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Kiwikarateka's picture
Shotokan Times - Gichin Funakoshi: The Effects of the Wrong Translation of his Biography

I came across this article on Facebook today and was wondering what others thought?


I think it's fair to imagine many translations of other books suffer from similar issues. Is anyone aware of any other instances of this?

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Kiwikarateka wrote:
Is anyone aware of any other instances of this?

Moving between languages is always tricky. One such example I’m personally aware of is the translation I commissioned of Anko Itous’s ten precepts. I wanted the translation done by a non-martial artist to ensure no “pre-existing belief” was inadvertently included, but this poses its own difficulties.

My commissioned translation reads: “You must decide if karate is for your health or to aid your duty.” Discussions with another translator at a later date (who is a very experienced martial artist) said that the characters used can be translated as “practical use” and that is almost certain to be the intended statement. However, they could also a read as “duty” i.e. “doing as required”. Two “accurate” but different transactions; both done by professional translators.

We have issues when we translate from one language to another … and even more issues when we translate from one language to two other languages, and then compare those two translations (as was done in the linked article).

I think the process of translation is sure to lead to some ambiguity and misunderstandings.

All the best,


Les Bubka
Les Bubka's picture

Translation is always difficult, as Iain said. I have problems with translation of my own work from English to Polish as in some cases there is no direct equivalent. I can imagine that will be even bigger problem in translation of pictograms.