Koryu.com Book Reviews

Japanese for the Martial Arts Japanese for the Martial Arts.
By Alexander D.C. Kask.
Rutland, VT & Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1996.
ISBN 0-8048-2045-7. 64 p. 4 x 7 1/4" paperbd, with 60 min. audio cassette.

Your dream of training in Japan is finally about to happen. You've got your tickets, a place to stay lined up, and an introduction to a teacher. All systems are go--but what are you going to do about the language problem? If you are like most of us, your Japanese skills don't go much beyond counting and a few technique names, and you don't really have time to take away from your regular job or schooling to take an intensive course in the Japanese language (nor is this particularly efficient if your stay will be a short one). The fact is brutally clear, however, that you'll enhance what you can get from your training immensely if you can understand some basic Japanese.

Alex Kask has considered this problem and come up with an admirable solution--a quick introduction to the basic Japanese typically encountered by martial artists. This whirlwind language course consists of a small booklet packaged with a 60 minute cassette. Though the booklet does resemble those marginally useful tourist's phrasebooks, particularly in its brevity, quite a lot of genuine language instruction has been packed into its pocket-sized pages.

Beginning with pronunciation, which is actually quite easy to learn, the book proceeds introducing both vocabulary items and basic grammar in a series of chapters, each with a specific topical focus: Basic Phrases; Names, Ranks, and Titles; Numbers; Location and Direction; Doing Things; Describing Things; Useful Terminology; Body Parts, Injuries, and Sickness; Improvising Using Gairaigo.

Kask concentrates on vocabulary you'd find in the dojo--words for striking, moving, how to address people in the dojo, body parts, etc. You won't find terms for pedestrian things like clocks or tables, but those aren't items of major concern when training.

The learning system in Japanese for the Martial Arts is designed so that you can tailor it to meet your specific needs. The tape includes all the vocabulary items and application dialogs that are presented in the main chapters of the booklet (those included in the Appendix: For Further Study are not). For those with little time, the book can be used just to follow the tape; those with more time can study the main text and listen to the tape (multiple repetitions are recommended); those who want the most from their studies can also concentrate on the information in the Appendix.

Kask also provides some succinct and useful explanations, rather than mere definitions, of various aspects of the Japanese used in the martial arts. Especially good is his coverage of conceptual terms on pages 45-46, and his explanation on how to make use of gairaigo, English language loan-words that appear in Japanese.

The pocket format does impose some limitations. The learner is abruptly introduced to the conjugation of adjectives, without any previous explanation. Since we don't conjugate adjectives in English, some an introductory statement might have been in order. A bigger gripe is one I have with all the Japanese language learning materials I have encountered, and that is the emphasis on polite forms of verbs. Kask's comment that it is better to err on the side of politeness, particularly in the dojo, is absolutely correct. What he doesn't explain fully is that for the most part, people will address you using more informal forms. It would have been helpful to emphasize this fact and provide the informal forms, particularly for listening comprehension. Imagine spending two years of college level language study in Japanese, then coming to this country and not understanding a word. Believe me, it happens every day, largely because we are not taught to hear the informal verb forms that are used in daily life.

While this straightforward little course is no substitute for more substantial language study (in class or in self-guided study), it does cover a great deal of information useful to those who need just a smattering of the language to get by on a short trip. Those who plan on longer stays in Japan will still benefit from this language set, but should plan on supplementing it with more complete language courses. Highly recommended.

Diane Skoss

©1994 Diane Skoss. All rights reserved.
This review first appeared in Aikido Journal #101, vol. 23 no. 4.

Classical Japanese Martial Arts
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Classical Japanese Martial Arts