The following has taken place: My teacher in Okinawa, a 10th Dan and representant of a world-famous school, scolded me. The reason: I used the terms oi-zuki and jun-zuki as I had learned elsewhere. In this particular school, however, these terms used to mean something different.

Many teachers teach like this:

“I do, and then you see.

And then you do.

And then I see.


I reckon that this is the way some were taught themselves in Japan or Okinawa, where they studied martial arts while understanding neither the common language nor the technical terminology, or perhaps only superficially and fragmentarily.

And in this way, as they have somehow learned all their stuff anyway directly from the master, they pass on what and how they learned to their students. And so teachers still pull and push on poor pupils’ arms and everything during what they call “correcting the students.” Well, of course, this does make some didactic sense, yet it is only half the story.

What I am trying to say here is: We need to talk about language.

About common language, which is defined as “valid throughout the language area, understandable to all members of the language community, for general – non-subject-related – exchange of ideas.”

About technical language, which is defined as the “subject-specific communication among professionals” and which uses a terminology that has a particular meaning within a specific branch of trade, profession, arts, sport or academic field and which is standardized and defined in, for example, a dictionary, a glossary etc.

And we need to talk about jargon, which is defined as a non-standard language variety, a special language or a non-standard vocabulary used in a professionally, socially, politically or culturally defined group of people, a particular social milieu or a subculture (“scene”).

Now, which of the three kinds of languages mentioned above do the words used in Okinawa karate and kobudō belong to? Maybe a jargon with an inclination towards a technical language?

On terminology

The beginning of modern karate is usually dated to its introduction into the Okinawan school system shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. There is a lot of hypothesizing and guesswork as regards the differences between antique and modern karate. Only rarely are primary sources used in a way that meets academic requirements. I have already pointed out elsewhere that one of the differences between ancient and modern karate kobudō is to be found in terminology. The loss of complex combative terminologies can be seen on the example of the Bubishi, whose technical terms – although they are supposed to be methods and information handed down personally in Okinawa – have been completely lost. One exception might be a term about which we were informed by Motobu Chōki and which can also be found in the Bubishi. One word only! And even this may just be a coincidence.

There are abundant hypotheses that claim secrecy of teaching as well as war losses as the main reasons for the non-existence of records in general and old terminologies in particular. While both are probably partly true, they are also ex-post arguments which need be considered from other perspectives, such as current self-adulation as well as modern marketing and tourism.

Indeed, new terminologies seem to have come into being together with the standardization of techniques and their teaching since the early twentieth century. At the same time, older terminologies that were neither considered up-to-date nor culturally desirable were probably lost. Even the terminology of Kata names, which are often written in katakana, still causes problems today. It is still often unclear what the names originally meant. As an example, take the name Passai, to whose original meaning there are numerous hypotheses and theories, but no reliable evidence. Thus, it can be surmised that since the early twentieth century, and together with the standardization of techniques as well as their practical applications, significant parts of previous terminologies have become disruptively replaced.

Most terminologies of today’s karate and kobudō are of modern origin, often developed only since the second half of the 20th century. The few ancient terms that we know of from written sources are nowhere to be found in them. Partly terms were simply reintroduced, without an actual personal tradition. In part, antique-sounding terms originating from the regional language were apparently simply invented, or new terms presented as being old.

In any case, the development and modification of terminologies since the early 20th century is well traceable. Begun with Hanashiro Chōmo’s “Karate Kumite” (1905), to the terms used in newspaper articles and finally in the first sparse publication in book form by Funakoshi Gichin, Motobu Chōki, Mabuni Kenwa, Nakasone Genwa and others, to the tide of publications since the second half of the 20th century: Properly utilized, these all allow for a clear view on the qualitative and quantitative development of modern terminology in the field of karate and kobudō.

By the way: Did you receive a complete written terminology as used in your school, possibly illustrated by drawings or photos?

“Pulling” an example

While on the whole there are many overlaps, terminologies often differ depending on the group and the individual. For example, Inoue Motokatsu was probably the first person to ever create a comprehensive terminology of Kobudō from Okinawa. One of the terms he used is hikkake 引っ掛け. On example of this term, the importance of a terminology as exact as possible can be clarified.

Hikkake as a noun can mean:

  • (1) hook; gab;
  • (2) snare; trap; trick (question);
  • (3) {sumo} arm-grabbing force out;

The verb form of hikkake can mean:

  • (1) to hang (something) on (something); to throw on (clothes);
  • (2) to hook; to catch; to trap; to ensnare;
  • (3) to cheat; to evade payment; to jump a bill;
  • (4) to drink (alcohol);

The same combination of characters, read as hikikake 引き掛け, means to hang, or to hang up.

