PDA

View Full Version : Sempai/Kohai Relationship in Aikido


Please visit our sponsor:
 

AikiWeb Sponsored Links - Place your Aikido link here for only $10!


Ron Tisdale
08-10-2009, 08:57 AM
Just a note, I believe the word you are referring to is sempai...and personally, I tend to avoid it outside of a strictly Japanese context. Western society doesn't really allow for the development of the sempai / kohai relationship. It tends to become easy to abuse even in the Japanese context, let alone outside of it.

Best,
Ron

lbb
08-10-2009, 09:59 AM
Just a note, I believe the word you are referring to is sempai...and personally, I tend to avoid it outside of a strictly Japanese context. Western society doesn't really allow for the development of the sempai / kohai relationship. It tends to become easy to abuse even in the Japanese context, let alone outside of it.

So use the words "senior" and "junior", which is all that "sempai" and "kohai" are used to mean in many (most?) dojos. I don't think the problem that Maggie is describing really has anything to do with either a sempai-kohai relationship or its absence. The problem is a simple one: some people take it upon themselves to instruct others as soon as they feel (correctly or incorrectly) that they have a grasp of something. Why this is a problem for someone has many possibilities, not least of which the sting to the pride of being instructed by a junior. That and many other aspects are something that you can let slide like water like a duck's back if you so choose...or you can choose to let it bother you. For others, the solution is personal and local, so it's not really possible to offer useful advice except...seek out the personal and local solution.

Ron Tisdale
08-10-2009, 10:15 AM
No arguement from me Mary. I was just pointing out the mis-spelling of the word, and some of the complexities of using it outside of its original culture. No biggie...
Best,
Ron

ninjaqutie
08-10-2009, 11:43 AM
Ron, I believe she just made a simple typo, as she also spelled it right previously in the entry. :) I'm sure we all know about my typos in here. HAHA.

RED
08-10-2009, 12:20 PM
Ron, I believe she just made a simple typo, as she also spelled it right previously in the entry. :) I'm sure we all know about my typos in here. HAHA.

Yeah, it was a typo. Sampai is a turn me use in my dojo, so I use it. Though the word junior/senior/ rank etc are all acceptable.

I think most of the issues we deal with with "junior" students is those who might take themselves to seriously. Most people in my school at least, if they mess their ukemi up and you respond by changing the technique to correspond the uke is fine with it. They might either find the lesson of it, or find the humor of it. They enjoy training and the process. Now I'm not saying my ukemi is spectacular; note my flexibility thread for proof of that; however sometimes people purposely take bad, lazy, or defective ukemi. When they walk out of a technique, they splat before you even touch them, or try to muscle you down with them when they are thrown it can get dangerous if you don't change what you are doing. And I've come across two people that scream and make a scene if you change what you do in response. They fain injury, or get beyond flustered that they were "physically" corrected. I think maybe they are taking it all too seriously.

BTW: when someone refuses to let go when thrown quite hard I've yet to fall with them... I'm luckily very low centered and naturally low to the ground, and I had an instructor that held on to me when I threw him to teach me good posture and good stance since I was a 6th kyu, so I've yet to land on the buggers. (I don't trust their ability to get out of the way if I fell on them, which makes me think it is a stupid move on their part even more so.)
However, the person that likes to hold on to me just for the sake of being a difficult uke hurt her shoulder. I had good posture and finished low, she was still holding on. My body didn't give to the force but her shoulder did. I really didn't consider her trying to "prove" she was more skilled was worth sitting out to her or anyone else. It just frustrates me. I wanna scream "What is the problem? ! Just train and stop thinking your anything you're not, enjoy yourself and don't take it so seriously. I mean seriously, at 5th kyu you aren't going to impress anyone anyways, so cut it out!" I mean lol, I sure the heck don't impress anyone, I'm not going to break my neck trying.

Ryan Seznee
08-10-2009, 09:42 PM
Just a note, I believe the word you are referring to is sempai...and personally, I tend to avoid it outside of a strictly Japanese context. Western society doesn't really allow for the development of the sempai / kohai relationship. It tends to become easy to abuse even in the Japanese context, let alone outside of it.

Best,
Ron

Sempai just means "Senior" a student that is higher ranked or has been there longer is just that... A senior student. It has no connotation of a relationship other than they are also learning, but have been around the block more than you. Why would you be squemish about using the Japanese term when you practice a Japanese marital art. Do you not use terms like Ireminage, shihonage, and jujinage in favor of terms like entering throw, four corner throw, and figure ten throw?

Secondly, how do you know what kind of relationship she has with her seniors? Just because she isn't Japanese doesn't mean she cannot relate. If that were true that one cannot understand a sempai relationship, can you honestly say that an American can understand a Sensei relationship... can one pass on any knowledge of Aikido without at least some knowledge of this relationship?

gdandscompserv
08-11-2009, 04:57 AM
Just a note, I believe the word you are referring to is sempai...and personally, I tend to avoid it outside of a strictly Japanese context. Western society doesn't really allow for the development of the sempai / kohai relationship. It tends to become easy to abuse even in the Japanese context, let alone outside of it.

Best,
Ron
Ron,
I believe you are spot on with this observation.
Ricky

Ron Tisdale
08-11-2009, 09:10 AM
Sempai just means "Senior" a student that is higher ranked or has been there longer is just that... A senior student. It has no connotation of a relationship other than they are also learning, but have been around the block more than you. Why would you be squemish about using the Japanese term when you practice a Japanese marital art. Do you not use terms like Ireminage, shihonage, and jujinage in favor of terms like entering throw, four corner throw, and figure ten throw?

I stated the reason I'd be cautious...because the term carries more significance that just "senior". I happen to train under a Japanese instructor, and from 3rd kyu on our tests are in Japanese. But the terms sempai and kohai are not used. The context for those terms is pretty strongly linked to certain Japanese cultural ideas. They don't always merge well in western social groups (in my opinion). Try a search on some of the abuse issues in Japanese University clubs. I think you'll see what I mean. Especially when linked to deaths in aikido keiko there. See below the wikipedia entry for a *very* basic idea.

Senpai (先輩?) and kōhai (後輩?) are an essential element of Japanese seniority-based status relationships, similar to the way that family and other relationships are decided based on age, with even twins being divided into older and younger sibling. Senpai is roughly equivalent to the western concept of "mentor", while kōhai is roughly equivalent to "protege". Or simply an "elder" vs. someone younger in the family/company/organization -- the terms are used more widely than a true mentor/protege in the West.

A lowerclass student will often refer to upperclass students as "senpai", and alumni/ae will often refer to alumni/ae from earlier classes as "senpai". Particularly if fate brings them together later on, such as joining the same company, serving on a board together, or simply being in a club or parent's organization at the same time.

On rare occasions, a younger person may also be considered the senpai of an older person if circumstances dictate -- such as if the older person entered an organization or company at a later time than the younger person did. This is not all that common, however.

Note that senpai is often seen romanized as "sempai" because it is pronounced that way (the Japanese "n" (ん) is pronounced as "m" when it comes before bilabials, such as "p").

In a Japanese school sports club, such as a baseball team, the kōhai are usually expected to perform various menial tasks for the senpai including washing clothes and cleaning. The kōhai may not be allowed to play the sport at all or have only limited opportunities to do so until they become senpai.

More than simple seniority, senpai implies a relationship with reciprocal obligations, somewhat similar to a mentoring relationship. A kōhai is expected to respect and obey their senpai, and the senpai in turn must guide, protect, and teach their kōhai as best they can. Senpai/kōhai relationships generally last for as long as the two people concerned stay in contact, even if the original context in which the senpai was senior is no longer relevant.

Secondly, how do you know what kind of relationship she has with her seniors? Just because she isn't Japanese doesn't mean she cannot relate. If that were true that one cannot understand a sempai relationship, can you honestly say that an American can understand a Sensei relationship... can one pass on any knowledge of Aikido without at least some knowledge of this relationship?

