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Lost and confused
10-29-2009, 02:36 PM
My husband and I started aikido on the same day. It just so happened that another guy ďTomĒ started the same day as us. My husband and I both know that everyone who started before us is our sempai. When it comes to work with my husband or Tom, I always grab them first. I donít have a particular reason as to why I grab them first, but I feel more comfortable doing this. My husband has a lot more martial arts experience then I do (though we both have trained for quite some time- and this is partly why I grab him first). Since my husband works nights, I have been attending class more often then him and have over 30 hours more then him. Tom hasnít been in class too much and probably has less then 30 hours then my husband. Now, despite the hours of training, I still grab my husband and Tom first.

My husband and I started doing iaido several months ago. I have always allowed my husband to sit to my right when we line up at the beginning and end of class. Several months after we started, Tom started. Sensei had him line up to my left. Again, because I am able to train more, I have more hours then my husband. Because of this, he isnít too familiar with the forms. Last night during iaido we were doing paired kata for a change. Sensei told me at one point to partner up with my hubby. Since I was closer to the wall/ open spot then my husband, I ran to the other side of the dojo to get there so we werenít holding up sensei and the other yudansha. Little did I know I had just committed an error in judgment. Sensei corrected me and told me to let my husband have that spot and for me to go back where I was. He explained that though my ukemi was better, he had a better understanding of weapons and he was my sempai. He told me that I had to realize that there are differences and to realize where I stand.

Needless to say, I felt quite small at that point due to my ignorance. I had never thought I was higher then my husband and I seriously didnít mean to do anything that suggested I was. Despite the fact that I have more hours, I have always thought that he was senior to me in aikido and I just assumed that we were equals (though I let him sit to my right and do the technique first) when it came to iaido. Due to what sensei said, obviously, I am not his sempai, which is okay since I was treating him as my sempai anyway.

At the end of class I asked sensei if I could ask him a question about etiquette. I asked if the sempai was supposed to be on the same side of the dojo as sensei. He responded, not always. Sometimes it doesnít matter what side the sempai is on, but sometimes it does matter. He told me that my husband was clearly my sempai in both aikido and iaido. I walked out of the dojo feeling overly confused and havenít been able to stop thinking about it.

My question is, what determines a sempai versus kohai. Is it time? If so then that means everyone before you will always be your sempai, even if you go up and pass them in rank. Is it rank? If so, then if someone passes you in rank, they become your sempai and you revert back to kohai. Is it ability? If so, then those lower then you who happen to be more gifted in something would be your sempai in some circumstances. Does previous experience come into play at all (whether it is aikido or another style)? Does age get put in the equation? If so, then my husband would always be sempai because he is significantly older then I am.

Can someone be your sempai in one thing and your kohai in another? For instance, I take iaido and am more familiar with the sword. In aikido we also do a lot of work with the bokken. I sometimes work with a 5th kyu (Iím a 6th) kyu, who is my sempai. However, he isnít too familiar with the bokken because he doesnít attend the weapons class that often and he doesn't take iaido. Does that mean because I am more experienced with the bokken that I am sempai for that moment? Apparently, sensei does not treat them as separate classes and the sempai/ kohai relationship can spill over into the other class. Does that mean if someone who is my sempai in aikido comes into iaido that I must move down the line and treat them as my sempai in iaido as well?

As you can see, I have a lot of questions and I donít think they will all be answered. I also think that each dojo will have different views on this. Some places may be more cut and dry about this relationship, while other places may be a bit more complicated. The bottom line is I donít really care who is sempai and who is kohai. If sensei says my husband is sempai, he is sempai. All I care about is doing what is asked of me. I donít want to step on anyoneís toes and I donít want to offend anyone. I have a better understanding for those who are clearly higher or lower then me. It is people of the same rank and the fine line between different areas that confuses me.

Voitokas
10-29-2009, 03:14 PM
What does one say? I think that your sensei's ideas about sempai/kohai are not the norm. Frankly, your sensei sounds like kind of an ass, but if you like that sensei and that dojo, I guess the easiest thing is to just assume that everyone is your sempai... Normally (as far as I understand), it's time, then rank and age, and skill has nothing to do with it. But, obviously, it would be inappropriate to give your sensei a lecture on the matter... Good Luck!

