Honbu vs Hombu

Honbu / Hombu is Japanese for “Headquarters” or “Head Office” for a system of martial arts. There seem to be 2 different ways of pronouncing 「本部」and some people fiercely insist it is one or the other and their bias is not based on any facts.

A search of the internet will display a number of English language web pages with one or the other so that is not a valid source. Even English language martial arts text books flip /flop on the spelling. There are a few internet forums that have intelligently examined this issue, and I have included some extracts from those forums:

It should be ‘honbu’ , but many people pronounce it hombu.

To be a little more exact…the reason for the n/m differences are due to the use of “roman” letters (as opposed to arabic, chinese characters, etc) to express or write the Japanese language. There are several versions of “romaji” (Japanese for “roman letters”). And there are sounds in Japanese that can vary (like the tomato pronunciation example) depending on a number of factors (dialect, region, etc). You will see similar situations with words like Senpai/Sempai, Enpi/Empi, and Enbusen/Embusen, Kempo/Kenpo, Shimbun/Shinbun and so on.

We are trying to put another language into our own. And so we have these discrepencies. The linguistic terminology for this would be “reverse assimilation in the place of articulation.” The usual “n” sound is produced at the alveolar ridge (that “shelf” right behind your teeth) However, as Peter alluded to above, since there’s a bilabial (eg “b”, “p”) sound coming after the “n” sound, the lazy human mouth decides that it’ll save it some trouble and uses nasal bilabial consonant (ie “m”) rather than a nasal alveolar consonant (ie “n”). You’ll see such things even in English in words such as “impossible” (which most likely came from adding the prefix “in-” to the word “possible).

As far as actually pronouncing that part of the words goes, I think you’d be hard pressed to distinguish someone saying “honbu” (with a real “n”) and “hombu”, in regular everyday speech with their back turned towards you. (Similarly, the “th” and “f’ sounds are also hard to distinguish without visual and contextual cues.) Seriously, I kind of doubt there are many Japanese folks out there who would say “ho n bu” rather than “ho m bu” when speaking naturally.

Transliteration or the art/science of writing Japanese words in the Roman alphabet is not consistent. Some people write “kenpo” while others write “kempo.” Some people even write “si” rather than “shi” — probably since, technically, there’s no “si” sound (as in the Spanish “yes” or the German “if”) in Japanese. There are even other issues such as nigori (the voicing of certain consonants in a compound word) where some people write “katatedori” while others write “katatetori.” Also tricky is the case of long vowels — if we were really picky about it, we’d probably be writing the name of the art as “aikidou” rather than “aikido” since the last vowel is a long one…

The answer deals with the natural flow of speech.

Say honbu 5 times fast, then say hombu 5 times. The ‘n’ has a ‘hard’ or elongated sound to it. In natural speech, it is easier to roll that sound to an ‘m’ as opposed to an ‘n’. Prevents a slow down in speech.

The “n” or “m” distinction has to do with how characters are romanized when they are written – not how it is pronounced when spoken. Different romanized systems use one or the other.

Honbu is how it is written, Hombu is how it is pronounced. It is confusing as they look / sound so similar but consider say the Chinese written ‘x’ that is pronounced ‘shi’ and you might see what I mean.

Also try searching a japanese dictionary for hombu, you won’t find it. The Budo Jiten (martial arts dictionary) second edition, by Fredrick Lovret list only Honbu.



Okinawan and Japanese dojo are usually decorated with Kakemono – hanging wall scrolls which depict sayings of the great karate masters, often written in their own Shodo (brush script). Lettering produced by an expert in Shodo is often very pleasing to the eye and the sayings are intended to inspire practitioners of the Martial Arts.

As many of the great masters passed long ago, their original Shodo are very difficult to obtain. However high quality reproductions of original Shodo are available as well as by modern expert Japanese calligraphers for framing as gifts for decorating a room or for their original purpose to be hung as inspiration for the students in the dojo.


Always on the Battlefield


12 1/4″ W x 43″ H Japanese Scroll
by Master Japanese Calligrapher Eri Takase




In Zen Buddhism, an ‘ensō’ is a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. It also symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength and elegance.

