View Full Version : "Correct" usage of sensei

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09-21-2006, 10:17 AM
This thread (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=10982&page=3) made me wonder about the usage of the word sensei in non-native cultures. I agree with Mr Goldsbury when he said, "This is one area where Japanese names have been exported, but the culture and usage relevant to the correct use of the name has not been exported."
So I'm curious as to every ones thoughts on this. I tell new students that come to my dojo to refer to me as sensei only because I want to keep the feel of my dojo as traditional as possible. But the term does seem out of context in American culture. When I visit other dojos, I always refer to the individual teaching the class as sensei. However, sensei takes on a deeper meaning to me when I refer to my aikido teacher, Iwao Yamaguchi Sensei.

09-21-2006, 11:21 AM
This article by Peter Boylan is worth a read, I think:
The meaning of the term "Sensei" (http://www.budogu.com/html/sensei.html)

09-21-2006, 12:36 PM
Informative article.
Thanks Cito.

09-21-2006, 01:16 PM
You're very welcome, Ricky.
I've never asked the students in the aikido classes I've taught to call me "sensei". Some do, and some don't, that's ok with me. FWIW, if I were in Japan I'd probably be called "sensei" for two other reasons, since I'm a medical doctor and a faculty member in a university.

09-21-2006, 02:17 PM
Thanks for the pointer to that article, Cito.

It points out something that I learned growing up in Hawaii, where most of my friends were of Japanese heritage. I've always thought of it in terms of "service without servitude". The idea of doing something out of respect or gratitude, rather than because you are servile.

I try to encourage this attitude in my students. It's such a foreign concept to a lot of Americans that it's hard for them to grasp. It'd probably help if I were better at it. For all that I grew up with it on one side, I also grew up with people of a different heritage who looked at any service to another person as servility, so there is a fundamental conflict in my own mind.

Steve Mullen
09-26-2006, 07:11 AM
Im a legal assistant and i have spent a bit of time in the lower courts, when i go in to see the judge i greet them as sir/maam, because that's what i should do, it recognises their authority, not any kind servitude to them or subservience on my part. When i was in school i referred to the teachers as sir and miss again as recognition of their authority, not their dominance.

When i greet my sensei as sensei I am doing so out of a genuine respect that this person has somthing to teach me. the difference comes in that, in court/school, i refer to people as sir/miss/maam becasue i have been told to do so. When im in the dojo i refer to sensei as sensei because i want to, if its recognising their dominance then so what, why let them teach you if they dont have something you want. Authority by knowledge is one of the most common forms of undesignated authority (i.e they arent your boss/a police officer).

In the organistation im part of we are taught that whomever is teaching the class is addressed as sensei, and anyone above the grade of yondan is also addressed as sensei regardless of weather they are teaching or not, to me this is fully justified, they have worked hard for their rank, have a lot to teach and deserve te respect that should come with the name sensei.

P.s. sorry if this makes no sense, im on the wrong side of a concussion and just had a lecture on company law :uch: :( :crazy:

09-26-2006, 08:30 AM
I agree with Steve here, I believe that the use of the term Sensei is in respect for their position in the dojo. If they are teaching then they are effectively (at least you'd hope it was effective) acting in the position of Sensei.

In the military you are expected to call officers Sir/Maam and salute. You are doing this to show respect for their rank and your defence force, regardless of what you think of them as a person. I've know officers who genuinely deserved all the respect that we could muster and others who deserve to catch a nasty, itchy rash, but I would be the first to reprimand any of my troops who didn't show the proper amount of respect to both.

In my opinion calling your instructor Sensei is showing your respect for them, their position, the dojo and Aikido.

09-26-2006, 11:56 AM
We've all worked so hard at removing unnecesary formality in our lives. Sometimes, though, being formal is useful.

10-03-2006, 08:20 AM
I think more people should concentrate on being formal. The Japanese can teach us allot about this. I often observe the Japanese businessmen. They are always very formal and polite.Showing respect is important.
I respect my Sensei as my teacher, my elder and my good friend. Therefore I honor him and call him Sensei. :D