This may seem far-fetched. Most of us don’t believe in magic spells, in the ability of mere words to affect the physical world. Nobody has died because someone pointed a finger at them and shouted “bang!” That said, there are ways that words can affect not just our perceptions but also the way we exist. The karate dojo is but one place where this can happen.
How do you, for example, translate jodan uke? Probably you’ll say “upper-level block.” Uke, though, does not mean “to block.” The uke in judo or aikido does not block. He or she “receives” the technique. That’s what “uke” means: to receive. If you think in terms of blocking, you miss the value of receiving the technique and using that reception to your advantage.
Likewise, when you hear, week after week, your teacher talk about this or that block, it influences the way you perceive the movement. If you don’t believe that, mentally translate the word differently: Each time you hear “block,” think “receive.”
That is an obvious example; most karateka will identify with it. Others are more subtle. What, for instance, is a “front kick?” In Japanese, this is called mae geri. Practitioners of most forms of Japanese karate will immediately have a mental picture of a front kick.
Okinawan karateka, however, don’t have such a clear image. In traditional Okinawan karate, there are many ways of kicking in a generally forward direction, all of which could be described as “front kicks.” Some forms call for the foot and leg to twist out from the hip, corkscrewing. The kick isn’t aimed directly ahead; it’s meant to rotate, much like a turning punch.
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