Ron Tisdale
10-29-2009, 03:35 PM
These kind of discussions just...don't do it for me anymore. Nothing against you, your sensei, his school, what ever...I guess I'm just jaded.

At the bottom of this page you will see links to several similar threads. I think they'll make for interesting if not good reading, and you'll definitely see a variety of opinions. This kind of question came up fairly recently, and if you search on sempai and or kohai you should find that thread as well.

Personally, I tend to stay away from these terms...too much cultural baggage for me. But you simply don't always have that luxury. And others (some much more educated in the art and the culture than I am) will tell you it is necessary.

Best,
Ron

Lost & Confused
10-29-2009, 05:14 PM
I had read a few of those threads and they just don't quite answer my questions. Like I said, I have no problem being kohai. I just would like to know the minor details so I don't mess up again. Maybe from now on to be on the safe side, I should just treat everyone like sempai, even if they did start the exact same day as me....

Josh Reyer
10-29-2009, 05:24 PM
My question is, what determines a sempai versus kohai. Is it time? If so then that means everyone before you will always be your sempai, even if you go up and pass them in rank. Is it rank? If so, then if someone passes you in rank, they become your sempai and you revert back to kohai. Is it ability? If so, then those lower then you who happen to be more gifted in something would be your sempai in some circumstances. Does previous experience come into play at all (whether it is aikido or another style)? Does age get put in the equation? If so, then my husband would always be sempai because he is significantly older then I am.

Can someone be your sempai in one thing and your kohai in another? For instance, I take iaido and am more familiar with the sword. In aikido we also do a lot of work with the bokken. I sometimes work with a 5th kyu (I'm a 6th) kyu, who is my sempai. However, he isn't too familiar with the bokken because he doesn't attend the weapons class that often and he doesn't take iaido. Does that mean because I am more experienced with the bokken that I am sempai for that moment? Apparently, sensei does not treat them as separate classes and the sempai/ kohai relationship can spill over into the other class. Does that mean if someone who is my sempai in aikido comes into iaido that I must move down the line and treat them as my sempai in iaido as well?Sempai-kohai is a relationship of seniority. As such, it never changes. Someone who starts the day before you is (technically) always your sempai, no matter how you change in rank and/or actual skill level. One can be a sempai in one thing (having started earlier than the other person) and kohai in another (having started later than the other person in that thing), but in the case of a single dojo teaching both aikido and iaido, sempai would be determined by who joined the dojo first.

All that said, it sounds like your sensei doesn't have a particularly nuanced understanding of the concept. In Japan, in an adult dojo, sempai-kohai relationships aren't particularly salient, compared to rank or actual ability.

Lost & Confused
10-29-2009, 05:55 PM
Thanks for the help. That makes it a bit more simplistic for me. My sensei studied with Chiba Sensei, Sato Sensei and at Hombu at different points along his training. So, maybe it is my interpretation of what he is saying that is also adding to my own confusion.... I truly appreciate your help!

Buck
10-30-2009, 05:59 PM
I say FWIW, look at the old Sumo traditions for the model of Sempai, Kohai thing and what it is all about.

But ummm...it seems different people put different twists on it. I have say, I was told the same thing as Josh wrote. I think this is a complicated situation, but what I was told and practiced is each class is different and thus follows what Josh said about who starts first. In one class your Kohai, but in the other your Sempai, and it stays that way.

It is I think the S/K relationship and model is a very difficult thingy in martial arts. The is similarities to a page and a knight (if that helps) and yet it is something different in societies outside Japan. Because the way the Japanese do it, they have their own rules and protocol and stuff which isn't widely known. There is, I am told, variations even in that depending on the art. S/K relationship is complicated practiced as intended.

I am saying I'd go with Josh on this one if that helps. :)

zenman67
10-31-2009, 09:53 AM
I have Studied Aikido now for 24 years and our School is traditional.
I have allways considered that rank shows knowledge and should be respected. As far as to when someone started i have studied with some Black belts that show no respect for the Harmony or knoweledge that someone has. Just remember the reason why O-Sensie taught Aikido; was to bring peace and Harmony to ones-self as well as with others.

David Maidment
10-31-2009, 10:06 AM
With absolutely no disrespect to your sensei or others who share the same view, I'm not sure I agree with that stance on the issue. It just doesn't seem practical.