I don't know, and frankly, it's none of my business. I gave an opinion...only that. In passing. If she would like to take it upon herself to do some research to better understand my comment in passing, good for her. I'd suggest you do the same...

Best,
Ron (it is just an opinion, feel free to leave it if you like)

NagaBaba
08-11-2009, 09:17 AM
Sempai just means "Senior" a student that is higher ranked or has been there longer is just that... A senior student. It has no connotation of a relationship other than they are also learning, but have been around the block more than you. Why would you be squemish about using the Japanese term when you practice a Japanese marital art. Do you not use terms like Ireminage, shihonage, and jujinage in favor of terms like entering throw, four corner throw, and figure ten throw?

Secondly, how do you know what kind of relationship she has with her seniors? Just because she isn't Japanese doesn't mean she cannot relate. If that were true that one cannot understand a sempai relationship, can you honestly say that an American can understand a Sensei relationship... can one pass on any knowledge of Aikido without at least some knowledge of this relationship?
Unfortunately for you Ryan, Ron is right. Sempai/kohai relationship is impossible outside of Japan.
And as Ron is your sempai on Aikiweb now you have to bow very deeply and agree with everything he said.

Ron Tisdale
08-11-2009, 10:13 AM
Now that Jun has so kindly separated this out.... ;)

And as Ron is your sempai on Aikiweb now you have to bow very deeply and agree with everything he said.

Oh no! Please don't do that! You'll only give me an even bigger head....I won't be able to fit out the door! :D
B,
R

Janet Rosen
08-11-2009, 10:44 AM
{devil's advocate hat on}
Does it have to manifest exactly as it does in Japan for us to appropriate the words as something a little different from junior/senior?
Where I train the dojo culture has a several decades long history of using the terms to describe a chain of support and responsibility. I think that when newbies are told that is what "sempai/kohei" means, it has meaning beyond the English words "junior/senior" which in most contexts bear no inherent relationship. So while we are not using the Japanese terms to describe the full relationship as it exists in Japan, it becomes a useful jargon, if you will, so students understand it as something special within the dojo context, just as we use other Japanese language terms.
YMMV
{devil's advocate hat off}

Ron Tisdale
08-11-2009, 10:59 AM
Hi Janet, works for me! I take it they make it clear there what it is to mean in that dojo environment.

Hey, I probably just think too much...
Best,
Ron

Garth Jones
08-11-2009, 12:26 PM
I'll second Janet's answer. I think it just comes down the the (rather obvious) point that we are not Japanese, especially old fashioned Japanese. My teacher is visiting my dojo right now. On the mat, she is vastly senior to me and very clearly 'Sensei.' Outside of the dojo we can go to dinner, see a movie, or whatever, as social equals and friends because that's how we do things here (in the US, anyway). That would never work in Japan.

So I think the same thing goes for sempai/kohai. In the dojo I expect my senior students to help the more junior ones (and they do!) and so on. Outside of the dojo we are a collection of people with widely varied backgrounds, jobs, and experiences - and no hierarchical relationship. Applying the dojo seniority structure outside the dojo makes no sense in our culture.

What I do like to see extend beyond the walls of the dojo is a sense of community. We are all drawn together by our common interest in aikido and hopefully our lives are enriched by knowing each other.

Cheers,
Garth

lbb
08-11-2009, 01:57 PM
Now that Jun has so kindly separated this out.... ;)

I don't like it when this happens. FWIW. I don't like seeing my words taken out of context and I don't see why anyone else should be expected to like it either. Call a post off-topic if you want, delete it from a thread if you want...I don't like creating a new thread like this, and moving people's comments around, without any discussion or consent.

NagaBaba
08-11-2009, 02:44 PM
I don't like it when this happens. FWIW. I don't like seeing my words taken out of context and I don't see why anyone else should be expected to like it either. Call a post off-topic if you want, delete it from a thread if you want...I don't like creating a new thread like this, and moving people's comments around, without any discussion or consent.
Hi Mary,
Now we know what you don't like.
There is a single thing in the world that you like? ;)

Janet Rosen
08-11-2009, 02:46 PM
I like it when Jun spins these off. It lets those folks who are interested in one conversation continue it while giving another subject its own opportunity to be discussed. Uh oh, I sense topic creep.... OH NO I'm moooooving......

NagaBaba
08-11-2009, 02:49 PM
{devil's advocate hat on}
Does it have to manifest exactly as it does in Japan for us to appropriate the words as something a little different from junior/senior?
Where I train the dojo culture has a several decades long history of using the terms to describe a chain of support and responsibility. I think that when newbies are told that is what "sempai/kohei" means, it has meaning beyond the English words "junior/senior" which in most contexts bear no inherent relationship. So while we are not using the Japanese terms to describe the full relationship as it exists in Japan, it becomes a useful jargon, if you will, so students understand it as something special within the dojo context, just as we use other Japanese language terms.
YMMV
{devil's advocate hat off}
angel mod on
No Janet, this dojo-specific relationship has nothing to do with real sempai/kohai system. It is a misuse of words and creates a lot of confusion.
angel mod off

Josh Reyer
08-11-2009, 02:58 PM
I'll second Janet's answer. I think it just comes down the the (rather obvious) point that we are not Japanese, especially old fashioned Japanese. My teacher is visiting my dojo right now. On the mat, she is vastly senior to me and very clearly 'Sensei.' Outside of the dojo we can go to dinner, see a movie, or whatever, as social equals and friends because that's how we do things here (in the US, anyway). That would never work in Japan.Sure it would. Sempai/kohai enjoy social activities together all the time. Very often, the longest, most intimate friendships a Japanese person will have is with a sempai/kohai.

lbb
08-11-2009, 03:13 PM
Hi Mary,
Now we know what you don't like.
There is a single thing in the world that you like? ;)

Yup, and if you were paying attention you'd know what. There's no reason why you should, just don't be talking like I'm some kind of uniquely discontented individual.

Moving around people's words is sketchy. That's all I'm saying.

Ron Tisdale
08-11-2009, 03:21 PM
Yeah, and if you don't watch your step, the Circus Ponies of Death will tromple you! :D
B,
R

Janet Rosen
08-11-2009, 03:52 PM
angel mod on
No Janet, this dojo-specific relationship has nothing to do with real sempai/kohai system. It is a misuse of words and creates a lot of confusion.
angel mod off

LOL! In the words of the learned SoSueMe Sensei, "too bad" :D

RED
08-11-2009, 07:14 PM
:rolleyes:
LOL Y'all take yourselves very seriously.
...:p
Loosen the obi once in awhile; you'll live longer. lol

:D

Ryan Seznee
08-11-2009, 08:30 PM
Unfortunately for you Ryan, Ron is right. Sempai/kohai relationship is impossible outside of Japan.
And as Ron is your sempai on Aikiweb now you have to bow very deeply and agree with everything he said.

Your arguement is flawed. He does not believe in the Sempai/kohai relationship, so by his standards I have no reason to show any reverance because such a relationship is impossible outside of Japan. You even don't believe in it by your own admission. Your statement is self contradictory because you want me to adhere to a relationship that you JUST said did not exist and can not because we are geographically seperate from Japan.

On a personal note, I love your post, but I argue with everyone regardless of who they are. It drives my Sempai crazy :D

gdandscompserv
08-11-2009, 08:46 PM
Your arguement is flawed. He does not believe in the Sempai/kohai relationship, so by his standards I have no reason to show any reverance because such a relationship is impossible outside of Japan. You even don't believe in it by your own admission. Your statement is self contradictory because you want me to adhere to a relationship that you JUST said did not exist and can not because we are geographically seperate from Japan.

