By Erik Hofmeister
For the test to Shodan, there is a written component which includes questions about Japanese terminology. Athens Yoshukai has written tests starting at blue belt expecting a basic understanding of karate-related Japanese words. Commands in advanced classes and tests are given largely in Japanese. Why? Couldn’t the command just as easily be “right leg front kick” as “migi ashi mae geri”?
Yoshukai is a traditional martial art. One of the elements of that is learning, understanding, and respecting the cultural origins of the style. Language is a major contributor to culture. Learning the little bit of Japanese we do helps us to understand the Japanese culture and pay homage to it within the context of karate.
In my opinion, traditional arts require a mental or cerebral component in addition to the physical aspects. It’s not enough to be able to DO karate, you need to understand and KNOW karate. The language requirement helps to highlight that cerebral component and requires effort studying. Before a test, a student can’t just run through kata and techniques- they also need to study written material.
Finally, our organization is tightly associated with Yoshukai Japan. Students may be called upon to understand a Japanese speaker giving commands in the dojo. Some students may travel to Japan, and having some rudimentary understanding of the language is helpful.
Learning Japanese can be frustrating for some students. This is particularly true if you don’t understand the utility and need. Demonstrating your understanding of Japanese for karate can be a point of pride- look at this cool piece of information you have for communicating about karate! For anyone who has tried to learn martial-arts-related Korean, Japanese is a breeze, so be thankful you don’t have to learn Korean!