No one in our dojo ever uses the words 'sempai' or 'kohai', but the roles do exist. We seem to treat it more as a combination of experience and [perhaps more importantly] sincerity.

There are some people who helped me when I started who fulfilled the role of sempai, and now my ability has meant that I've effectively become their sempai.

But, like I said, it's not at all stressed or implied in our dojo, but if you sit down and look at it there is sometimes a sempai/kohai thing going on.

Moreover, I agree with Ron -- the terms are too loaded. It'd be far easier to just train :)

heathererandolph
10-31-2009, 01:08 PM
I think it is sort of a moot point whether a 6th Kyu person is sr. to another 6th Kyu person because you both know very little in the scheme of things. Are you not allowed to train with other people or it is your preference to work with these people? I think it advisable to train with people who outrank you if possible. Generally, the highest ranking person should be your goal. Hours of training is important but also the quality of your learning experience. That will also avoid the question of who is sr. to whom.
What I'm used to is the person who outranks you is sr. and therefore you always attack them first. That may vary in your dojo to hours of training being first but whatever is used to determine senority. The jr. person may know more about the particular technique, etc... but the jr. person always attacks first and gives instruction if asked. The Sensei is expected to come around to the various pairs and to give advice as needed.
If you can focus on your own training, that is best because it is so easy to get caught up in trying to teach one's partner and who knows more about what rather than learning for oneself.

Lost & Confused
10-31-2009, 07:13 PM
I think it is sort of a moot point whether a 6th Kyu person is sr. to another 6th Kyu person because you both know very little in the scheme of things. Are you not allowed to train with other people or it is your preference to work with these people?

We are allowed to train with other people and I often train with yudansha or 1st kyu students. When that happens, of course I attack first. Sometimes though, I work with other 6th kyu's like me. I usually attack them first as well, just because.....

This came up because I accidently assumed a spot next to sensei when my and my husband were working together. Like I said before, we both started on the same day.... but evidently sensei has determined that he is my sempai. I would just like to know how this determination is made so I don't mess up when working with other students of my rank.

I have no problem being the low person on the totem pole. That doesn't bother me a bit. Messing up when it comes to etiquette on the other hand.... that I don't like.

Josh Reyer
10-31-2009, 08:53 PM
This came up because I accidently assumed a spot next to sensei when my and my husband were working together. Like I said before, we both started on the same day.... but evidently sensei has determined that he is my sempai. I would just like to know how this determination is made so I don't mess up when working with other students of my rank.The determination seems arbitrary and weird. If you started on the same day, your husband simply isn't your sempai.

Linda Eskin
10-31-2009, 09:21 PM
It does seem really weird. Unless there was some little detail involved like your husband walked in the door first when you originally signed up. The way I understand it, sempai are people who started at your dojo before you did. Rank and skill have nothing to do with it. There's a word for someone who started the same day (neither sempai nor kohai), but I can't think of what it is. I had one of those - guy who started the same night I did, but he quit after a short while.

Carl Thompson
10-31-2009, 10:30 PM
There's a word for someone who started the same day (neither sempai nor kohai), but I can't think of what it is.

Dohai, but as it seems in this instance that sempai and kohai are not well understood, I hesitate to volunteer another term.

Peter Goldsbury
10-31-2009, 10:37 PM
I have become increasingly wary of making contributions to threads like this, for kohai / sempai seem to have a different usage in the US from what they have in Japan. I have been living here for a long time and I have direct experience of how the terms are used in Japan, especially in a large university, a Japanese company, or an organization like the Aikikai. The usage is nuanced, but quite specific and clear. Two persons who entered an organization at the same time are dohai or dokyusei. Judged purely on these grounds, neither can be sempai / kohai to each other. If the distinction is to be made, it must be made on other grounds, which do not relate to how the terms are used here.

Best wishes,

Linda Eskin
10-31-2009, 10:45 PM
Thank you Peter. That (dohai) was the word I was thinking of. I thought it was pretty cool that I had one. Kinda bummed that he quit.

Lost & Confused
10-31-2009, 11:21 PM
Thanks for the help everyone. Maybe he is basing it on my husband's previous (though long ago) aikido experience. Who knows. I will just tread carefully and since I have two dohai, I will just make sure they attack first to prevent any other confusion on my part.

