Monday’s Martial Madness: 3 Things Martial Artists Say, and What They Mean

Special groups often have lingo that only the members know. Shorthand, code, and special terms are flung around like shuriken (aka throwing stars for you non-ninjers). So, in the company of martial arts groups you might hear a few things that require interpretation.

And other stuff Sensei says…

As per the usual, I’ve put together a definitive guide that offers THE explanation for these conversational quirks you might hear from a martial arts player anywhere in the world.

The Modern Kunoichi’s Guide to Martial Arts Player’s Lingo

Lingo #1: Hai, Sensei!

No matter which art someone does, there’s a person in charge that teaches. That person could be called Sensei, senpai, sifu, teacher, professor, instructor, Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so, or whatever the player’s art calls those who teach. “Hai, Sensei!” is what we say in traditional Japanese arts when given instruction by a black belt. Seems like a simple enough reply. But is it? Those two little words mean so much more than the acknowledgement of instruction.

Because “Hai, Sensei!” is multi-purpose for so many things, I’ll limit it to the five best known uses of this phrase:

  1. “Yes, teacher, I will do 25 sumo squats even though it was leg day at the gym and my thighs would glare daggers at you if they had eyes.”
  2. “Yes, teacher, I will allow you to throw me to the mats 3+ times, even when that doofus, Kyle, wants to ‘see it again.'”
  3. “Yes, teacher, I will spend the next 10 minutes allowing my training partner to sweat all over me as we grapple on the floor to tap out.”
  4. “Yes, teacher, I will clean the mats old school style even if I’m tired enough to sleep right here and now.”
  5. “Yes, teacher, I will do whatever you say no matter how scary or crazy it seems.”
“Shut up Kyle! Have I taught you nothing? Don’t say “that was easy” in the presence of Sensei!”

Lingo #2: That Was Fun!

Just like beauty, “fun” is in the eye of beholder. Just ask toddlers, for them “fun” is playing with the vacuum cleaner. For mom? Meh. You may have guessed from the perpetual bruises, and growing weapons collections, your martial arts friend probably has fairly different ideas of what fun is in their world. If you hear a player say, “That was fun!” you might not have guessed it involved 3 gallons of sweat, a 6-foot staff, and some Tiger Balm. Here’s a list of 5 of things of what martial artist’s mean when they use the word “fun”:

  1. Just spent 12 hours over the weekend learning familiar staff routines, but with new insights into the intricacies of having your hand next to your thigh instead of your waist.
  2. You did the same sinawali pattern 15 times in 30 minutes and have several new arm and hand bruises.
  3. Your instructor had you do the same kata over and over again until you “got it.” And by “got it” he means “sucked a little less.”
  4. You grappled your partner and got submitted twice with an arm bar, and once with a bare naked choke out.
  5. You broke boards with your head, foot, fist, and elbow and now everything hurts and you’re dying.
…and proof that I had fun tonight.

Lingo #3: Do You Wanna See My New _______?

Aside from 15 hours of martial arts bootcamp with a famed instructor, there is one thing martial artists love to talk about: their new “toys.” And when I say I toys, I don’t mean a muscle cars or barbecue grills. When it comes to martial arts gear, the more the merrier. Here is an abbreviated list of things your martial art friend will probably want to show you:

  1. “Do you wanna see my new gi?” Because my old gi smells and looks like it was used for hog washing and wiping down wheels after the Monster Truck Rally.
  2. “Do you wanna see my new sword?” Because this one has the Hattori Hanzo style hamon, and is 1 cm longer than my other five swords.
  3. “Do you wanna see my new wooden tanto?” Because this one is made of actual Japanese red oak and will last longer than the first one I got from the internet.
  4. “Do you wanna see my new book?” Because this book on “Japanese martial history” was written by some obscure martial arts master from the 15th century, and the other 15 books I have are too modern.
  5. “Do you wanna see my newly acquired skill in wrist locks?” Because now I know how to keep my opponent locked in a way they can’t escape. I promise I won’t hurt you. NO, really, I’ll go easy.
…you let her.

Aaaaaaand there you go folks! Good luck conversing with your martial artist friends!


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