This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of AJATT's patrons!

If you would like to support the continuing production of AJATT content, please consider making a monthly donation through Patreon.

Right there ↑ . Go on. Click on it. Patrons get goodies like early access to content (days, weeks, months and even YEARS before everyone else), mutlimedia stuff and other goodies!

Language Is A Martial Art

martial arts
any of the traditional forms of Oriental [um…I think we were looking for a better word here] self-defense or combat that utilize physical skill and coordination.
From Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009

We think too much.

But we also think too little.

The thing is we think at the wrong times and in the wrong places.

And we fail to think at other times and places.

Overall the over-thinking is the greatest problem for us right now.
Though under-thinking can be quite a bit of an issue, too.

What the heck am I talking about? Well, here it is. You see.

Language is a martial art.
Language is not like a martial art.
Language is a martial art.

But where’s the self-defense or combat? Well, I’ll save you the semantic hair-splitting of discussing the price of illiteracy in a text-centric society. The part we want to focus on is the:

“physical skill and coordination”.

You have been tricked.
You have been misled.
By your own skill. Your own genius. Your own amazingness.

Language is martial art. And you are master of at least one language (you’re reading it right now). When it comes to the language you’re reading right now, you’re wearing a belt blacker than Malcolm X’s soul.

And it is this black belt that is screwing you over.
Malcolm X is screwing with your mind.
Because you are now so amazing at the language you are reading right now — your English is so amazing…that you now think in it.

You THINK in a martial art. That’s like…that’s like reading so much machine code that you write people emails in binary. That’s you right now.

But here’s the deal. Language is not thinking. Not initially, at least.
It is a martial art.
It is about physical skill and coordination.

That language is also a (the) tool for intellectual discourse blinds us to the fact that its acquisition and use are not fundamentally intellectual exercises.

This is why even stupid people (← the shot…it is so cheap 😀 ) can have good language skills.
This is why kids can perfectly recite ancient texts.

Language is a martial art. A sport. It is about physical things. Physically showing up. Physically staying there. Physically experiencing. Physically acting.

Fundamentally, language comes down two things.

1.     Vibrations of the air. We usually call this “sound”.
2.     Sight. I couldn’t think of a cooler way to put it.

Sound and sight.

No thinking. No worrying. No deadlines. No pride. No shame. Just sound and sight.

What are the organs of sound and sight?
Ears and eyes and (later — having built up your ear and eye skills) mouth. There’s a reason we call a language a “tongue”, rather than a “mind”.

If you want to “own” a language, if you want to “become” a language, and even if you’re just a beginner and it all seems impossible, or you’re an intermediate and it all seems interminable, or your advanced and it all seems (what does it seem like? unimprovable?)…You don’t need fear, and you don’t need worry and you don’t even need complex, newfangled methods.

All you need are sight and sound. All you need are your ears and eyes.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t yet understand what you’re listening to. No one starts out knowing anything. It doesn’t matter if you don’t yet understand what you’re reading.

Just focus on what goes into your eyes and ears. Just make sure that to the greatest extent humanly possible, EVERYTHING that goes into your eyes and ears is in the language you want to acquire.

You don’t have to think, you just have to be.
You don’t have to listen, you just have to hear.
You don’t have to read, you just have to see.

So if you are in doubt, if you are in fear, if you are trapped in cyclical, compulsive thinking, if you just don’t know what to do, if you are confused by criticism and contradiction and conflicting advice, then stop using your mind – it clearly isn’t ready yet. Instead, just use your body.

This is what the immersion environment is about.
It is not about moderation; it is not about tricks.
At its core, it is about burning all the ships.
It is about the physical act of placing and keeping your body in the situation it needs to be in.
There’s a reason people spend all that time practicing katas (check out these wooden dummy “SRS” videos). There’s a reason people who spend all their time arguing instead never seem to get anywhere (hint: the Internets are full of these people).

If there is only Japanese stuff in your life, then you will only do Japanese stuff. And if you keep living like that, then the Japanese will eventually get in your head. And stay there. Whether you like it or not.

Have fun, have laughs, screw around. Just do it all in Japanese. That’s the only language there is for you to do anything in anyway, right? You’re using Characterizer right now, right?

