I've heard the phrase 参った and understood it to mean something like 'I/we lost' or 'knocked out'. How did this come from 参る, to visit or go by? I read in a dictionary that it's some phrase said by a the defeated person in a judo or kendo match but I don't fully understand.

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    One of the meanings of the Kanji (like in 降参 : surrender, give up) might have rubbed off on the original japanese verb. Or the other way around...
    – Alox
    Sep 20, 2014 at 18:01
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    Is it so strange for a word to have multiple meanings?
    – user4032
    Sep 21, 2014 at 23:35
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    @l'électeur Is it so strange that people have curiosity about where words and their meanings originate? ;) Anyway, I don't think it's strange, but what is strange is when a word has two meanings that are opposite of each other. Speaking in general about words in all languages.
    – psosuna
    Oct 4, 2017 at 16:48

2 Answers 2


(I failed to identify the authoritative article about this, so the following story is based largely on my speculation.)

You probably know that 参る is a humble form and means to visit someone with higher status than ourselves.

And I think your dictionary also said that 参る can specifically mean "to visit a shrine/temple/grave." (=参拝) The noun お参り always means "a visit to a shrine/temple/grave and offering prayers." See the result of Google Image Search for お参り, and you can understand that Japanese 参る means not only "going", but also "showing the highest respect" for Gods, or someone else.

This, I suppose, explains why 参った also came to mean "I lost." By saying 参った, you admits your opponent is stronger than you, and deserves your respect. (In judo and kendo, showing such respect is especially important.)

There's a blog post about this topic.

By the way, this お参り pose (putting hands together in front of you) is also a gesture of surrender, or begging for one's life.

  • was about to ask this question, came across this answer. if you ever find the authoritative source, I'd love to read it :)
    – psosuna
    Oct 4, 2017 at 16:46
  • @psosuna -- Check out Shogakukan's 国語大辞典 entry here, search specifically the line 「[三] (敬語性が失せて) 相手に優位を占められる。また、屈するの意を表わす。」. This is cited to a text from around the end of the Muromachi period, late 1500s. Nov 5, 2020 at 19:53

In a judo context, 参った is used to mean "I surrender" when submitting to an opponent (usually due to an armlock, strangle, or hold down).

According to Wikipedia this meaning is first noted in the 1500's and stems from the older meaning of "to go [to a superior]":

  1. to be overcome, to cede to a superior person or superior circumstances (by extension from the older "go to a superior" sense)
    1. [from late 1500s] (intransitive) to lose to an opponent
      参{まい}ったな。 ― maitta na. ― You got me.

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