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Goju-ryu icon Chuck Merriman analyzes five more karate terms you need to know. Those karate terms are kumite, mokuso, rei, reishiki and sensei, all of which are crucial to advancement in the Japanese martial arts.

In the first half of this article, goju-ryu instructor and Black Belt Hall of Fame member Chuck Merriman discussed five karate terms you should know: bunkai, bushido, dan, dojo and kata. In this conclusion, he addresses five more essential karate terms — kumite, mokuso, rei, reishiki and sensei — that will benefit practitioners of all Japanese martial arts.

(Go here now to read Part 1.)

Karate Terms No. 1: Kumite

Misunderstood meaning: sparring

Actual meaning: grappling or engagement of hands

Why it matters: Composed of two roots — kumi (grapple) and te (hand) — kumite refers to the instant a fight actually begins. It's when you and your partner first make contact, Chuck Merriman says. “When you think about it, you've got to be standing right in front of each other when you touch. It's important to understand the real meaning of the word to better understand what happens during oyo bunkai."

Karate Terms No. 2: Mokuso

Misunderstood meaning: meditation

Actual meaning: reflection and contemplation

Why it matters: Practicing mokuso gives you an opportunity to get in the proper mind-set to train, Chuck Merriman explains. “It's not meditation in the sense of going off into another world. It's reflecting on your past training and contemplating the training you're about to do."

Karate Terms No. 3: Rei

Misunderstood meaning: bow

Actual meaning: spirit or soul

Why it matters: “For somebody practicing karate for exercise or sport, rei is merely a salutation," Chuck Merriman says. “These days, people bow by nodding their head and slapping the sides of their legs, but that's not the proper way do it." The bow must come from the abdominal area because that's where the tan tien (the seat of the soul) is. “If rei is 'soul,' obviously the bow has to be done from there," he adds.

Karate Terms No. 4: Reishiki

Misunderstood meaning: spirit

Correct meaning: manners, etiquette or correctness

Why it matters: “[It refers to] the correct attitude — why you're training and always keeping your mind on the path or way," Chuck Merriman says. For example, you're expected to know and demonstrate proper etiquette in the kohai-sempai (junior-senior) relationship. “Your sempai always precedes you. You open the door and let him go first. Before you take care of yourself, you always make sure he's taken care of."

Karate Terms No. 5: Sensei

Misunderstood meaning: teacher

Correct meaning: guide

Why it matters: Because it's composed of the roots sen (before) and sei (life), the literal translation of sensei is “before in life," Chuck Merriman says. “A sensei is somebody who guides another person. For example, if you went to climb a mountain, you'd probably need a guide. Why? Because the guy has climbed that mountain before, and he made it."

It's the same thing with karate. The sensei was once at the same stage of training you're at, and he can show you the way up. If you understand what his role is, you will have a better idea of what you can expect from him and what he can expect from you, he says. “Think of it this way: A sensei is behind you, pushing you forward, not standing in front of you, pulling. Ultimately, it's your responsibility to progress."

Conclusion

Whether you practice for exercise or are a fanatic who's interested in every nuance of the art, it's essential to comprehend the true meaning of the karate terms that describe what you do, Chuck Merriman contends. “If you understand [them], it fills you with a feeling of having something more than just the ability to kick, punch and block." And that's what practicing karate is really all about.

Story by Sara Fogan • Photos by Rick Hustead

BONUS!

The Meaning of Karate

Some karate students misunderstand even the name of their art, Chuck Merriman says. In the beginning, karate was derived from the characters kara (China) and te (hand), he says, but Japan changed the meaning of kara to “empty." And over time, the hand emphasis of the art's name has been replaced by kicks.

Kicks are more spectacular for spectators, he says, and in tournaments they're awarded more points than hand strikes are. Consequently, students tend to work harder on improving their kicks and less on their hands.

All practitioners should review karate's roots, he says. “I tell my students, 'Karate is empty hand, not empty foot.'"

Read “Karate Terms: 5 Words You Need to Understand," which is the first half of this article with Chuck Merriman, here.

