View Full Version : Adressing someone as Sensei?

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10-07-2011, 01:25 AM
my dojo hasn't been around for too long so most of the students are mudansha. I've been asked by Sensei to teach the class now and then so the students may be getting the feeling that I'm something like assistant professor..:p and when they found out that we're going to take the shodan exam next January,(there'll be about 5 people taking the exam) they started asking whether they should address us as Sensei:eek: if we passed the exam.. because even though there're only 2 other yudansha other than Sensei, they're also being adressed as Sensei even though they're not official instructor (one of them is the dojo's administrator, the other one is the branch dojo cho)..

when do you guys start addressing other people as Sensei? in a mudansha-populated dojo, do you address all yudansha in your dojo as Sensei or sempai? I feel that being a Sensei puts a very heavy burden on my back and somehow it makes us more distant...:( what do you think?

Pauliina Lievonen
10-07-2011, 01:42 AM
In our dojo, the basiic rule is that whoever bows in facing the rest of the class is called sensei during that class. Off the mat everyone is called by their name, even our teacher.

But I think this is something your teacher gets to decide. His dojo, his rules.


Tim Ruijs
10-07-2011, 02:05 AM
The way I understand it is that a teacher cannot call himself sensei or want others to call him that. Titles in Japanese culture are often relative (e.g. sempai kohei). I believe the translation is something like born before the other. In relation to teacher student, one might think of more experienced than the other.
But that does not mean that anyone more experienced than you is your sensei.

Janet Rosen
10-07-2011, 02:44 AM
Gee, I just thought it meant "teacher" regardless of the field of endeavor.

Tim Ruijs
10-07-2011, 03:03 AM
Gee, I just thought it meant "teacher" regardless of the field of endeavor.

Doctors, advocates, politicians can be called sensei too. So teacher would be a tad weird. It is a person that knows more than you and you show respect to.

10-07-2011, 04:42 AM
At my first dojo the head instructor was the only Sensei, and I certainly was not him.

At my current dojo, its acceptable to address any Yudansha as Sensei.

Ask what is the etiquette in your dojo/organization.

Always be respectful and accept respect (even if you are uncomfortable with it).

Peter Goldsbury
10-07-2011, 05:48 AM
In Japanese, translations of compound words do not necessarily equal the translation of individual characters that make up the word. So, the fact that 先生 is composed of these two characters, each of which is used separately and has a wide range of meanings, does not mean that the meaning of 先生 is the sum of these meanings.

If you look in Masuda's Japanese-English Dictionary under Sensei, the first meaning you will come to is 'teacher'. I have been living here for 30+ years and I am called Sensei by my pupils and neighbors. This is not because I am a doctor or politician or lawyer, but because I am a teacher. I know that my neighbors refer to me as Hirodai no Sensei: and they mean the teacher from Hiroshima University.

Of course, the word is also used as a title, but this is a separate matter from the meaning of the word. Of course, I am called Sensei by my Japanese students when I teach in my dojo, as I am by my Japanese students when I teach my university classes. The use of the Japanese term in a dojo in Indonesia is probably governed by cultural factors. Few of my Dutch students use the word during my aikido classes in the Netherlands, but some senior students believe the term should be used. I myself do not mind either way.

Best wishes,

P Goldsbury

There is more discussion here: http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19973

Lyle Laizure
10-09-2011, 08:29 PM
I and a couple of my students took a Japanese language class some time back. We called the teacher "sensei." During one of the classes one of my students referred to me as sensei and that prompted a brief discussion about what we do and so on. The Japanese teacher explained that the term "sensei" was used for doctors, lawyers etc. It is a common term we use for teacher and I imagine it is the same in Japan now days as well. But as she explained the term "sensei" actually means a master of a particular field. So, depending on how you wish to interpret this it could mean that you would call a doctor, lawyer, a martial arts instructor "sensei" because that person has mastered their field or at the very least knows a lot more than you. But this can be said of someone that has trained for several years and not yet achieved their actually compared to someone that has only been training for a few months. But then why do we use the terms sempai and kohai. Personally, I feel that all too often we see the actually as a end point or goal that should lead to some enlightenment when in fact it is just the beginning of a never ending journey. If your sensei no longer has anything to offer you is he still your sensei?

