Word And Object

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With Noguchi sensei tonight we covered the second level of Kukishin Daken Taijutsu. Each Waza was enriched (twisted) to meet his own interpretation and the depth of his taijutsu.

At some point during class, he positioned his right leg between Uke’s legs to do a basic Koshinage. While placing his leg, he said “kick,” but he didn’t do a kick, he put his thigh there. (1)
Later, he trapped his Uke was kneeling to the ground, and he captured Uke’s head between his knees, saying “happa.” (2) At another moment, he did a half Oni Kudaki and called it “Musha Dori.” (3)

In these three occurrences, the words he used didn’t seem correct. But they are. It is just that we limit their definition. The Japanese language, like Chinese or Korean processes the information by images. A word in Asia is not “definite,” it is a concept, a general idea evolving with the situation. In the West, our words have a precise definition, limiting their power. Not in the East. These languages do not see the world in the same we do.

Let’s review now what Noguchi sensei said during class.

Kick: This is our definition of Keri. But in fact, it means an “action of the leg.” The kick is one possibility amongst many. In the Chi Ryaku no Maki, there is a set of techniques called “Happō Keri Henka.” There are no kicks in these techniques, but the legs are used a lot to manage the distance to the opponent.

Happa Ken: This is one of the Hōken Jūroppō. Happa is slapping Uke with a flat hand. Here he was using the knees, hitting the head of Uke. Note that in the Takagi Yōshin Ryū, the Kyūsho for the ears is also called Happa. Happa for him is the action of hitting with the sides of the head, with the hands, the knees, or anything else. It is the function that is important.

Musha Dori / Oni Kudaki: It was not a mistake either. At the beginning of the Bujinkan, Musha Dori was the Omote form we know, and the Oni Kudaki was Musha Dori Ura. Both terminologies exist in different Ryū. Also, if you think about it, grabbing the elbow from inside or outside, are two ways to “grab a warrior.”

The Japanese language is not based on Latin, Saxon, or other Alphabet based languages. It is an image. And this image is a concept with blurred borders. If you take the word “Omote” for example and ask anyone to tell you what it is, they will all tell you that it means “outside.” And they will be right, but Omote is more than that. (5)

That is why it is vital to learn your Bujinkan vocabulary. The Japanese use their words not to define an object but because of their function.

In the train to Kashiwa, I remembered reading a book many years ago called “Word and object” by Quine. (6) You should read it. It changed my understanding of languages. In the book, Quine exposes the idea of what he calls “conceptual scheme.” From one language to another, à word doesn’t carry the same concepts. À word is cultural. It explains why a translation is often betraying the author’s initial idea.

Noguchi sensei’s class was as great as always. But if you understand what is above, it will be an essential step on your path to excellence.


1 蹴り, Keri: Kick (dictionary)
2 葉っぱ, Happa: leaf; blade (of grass); (pine) needle​ (dictionary)
3 武者取り, Musha dori: Grab the warrior
4 宝剣十六法, Hōken Jūroppō: The 16 treasures
5 表, Omote: Outside; above; in front of; exterior; on top; obvious; easy.

  • But also:
  • surface
  • face (i.e., the visible side of an object)​
  • front (of a building, etc.); obverse side (i.e., “head”) of a coin​
  • outside; exterior​
  • appearance​
  • public​
  • first half (of an inning); top (of an inning)​ Baseball term,
  • cover (for tatami mats, etc.)​
  • foreground​ Computer terminology

6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_and_Object

PARIS TAIKAI 2019

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