I sometimes wonder if the design of the Ishino Shorinjiryu Genbukan Karate logo with the circular red belt was somewhat inspired by the ‘ensō’.


Karate Black Belt Levels

One question I am always asked about is how many levels of black belts are there in Karate?

Typically there are ten levels of Black Belt.
The following list of Black Belt (Yudansha) ranks are often used in Okinawan/Japanese Karate clubs.
Shodan-Ho: Probationary Black Belt Black and white square sectioned belt


NOTE: I have not seen this one used in Shorinjiryu clubs

Shodan First Degree Black w/ one stripe

Nidan Second Degree Black w/ two stripes

Sandan Third Degree Black w/ three stripes

Yondan Fourth Degree Black w/ four stripes

Godan Fifth Degree Black w/ five stripes

Rokudan Sixth Degree Black w/ six stripes

Nanadan Seventh Degree Black w/ seven stripes

Hachidan Eight Degree Black w/ eight stripes

Kudan Ninth Degree Black w/ nine stripes

Judan Tenth Degree Black w/ ten stripes

However, in Ishino Shorinjiryu Genbukan Karate, Shihan Ishino does not use stripes to indicate rank level. Instead the rank is indicated in Japanese kanji (i.e. San Dan) on the belt above the black belt’s name (see image below ~ belt end on your right above label).



I have noticed that some Shorinjiryu clubs in the U.S.A. have been using for their fourth degree black belt, (Yondan),  a half red and half white on one side and a solid black on the opposite side belt, sometimes referred to by martial arts suppliers as the “Renshi” belt. For Yondan, the half red and half white side is worn showing on the waist. I have also noticed that Shorinjiryu Kenryukan Karate also uses the “Renshi” belt for third degree black belt but with the black side showing on the waist.


There are some Shorinjiryu clubs that have been using for the fifth degree black belt, a red and black square panelled belt.


In Ishino Shorinjiryu Genbukan Karate, Shihan Ishino does not use the “Renshi” belt or the red and black panelled belt.

Many Karate clubs follow the Judo tradition of wearing special belts for sixth, seventh and eight degree black belt by using a red and white square panelled belt, sometimes referred to as a “Rokudan belt” or “Kohaku” belt.


It should be noted, that even though Hanshi Masayuki Kukan Hisataka, the president and chief instructor of Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo, was himself a high ranking Judo black belt and is familiar with the required qualification of sixth degree black belt in Judo to wear the “Rokudan belt”, he has decided to allow fifth degree black belts in Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo to wear the “Rokudan belt”, for whatever his reasons are ?!?!

Even more strangely I have noticed that in some Jiu Jitsu clubs they have been awarding the “Rokudan belt to fourth degree black belts ?!?! I would have expected that they would follow more closely to the Judo’s belt designations.

Shihan Ishino is currently seventh degree black belt and wears the red and white panelled belt.



In Judo, the solid red belt is worn by ninth and tenth degree black belts. This is the same for most Karate styles including Shorinjiryu. However that being said, I have seen children in open Karate tournaments with red belts. In those clubs, the red belt is used as the next belt colour following the first promotion from beginner white belts. This makes me wonder what is the coloured belt their style uses for tenth degree black belt?!?


The Korean martial arts styles are different, as some taekwondo clubs use a red belt in place of the brown belt.

In the World Karate Federation Karate (WKF) competitons, they use blue belts and red belts for black belt team competitions to distinguish one team from the other. Possibly because red vs blue are the best two basic colours that can be used to indicate opposing teams.


So reader are you confused yet?

No plural in Japanese

This is a small point. There is no plural in Japanese. You would say one kata or two kata. You would not say two katas. You don’t add the English letter “s” to Japanese words to make them plural.

Also I would say that there are two sensei, not two senseis. Or I will teach two waza, not two wazas. Or there are two dojo in Kingston , not two dojos in Kingston. Or I would refer to the five Pinan kata rather than the five Pinan katas. So no plural in Japanese.