Words, creating language, are abstract, symbolic and conceptual representations of both external and internal realities, but like a paper roadmap, these representations are not the actual territory. The fact that words are assigned meaning and definition, also means words develop powerful influences toward development of specific beliefs and thoughts. When the foundation of a word’s meaning is inaccurate, whatever else is built upon that foundation can become inaccurate, as well (Kutas, Federmeier & Urbach, 2014).
We must be careful how we use our words, and choose our language. We must be careful when we use our words, with whom and for what reasons, because any inaccuracy can eventually betray serious incompetency. We also need to be very careful how we choose to use what language in what specific cultural setting. We may be correct with our usage in one cultural setting, but insulting in another cultural context.
Contemporary commercial martial arts in the United States (defined as martial kinematic movements, created post WW2 in a dojo, gym or other indoor studio facility, and organized into a codified movement curricula for ranking and positioning, for profit) are fraught with a mix-and-match patch-work of terms, names and descriptions, which are accepted and taken for granted as being meaningfully correct. Martial arts practitioners have attempted to explain their usage of terms, and why they describe what they do in a certain way. Their chosen, foreign terms remain exclusive from the original language, that, in the original language remain incorrect and inconsistent to the meaning assigned to them within an English-American social context. Often, the names that are chosen for these contemporary arts are exaggerations, making the art look to be and sound more than it is, that is, more battlefield oriented.
Donn Draeger originally attempted to make distinct differences within the Japanese martial arts. From his Western/U.S. perspective of the myriad of disciplines he found in Japan, he classified those arts that were designated war-arts prior to the Edo Period (1603–1868) as bujutsu (literally: war-arts), while those disciplines that were developed away from the battlefield, during the Edo Period (1603–1868) primarily created to develop the mental and spiritual components of the practitioner, as budo or war-ways, literally (Draeger, 1973a; 1973b; 1975).
When we discuss this differentiation from an American cultural nuance, such distinctions may help the American citizen understand a different culture’s perceptual assessment of such arts. From within the cultural context of Japan, there really is no distinction between budo and/or bujutsu. They remain the same thing to the Japanese people who study these arts. How the art, skill-set or discipline is used, remains consistent with the immediate need at hand (Friday & Humitake, 1997; Hall, 2012).
Ironically, what Japanese language terms American instructors use to describe and label their specific contemporary discipline may actually be contrary to the Japanese language’s usage in Japan by an instructor there. American practitioners seem more fixed on the exaggerations their art’s name allude toward than for any accuracy in terminology chosen.
An example is the word “Goshin.” This word, from a Japanese perspective, was first used by two men, Senmoto Akiteru and Watanabe Akiteru. “Goshin,” was a label to describe their “combative curriculum system,” within their martial discipline of Uchudo. Both men were disciples of Okuyama Yoshiji, the founder of Hakko Ryu (Eight Lights Tradition), which was created in 1938 as Meishido. Draeger would have labelled this discipline of Hakko Ryu and Meishido, Modern Budo arts far removed from any battlefield need (Draeger, 1973a; 1973b; 1975; Hall, 2012).
Essentially, “Goshin” is a 20th Century term from Japan where the first character “go” originally meant “to defend or protect against false accusations.” The second character “shin” originally meant “the body of a pregnant woman (Henshall, 1988).
“Goshin” in the USA has been assigned the meaning of a self-defense system. This is taken for granted in the USA within the commercial, contemporary martial arts business. When “goshin” is joined with the suffix of “jutsu” as “goshin-jutsu,” this term is to represent a self-defense system. “Jutsu” means technique or means to satisfy a specific goal (Henshall, 1988).
Over the years there has been numerous disciplines in the USA, using “goshin,” and “goshin-jutsu” as terms to designate a self-defense system, especially in the so-called “Gi” arts mimicking Judo. Interestingly, the term “goshin” is neither found nor used in Japanese records prior to the Meijin Restoration (1868-1912) depicting any kind of a fighting discipline, ways or means (Hall, 2012).
Often, today, “Goshin-jutsu” is used to describe some form of a contemporary, gi-related, grappling art, designed with a sports-like curriculum or rules and regulations, far removed from traditional martial arts (defined here as arts used to kill the enemy up-close and personal with arrow, axe, spear, sword and dagger in armor). Goshin-jutsu disciplines remain far removed from the traditional “Kumiuchi” disciplines of battlefield grappling in armor (Friday & Humitake, 1997; Hall, 2012).
By any other name a rose remains a rose, meaning, regardless of what a martial kinematic system of movement is called, movements remain specific to their contextual environments. Human movement designed for killing combat in a hand-to-hand context remain specific to that context with little carry-over value outside of that specificity. Those contemporary martial arts systems created in the safety of the indoor gym and training facility, are specific to that safe and contrived contextual environment with no carry-over value outside of that context (Driskell, Salas, Johnston & Wollert, 2008).
That someone says he or she is a Rokudan in some contrived Goshin Budo or a Godan in a Shingitai Goshin-jutsu discipline simply means they have achieved ranking in a contemporary, “dojo” discipline, subject to rules, regulations and safety within the confines of that learning facility’s insurance limits. There are so few truly skilled combatants and dangerous men from the genuine and true hand-to-hand killing fields. The name of a system, like “Goshin,” may elicit an ideal of some grand war-art in a dream-world, just as the name is marketed to accomplish. In reality, however, there is little substance in such a name when the body of movements harbored within the name are not real and genuine to the killing combat context. The art remains what it is, often with a socially incorrect label to boot (Driskell, et al, 2008).
Draeger, D.F. (1973a). Classic Bujutsu: The martial arts and ways of Japan: Volume I. Boston: Weatherhill.
Draeger, D.F. (1973b). Classic Budo: The martial arts and ways of Japan: Volume II. Boston: Weatherhill.
Draeger, D.F. (1975). Modern Bujutsu and Budo: The martial arts and ways of Japan: Volume III. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Publishing.
Driskell, J.E., Salas, E., Johnston, J.H. & Wollert, T.N. (2008). Stress exposure training: An event-based approach. In P.A. Hancock & J.L. Szalma (Eds.), Performance under stress (pp.271–286). Burlington, VT: Asghate.
Friday, K.F. & Seki Humitake (1997). Legacies of the sword: The Kashima-Shinryu and samurai martial culture. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Hall, D.A. (2012). Encyclopedia of Japanese martial arts. New York: Kodansha.
Henshall, K.G. (1988). A guide to remembering Japanese characters. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Language Library.
Kutas, M., Federmeier, K.D. & Urbach, T.P. (2014). The “negatives” and “positives” of prediction in language. In M.S. Gazzaniga & G.R. Mangun (Eds.), The cognitive neurosciences (pp.649–656). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.