I don’t quite know how to put this into words; I don’t quite know how to get his across to you; it’s all so clear in my head and so weaksauce on the monitor. But I can at least say this: when you take care of the physical, the mental eventually starts to take care of itself (and probably vice versa).

You don’t have to control all the variables in order to achieve control of the entire situation. Like a row of dominoes, you only have to topple one, to topple them all. All you have to do is put your body into Japanese — if you just keep your body there, Japanese will then put itself into your mind. I am repeating, restating and reiterating for a reason.

Control where your body is and what is experiencing, and the rest shall fall into place. Leave your mind alone for now. It’ll catch up with you later.

Thanks for reading this rant. If you want more (and better-written 😀 ) info, you can check out the three books that inspired this article:

  32 comments for “Language Is A Martial Art

  1. igordesu
    September 5, 2009 at 20:23

    Thanks for the article 🙂

    As far as the pointless arguing by people on the internet goes, I am reminded of something that Jesus said: “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” Or something like that….

    Whether you’re “religious” or not, this really does apply to language learning. If something like the “internet” causes you to skimp on immersion, you could always just…get rid of it? I did. At least at my home, and now I only have access once a day at school. I’m amazed at how much more stuff I do in Japanese every single day 😉

  2. Maya
    September 5, 2009 at 22:00

    For some reason the way you were writing at the beginning of the post reminded me of Tao Te Ching. Great book btw.

    Anyway, thanks for the post 🙂

  3. September 6, 2009 at 00:15

    Meh. You’ve already sold me on language learning Khatz, you don’t need to preach anymore 🙂

    Maybe you should inspire those with slightly higher abilities with inspirational writing in 日本語? (not that we *should* need it, I’m a jackass for even asking, but I’m finding it harder to come to your site every few days with nothing to read but this archaic 英語 stuff abounding 😉 )

    Just please, don’t go all bat-stuff-crazy and start talking about new-agey stuff like Mr. Pavlina ended up doing.

  4. shikantaza
    September 6, 2009 at 03:32


    Great article!
    Khatz, you should be like the next President KhatzumObama of the Peoples Republic of Rhetoric or something!

    …and I should be getting back to reading about 自然農法…

  5. Tony
    September 6, 2009 at 09:05

    Thanks for this article Khatz. Your articles keep me on track. Though I’m an advanced learner, the posts like these still motivate me greatly.

  6. Chiro-kun
    September 6, 2009 at 15:54

  7. Tommy Newbhall
    September 6, 2009 at 22:22



  8. September 6, 2009 at 23:08

    I get this post (see, good points. Going to try to find time to read all your stuff today.

    Initially the obvious injection of marketing expertise along with a healthy dose of some of the tactics used by evangelical religions grates a little, but fair enough.

    What does confuse me slightly is that I find instances on forums or blogs of people citing your approach as justification for doing heisig right at the start of learning Chinese and expecting to be able to read it along with other such nonesense (when they should be absorbing and immersing not learning to read simple Chinese in pigin English). Where does the fault lie? Perhaps all will become clear.

  9. Rae
    September 7, 2009 at 01:01

    Thank you so much for this article. It gave me the kick in the butt I needed to finally make a full immersion environment for learning Spanish. ¡Gracias!

  10. September 7, 2009 at 21:52

    me again the blog did’t like me making any more comments with the same credentials.

    okay I surrender been through the Chinese project posts and a bunch of other stuff, you obviously do support the meaning and writing first approach….

    Apart from that I appear to have been doing my own version of mostly Chinese most of the time. Some variations of course, have you seen the Chinese Ting dictionary search old school tech now but you can often get interesting sentances with multiple male/female voices in many accents :).

    For dialogue over music I always preferred digital laptop reggae (checkout low phat bass sounds, Chinese dialogue floats nicely over the top, that of course is in reference to your Cantonese rap post.

    My SRS is informal repetition cycles of texts and audio, but it works (I cannot bear being told what to learn and review ever, no matter how efficient the algorithm, won’t do it and no one can make me ;P).