On a personal note, I love your post, but I argue with everyone regardless of who they are. It drives my Sempai crazy :D
The internet knows no geographical boundaries, so it is ONLY in the internet that a true sempai/kohai relationship can exist.:D

Ryan Seznee
08-12-2009, 06:19 AM
The internet knows no geographical boundaries, so it is ONLY in the internet that a true sempai/kohai relationship can exist.:D

Hehehehe... Can't argue with that :p

Mark Mueller
08-12-2009, 07:13 AM
:rolleyes:
LOL Y'all take yourselves very seriously.
...:p
Loosen the obi once in awhile; you'll live longer. lol

:D

it also eases up on the gas.....I'm just sayin...

NagaBaba
08-12-2009, 08:11 AM
Your arguement is flawed. He does not believe in the Sempai/kohai relationship, so by his standards I have no reason to show any reverance because such a relationship is impossible outside of Japan. You even don't believe in it by your own admission. Your statement is self contradictory because you want me to adhere to a relationship that you JUST said did not exist and can not because we are geographically seperate from Japan.

On a personal note, I love your post, but I argue with everyone regardless of who they are. It drives my Sempai crazy :D
Hi Ryan,
It doesn't matter what I or Ron believe or not. Important thing is what YOU believe.
So, will you respect Ron as your aikiweb sempai and agree with his every word? :D

Ryan Seznee
08-12-2009, 02:07 PM
Hi Ryan,
It doesn't matter what I or Ron believe or not. Important thing is what YOU believe.
So, will you respect Ron as your aikiweb sempai and agree with his every word? :D

Well played, I like it. You have such well thought out posts :) But I don't think this forum holds any validaty as a teaching medium, so he is not a senior student so much as a random person I am conversing with, not completely unlike yourself. We are meeting as equals that are conversing (or at least that was my asumption coming into the post) not two students studing under the same forum, if it were so I want to meet the internet shihan :cool:

I also said that I annoy my sempai by arguing with them, my questions know no rank or social distinction. I am this annoying in real life :freaky: I would question O'Sensei himself if he said or did something I considered to be self contradictory or wrong because I don't think that there is such a thing as perfection. I don't think he did eather, he trained till the day he died if I am not mistaken. I may and often am wrong about my assumptions that lead me to question, but it is how I learn best. I thank them for enduging me :D

Steven
08-12-2009, 02:12 PM
Hi Ryan,
It doesn't matter what I or Ron believe or not. Important thing is what YOU believe.
So, will you respect Ron as your aikiweb sempai and agree with his every word? :D

Well Szczepan, he's technically your aikiweb senpai too, so if he tells you to delete your account and stop posting on aikiweb, as a good senpai, you will do just that eh?

:D

gdandscompserv
08-12-2009, 03:54 PM
Well Szczepan, he's technically your aikiweb senpai too, so if he tells you to delete your account and stop posting on aikiweb, as a good senpai, you will do just that eh?

:D
I don't think so given his former comment;
Unfortunately for you Ryan, Ron is right. Sempai/kohai relationship is impossible outside of Japan.
;)

Ryan Seznee
08-14-2009, 12:31 PM
I don't think so given his former comment;

;)

His arguement is valid because Mr. Szepan is holding me to a standard he doesn't agree with. It would be like someone who disagrees with capital punishment being critical for another country's hesitation to exicute a criminal. It is hypocritical, but Mr. Szepan's arguement is based on finding hypocracy in my statement. I don't think there is any, but it is the same arguement that they are both using, and I think they are both valid. :cool:

NagaBaba
08-14-2009, 01:47 PM
Well played, I like it. You have such well thought out posts :) But I don't think this forum holds any validaty as a teaching medium, so he is not a senior student so much as a random person I am conversing with, not completely unlike yourself. We are meeting as equals that are conversing (or at least that was my asumption coming into the post) not two students studing under the same forum, if it were so I want to meet the internet shihan :cool:

As you can see from your own behavior here, kohai/sempai relationship outside of Japan is impossible :p

NagaBaba
08-14-2009, 01:48 PM
Well Szczepan, he's technically your aikiweb senpai too, so if he tells you to delete your account and stop posting on aikiweb, as a good senpai, you will do just that eh?

:D
Ron will never do such horrible thing!!!! :hypno: :crazy: :grr:

Walter Martindale
08-14-2009, 02:04 PM
To those who argue against the possibility of a sempai/kohai relationship outside of the four islands...
We had a dojo in Regina, SK, where those who had been in Aikido longer than others were assigned/adopted a one-on-one relationship with a newer person. When the newer one was graded (we used coloured belts) the senior handed down his/her old belt of that colour to the kohai. We did a lot of our training together.
We didn't go the whole nine yards and have the kohai do all the cleaning up - that was everyone's job...
Purists may "poo-poo" that as something artificial but it worked for us. (Sensei was Japanese born, I'd spent some time in Japan many years earlier.)
W

Ron Tisdale
08-14-2009, 02:10 PM
Hi Walter,

It's not that I'm a purist, and I certainly wouldn't poopoo it. I think it sounds like it worked well in that situation. In general, though, I usually don't see a good understanding of what that relationship is supposed to be (culturally), I see issues with some claiming authority they don't have, and sometimes even people trying to be more Japanese than the Japanese.

There is no guarantee that these things will happen, and I'm convinced that there are some notable exceptions. And also places where the terms are used and simply not made a big deal of.

In general though, especially given how the relationship is sometimes badly abused in Japan, I'm not sure at all of the benefits of translating that to western cultures.

As I've said a few times now though, its not a big deal...I was just mentioning it in passing. If I thought all this would have come from it, I'd a shut my mouth and swallowed.... :D

Best,
Ron

Ryan Seznee
08-14-2009, 03:27 PM
As you can see from your own behavior here, kohai/sempai relationship outside of Japan is impossible :p

I am not using it in the context of over the internet, though. I am using it in the context of a senior student inside my dojo who I train with every day who mentors me, whom I have respect for. I don't see your logic, you can't prove something does not extist in all cases based on one case as it might be isolated. This is the same reason I did not accept Ron or your argument that the relationship doesn't exist because you two had never seen it outside of Japan. The real issue I take with Ron's (and your's now) post is that he is making a judgement on a relationship's existance that he knows nothing about in people he knows nothing about. How can you say anything definate about someone you know nothing about and have never met?

It is as logically flawed as saying that an AA's sponsor's relationship can't exist outside of AA.

Ryan Seznee
08-14-2009, 03:34 PM
Hi Walter,

It's not that I'm a purist, and I certainly wouldn't poopoo it. I think it sounds like it worked well in that situation. In general, though, I usually don't see a good understanding of what that relationship is supposed to be (culturally), I see issues with some claiming authority they don't have, and sometimes even people trying to be more Japanese than the Japanese.

There is no guarantee that these things will happen, and I'm convinced that there are some notable exceptions. And also places where the terms are used and simply not made a big deal of.

In general though, especially given how the relationship is sometimes badly abused in Japan, I'm not sure at all of the benefits of translating that to western cultures.

As I've said a few times now though, its not a big deal...I was just mentioning it in passing. If I thought all this would have come from it, I'd a shut my mouth and swallowed.... :D

Best,
Ron

Ron, I am not saying that we sit and try to learn Japanese while sipping green tea, munching on sushi, and watch sumo wressling at my dojo. I have met people like that, and they are annoying evileyes

I am saying I am using a term to describe a relationship that fits the deffinition of the term. I repeat (because I have still not gotten an answer from you), do you use ireminage instead of "entering throw" and such terms or is that "more Japanese than the Japanese"? If so, what is the differance is Sempai? Do you also have a problem with Sensei?:confused:

Ron Tisdale
08-14-2009, 04:47 PM
Hi Ryan, I'll repeat myself from my earlier response...

I stated the reason I'd be cautious...because the term carries more significance that just "senior". I happen to train under a Japanese instructor, and from 3rd kyu on our tests are in Japanese. But the terms sempai and kohai are not used. The context for those terms is pretty strongly linked to certain Japanese cultural ideas. They don't always merge well in western social groups (in my opinion). Try a search on some of the abuse issues in Japanese University clubs. I think you'll see what I mean. Especially when linked to deaths in aikido keiko there.

