View Full Version : 045) Sempai - Kohai Relationship: Week of July 19, 2009

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Marc Abrams
07-19-2009, 09:40 PM
The Sempai - Kohai relationship is an integral part of Japanese societal structure. The word “Sempai” can be understood to mean your senior (someone who is senior to you in rank, or if the same rank, senior to you in experience). The word “Kohai” can be understood to mean your junior. I speak about these two roles in terms of an important relationship that exists in a healthy dojo environment.

A person who is senior to another student has an obligation to pass on what he/she has learned to the person who is of junior status. This obligation is to see to it that the junior person learns about the dojo environment and it’s rules and expectations. This obligation extends to being there to as a support to that junior person in what ever manner available and appropriate. If you expect the junior person to be able to listen to your advice, learn from you and respect your role as a more senior student, then respect and caring must begin with how you treat the junior student. It would be ridiculous for you to expect that junior to look to you for advice when you are not respectful and considerate to this person. If you try and demonstrate your seniority through “superior” technique while not allowing the junior member to experience “success” in that person’s technique, then you are simply better than that person in technique at the present time. However, the lack of proper positive connection that is integral in Aikido, which is not being demonstrated, speaks volumes. The role of Sempai can be akin to one of being a mentor. This role of imparting wisdom and learning reflects the positive connection between people that manifests itself in true levels of growth in your Aikido. This is a role that people need time to grow into. There will be successes and failures along the way. Do not keep a score card of these irrelevant statistics. The relevance will become apparent in your relationships within the dojo community.

The Kohai also has an important role to play in the sempai - kohai relationship. The junior student needs to be respectful to those students who have been studying longer and/or have a higher rank. The junior student frequently has a lot of questions and doubts about this new learning experience. Testing the doubts and questions out with your senior students before you have established a secure relationship with them is not really appropriate and likely to be dangerous (particularly if you can not do ukemi at a skilled level). Those questions and doubts should be respectfully directed towards the Sensei. The junior student will begin to develop working relationships with senior students so that you will be encouraged to respectfully push them to the edges of their competence. Questions and doubts will begin to be addressed and answered while new ones emerge. A sincere training environment will deepen allowing everybody to improve. The junior student will soon realize that the job of sensei is not to see to it that you are here to prepare for tests in order to gain higher rank. The sensei’s job is to transmit this art as he/she knows it to be at that particular point in time (we continue to learn and change too!). The junior student will become aware of the students working with their seniors and their juniors to help one another along in their Aikido journeys. Entering into these types of relationships will require that you extend your gracious respect to the time and energy spent caring about how you are doing, both inside and outside of the dojo. The respect that you extend will be reflected in the deepening nature of the relationships that you develop in this dojo. This will help in your development within the art of Aikido.

The inter-relationship between these two important roles in a dojo helps to create a strong community. The mutual respect and caring amongst the seniors and juniors in a community fulfills the higher ideals embodied in our Aikido practice. As I write this blog, I look with great pride at the strong dojo community that is evolving in our school. No one has been told to deepen the relationships in this dojo. Nobody was told to create Internet venues to communicate. Nobody was told to create study groups for tests. Seniors and juniors have worked together to accomplish these very positive signs of growth in our dojo community. All of these positive changes are also reflected in the level of Aikido that is being practiced at our dojo. We need to stay vigilant, connected, caring and concerned so that we do not take all of this hard work for granted. We need to stay focused on building upon what has been created. It is a long journey that we are on. I can only speak from where I am, and I must say that the road ahead is always getting better!

Marc Abrams …

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07-19-2009, 10:37 PM
I think for the most part American's are unable to duplicate the "sempai - kohai relationship" that Japanese experience.

Marc Abrams
07-20-2009, 07:40 AM

We both know that this relationship in Japan is unique and highly structured :eek: . My experiences training in dojos over a significant number of years has been that the "American Version" of this relationship can be a very positive experience. Positive from the perspective of group cohesion and positive from the perspective of the personal responsibility that is entailed in giving and receiving respect.


Marc Abrams