    I of course have not the experience or will to add marketing to the mix 😉

    This post from 2007 sums it up the annoying thing is that some people take what you do literally out there in forum land are mounting signs of some people hurting their learning by trying to do EXACTLY WHAT YOU DO. I realise already that you suggest that this is not the point but some need hitting with a bigger cluestick. Apart from the fine details I think we would both agree that your successes are due to the many things you did right and in spite of the few things you did wrong (you may not even know what these are).

    The exact details are not important general approaches and attitudes are. I doubt there is a bigger enough cluestick you could wield to prevent all possible damage, that is the downside of marketing sadly.

  11. Sado
    September 7, 2009 at 23:48

    Hi Khatz,

    This is prolly a bit off-topic but I really feel the need to express my own thanks. Ive been visiting this site, like, every day for the past 3 months and it kicks serious ass. The method works like a charm. Today is a bit special for me cause I’ve decided to delete everything even remotely English (katakana loanwords barely passing) from my SRS, so going monolingual. After 709 sentences. I come to this site mainly for motivation, because the method is already stuck in my head anyway. Whenever I feel my wussy-self come up (‘man, this is too hard, I cannot do this, no way, h4lp, so many kanji, so many readings, I keep messing up the ons and the kuns, nooo’), I just force myself to read any random article on this (you need some article randomizer, man!), and Im good to go again for the day.

    I’ll been flying into Tokyo on october the 2nd and make my way to Hokkaido on the 10th. Then, Im gonna hitchhike all the way down south. The reason Ive been AJATTing for the past months is because I wanted to get a decent fundament going, one I can use to build Japanese skills on that I’ll undoubtedly gather up in the time hitching around. Im sure my skills will make a huge leap, especially speaking. Output’s been behind, way behind, and it’s all been input so far. Im curious how I’ll fare, turning all that passive vocab into active.

    Anyway, please keep posting the motivational stuff. Im your faithful reader up until the 10,000th sentence, and probably beyond.

    A Dutch AJATTeer

  12. Anonymous?
    September 8, 2009 at 11:03

    This isn’t quite on the exact topic of the post, but it is related to the site in general. I just had a 45 minute discussion with my friends that began as a simple statement about how children don’t necessarily learn language faster than adults, and then it turned into a shouting match between the two sides. As an avid reader of your site, I believe it’s obvious which side I was on, and what side they were on. One of the friends I was arguing with is apparently also trying to learn Japanese, although he isn’t using your site as his method. Basically, he was thoroughly convinced that he could never learn a language to fluency and be able to retain it as well as a child could. I don’t quite see why he was so fixated on believing this, other than that he wanted an excuse for himself so that his inability immediately comprehend the language was alright. I just want to say, thank you for making me the opposite of that. I’m glad that I found your site, because I’m not arguing against people who are trying to say it’s possible for me to do things, I’m arguing for them. I’m glad I can still learn a language, and I’m glad I can do it efficiently. I’ve been finding it difficult to stay on task though, as I keep falling back into English, and I don’t quite know how to stay doing Japanese unless I can get to the point where I can read Manga. I’m not quite monolingual yet, although I could see myself switching in the next few weeks, IF I CAN STAY ON TASK!

    I think I might have to take one or two more steps in immersion in order to obtain the concentration I need, as I keep drifting back to English websites (such as 4chan and wikipedia).

    Anyway, I guess this post is also my official thank you for telling me to go through RTK, and although I can probably only directly recall about 50% of them, the other 50% are very easy to write given the primitives, although there may occasionally be an error in the organization of the primitives, and therefore my ability to remember them when a word arises with that Kanji is acceptably good. Basically, I really hope to be going monolingual here soon, and getting out of this nasty English habit I’ve worked my way into.

  13. Jesse
    September 9, 2009 at 13:49

    Thank you again Kaz, we’re birds of a feather, though I think you’re noisier. I want to add that singing (notice I didn’t say speaking) Japanese should also be apart of the fundamental training. I noticed when I sang along with japanese songs, my ability to ‘hear’ (read: remember, recall, distinguish, differentiate) improved … something out of a scifi movie. Time slows, I can recognize words, though I might not know their meaning.