Please note what you said...
This is the same reason I did not accept Ron or your argument that the relationship doesn't exist because you two had never seen it outside of Japan. The real issue I take with Ron's (and your's now) post is that he is making a judgement on a relationship's existance that he knows nothing about in people he knows nothing about.

I never said that in any of my posts. I said that I am cautious about using that term because of the baggage that comes with it outside [and inside] of the Japanese context.

I never made any judgements about whether or not it *could* exist in the specific relationship in question. I simply advised the poster of my own sense of caution.

Best,
Ron

Ron Tisdale
08-14-2009, 05:38 PM
Oh, just a note...I tend to be reasonably carefull in what I say (at least when I'm being serious [like that happens often :D]), so it probably would pay many dividends to NOT misquote me... ;)

Best,
Ron

Walter Martindale
08-14-2009, 11:09 PM
Hi Walter,

It's not that I'm a purist, and I certainly wouldn't poopoo it. I think it sounds like it worked well in that situation. In general, though, I usually don't see a good understanding of what that relationship is supposed to be (culturally), I see issues with some claiming authority they don't have, and sometimes even people trying to be more Japanese than the Japanese.

There is no guarantee that these things will happen, and I'm convinced that there are some notable exceptions. And also places where the terms are used and simply not made a big deal of.

In general though, especially given how the relationship is sometimes badly abused in Japan, I'm not sure at all of the benefits of translating that to western cultures.

As I've said a few times now though, its not a big deal...I was just mentioning it in passing. If I thought all this would have come from it, I'd a shut my mouth and swallowed.... :D

Best,
Ron
Yeah, case-by-case basis. I tend to rail against gaijin who try to be more japanese than the Japanese.

Hey, it's an interesting topic.
W

Ryan Seznee
08-15-2009, 08:27 AM
Just a note, I believe the word you are referring to is sempai...and personally, I tend to avoid it outside of a strictly Japanese context. Western society doesn't really allow for the development of the sempai / kohai relationship. It tends to become easy to abuse even in the Japanese context, let alone outside of it.

Best,
Ron

Ron, you said it on your very first post. I am not misquoting... "Western society doesn't really allow for the development of the sempai/kohai relationship". I did add "outside of Japan", but a western society is outside of Japan, so you are splitting hairs in my opinion, but if you want it, I will give it to you. I still want to know what the acceptable level of Japanese is for you. You are correcting people on the use of Senior Student over Sempai in a dojo... oh I'm sorry... a "place of the Way" (unsolicited as it originally started in another topic for those of you who weren't here from the beginning) so as not to offend your delicate sensibilities. How is using a term that applies "being more Japanese than the Japanese"?

Ryan Seznee
08-15-2009, 08:32 AM
Ron, you have yet to answer my question. Do you use (personally or in your dojo... "place of the Way" sorry) ireminage or "entering throw"? Do you call them Jo or staff?

Josh Reyer
08-15-2009, 10:57 AM
You are correcting people on the use of Senior Student over Sempai in a dojo...

What Ron really said:
Just a note, I believe the word you are referring to is sempai...and personally, I tend to avoid it outside of a strictly Japanese context.

...followed immediately by....
No arguement from me Mary. I was just pointing out the mis-spelling of the word, and some of the complexities of using it outside of its original culture.

If Ron wants to correct people, he's the worst correcter in the world. All he's done is state his own personal preference of not using "sempai/kohai" in the dojo, and explained why. I'm not exactly sure why you are looking for an argument here.

Ron believes that in Japan "sempai/kohai" carry a lot of cultural baggage, and rather than deal with that baggage he's decided not to use those terms.

You believe that in Japan "sempai/kohai" carry a lot of cultural baggage, and rather than deal with it you choose to ignore it as not relevant to your cultural context.

Ron's happy with what he does, and perfectly happy to let you do as you want to do. Why not extend the same courtesy to him? Are you not perhaps transferring adversarial vibes from Szczepan to Ron?

And FWIW, here's (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showpost.php?p=130830&postcount=8) my take on Japanese in the dojo.

Ryan Seznee
08-16-2009, 06:55 AM
What Ron really said:

...followed immediately by....

If Ron wants to correct people, he's the worst correcter in the world. All he's done is state his own personal preference of not using "sempai/kohai" in the dojo, and explained why. I'm not exactly sure why you are looking for an argument here.

Ron believes that in Japan "sempai/kohai" carry a lot of cultural baggage, and rather than deal with that baggage he's decided not to use those terms.

You believe that in Japan "sempai/kohai" carry a lot of cultural baggage, and rather than deal with it you choose to ignore it as not relevant to your cultural context.

Ron's happy with what he does, and perfectly happy to let you do as you want to do. Why not extend the same courtesy to him? Are you not perhaps transferring adversarial vibes from Szczepan to Ron?

And FWIW, here's (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showpost.php?p=130830&postcount=8) my take on Japanese in the dojo.

I am not working off adversarial vibes at all. I just enjoy arguing. Frankly, I liked Szczepan's posts more than Ron's because they were more assertive and clear. I believe I mentioned this before.

Secondly, Ron is arguing. If he is just stating his opinion, there would be no need for a follow up. He also started (in the quote you posted) this whole thread as a correction to Red. The way his paragraph is set up, the opening sentence leads to the development to the rest of the paragraph. Therefore, his point is (as it is written in post #1) you misspelled Sempai... I wouldn't use that word in that context. Which is a very passive aggressive way of correcting someone. In a future post he chastises me for not looking into the social significance of the word, which is DEFINITELY starting an argument in my book.

Thirdly, I did not acknowledge the argument of Sempai having a cultural subtext because no one will answer my question and follow the concept to it's logical absurdity. The entire art form is Japanese, a lot of things we do have religious and social subtext (bowing before and after class, having a picture of O'Sensei...), but it is ignored for the sake of tradition, transmission of the art, or out of conviniance. Why take out one part and not all?

Ron Tisdale
08-17-2009, 08:25 AM
Good grief. Hey, you win the arguement.

The answer to your oft repeated question (what Japanese is used in our dojo) is above in two posts now. Feel free to read it or not. It's not really a big deal to me.

Best,
Ron (oh, now *I'm* passive agressive?) :D

Ron Tisdale
08-17-2009, 08:29 AM
By the way Josh, I remember that post. Nice one...

Best,
Ron

rdavid445
08-17-2009, 02:27 PM
If you look at the senpai/kouhai relationship through a certain lens (someone who doesn't speak fluent japanese, hasn't lived in Japan), then it's easy to have the view point of "It just means senior and junior student". And that's true, to a certain extent. If you get out your japanese - english dictionary, then that's all the information you're going to get. However, most people who have spent a significant amount of time in Japan will tell you that, for better or worse, the senpai/kouhai thing is ABSOLUTELY UNAVOIDABLE IN ANYTHING YOU DO (if you're japanese). Kendo Club. Work. Etc. And it isn't just "Oh, he's the senior student who is fostering my education and guiding me". It's been stated on here before that there have been many and frequent abuses of the relationship, which all stem from the fact that, in that relationship, you pretty much have to kowtow to your seniors. I hate to say it, but arguing with your senpai so much that you annoy them is not something that would be acceptable.

Jouge Kankei (上下関係 the japanese term for the senpai/kouhai relationship) doesn't just exist in martial arts, as I've said. In fact, I recently watched one of my favorite comedy shows (Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!!), where they used hidden cameras to film famous "senpai" comedians getting extremely angry at their "kouhai" for the tiniest reasons. You would think that, in America, even if it were your boss that was screaming on you, you would at one point stand up and say, "I don't deserve to be treated this way, I'm leaving" (that's the nice version, too). But on this tv show, because of the senpai/kouhai thing, you get to watch these kouhai squirm, beg for forgiveness, and a few even start crying openly. After it's revealed that they're on a tv show, everyone laughs and there's the "awww, you got us!" kind of feeling, but there is also that feeling of the kouhai being angry, and feeling abused at the whole situation. You have no idea what some people are put through because of the senpai/kouhai relationship. But here's the good news: we aren't Japanese! We don't even have to risk it! We can just learn together, get better, and avoid possible abuse and social discomfort!

