republic of China. Wushu is a highly gymnastic, traditional sport-like art form characterized by several styles.

X-Block- Any block where one arm overlaps the other, usually at the wrist or forearm.

Yare- The Japanese or Korean spear with an 8″-12″ point on a 6 foot staff.

Yin-Yan Symbol- A symbol representative of two opposing forces flowing into one another in a continuous state of change.

Yojimbo- “bodyguard” – The name given to masterless samurai (ronin) who hired themselves out as professional bodyguards.

Yubi-Waza- “finger technique” – Immobilizing techniques that are an integral part of judo. These techniques are also used by jujitsu and aikido practitioners.

Yudo- The Korean form of judo.

Zanchin- “perfect posture” 1. A term designating mental alertness in Japanese martial arts. 2. To remaining perfect posture; correct mental alertness and posture after executing an attack or a block.

Zazen- “sitting meditation” – The meditative posture and exercise of the Zen school.

Zempo-Ukemi- “rolling fall.”

Zen- The discipline of enlightenment related to the Buddhist doctrine that emphasizes meditation, discipline, and the direct transmission of teaching from master to student.

Zones of Defense; Zones of Protection- The shielding of the body, with consideration given to three protective zones: horizontal, depth, and vertical.

Some terms from: “The Overlook Martial Arts Dictionary” by Emil Farkas & John Corcoran. Overlook Press, NY Copyright 1983.