by Neil Ohlenkamp


clear.gif The international language of judo is Japanese — the language of judo’s origin. Using one common language and custom bonds judoka from every different culture together. It also permits international competition with a common set of commands, instructions, scores, and data using words that are recognized by participants from any country.

clear.gif The first challenge in pronouncing Japanese Romanji is the correct use of vowels:

clear.gifA =”ah”, as the a in father
clear.gifI = “ee”, as the i in machine
clear.gifU = “oo”, as the u in lulu
clear.gifE = “eh”, as the e in elephant
clear.gifO = “oh”, as the o in polo

clear.gif Another challenge involves special rules. For example, g is often changed to k when used at the beginning of a word. For example, a throw like ogoshi (major hip) will use g, but k is used in koshi waza (hip techniques). In addition, g used inside a word will often be pronounced as ng. A similar rule applies to b which will sometimes be changed to h when used at the beginning of a word like harai.

clear.gif The i and u are frequently almost mute and therefore unaccented. Thus a familiar judo term tsukuri should be pronounced not as a word of three syllables but two, like tskuri. In sutemi waza the u is virtually eliminated and said as stemi. Often shi in judo terms will sound like it has a silent i. Thus shido becomes shdo, and Yamashita is pronounced Yamashta.

clear.gif This is the way E.J. Harrison describes the rules of pronunciation in the Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin, January 1949. However, dipthongs and macrons are seldom used in modern Romanji to differentiate the vowels with multiple sounds (like the long O).

For persons possessing some knowledge of a continental tongue a more or less correct pronunciation of the vowels is not as a rule very difficult. Thus a is like the a in father, but shorter; ai diphthong like ai in aisle; au like ow in cow; e like e in pen; ei diphthong like ei in vein; i like i in machine; o like o in tobacco; o with macron like o in over but more sonorous; ou like ou in though; u like u in put; u with macron resembles u in rude; y as in English.

Bearing the foregoing simple rules in mind, the judo tyro should be able to avoid the crude error of pronouncing, say, kake as “cake” instead of as a word of two syllables, or the Japanese place name Hakone (pronounced “Hak-oh-neh”) as a word of two syllables, viz., “Hak-wun”.

clear.gif Every non-Japanese judoka tends to pronounce the Japanese terms with a flavor pulled from their own language. While you cannot expect to sound like a native Japanese speaker by following these simple rules, you will be able to participate in judo with a greater understanding. You will also be able to study outside of class and pronounce words that you have only seen in writing.

When you seek it, you cannot find it. Your hand cannot reach it Nor your mind exceed it. When you no longer seek it, It is always with you. …..Zen Proverb