As a foreigner in Japan, you pretty much get a pass on cultural stuff. They don't really care if you hold strictly to a lot of their social mores, as long as you're polite, and not openly rebellious. As such, I can understand Ron not wanting to participate in the senpai/kouhai thing because, as Americans, there's already a precedent set in sports and such for people learning from one another, being taught by superiors and other students alike, without having to kowtow or, in some situations, be abused. It's not an integral part of our societal interaction, as it is in Japan, so why force it? Sure, you can use the terminology, but if you are claiming to also be practicing the relationship as it is practiced in Japan while not doing some of the things I've mentioned above, it's a hollow pursuit.

As to the idea that, because Ron doesn't want to use terms such as Senpai/kouhai because he doesn't care for the (frankly) intrinsic social implications of those words, he's picking and choosing how "Japanese" he wants his art to be, I'm sorry, but that doesn't make sense. It may be Ryan's opinion (or maybe not) that the relationship is present at the heart of aikido in some form or fashion, but if we shouldn't pick and choose, then why isn't every single person practicing aikido fluent in Japanese? As supposedly intrinsic as the senpai/kouhai thing is to aikido, the Japanese language is certainly more so. Not just for techniques, either. If we are trying to transmit aikido exactly as it was and is taught in Japan, then we should all be speaking fluent Japanese. Not to do so would seem to be choosing to ignore the entire language based communication system developed for aikido, in Japan, by the founder and those who came before and after him.

Or is it ok to allow aikido to be adapted and taught in such a way that people here in the US can assimilate it into their lives without having to take on Japanese social attributes just because they exist? Of all my time in Japan, all the great things and not so great things I learned, one thing struck me hard:

I'm not Japanese. That's a good thing. I like being American. I like how we do things. I like Japanese culture, and I have Japanese friends, but I would feel utterly trapped in their culture if I felt I had to take on all of their social attributes to be "doing it right".

Chuck Clark
08-17-2009, 03:59 PM
Hi Robert,

Nice to see you posting on AikiWeb. Welcome... and it was a pleasure to meet you recently and see your practice and recognize some memories from the past. I look forward to more in the future.

Best regards,

Walter Martindale
08-17-2009, 04:06 PM
(major snippage of a really good post)

Of all my time in Japan, all the great things and not so great things I learned, one thing struck me hard:

I'm not Japanese. That's a good thing. I like being American. I like how we do things. I like Japanese culture, and I have Japanese friends, but I would feel utterly trapped in their culture if I felt I had to take on all of their social attributes to be "doing it right".

That whole "giri" (obligation - sort of; duty - sort of) thing, and culturally knowing what you can/can't do, should/shouldn't do. Ranges from which words to use in a conversation depending on the "status" of the person with whom you're speaking, through making sure you don't leave your hashi in the bowl and which sauce goes with which food, through everything else in general behaviour.

W

rdavid445
08-17-2009, 07:29 PM
Hi Robert,

Nice to see you posting on AikiWeb. Welcome... and it was a pleasure to meet you recently and see your practice and recognize some memories from the past. I look forward to more in the future.

Best regards,

Hi Clark Sensei,

I was really pleased to meet you as well. I feel very fortunate to have started practicing with such a wonderful group of people, and I look forward to squeezing every drop out of our interactions and training together in the future. I also appreciated the (somewhat abbreviated) rundown of the history of Tomiki aikido in Oklahoma. I'd love to talk further about it with you in the future.

rdavid445
08-17-2009, 11:43 PM
That whole "giri" (obligation - sort of; duty - sort of) thing, and culturally knowing what you can/can't do, should/shouldn't do. Ranges from which words to use in a conversation depending on the "status" of the person with whom you're speaking, through making sure you don't leave your hashi in the bowl and which sauce goes with which food, through everything else in general behaviour.

W

Actually, while I totally get what you mean, the more appropriate term for what you are talking bout is reigi (礼儀), which means etiquette or politeness. You essentially have to learn 3 ways of speaking to people in Japan - informal, the way you would talk to a friend, family member, inferior (kouhai!!!!!), someone younger than you, etc.; cordial, the way you would speak to a school teacher, someone else's parents, someone you don't know, etc.; and formal, the way you'd speak to your boss, martial arts teacher (though, after a while, you may be able to drop back to cordial), etc. It can get pretty hectic, especially because there is so much of a tendency for people to over use polite, formal speech by stacking honorific words on top of one another, that now, simply speaking correct formal Japanese is not enough in some situations. You have to speak nijuu keigo (二重敬語), double-stacked respectful speech.

The chopstick thing is actually kind of interesting. The way it was explained to me was that because in buddhism, when praying at a funeral, you light sticks of incense and stick them into a bowl of sand, sticking your chopsticks into your rice bowl makes an impolite suggestion about you praying after the death of the person across from you. It's not a straight line of logic on the insult side of things, but you get it. "I'm not dead, so don't act like it" sort of thing.

Ryan Seznee
08-19-2009, 06:40 AM
Ron (oh, now *I'm* passive agressive?) :D

My favorate line so far :)

Ryan Seznee
08-19-2009, 06:57 AM
As to the idea that, because Ron doesn't want to use terms such as Senpai/kouhai because he doesn't care for the (frankly) intrinsic social implications of those words, he's picking and choosing how "Japanese" he wants his art to be, I'm sorry, but that doesn't make sense. It may be Ryan's opinion (or maybe not) that the relationship is present at the heart of aikido in some form or fashion, but if we shouldn't pick and choose, then why isn't every single person practicing aikido fluent in Japanese? As supposedly intrinsic as the senpai/kouhai thing is to aikido, the Japanese language is certainly more so. Not just for techniques, either. If we are trying to transmit aikido exactly as it was and is taught in Japan, then we should all be speaking fluent Japanese. Not to do so would seem to be choosing to ignore the entire language based communication system developed for aikido, in Japan, by the founder and those who came before and after him.



My only point is that in French cooking one uses French terms to refer to the manner in which one cooks the food, regardless of the chef's ability to speak French or not. It is an accepted standard by which one "talks shop" to distinguish the art from others. In this manner the original context of the language is not what is important so much as what it means within the sub culture that uses the term (Beef meant the cow, cow meat, a live bull at one time, but changed to mean only the meat of a cow over the years because the people using the term Beef were the ones eating the cows in Saxon/Norman society). This is the manner in which languages evolve.

lbb
08-19-2009, 09:53 AM
My only point is that in French cooking one uses French terms to refer to the manner in which one cooks the food, regardless of the chef's ability to speak French or not.

...if, that is, one is talking about French cooking. I think Ron's point is more along the lines of "don't use the word 'souffle' if you're talking about scrambled eggs".

Ryan Seznee
08-19-2009, 01:44 PM
...if, that is, one is talking about French cooking. I think Ron's point is more along the lines of "don't use the word 'souffle' if you're talking about scrambled eggs".

My point is it is equally pretentious to call Ireminage, "entering throw" because you don't want to sound pretentious. In the example you put up, I am calling a souffle a souffle and I am being scolded because I should be calling it a "puff up" so I don't sound too French.

Ron Tisdale
08-19-2009, 02:00 PM
Being pretentious was never a part of any of my posts.

No one was ever scolded in any of my posts.

Best,
Ron (actually, never mind...now I understand the emotional involvement here)

lbb
08-19-2009, 03:12 PM
My point is it is equally pretentious to call Ireminage, "entering throw" because you don't want to sound pretentious.

