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Challenging the Masters part 9: Speaking Japanese, Chinese and Korean in the dojo,kwoon and dojang

Updated: May 4

Neh ho ma? Genki desu ka? Ni hao" If you don't speak Cantonese, Japanese, or Mandarin, you might think that I was just talking about you. I wasn't. I was asking how you were doing. That brings me to my next point. I was speaking with an Asian friend about using Asian language while teaching martial arts. Now personally, as a linguist, I think that it is all okay. But it got me to thinking, does using Japanese, or Chinese, or Korean in training make your training more authentic? I personally do not think so. But for the sake of a good time, let's investigate shall we?

In the Asian nations, they are typically pretty much of one ethnicity. That is to say, in Japan, everyone is Japanese, and in China they are Chinese. So it makes perfect sense to teach in the native tongue. The problem is............well, it is a problem for some, the United States is just chock full of other types of folks. A patriotic American may not feel the need or desire to learn how to speak any other languages. Or a karate student from India, or Peru, or anywhere, may not feel that it is appropriate to have to learn another language. So my question for you is, how important is it really?

The traditionalists will say something like" It has always been taught this way." Ummm okay. Of course karate was always taught in Japan. That is the only language they speak. I will not be trying to teach a karate class in Canada while speaking Swahili. Mainly because I don't speak Swahili :) But also because nobody would understand. I think that if you are a teacher, that you should be willing to do whatever you need to do to make sure that everyone understands you. Asian martial arts are now studied worldwide, and I would hate to think that something so petty as language barriers would prevent some people from learning them.

I personally think that language should NOT be an issue. I think that to a class that is mixed ethnically, the most universal language should be used. I think that it makes class a heck of a lot easier, and more enjoyable for everyone. But having said that, I think that there is a limit. I think that the students of the sword should know that in Japan they are called katana. Or that in a kung fu school, that the school is called a gwoon. To me that is like knowing the real names of foods in a sushi bar. We all know the word "sushi." I think that it would be kind of rude if we went to a Japanese restaurant and ordered some" raw fish, with a little rice and seaweed wrapped around it." I think that we should learn the proper names for your equipment, like sai, katana, nunchaku etc. But I don't think that we should HAVE to learn how to count in Japanese, or how to say Roundhouse kick in Japanese or Chinese. Now we can definitely learn those things is we choose, but I do NOT think that it should be mandatory. Anyhow, I would LOVE to stay and chat, but I will be darned if the Seven Samurai just happens to be on A & E right now. Folks, I am out of here like a politician in a truth-telling contest :)

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