    So, I’m suggesting as part of anyone’s language training, sing along, match sound for sound, not word for word, the singer’s voice. It does something (children just flat out do this) that can’t be acquired from reading or listening. I feel qualified to say this because I watched anime & tv for 15 years nearly every day (hooray for torrents and usenet) and couldn’t really do jack with Japanese.

    But with singing…something about it caused new brain cells to wiggle or old ones to make more friends or something. Spend a month and memorize a song, to the degree you can sing along harmoniously with the singer and see how it affects your other areas.

    To me it feels like I own it. It feels the way I imagine fluency is supposed to feel. Though I don’t have a vocabulary like i do in English; kitto itsuka wo tsukamun da. ne sou darou.

    So to fill out the be, see, hear list. Don’t have to speak, you just have to sing!

    Thank you again Kaz for another timely and inspiring article.

  14. Jesse
    September 9, 2009 at 21:22

    “…kitto itsuka nanika wo tsukamun da”*

  15. Joe
    September 10, 2009 at 03:36


    whilst I don’t think that your wrong about mimicking sounds, but I fear I may do something like this?

  16. Pasqual
    September 10, 2009 at 15:17

    Well when you can read enough Kanji to look up Japanese song lyrics then use those with the song, so you don’t do a “Ken Lee” yourself. I sang pretty much nothing but Gackt songs through high school, so I kinda mimic him when I sing, and usually do his songs when I go to Karaoke.

    Looking up songs is a great way to take a break from Kanji reps, Kanji can give me a headache after a while but singing a few Gackt or 嵐 or 氷室京介 songs makes the headache go away. Then I go back to Kanji reps. I’m on about 1300 in the Heisig book, been slowing down recently though.

  17. Joe
    September 11, 2009 at 02:14


    I’ve finished RTK, so I guess I’m at the good stage of this method.

    I’ve looked up lyrics before, it’s partially effective for me. But I find it a lot easier when people add J-subs to a song I find it easier to follow and I learn readings for Kanji 😀

  18. フランク様
    September 12, 2009 at 04:10

    yo khatz I just had a thought the other day.. “wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a ajatt t-shirt??” seriously how cool would that be!? People who are doing this have completely warped their lifestyles around your words, so who wouldn’t want to wear a shirt representing what they are so passionate about? the design could be maybe you’re little cartoons that you have haha! you could sell a variety maybe; perhaps with motivational quotes in japanese? like maybe.. “失敗は成功の元だ。” c’mon khatz you know this is a cool idea. ask and see what people think, if you don’t do it I’ll make my own custom one haha. take care 😉

  19. September 12, 2009 at 23:28

    Amazing! I din’t understand hlaf of waht you said, but still it was so motivating.

  20. September 16, 2009 at 12:25

    Ah! Finally a genius on the internet. It’s quite the rare sight, and I must say that this post is especially ingenious. The tips are really great, and I’ve actually been picking up a lot of Japanese unconsciously in those ways.

    See it and hear it, and just mash everything in there and you will understand in due time. It actually works really well contradictionary to what people may think.

  21. Ionize
    October 16, 2009 at 23:07

    “You don’t have to think, you just have to be.
    You don’t have to listen, you just have to hear.
    You don’t have to read, you just have to see.”

    “You don’t have to control all the variables in order to achieve control of the entire situation. Like a row of dominos, you only have to topple one, to topple them all. All you have to do is put your body into Japanese — if you just keep your body there, Japanese will then put itself into your mind. I am repeating, restating and reiterating for a reason.”

    Those two quotes reminded my of my first few episodes of anime in Japanese only. Man, I felt so screwed and my mind couldn’t comprehend. I either watched pictures to follow or I listened to Japanese and figured the plot. It really took some time to adapt, but in the end it worked out well.

    All went down to: Get going, watch anime on end and eventually you will manage.

    Best regards from Germany

  22. Griffin
    November 24, 2009 at 14:18

    I am in Thailand right now, and after about 2 months of taking classes and being here in this place I still knew very little. About a month ago I found your website and started reading and actually immersing myself and I have learned significantly more than I did before. When I get back to the US in january I plan on learning Japanese or Chinese.

    PS that Characterizer thing made me squerm. it BRILLIANT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *