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Martial arts 101: What do all those words mean, anyway?

If you’ve ever been to a martial arts studio or hung around martial artists for any length of time, you’ve probably been exposed to a bunch of different terms. But why, you wonder, do they use different words when referring to the same thing?

Well, they’re probably practitioners of various arts from different countries. For example, when the Korean’s refer to their training hall, they use the word ‘dojang’. The Japanese have a similar word, ‘dojo’, and the Chinese use the word ‘kwoon’.

They all use a different word for teacher or master as well. The Koreans--at least here in the States--just put the title Master in front of their last name. The Japanese use the term ‘sensei’ or, for a high ranking black-belt master, ‘hanshi’ while the Chinese say ‘sifu’ or, sometimes, ‘guan jang’. If you know anyone in Filipino martial arts, then you’ve probably heard them refer to their teacher as ‘guru’.

The Korean word, ‘dobok’, means uniform just as the Japanese use the word ‘gi’.

The choreographed sequence of movements that martial artists learn, generally referred to as forms, are called ‘kata’ by the Japanese and ‘poomse’ by the Koreans.

The loud shouts executed during attack or at various points in a form routine are called ‘kiai’ by the Japanese and ‘kihop’ by the Koreans.

These are just some of the more common terms, though there are a lot more that you may be taught or decide to learn on your own. At any rate, after learning these few basic words, you should be well equipped to visit any of the various studios and not only understand what they’re talking about, but be able to tell the country of origin.