Darryl Cowens
11-01-2009, 02:22 AM
Hmmm... funny, in my club we usually just line up where we feel like it. I have noticed usually a yudansha lines up on the far right, but I can't recall if that is always the case.

I have never even heard the terms sempai or kohai used in the dojo, let alone anyone addressed as such. In fact I can probably only count a handful of times I have ever heard our Sensei addressed as 'Sensei'... and even then, that was by a yudansha, possibly in an effort to encourage dojo protocol.

I can understand why all these protocols and traditions are in place, but (as one who is very new to MA) isn't there a risk of getting caught up in it too much? By all means line up according to dan and kyu grade, but when people are quarrelling over who sits where out of 10 6th kyus that might be present one night, you gotta wonder how they get any training done?

My very novice and uneducted 1.5c worth...

Voitokas
11-01-2009, 10:29 AM
Yeah, lining up and who attacks whom are the least important things, since they're the trappings rather than the substance of the relationship - and they seem to have to do more with rank (especially if they are actually spoken of or enforced) than with any kind of sempai-kohai relationship.

I am no expert on any culture; however, it seems like, in mistaking some of the traditional behaviours that arise from a sempai-kohai relationship, people mistake the reflection for the root.. That is to say, people think "it's the rule for kohai to be uke first and that is one way of defining the relationship", where really a student with kohai-feeling would be looking to their sempai for instruction in a technique and a student with sempai-feeling would be making sure that their kohai was up-to-speed by interpreting sensei's technique for them. None of it would be a rule, or be spoken - but kohai would generally attack first (and if kohai thought he understood better, he would still attack first to avoid presumption) every time. To look at that and say "this is a rule that you follow to be kohai" seems like missing the whole point.

Lost & Confused
11-01-2009, 05:00 PM
Just to clear something up, we do not line up at the beginning or end of class according to rank. We just sit wherever we want. It is only when we are partnering that sensei wants the lower ranked person to attack first.

seank
11-01-2009, 07:45 PM
We have a relatively informal sempai/kohai relationship but it certainly does exist even without the use of names. As the senior student at our dojo, I usually tell my junior students that they will eventually gain an understanding of where they stand and who should attack first.

That said, the lines are not always clear-cut.

I took a class last week that included a student who started several years before me, but due to a stop-start approach to his training and long absences in between training I am yudansha and he is still a mid-level kyu grade.

I certainly consider myself to be senior in terms of ability and understanding (I've also trained for nearly 25 years in other martial arts apart from Aikido whereas this student has only studied Aikido), but am not so hung up on the concept to try and force this student to conform to a notion of sempai/kohai.

When we train at our national schools or special days of training there are certain people that I have no problems whatsoever in deferring to as their understanding eclipses my own, but those same people are probably the last ones to try and enforce the sempai/kohai relationship.

Personally I wouldn't get too worried about the notional relationship and simply concentrate on the training. It is true that you can learn from anyone and everyone and that the idea of someone being senior to you simply means they are in a different part of the same path - it hardly matters whether they are in front, beside or behind you, you are all pushing toward the same end.

Lost & Confused
11-02-2009, 01:25 PM
It is true that you can learn from anyone and everyone and that the idea of someone being senior to you simply means they are in a different part of the same path - it hardly matters whether they are in front, beside or behind you, you are all pushing toward the same end.

I like that. :)

MikeLogan
11-02-2009, 07:57 PM
I like that. :)

I like it too, until I meet people that have nothing to learn from me. These are usually people that no one else likes, but they are put up with, like my previous boss (who I left as blissfully ignorant as I found him).

michael

ninjaqutie
11-02-2009, 11:16 PM
I was reading one of my books today by Dave Lowry and he had a short essay about it. He said it is pretty cut and dry about those starting before being sempai and those after being kohai regardless of time, experience and rank. HOWEVER, he did mention that there are minute details that can change things (though he didn't go into detail about what those are)

Josh Reyer
11-03-2009, 08:59 AM
I was reading one of my books today by Dave Lowry and he had a short essay about it. He said it is pretty cut and dry about those starting before being sempai and those after being kohai regardless of time, experience and rank. HOWEVER, he did mention that there are minute details that can change things (though he didn't go into detail about what those are)Nothing can change sempai-kohai. However, saying Person A is sempai and Person B is kohai doesn't say much at all beyond who started earlier. The relationship between sempai and kohai can be as varied as relationships between any two people. It all depends on the time, place, and occasion.