Yes, and calling a souffle "scrambled eggs, sorta, only you separate the yolks and whites and you beat the whites until they're stiff and then you add some other stuff" is stupid, no matter what your reason for doing it. However, none of that has anything to do with what Ron is talking about. If what you have is a souffle, then you should call it a souffle, and if what you have is something else, then you should call it something else. Seems simple enough to me.

gdandscompserv
08-19-2009, 03:20 PM
Yes, and calling a souffle "scrambled eggs, sorta, only you separate the yolks and whites and you beat the whites until they're stiff and then you add some other stuff" is stupid, no matter what your reason for doing it. However, none of that has anything to do with what Ron is talking about. If what you have is a souffle, then you should call it a souffle, and if what you have is something else, then you should call it something else. Seems simple enough to me.
I believe that about sums it up. Thanks Mary.:D

Ryan Seznee
08-19-2009, 05:47 PM
...If what you have is a souffle, then you should call it a souffle, and if what you have is something else, then you should call it something else. Seems simple enough to me.

Nothing is ever that white and black :p I think I have a souffle and Ron thinks he has one. Disagreements are never simple, unfortunately.

I would like to point out that the start of this whole topic was when Red misspelled "Sempai" and some one had corrected her on its spelling and use, but he still had an almost perfect understanding of the context in which she meant it (socially speaking). This means that the term conveyed the meaning Red was trying to convey. I think it applies.

rdavid445
08-19-2009, 08:27 PM
Yes, and calling a souffle "scrambled eggs, sorta, only you separate the yolks and whites and you beat the whites until they're stiff and then you add some other stuff" is stupid, no matter what your reason for doing it. However, none of that has anything to do with what Ron is talking about. If what you have is a souffle, then you should call it a souffle, and if what you have is something else, then you should call it something else. Seems simple enough to me.

Very well said.

Ryan's not wrong for wanting to call students ahead of him senpai, and Ron isn't wrong for wanting to avoid taking on what he sees as a needless and extraneous hierarchy system. It's obvious that the argument won't stop, and it's silly to keep on using this topic as an excuse to be contentious.

Just drop it?

Walter Martindale
08-20-2009, 03:29 AM
Actually, while I totally get what you mean, the more appropriate term for what you are talking bout is reigi (礼儀), which means etiquette or politeness. You essentially have to learn 3 ways of speaking to people in Japan - informal, the way you would talk to a friend, family member, inferior (kouhai!!!!!), someone younger than you, etc.; cordial, the way you would speak to a school teacher, someone else's parents, someone you don't know, etc.; and formal, the way you'd speak to your boss, martial arts teacher (though, after a while, you may be able to drop back to cordial), etc. It can get pretty hectic, especially because there is so much of a tendency for people to over use polite, formal speech by stacking honorific words on top of one another, that now, simply speaking correct formal Japanese is not enough in some situations. You have to speak nijuu keigo (二重敬語), double-stacked respectful speech.

The chopstick thing is actually kind of interesting. The way it was explained to me was that because in buddhism, when praying at a funeral, you light sticks of incense and stick them into a bowl of sand, sticking your chopsticks into your rice bowl makes an impolite suggestion about you praying after the death of the person across from you. It's not a straight line of logic on the insult side of things, but you get it. "I'm not dead, so don't act like it" sort of thing.

Actually giri (and I don't have the kanji) is different from reigi - it's "obligations" rather than "general dojo manners" - sort of. Or "duty" or something like that. It's kinda like - hmm. My understanding of 'giri' is incomplete, but it carries a lot of weight, and it's a personal thing - like - if I start a dojo, it's MY responsibility to make sure it's up to the standards of the people who trained ME, or they'll get cranky because, since I was trained by them, and my dojo sucks, it's reflecting poorly on my senseis. But that's not quite it, either.. (and, I'm not starting a dojo any time soon...)

The chopsticks thing - as explained in a video I saw on a documentary TV program about funerals in Japan, the sticks left in a bowl resembles the post-cremation long bones in a large urn, that are passed around the family in some kind of ceremony, and the sticks in the bowl either remind, or are symbolic, of death...
That's how I understand it...

Cheers,
Walter

Charles Hill
08-20-2009, 03:49 AM
The chopsticks thing - as explained in a video I saw on a documentary TV program about funerals in Japan, the sticks left in a bowl resembles the post-cremation long bones in a large urn, that are passed around the family in some kind of ceremony, and the sticks in the bowl either remind, or are symbolic, of death..

Hi Walter,

This is the explanation of why you don't pass food around with chopsticks. At the funeral, after the cremation, you line up and then with another person, pick up a piece of bone with chopsticks and stick it in the urn. The first time, I was so afraid I was going to drop it! And then what would I have done? Pick it up with my fingers?

rdavid445
08-20-2009, 03:49 AM
Actually giri (and I don't have the kanji) is different from reigi - it's "obligations" rather than "general dojo manners" - sort of. Or "duty" or something like that. It's kinda like - hmm. My understanding of 'giri' is incomplete, but it carries a lot of weight, and it's a personal thing - like - if I start a dojo, it's MY responsibility to make sure it's up to the standards of the people who trained ME, or they'll get cranky because, since I was trained by them, and my dojo sucks, it's reflecting poorly on my senseis. But that's not quite it, either.. (and, I'm not starting a dojo any time soon...)

Cheers,
Walter

Very true. However, the previous examples you gave were things that are identifiable as being matters of manners, rather than fulfilling one's many duties in life. The word reigi in japanese just means "manners", not "manners in the dojo". People who are exceedingly polite are often referred to as 礼儀正しい人 reigi tadashii hito (informal speech), which means a person of correct manners. What is/ins't appropriate to do, how to talk to people, not putting your chopsticks into your rice, those are all issues of manners. Fulfilling your obligations to your martial arts teachers, parents, mafia bosses (far and away the medium that has the most to say about duty and honor in Japan are yakuza films), etc., are issues of 義理 Giri.

You've definitely got a good grasp of what the term means. The definition is a lot less complicated than people think. It's simply a deeply felt sense of duty. It's just that your previous examples didn't have much to do specifically with giri.

Josh Reyer
08-20-2009, 07:50 AM
A good match for "reigi" is "propriety". And often, observing "reigi" is an important part of "giri".

rdavid445
08-20-2009, 08:22 AM
A good match for "reigi" is "propriety". And often, observing "reigi" is an important part of "giri".

True.

What are you up to in Nagoya? I used to live in Kyoto for a while, always heard Nagoya was a really cool city.

Josh Reyer
08-20-2009, 02:08 PM
What are you up to in Nagoya?About 88 degrees with humidity!

I used to live in Kyoto for a while, always heard Nagoya was a really cool city.I like Nagoya. It fits me. Tokyo was way too big and hectic, and the countryside a little too boring. Nagoya is like Baby Bear's porridge.

rdavid445
08-20-2009, 04:51 PM
About 88 degrees with humidity!

Yeah, Kyoto is in a basin, so all the hot, humid air just sits on top of it. I remember months at a time where I never felt dry. Used to carry around spare t-shirts because we had to bike everywhere in that heat.

I like Nagoya. It fits me. Tokyo was way too big and hectic, and the countryside a little too boring. Nagoya is like Baby Bear's porridge.

I felt the same way about Kyoto. I love Osaka (Kansai in general, really), but it's way too hectic. I'm from a mid-size town in the states, so Kyoto fit me just perfect. Can't wait to get back there.

Rocky Izumi
08-24-2009, 07:16 PM
If you wish to get rid of the Sempai/Kohai relationship, then you also need to get rid of the idea of ranks, instructors, chief instructors, responsibility, obligations, manners, and dojo. A dojo is built on relationships. They are nothing without the people. A building or gym is not a dojo. It is the people and the relationships among them. If you wish to just practice aikido without the sempai/kohai relationship, then all you have is a club, not a dojo. And the person who should be instructing is the one who owns the club. Once you have that, all you have is another commercial venture (though I am not against commercial ventures - they are not dojos).

Rock

Rocky Izumi
08-24-2009, 07:20 PM
P.S.
Depending on the Sensei and the Dojo, the Sempai/Kohai relationship will differ. In some it will be very Westernized, others very Japanese. In some it will be abusive, and in others it will be very nurturing. It is the people of the Dojo who will determine what the relationships will be like and the Sensei who will determine the type of people that are attracted to the Dojo.