As can be seen from the above multitude of possible meanings: There is a lot of ambiguity in it. In fact, it is impossible to know what hikkake stands for in a technical terminology, except you have been taught what it explicitly means.

Well, our terminologies often typify morphological or functional features of a technique, such as the trajectory, the origin, direction or target of a weapon, or even an allegory. So, after analyzing the technique of hikkake from its morphological, functional, and other content, I first thought the best explanation was probably to be found in the homonymous sumō technique.

In sumō, hikkake constitutes one of the eighty-two match winning techniques (kimarite). It is typically employed during the pushing and shoving phase of a bout. It works as follows:

As a prerequisite, the opponent pushes and shoves forward, either using only one or both his arms. This is what we wanna-be academics call the advantageous dynamic situation. It may naturally occur or it may be willfully created (=provoked).

If he so pushes forward, take hold of his arm with both your hands (kake掛け) and pull (hiki引き) him past yourself. Simultaneously, you skillfully sidestep and make way for him. In this way, the opponent stumbles and falls forward or is thrown outside the ring.

Hikkake is an impact technique rather than a joint lock. You deflect and pull down the opponent in the manner of pulling a rope, i.e. passing it from hand-to-hand alternating. This constitutes the difference to kote-nage (小手投げ; armlock/forearm throw) and tōttari (捕ったり; arm bar throw), in both of which the opponent‘s arm is locked to enforce the technique.

BTW, when talking about terminology, we need to talk about translations, too. Did you receive a translation of the special terminology of your specific school?

Well, in English, the sumō-variety of hikkake is translated as “arm-grabbing force out.” Of course, this is not a literal translation of the word, but the attempt to describe what is done in the technique, using as few words as possible. So it is basically an abbreviation for:

“When the opponent pushes forward, with one or with both of his arms, then grab his arm with both your hands and pull him forward as if you pull a rope, and pull him past yourself while you simultaneously sidestep, and so he is forced to fall onto his face or out of the ring.”

That’s more like martial prose, though.

Everybody will agree that simply saying hikkake is much easier.

See hikkake explained here.

Or here at the very end of the clip.

And here, too.

Anyway, the term hikkake as defined by Inoue Motokatsu for his school of Kobudō has very different features. It neither shares the same technical minutiae as the homonymous sumō-technique described above nor would “bō-grabbing force out” be a suitable analogous English translation.


Let’s google.

“Gyaku hikkake uke … (=defense with the upper third of the Bô behind the left ear).”


Ok, let’s take photos as an aid:

Hikkake shown from all four directions, performed by Inoue Kisho.

Hikkake shown from all four directions, performed by Inoue Kisho (From: Inoue Motokatsu, Ryukyu Kobujutsu Vol. 3, 1982).

Well, by the time it took you to read until here, you would probably have figured out what hikkake means and how it is done by yourself. Its common English translation as “hook block” is good enough, too. Yet, let me remind you that hikkake is just one example from among hundreds of terms and early accuracy pays off later in huge projects. As for me, I want to have a definition of the techniques and concepts related to them.

That is why a terminology is necessary.

And therefore – and while I know some just metaphorically term every technique short and crisp: “kill!” –, below, and I am all too aware of the tragicomic nature of this endeavor, is the first glossar-ish result of my analysis, terminological and otherwise:

Hikkake 引っ掛け: “trap and hang-on.”

Much better than before!

Too long?

How about just “trap ’n’ hang”? As in Guns ’n’ Roses? Brilliant, but we’re already starting to obscure the etymology here, so let’s be more careful. Also, it sounds Texan, at least to German me.

Least I forget: As I noted in October 2003, Inoue Motokatsu defined hikkake not explicitly as a blocking technique – which is still THE popular English translation for uke-waza (terminology wink wink!)–, but as an interim technique (chūkan-waza 中間技), which besides hikkake itself also includes techniques such as gyaku hikkake (“reversed trap ’n’ hang”), tai-sabaki (“tactical positioning of body and weapon”), or harai-uke (“low-sweep parry”). These interims techniques are then continued to osae-hazushi (“press’n release”), maki-otoshi (“twist ’n’ plunk”), kake-hazushi (“unhook”), and so on.

Well, I remember a fencer who once taught me:

“There are a few important techniques in fencing, maybe five or six, which you must study diligently. Once you become proficient, you don’t think about what technique to use in which situation, but the techniques just appear as either opportunity or necessity arises. It is natural.”

It is just now that I notice he didn’t use any technical terminology in that sentence.

© 2018, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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