Basia Halliop
11-03-2009, 01:50 PM
It sounds like your sensei has some very specific preferences for etiquette. I think your best bet is just to ask him directly after class one day, (or even in an email depending how you feel comfortable), if he can clarify some of these things for you. If you're uncomfortable with that or keep finding his answers unclear, a friendly senior student in the dojo is also a possibility.

But since etiquette preferences can vary from teacher to teacher and dojo to dojo, I don't think asking people outside the dojo will do as much good as going to the source.

E.g., I've trained about five years and gone to a number of seminars with a number of different teachers and students from different dojos, and I had never even _heard_ of the existence of any rule about which side of the dojo someone stands on when practicing a technique. Other than safety related ones like 'throw away from other people'.

Keith Larman
11-03-2009, 03:13 PM
FWIW, years ago when I joined my current dojo I remember sensei clapping and everyone sitting down. I stood back to see what they did -- totally random placement. Lined up, but yudansha mixed with mudansha. No order. Just sit. So I sat on one end.

When sensei said "practice" we paired up with whoever bowed to you first. Gokyu or godan, it didn't matter. I loved it.

Nowadays I make a point when I'm taking a class to go find the newer students and sit next to them. So they don't feel quite so nervous when I bow to them when we're supposed to practice.

Yes, I still know who are my sempai. And who are kohai. But it is mostly a irrelevant detail day-to-day.

There are always customs/rituals/etiquette in every context. But sometimes we in the west try so hard to emulate what we think is right we end up taking things to an absurd level.

Lots of good posts in this thread explaining what sempai/dohai/kohai means. "When in Rome..." as the old saying goes is still of course relevant. But I always wonder when I see people who take it to the extremes. Seems too much attention paid to appearances and not enough on the good stuff that's supposed to be inside all that stuff...

Lost & Confused
11-03-2009, 03:54 PM
As far as the higher ranker on the one side of the dojo goes, it isn't always that way. We were doing partnered forms with thw swords and whoever was next to sensei would be doing the same thing as him and the other two people on the other side of the dojo would be doing the other half. Evidently, by me going and standing next to sensei, that put me in the sempai spot because they were defending and the person on the other side would be attacking shomen. I get just about everything except sempai and kohai for people of the same rank... it is a bit confusing!

Peter Goldsbury
11-03-2009, 04:53 PM
As far as the higher ranker on the one side of the dojo goes, it isn't always that way. We were doing partnered forms with thw swords and whoever was next to sensei would be doing the same thing as him and the other two people on the other side of the dojo would be doing the other half. Evidently, by me going and standing next to sensei, that put me in the sempai spot because they were defending and the person on the other side would be attacking shomen. I get just about everything except sempai and kohai for people of the same rank... it is a bit confusing!

And from the discussion above, you also should have got that the sempai / kohai relationship does not extend to having 'spots' in the dojo when you do paired weapon practice. When I teach the 31-jo awase, it is easier initially to split the dojo members into two groups, with one side of the dojo doing uchi and the other side doing uke. However, the persons standing closest to me do not thereby become sempai to the other members. They might indeed be sempai, but they will be sempai for other reasons.

Having seen this and other similar discussions on Aikiweb, I have the impression that some teachers / dojos outside Japan invest more into the concept of sempai/kohai than we do here. I am not stating that this is wrong--just pointing out the difference. Dave Lowry has been mentioned above and in his book In the Dojo, he has a discussion on sempai/kohai pp.168-173. But he also includes another, separate discussion, on the roles of defender and attacker in the dojo. The entire chapter (Chapter 12, The Student), is worth reading. Lowry is very careful in this chapter, but he occasionally states things that do not quite square with my own experience here. It is not that he is inaccurate; simply that even in different arts / dojos, there are some aspects that are emphasized more than others.

Lost & Confused
11-03-2009, 05:58 PM
I will have to look into that. And my husband isn't just my sempai with swords, sensei considers him my sempai...period. I guess I just won't get it and I think asking how it works would be rude.

Needless to say, I have really appreciated everyone's imput. The different views have been pretty helpful. I have gotten some interesting thoughts as well as some things that I could look into reading now.