Rock

Charles Hill
08-24-2009, 08:01 PM
Hi Rock,

Can you explain the difference between a Westernized Sempai/Kohai relationship and a Japanese one?

Thanks,
Charles

Ron Tisdale
08-25-2009, 07:23 AM
Hey Rock! Good to see you posting! Thanks for contributing.

My comments in this thread have been mis-characterized several times. I have not said that the sempai/kohai relationship should be gotten rid of. What I've repeated is that I am not comfortable with certain abuses that are part of the tradition, and that I'm not sure that the practice translates well to societies outside of Japan. So I am cautious about applying the term here in the states.

Again, my own instructor is Japanese, and our tests invovle Japanese language from 3rd kyu on. But, I don't remember the terms sempai/kohai being used in his dojo. And I think (I can only guess, but maybe I'll specifically ask him sometime) the reasons may be the same reservations that I have mentioned here, at least in part.

So to be clear, I am *not* advocating getting rid of something. In fact, in terms of the cultural context that sempai/kohai exists in in Japan, once taken outside of that country, I'm not sure it really exists in any case, so I'm not sure that there *is* anything to "get rid of". Except for a weakened, mostly symbolic artifact, in many, if not most, cases.

This is one of those cases where I question the need for the Japanese terms, given how different the context is. But of course, as always, I reserve the right to be entirely wrong. I too would be interested in how you describe how the relationship works in the many dojo you've lead outside of Japan.

Best,
Ron

gdandscompserv
08-25-2009, 04:08 PM
A couple articles of interest;
http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20040508td.html

What about the sempai (senior) and kohai (junior) system in martial arts? (http://www.bullshido.net/forums/showthread.php?t=77377&page=2)
These are other terms we donĄt really use in Shindo Yoshin-ryu. They are terms more common to modern martial arts. These concepts are actually more recent and used as a tool for the enforcement of discipline within a large group of conscripted military personnel. In karate dojos with military-like discipline, this system is often strictly enforced to the point of cruelty. I even see the sempai-kohai system enforced to an unhealthy level in some aikido dojos. In the military, it may be a positive thing to make the chain of command obvious and assure a cohesive group mentality, but remember that samurai were not a conscripted army. The group dynamic of a samurai clan was very different from that of a modern army. The same is true for a bujutsu dojo‹it is not the army. Do we need this sort of system in the dojo? Not my dojo! I do not need to bark, "Osu" at my students or wish them to respond with group shouts. This is not really useful in a true bujutsu dojo. The training and responsibility of students is much more personalized. Is there obvious seniority in the Takamura-ha bujutsu dojo? Yes and no. We have no rank and no specific uniform that demonstrates seniority. No one is asked to do any task that I or other teachers do not perform often ourselves. We do line up in the dojo according to experience and issue licenses. If you attend one of our dojos you will quickly figure out who is senior and who is junior without the instructor barking orders at anyone or watching who cleans the toilet. Barking orders at enlisted men in the military may serve some positive purpose, but I train students to be thinking leaders and not ardent followers.

Janet Rosen
08-25-2009, 04:37 PM
A dojo is built on relationships. They are nothing without the people. A building or gym is not a dojo. It is the people and the relationships among them. If you wish to just practice aikido without the sempai/kohai relationship, then all you have is a club, not a dojo.

Thank you, that is so well said.

Rob Watson
08-25-2009, 05:10 PM
I might get into trouble for this one ....

When my senior does something and they know better then I call them 'sempai'. Otherwise I just use their name. It don't happen often.

When my juniors do the same I just smile, kohai don't know no better. Sometimes a minor correction is appropriate. Usually just shaking my head is sufficient.

Rocky Izumi
08-25-2009, 08:26 PM
There is no such thing as Western versus Eastern Sempai/Kohai relationship since each Sempai/Kohai relationship is individual and unique. I simply used the terms to point out that you make of the relationship that which you wish to make of it. However, there must be a personal relationship of some kind if there is to be a Dojo. Even in Japan, each Sempai/Kohai relationship differs. There are numerous books and films in Japan based on the storyline of a unique Sempai/Kohai relationship. Please don't make more of this than there is in Japanese mythology. All it means is that there is a hierarchical relationship between two people. That hierarchy may not even be fixed because one person might be Sempai in one situation, then Kohai in another. Learning to deal with this flexibly is one of the issues for study in the martial arts. For instance, how do you respond when the instructor assigned to you is just a teenager and you are a full grown adult. Do you fight the relationship because you Sempai is younger than you or do you pay attention and get what is offered because the Sempai knows more than you? I would often get one of the more advanced youth practitioners in my Dojos to teach the adult class to see how everyone would react. You should be willing to accept any source of training if that source is competent and not worry about things like rank or age. Sometimes a person of a lower rank may be much better at something than other higher ranked people.

Rock

Chuck Clark
08-25-2009, 09:44 PM
Rocky, It's good to see you posting again... I trust all is well with you and your work. I think this subject of sempai/kouhai is one that is widely misunderstood. Lots of folks that I hear talking about it seem to only have heard stories about university, military, or company hazing incidents, etc. Of course, there's much more to it as you have written about very well.

best regards,

Rocky Izumi
08-26-2009, 02:16 PM
Thanks Chuck,

Just sitting at the Toronto airport waiting to check in and find my wife who flew in from Regina. Got back from doing the Jamaica seminar yesterday and headed out to do the England seminar this weekend before heading back to Kuwait. The Jamaica seminar went well considering we had a visit from the In-coming Ambassador from Japan to Jamaica. We had to hustle to get the Dojo ready for Yamaguchi-sama and his wife, set up security, clean the street, and teach the students the correct etiquette.

Part of the problem we had in getting things done perfectly was the lack of a strong Sempai/Kohai relationship in the Dojo. I see the relationship as one of responsibility and without a clear-cut set of relationships, some responsibilities for managing certain things for the visit and demo fell between the cracks and Kiyoshi Payne and I had to fill in those cracks ourselves.

When it comes to a situation such as the visit of a high-ranked dignitary to the Dojo, no mistakes can be allowed. In those cases, the Sempai/Kohai relationship becomes critical for ensuring messages are passed on, responsibilities assigned, and checks are done to ensure things are ship-shape. The Sempai/Kohai relationship helps by providing a structure for getting things done.

To provide a bit more background on this, I am attaching an old piece I wrote for one of my Dojos way back:
*******************************************
Sempai and Kohai

The term Sempai can be translated to be something like a mentor. The Sempai is a senior student who takes another junior student under their wing, helping them progress, stay out of trouble, learn the ropes around the dojo, teaches them special lessons, disciplines them, and makes sure that the junior student is on the right path. The junior student is then the Kohai of that senior student. The Sempai-Kohai relationship is a special personal one that each must accept willingly. The relationship never ends even if the Kohai may someday attain a higher ranking than the Sempai. The Sempai may not even be a higher rank than the Kohai. However, the Sempai will always have been at the Dojo longer than the Kohai. Only by being at the Dojo for a longer time, does the Sempai understand all the things that go on in the Dojo. The Sempai will know the moods of the Sensei better and have a better idea of things that must be done in the Dojo and how those things should be done.

All students in the Dojo should have a Sempai except for the Dai-Sempai who is the top student and has been there the longest. The Dai-Sempai only has the Sensei to look after him or her. All students in the Dojo should also have a Kohai, except for the newest student who has no one below them.

The Dai-Sempai has almost as much responsibility for the Dojo as the Sensei. Whether it functions well or falls apart is all on the head of the Dai-Sempai. He or she is the glue that holds the Dojo together. He or she is responsible for carrying out the wishes of the Sensei, making sure things are done the way Sensei wants and making sure all things are done, period. He or she is the one who handles overall discipline in the Dojo. He or she is the one who translates the wishes of Sensei into action. It is the most difficult position in the Dojo since he or she will be the brunt of all of Sensei's anger and displeasure at what is going on in the Dojo. If the Sensei is away, the Dai-Sempai is responsible for making sure the Dojo continues operating as Sensei wishes. It is not a pleasant position and should be taken only by those students who are committed to improving quickly in Aikido and are interested in becoming a Sensei at some time. Their whole life must become the Dojo and Sensei's welfare.

