Here are a few of the common Japanese words you will hear used in the dojo.

There are many more, of course, but these include most of the basics that apply to beginners.

The Top Ten: The terms you will hear used in every class

  • Onegai shimasu: “Please,” say this to a partner to invite him or her to practice with you.
  • Arigato gozaimashita: “Thank you,” to say to a partner or the instructor after practice.
  • Nage: The person executing the technique.
  • Uke: The attacker. “Ukemi” is the practice of attacking, following and receiving.
  • Tenkan: Basic body movement in which the body is rotated 180 degrees while the foot is swept back to finish in hanmi.
  • Hanmi: Basic Aikido stance, with the feet in line and the body turned slightly sideways.
  • Omote: The front (chest) side of uke’s body, especially entering movement toward that side.
  • Ura: Tenkan movement toward the back (spine) side of uke’s body.
  • Seiza: Conventional seated posture, sitting on the knees.
  • Kokyu dosa: The seated exercise of breath, extension, centering and uprooting normally performed at the end of classes.

Common Japanese terms:

These terms are part of the common international language of Aikido.

Arigato gozaimashita (“arr-ee-ga-toe go-zai-mash-ee-ta”) Literally, “Thank you very much.” Said to Sensei when class ends and to each partner when you finish practising with them.

Bokken (“bow-ken”) A wooden practice sword, one of the traditional Aikido weapons.

Dojo (“doe-joe”) any room in which Aikido classes are being held. Normally, a permanent Aikido teaching facility.

Funekogi undo (foon-a-kow-gee (with a hard ‘g’) oon-doe”) A special breathing exercise which resembles rowing, sometimes performed at the start of class.

Gi (“gee”, with a hard ‘g'”) The white practice uniform and belt.

Haishin undo (“high-she-noon-dow”) An exercise normally performed at the end of class, where two students turn back to back and one lifts the other onto his hips for a thorough stretch.

Hakama (“ha-ka-ma”) The wide black pants worn by black belts and certain other senior students.

Hanmi (“han-mee”) Basic Aikido stance, with the feet in line and the body turned slightly sideways.

Hanmi-handachi (“han-mee-han-datch-ee”) Techniques performed while nage is seated and uke is standing up.

Jo (“joe”) A short staff, one of the traditional Aikido weapons.

Kamiza (“ka-mee-za”) the portrait of O-Sensei at the front of the room, honouring the traditions of Aikido. Etiquette requires that the class bow to it at the start and end of every class. Treat it with respect, like a teacher: don’t sit with your back to it or face it as you adjust your gi.

Kokyu dosa (“ko-kew-doe-sa”) the seated exercise of breath, extension, centering and uprooting normally performed at the end of classes.

Kyu (“kyoo”) all ranks below black belt. The comparable term for black-belt rank is “dan.”

Ma-ai (“mah-eye”) Strategic distance: the optimum distance for nage to be from uke.

Mokuso (“mow-koo-so”) meditation, often performed for a couple of minutes at the start or end of class, or both.

Nage (“na-gay”) The partner who executes the technique. Synonym with “Tori.”

Nage-waza (“na-gay-wah-zah”) Throwing techniques.

Omote (“oh-mo-tay”) The front (chest) side of uke’s body, especially entering movement toward that side.

Onegai shimasu (“on-a-guy shee-mass-oo”) Literally, “Please,” said to the Sensei when class starts and to each partner when first you start practising with him or her.

Owarimasu (“owe-war-ee-mass-oo”) “It is finished.” Sometimes said by the instructor when a training session is complete.

Rei (“ray”) Literally etiquette, specifically, the bow.

Seiza (“say-zah”) The static, seated posture. Students should sit in seiza whenever not actively practising, unless they have a physical problem which it would make worse.

Sensei (“senn-say”) Teacher. The leader of the class should be addressed as “Sensei” during class without fail. In traditional dojos, the senior instructors are addressed as “Sensei” at all times, inside or outside the dojo. If in doubt, call an instructor “Sensei.” It goes beyond being an honorific: it acknowledges the contract between you and your instructor that you will be helped and taught in exchange for your respect, hard work and attention.

