Japanese culture through language: “training vs practice,” “shugyo vs renshu”

In the book “Servant of the Bones” by Anne Rice, a genie who is immortal told a main character that he learned a hundred languages, and loved speaking and thinking in English.

Having achieved a high fluency in Japanese, I finally understand what he meant. I love talking about martial arts, fighting, and MMA in Japanese. I write weekly blog entries on my Japanese and English blog about the same thing, and I always feel like I can communicate better in Japanese about fighting.

For example, there are many words to describe “do” martial arts. There’s “shu-gyo,” 修行, “renshu” 練習 and even “keiko.” The word renshu means “practice,” like to do something repetitively until mastered. Often used in team sports. I did a poll on my facebook for what people say, “train” or “practice.” Anna De Mars (Ronda’s Mom) said on my Facebook poll that she uses “practice” for Judo. I’m mentioning her because she lived in Japan, and Judo is a sport-martial art. 練 means repetitively, and 習 means “to learn.” Shugyo, as far as I understand it, is more like an esoteric practice. 修 means to mentally strengthen oneself. 行 means “to go.” Martial Artists go into the woods and do forms and “train” their minds and spirits. The dictionary says, “training. Ascetic practices, like religious.” But an example the dictionary gave was cooking shugyou. Goku in Dragon Ball Z anime and Naruto in Naruto refer to their fight training as “shugyou.” But they are old school.
goku gohan training
They sit under waterfalls in addition to duking it out with their trainers.
naruto shugyou

I’ve always used because everybody else used it renshu …until the day I got to the AACC and a teammate said “keiko.” I was like “huh?” and he said it’s basically the same as practice. But I knew there was something else to it. I looked up the kanji and got the nuance. 稽古 I’m not sure about the first kanji but the second one means “old.” I think Keiko is the far end of the “shugyou” spectrum in that you train yourself. The dictionary only used examples of karate, tea ceremony, and other ceremonies. I’ve only heard that guy and one other guy ever use Keiko, so I think that to them, they’re not in the jiu-jitsu class to compete, but rather, to better themselves as people and learn new knowledge. Therefore to them, it’s Keiko. If I go practice Kendo or sword fighting, I might use “Keiko” because I’m not ever going to compete in that.

If you are bilingual Japanese-English and think I have this TOTALLY wrong, let me know. lol

I always say renshu because I don’t want to sound weird since all my MMA training partners say it. But we are “practicing” techniques to use in a fight….

Related but seemingly unrelated, I found out that my request to be a translator for UFC Japan got turned down, due to…… who really knows? They gave me a reason. :/ But anyway, I was disappointed because I had started studying specialized MMA language to prepare. I mean, I was studying a few hours every day and getting my friend to correct me work. Nobody had told me to do that, but I wanted to level up my Japanese. Of course I felt like it was all wasted effort after I got denied, but my Japanese friend, uncle, mentor Goto-san said that it was shugyo.

He went on to explain and this is what I took from it: shugyou isn’t always something you like to do for fun. It’s the benefit and growth that you get out of making an effort. If you don’t want to go to the gym but you make yourself go to better yourself simply BY GOING, that’s shugyou. If you start a project and find you don’t have to finish it but you finish it simply out of principle, that’s shugyou. If you study something just to enlighten yourself and nobody else will ever know the difference, that’s shugyou.

That’s why I like to use “training,” like “I’m going to training” now in English because I feel it’s closest. But there is no perfect word in English to describe what shugyo means to me. That’s one reason that I love talking about martial arts in Japanese.…