The Sempai-Kohai relationship does not happen automatically. This would be dangerous since not everyone makes a good Sempai or Kohai to each other. The two must be able to develop a special relationship of understanding and trust. Thus, there will be people with no Sempai or Kohai in the Dojo, even though this should not happen.

Being a Sempai is not easy. It involves a lot of responsibility. If Kohai is not feeling well or is in some sort of trouble, Sempai should look after them, even if it is outside the Dojo. Being a Kohai is not easy. It involves a lot of trust of the Sempai and means helping Sempai do their duties in the Dojo like maintenance, doing the books, taking care of Sensei, or taking care of other students. Some popular Sempai may have several Kohai but each Kohai will have only one special Sempai.

The Sempai-Kohai relationship helps the Dojo and the students in several ways. Often, Sensei will only show a technique once. Sempai is responsible for teaching Kohai if they are unsure about the technique (this should be done outside the Dojo practice time). This aids the Sensei in teaching the students and gives the Kohai a one-on-one lesson that may be more helpful (this is the time that Sempai should do the talking to the Kohai, not in the Dojo during practice time). It helps in the discipline of the Dojo as Sempai can explain to the Kohai if they have done something wrong (again, this should be done by everyone except the Dai-Sempai outside the Dojo practice time).

This also teaches Sempai how to become a Dai-Sempai and sometime later, a Sensei. It also helps the Sempai by providing them with someone who can help them in doing their Dojo duties. It teaches Sempai how to teach and keep discipline. It helps Sempai practice their teaching, directing, and how to get people to do what they want. It even gives Sempai extra practice, working with their Kohai.

In response, Kohai must listen to Sempai and do things the way Sempai directs.

The Sempai-Kohai relationship is integral to the function of a Dojo. If the majority of students do not develop a Sempai-Kohai relationship, the Dojo will fall apart since Sensei cannot do everything nor look after the Dojo by himself. Look to develop a Sempai-Kohai relationship but be careful who you choose for a Sempai or Kohai. It is a life-long relationship and should not be entered into casually.

15/06/03

gdandscompserv
08-26-2009, 11:17 PM
Part of the problem we had in getting things done perfectly was the lack of a strong Sempai/Kohai relationship in the Dojo.
Ya see Rock, that's what we been trying to tell ya. It just doesn't work well outside of Japan.;)

Peter Goldsbury
08-27-2009, 12:25 AM
Thanks Chuck,

Part of the problem we had in getting things done perfectly was the lack of a strong Sempai/Kohai relationship in the Dojo. I see the relationship as one of responsibility and without a clear-cut set of relationships, some responsibilities for managing certain things for the visit and demo fell between the cracks and Kiyoshi Payne and I had to fill in those cracks ourselves.

When it comes to a situation such as the visit of a high-ranked dignitary to the Dojo, no mistakes can be allowed. In those cases, the Sempai/Kohai relationship becomes critical for ensuring messages are passed on, responsibilities assigned, and checks are done to ensure things are ship-shape. The Sempai/Kohai relationship helps by providing a structure for getting things done.

15/06/03

Hello Rocky,

Well, here in Hiroshima, we have managed visits from high-ranking visitors with no problems and we do not have a clear cut sempai/kohai system in place. I think you can put in place an efficient framework for running the dojo without such a system.

Of course, our Japanese students might informally regard themselves as sempai or kohai, but I myself doubt it. The atmosphere of our dojo is quite different from that of the aikido club in Hiroshima University's Taiikukai, where sempai expect to be addressed as such. I suspect that the dead weight of Taiikukai tradition has an effect in maintaining the system--and in putting off increasing numbers of students from joining the club. So some of these students come to us, where they can have good training, but without all the sempai/kohai baggage that comes with it.

Best wishes,

PAG

Ron Tisdale
08-27-2009, 07:37 AM
I can also say that things tend to run very well at the Doshinkan without direct reference to those terms as well, and we host internationally known instructors quite often. But then, as our instructor is Japanese, he let's us know what we need to know far in advance.

Best,
Ron

gdandscompserv
08-27-2009, 03:12 PM
I can also say that things tend to run very well at the Doshinkan without direct reference to those terms as well, and we host internationally known instructors quite often. But then, as our instructor is Japanese, he let's us know what we need to know far in advance.

Best,
Ron
Ron,
Are you suggesting American instructor's wouldn't let you know what you need to know far in advance?;)
Ricky

Ron Tisdale
08-27-2009, 03:26 PM
Hi Ricky, I'm suggesting that *some* american instructors might not be as aware of some of the "rules". I'm not an instructor, but I know that there's quite a bit I don't know, and probably a lot I don't know I don't know... ;)

I guess my point was that there is a Japanese instructor who doesn't seem to lean on those titles/terms, and who does host people, and yet there aren't issues with who does what. People just step up...and if some need prodding, it's usually provided by one of the "most senior" students or the instructor himself.

Best,
Ron (prodding always gently applied, of course :eek:)

Rocky Izumi
09-07-2009, 10:12 AM
Ya see Rock, that's what we been trying to tell ya. It just doesn't work well outside of Japan.;)

Actually,. it has worked very well in all the Dojos in which I taught. The Dojo which I was referring to above, I am not the Sensei. I am just the visiting Chief Instructor for that federation (WIAF). The lack of a strong Sempai/Kohai relationship to which I refer is due to the fact that the Dojo is shared with a Karate Dojo and the relationships get mixed upn between the people through the separation of arts. As far as the Aikido people in the WIAF go, they performed marvelously and got everything done that they had to. They have a strong Sempai/Kohai relationship. The problems occurred due to confusion as to who was responsible for what, what things one group could do without the asking permission of the other group, and who to ask about getting certain things done. Because of the lack of a strong organization in the Karate side, some things went haywire. The Karate teacher is very good but his organization is structured strictly around himself without a Sempai/Kohai structure around that. As such, when he was not there, the other Karate students could not answer questions nor say who was in charge. Therefore, some things could not get done.

Overall, the Jamaica seminar, demonstrations, and formal presentations went very well. Much better than anyone ever expected. We were able to cover our deficiencies and perform in a was that the flaws were not evident. However, I knew they were there. I guess I expect perfection in these matters.

Well, the point is that in my experience, the strong Sempai/Kohai structure I create in my Dojos by making everyone responsible for their own Kohai, seems to have worked very well. Yes, situations have arisen where someone did not care for their Kohai well enough and that Kohai had to go to the Dai-Sempai to get a problem resolved. However, hardly any problem ever had to come up to me to be resolved. Only things which even the Dai-Sempai could not resolve came to me. So I think it worked very well. It let people know their responsibilities and made sure people were looked after, and it made sure that my time was spent largely on instruction rather than looking after things in the Dojo.

The nature of the relationship can be very formal, very relaxed, abusive, caring, one-dimensional, or multi-facetted. It is up to the people who create it. As Peter says, at his Dojo, there is a very informal relationship which does not work like most other Sempai/Kohai systems in Japan. However, Peter, you cannot dispute that there is a relationship among the members of the Dojo and that there is a hierarchy among the relationships. In that sense, there is a Sempai/Kohai system in your Dojo, even though it is not like the one that everyone imagines as being typically Japanese. Maybe I shouldn't use the term Sempai/Kohai System since I don't use it in this very limited fashion. Perhaps I should say a hierarchical system of interpersonal relationships based on a hierarchical pattern of mutual responsibility and authority which is governed by the hierarchical structure within the Dojo based on either technical, social, and/or age differences. However, that is just too long for me and the Sempai/Kohai relationship works easier.

Rock