Thanks everyone

Peter Goldsbury
11-03-2009, 06:09 PM
I will have to look into that. And my husband isn't just my sempai with swords, sensei considers him my sempai...period. I guess I just won't get it and I think asking how it works would be rude.

Needless to say, I have really appreciated everyone's imput. The different views have been pretty helpful. I have gotten some interesting thoughts as well as some things that I could look into reading now.

Thanks everyone

And your sensei is not Japanese, but trained with K Chiba and at the Hombu, right? Well, I did the same thing, but had probably the advantage of being able to discuss with him issues such as this face to face.

This might be hard for you to accept, but discussing such topics in a forum like this, with people who do not know your sensei from Adam, occasionally puts people in the position of having to accept what their sensei says, along with the realization that he or she can be wrong.

Best wishes,

Josh Reyer
11-03-2009, 09:09 PM
I will have to look into that. And my husband isn't just my sempai with swords, sensei considers him my sempai...period. I guess I just won't get it and I think asking how it works would be rude.
Your sensei is importing a culturally specific social convention into a foreign environment. It is not inappropriate to ask him to explain it, or at least his interpretation of it, to you in detail. In fact, it's his responsibility to do so. To not do so invites, well, loss and confusion.

Your sensei may have a misunderstanding about sempai-kohai. Or maybe he understands quite well but has not adequately explained his understanding to you. As Professor Goldsbury suggests, he might be wrong. OTOH, it's his dojo to order as he pleases. Or maybe he simply has the mistaken impression that your husband started earlier than you. In any event, he is bound to give more useful answers than we can here. I strongly recommend you broach the matter with him directly, and I doubt it will be a problem. If it is a problem, perhaps you should reconsider your place of training.

Lost & Confused
11-04-2009, 11:37 AM
Thanks again everyone. Maybe I can talk to him about it after class sometime. He is a pretty laid back person and I think he would answer my question. I just don't want him to think that I think I am better then my husband or something and that I am challenging him. I guess that is my biggest worry. You are right though, I will never know unless I ask!

Ron Tisdale
11-04-2009, 04:56 PM
This very discussion is why I think this custom should be left...

In Japan.

Best,
Ron

Rennis Buchner
11-05-2009, 07:08 AM
This very discussion is why I think this custom should be left...

In Japan.


But then we'd have to find something else to split hairs about....:crazy:

Brett Charvat
11-05-2009, 11:01 AM
Maybe, but I hate to blame the custom for some Westerners' inability and/or unwillingness to understand it.

Basia Halliop
11-05-2009, 11:31 AM
I think in discussions about etiquette (whether it's Japanese etiquette or any other kind of etiquette) a fact that often seems to get oddly neglected is that etiquette is a common language of rituals and signals that people use to interact and _communicate_ various things like, e.g., respect or insult or more subtle things like helpfulness or authority. Since by definition things that are 'etiquette' _aren't_ things that simply come from logical deduction, i.e., from ethical necessity or practical necessity, their entire use and purpose comes from the fact that they're a common language that both members in an exchange understand.

Trying to use rules of etiquette when both parties haven't established a shared language renders the whole exercise meaningless...

gdandscompserv
11-05-2009, 08:31 PM
It was a little bit weird for me at Okinawa Aikikai, where I had been absent from for ten years, to have them treat me as sempai.:o

NEVER beyond Reproach
11-06-2009, 04:03 PM
"I will have to look into that. And my husband isn't just my sempai with swords, sensei considers him my sempai...period. I guess I just won't get it and I think asking how it works would be rude."

First and foremost, it is not rude to ask your sensei to explain himself if you don't understand something. It is never rude to ask your sensei a question. You should at all times feel comfortable to ask your Sensei any question. But, it is a matter of how you approach it. Don't approach him on the mat about it. Rather, ask him off the mat without other students around or paying much attention. Ask him in a way of gaining understanding.

I would harbor to guess the reasons he considers your husband your sempai despite you both starting aikido in that dojo at the same time:
1) As you stated, your husband has previously practiced aikido.
2) Your husband might be older than you even by a few months.
3) Your sensei sees your husband as more skilled or picking up aikido faster (Some sensei/schools do attribute sempai/kohai relationship to skill rather than the time you entered the dojo.)
4) Your sensei thinks the husband/male is always higher "in rank" than the wife/woman.