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Draeger’s three-part series The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan is recommended. The word “aiki” literally means a fusion or meeting of energy. It’s no accident that it’s an anagram of the word kiai (focusing the spirit), and indeed the distinction between the two is blurry. In the koryu arts, the application of aiki first appeared in kenjutsu schools (see Aikido: Tradition and the Competitive Edge, by Fumiaki Shishida and Tetsuro Nariyama) and referred to a contest of wills between combatants. Some other interpretations include the ability to gain the initiative and to use physical and psychological techniques to unbalance a foe. Over time, more esoteric meanings were offered, which would make any Jedi knight proud. They included the ability to see in the dark, to bring a walking man to a stop and to read minds (see The Fighting Spirit of Japan, by E.J. Harrison). Several jujitsu and judo schools also teach the concept of aiki, but the first one to formally include it in its name was daito-ryu aikijujutsu. Two Remarkable Men Daito-ryu master Sogaku Takeda may not have looked anything like Tom Cruise, but it would be apt to describe him as the real “last samurai.” Takeda was born in 1859 in Aizu, Japan, and lived through the Meiji Restoration, the ending of the feudal age and the final days of the samurai caste. From childhood, he was trained in several of the bujutsu of the Aizu clan, including the ono-ha itto-ryu style of kenjutsu and the family art of daito-ryu aikijujutsu. According to oral legends, aikijujutsu was created around 1100 and passed down secretly within the Takeda family. It’s said to have originated from sumo wresting and unarmed sword strikes. Daito (“great east”) was the name of the area in which Yoshimitsu Minamoto, the alleged creator, lived. One of the fighting arts Sogaku Takeda learned as a child was the ono-ha itto-ryu style of kenjutsu (above). Despite standing less than 5 feet tall, Takeda was a formidable fighter and personally pressure-tested his skills in several life-or-death encounters. The most notorious incident occurred when he was in his early 20s and fought a gang of construction workers in Fukushima. Takeda killed around seven of them with his sword after they attacked him with weapons and tools. During his lifetime, Takeda taught thousands of people. His most famous pupil, however, was undoubtedly Morihei Ueshiba, founder of aikido. Ueshiba met Takeda in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, in 1915. Ueshiba was already a strong fighter with considerable training in other jujitsu styles, but he found he was no match for Takeda. Consequently, Ueshiba abandoned all his activities to study with his superior. Contrary to the beliefs of many aikidoka, Ueshiba studied daito-ryu for a long time — Takeda’s meticulous records indicate that he trained for more than 20 years. Ueshiba would later modify the daito-ryu techniques he learned and combine them with the spiritual teachings of the Omoto-kyo religion to create what we now know as aikido. In the later stages of his remarkable life, he played on the fact that the character for love was pronounced ai, the same as the first syllable of aiki. His proclamation that “aiki is the manifestation of love” signified his conversion of aikido from its combative bujutsu roots into a budo system that could reconcile human beings and avoid conflict. This probably gave rise to the vision that many aikidoka of today are familiar with and have as their ideal. But not all aikido teachers agree that this is being pursued in the best or most realistic way today. Dave Humm, a British aikido instructor and prison officer, believes that reconciliation and conflict resolution without violence are high ideals that are overemphasized in many organizations. While he ultimately agrees with the ideology and philosophy of the art, he also believes that many aikido schools don’t fully condition their students for dealing with aggressive physical confrontation. He holds that spending many years training to control physically uncooperative aggressors is a necessary step on the path to achieving Ueshiba’s higher ideology. That doesn’t seem like such a radical doctrinal departure when one considers that even Ueshiba defined aiki in a less-than-altruistic manner in the early part of his career. In Dueling with O-Sensei, koryu and aikido teacher Ellis Amdur describes how Ueshiba reportedly said, “Aiki is a means of achieving harmony with another person so that you can make them do what you want.” In the same book, Amdur writes that Ueshiba purportedly taught combat methods at the infamous Nakano Spy School during the war. The former headmaster is said to have recounted how Ueshiba would demonstrate killing techniques, saying “This is how you finish them off.” Given the nature of the academy, the era and the activities of its members, he probably wasn’t teaching students how to love people to death. Read Part 2 of this article here. About the author: Dr. Nick Hallale has practiced the Chinese and Japanese martial arts since 1988. He has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and taught for several years at the University of Manchester in England. He has written freelance articles about the martial arts for the past 10 years. The author is grateful to Antonino Certa and Giacomo Merello of Milan, Italy, for providing much of the technical information about daito-ryu. He also wishes to thank Dave Humm of the Higashi Kaigan Aikido Dojo in England. (Photos courtesy of Antonino Certa)