Shikko (“shi-koe”) Knee-walking, performed as an exercise at the start of class to loosen up the legs for seated techniques.

Shomen (“show-men”) the part of the room where the kamiza is kept. At the start of the class, the Sensei will say “Shomen ni rei,” which means, “bow in the direction of the Shomen.” Note a different meaning, or homonym, of this word — it also means the centre of the head, as in the shomen-uchi attack.

Sumimasen (“soo-mee-mass-sen”) means “Excuse me.” Bow and say “sumimasen” or “excuse me” if you collide with someone on the mat, even if lightly, no matter whose fault it was.

Suwari waza (“soo-ware-ee-wah-zah”) Techniques performed while both partners are seated.

Tai sabaki (“tie-sa-ba-kee”) Practice of basic body movements.

Tai-no tenkan (tie-no-ten-kan) An exercise in which both partners practice tenkan.

Tanto (“tan-tow”) Wooden practice knife, used in disarming exercises called “Tanto tori” (knife taking).

Tatami (“ta-ta-mee”) Mats.

Tenkan (“ten-kan”) Basic body movement in which you pivot 180 degrees on you forward leg.

Tori (“tor-ee”) Sometimes used for the partner who executes the technique. Synonym for “Nage.”

Uke (“oo-kay”) The partner who receives the technique, and is thrown or pinned.

Ukemi (“oo-kem-mee”) The art of being uke — correct attacks, following techniques properly and falling or being pinned safely.

Ura (“oo-rah”) The back side of uke’s body, especially tenkan movement toward that side.

Waza (“wah-zah”) Techniques.

Yame (“yah-may”) Literally, relax. This means that some exercise or procedure, such as an extended stretch or meditation, is complete.

Zori (“zore-ee”) Sandals. You should never walk in bare feet off the matt, or walk with anything except bare feet on the mat.

Counting in Japanese

1 ichi (“ee-chee”)
2 ni (“nee”)
3 san (“san”)
4 shi (“shee”)
5 go (“go”)
6 roku (“row-koo”)
7 shichi (“shee-chee”)
8 hachi (“hah-chee”)
9 ku (“koo”)
10 ju (“joo”)

Common ukemi


Most attacks are executed either from ai-hanmi (crosshand, or “handshake”) or gyaku hanmi (“mirror image”).

  • Katatetori (ai-hanmi): Holding nage’s wrist crosshand
  • Katetori (gyaku-hanmi): Holding nage’s wrist “mirror-image”
  • Ryotetori (gyaku-hanmi): Holding both nage’s wrists
  • Morotetori (gyaku-hanmi): Holding nage’s wrist in gyaku hanmi with both hands
  • Katatori (gyaku-hanmi): Holding nage’s shoulder in gyaku hanmi
  • Ryokatatori (gyaku-hanmi): Holding both of nage’s shoulders
  • Katatori menuchi (gyaku-hanmi): Holding nage’s shoulder in gyaku hanmi and blocking nage’s atemi
  • Shomenuchi (ai-hanmi): Strike straight at the centre of nage’s head in ai hanmi
  • Yokomenuchi (gyaku-hanmi): Strike laterally at the side of nage’s head in gyaku hanmi
  • Tsuki (gyaku-hanmi): Punch straight at nage’s midsection, gyaku hanmi. (“Jodan” (upper) and “gedan” (lower) strikes sometimes are practiced)
  • Ushiro tekubitori (also known as Ushiro ryokatatetori) : Hold both of nage’s wrists from behind
  • Ushiro ryokatatori: Hold both of nage’s shoulders from behind
  • Ushiro kubeshime: Lock one of nage’s elbows with one hand and choke using the lapel with the other
  • Tanto tori: Defence against knife attacks
  • Tachi tori: Defence against sword attacks
  • Jo tori(: Defence against staff attacks.

Other ukemi

These attacks are practiced less frequently.

  • Sodedori (gyaku-hanmi): Holding nage’s sleeve in gyaku hanmi
  • Munedori (gyaku-hanmi): Holding one or both of nage’s lapels
  • Eritori: Hold the collar from behind.
  • Kicking attacks: (mae geri, frontal kick, and mawashi geri, roundhouse kick) are occasionally practiced.