10-09-2011, 11:08 PM
At my first dojo the head instructor was the only Sensei, and I certainly was not him.

At my current dojo, its acceptable to address any Yudansha as Sensei.

Ask what is the etiquette in your dojo/organization.

Always be respectful and accept respect (even if you are uncomfortable with it).

I had a similar experience. At my current dojo, anyone who teaches is Sensei. At my first dojo, only the head instructor.

I thank whatever benevolent spirit kept me from correcting the first student who called me Sensei, but being addressed that way still makes me twitch.


Garth Jones
10-10-2011, 02:01 PM
Some of my students call me sensei. I don't stop them but I really prefer that they just call me by my name. Any visiting instructor is 'sensei' on the mat, however.....

10-10-2011, 10:20 PM
There is a guy at my job who constantly calls me sensei....I find it mildly annoying...

The fellow in the post above me... yeah sometimes I call him sensei. Mostly when I need to get his attention in a busy class or to indicate to someone new who is the fellow in charge. The rest of the time I call him Garth.

I like that about our dojo. The teachers are just fellow students who are much further along the path. I think it makes it a lot easier to feel good about approaching them to ask questions or ask for help. There is no barrier there but there is also no doubt at all as to who makes the decisions and in in charge of things.

I often see questions asked here on the forums, and I wonder why it is they didn't ask their teacher. I wonder if the title sensei has something to do with it. Maybe they feel that their question is too small and unimportant for someone with such a "title "?

10-11-2011, 08:20 AM
My sensei once told me about a guy who trained briefly at the dojo, who habitually called all men "Bud". He called sensei "Sensei Bud", no lie.

Diana Frese
10-11-2011, 08:40 AM
not to be irreverent, but a side reason for calling the Japanese teachers who came over sensei, was because many of their first names were too hard to pronounce anyway.... many of three or four syllables....:D

Seriously, when a senpai was teaching a class (we didn't know the word senpai back then, at least I don't remember hearing it) sometimes he would be called sensei for the duration of the class, usually just at the end with domo arigato gozaimashita sensei being the most common way in which a senior student would be called sensei when teaching a class.

By the way, gradually women were accepted as senpais teaching but that is another thread either from the past or someone starting a new one...

P.S. that is a cool story, Mary. I will remember it and pass it on to my old friends who do or have done Aikido:)

Diana Frese
10-11-2011, 08:52 AM
Thanks, Cherie, for putting that into words that also applies to our old dojo. The first name basis for senpais helped us to get advice and lots of direct instruction from them. The membership was relatively few back then but the senpais were a great help in addition to Yamada Sensei .... with our learning process and ability to progress and enjoy aikido .... kind of like a school of fish where we could get into the swim .... we got corrections, but every class was enjoyable and with lots of movement while learning....

(nostalgia strikes again)

Same with other dojos I was at....

Richard Stevens
10-11-2011, 12:16 PM
When I was in elementary/middle school in Japan I referred to my school teachers as kyoshi and martial arts instructor (Shotokan) as sensei. However, that was a long time ago so I may be misremembering.

I've always found it awkward referring to foreign (non-Japanese) instructors as sensei. My current instructor doesn't require it so I don't use it.

Andrew S
10-11-2011, 03:46 PM
At the dojo I trained at in Australia, no-one was "sensei" unitl they reached 5th dan. Sugano Sensei's rules.

10-18-2011, 09:18 PM
Here it's also just the dojo heads who are "sensei", and we're not formal enough to use "sempai". But there are differences depending on context: the yudansha who run the kids classes are "sensei" to the kids and "-san" to the rest of us. I think the yudansha who go teach at the colleges may also be "sensei" in that venue.