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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Terminology: Translation Tribulations


I can already tell from some of the responses on Google+ that there are many non-Japanese practitioners who are frustrated with trying to learn a new martial art yet alone trying to learn with instruction in another language.  Wether that be Japanese, Chinese, Korean, English, Spanish, etc... I agree it can be a tweek to your brain.  Being Japanese born in the United States I can atest to that.  However, there is hope... and trust me... by learning the native terminology will also help you understand the deeper meaning of your style.

Now... first off, I know I do this all the time... there is really no mysticism behind deeper explanation.  Most of the time, we complicate things ourselves and when we train hard and ask questions of our senseis, we see that the answer/explanation is really deep but simple. 

My sensei gave me a really good example... A sensei's job is to carve or mold his or her students.  Look at a marble worker for example. He starts off with a large slab of marble and begins by using a large hammer and a large chisel to get the intial shape he wants.  Gradually, the tools become smaller and smaller until he shifts to precision tooling so he can begin to work on definition.  Our senseis are doing the same thing to us, kicking our butts with basics, gradually feeding us knowledge so that we can grow with our training, and finally working our minds and flushing out minor details with the execution of our technique.  In essence, our senseis are carving us and molding us to become better Karateka.  However, they don't have all the answers... some of the answers we have to explore and find ourselves.

You ever wonder why sometimes you try so hard to understand a concept, let's say being able to work your core, hips, and the ability to translate that into powering your techniques, and in the beginning learning how to work them is absolutely frustrating.  Asking questions isn't helping and the more you think about it the worse it got (maybe this example was just me...haha).  However, one day that light bulb goes off in your head (literally) and for some reason it makes complete sense.  Not only did it make sense but the execution was a lot easier.  I know that this has nothing to do with the title of this blog... however the spirit behind it is very much connected to it.  This is because sometimes we are not meant to try and comprehend the technique first... we must train and learn with our bodies... think of it as conditioning.  I know I'm going to get a lot of flak for this but you hear some teachers say sometimes "just do as I say."  I'm not defending this kind of teaching but sometimes we need to just mimic and just try to understand the mechanical components first before we get to the explanation... again... first we crawl, then we walk, and eventually we learn how to run... life's natural progression.

Now getting to the translation piece...

First of all, most of us thought... "how are we going to learn all the basic dojo terminology" rather than "how am I going to survive my future training..." especially those training in the traditional arts with native speakers teaching the courses.  Everything from counting, commands to be at attention, at the ready, to commands to stop, names of stances, and techniques.  Very overwhelming for anyone coming in with no foreign exposure.  First we might scramble and ask sensei if there is a packet or a cheat sheet you can use to learn the terminology. Next, ask our senpais for help, search the internet... and then finally... most of us either give up or for some of us lucky ones it just sinks in.

While I know it is a bear... it is important to learn the native terminology... especially if it is a Japanese art.  The terminology is based off of the Kanji or Japanese Characters which is based off the Chinese Character system to which some of the depth of the meaning comes from.  Take the characters at the top of this blog post.  That reads "ZANSHIN" which is literally translated as "where the heart remains." To us westerners this might not make any sense.  However, with your sensei constantly repeating its meaning, gaining experience, and constant immersion/training of your art, it starts to make sense.  Of course, you will need to have the drive to learn... when and if you do accept it then it will go off like a light bulb in your head and you will have one of those "ah-ha" moments and kick yourself because of the simplicity.  This "ah-ha" moment has been a reoccuring theme in my own training.

Don't be afraid to ask about the meaning behind a certain term or don't be afraid to ask to have it written down for notes.  Its better to ask and learn gradually than just dismiss the terms and/or learn it just in english. (us JAs - Japanese-Americans have Engrish or Japlish which is a type of pigeon english however even then it doesn't work as well as understanding the concept coming from the native language)  When you can understand the depth of terms such as Zanshin, Shin Gi Tai, Mushin, Ki Kan Shin, etc. rather than literal translation, it opens up a whole new dimension of your training.  Thinking and doing, philosophy behind different Master's approaches to Karate... especially Miyagi Chojun with his famous quote "Karate ni Sente Nashi."  To explore and do research on these terminologies by learning them in the native tongue first, I believe will help you understand the system and philosophy better rather than taking it for granted and you will see that it will help your physical training grow more deeply.

Open your mind and explore.

In translation.... Kay.