Friday, September 17, 2010

The language of martial arts

The name of a thing holds some power.  Not as in some magical incantation or absolute determinism,  but the name we call things influences to some degree how we think about them.  If we are naming techniques, the naming can influence how we do the techniques. 
For instance, I have mentioned before some controversy in the aikido world about the naming of the technique, shihonage (all-directions throw).

In the Japanese martial arts, I have seen severeal options used for for naming techniques and kata...
  • numeric - ikkyo(first teaching), koryu dai san (old-style kata #3)
  • descriptive - oshitaoshi (push down), hizaguruma (knee wheel), osotogari (big outside reap)
  • poetic - taniotoshi (valley drop), mizu nagare (flowing water), yama arashi (mountain storm)
  • vulgar - not as in obscenity, rather as in the common language of the realm.  In a class in an English-speaking area, taiotoshi might become "body drop" and gedanbarai might become "low block."
Ed Parker, founder of American Kenpo used an interesting combination of poetic and vulgar, when he named the self-defense techniques (really miniature kata) in his system, coming up with names like...
  • Clutching Feathers - a defense against a hair grab
  • Flashing wings - a technique featuring elbow strikes
  • Snapping twig - an elbow dislocation
Oh well... to some degree this is one of those Shakespeare deals...

What do you think are the pros and cons of the different ways of naming martial arts techniques?

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

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