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Chris Evans
09-03-2012, 11:41 AM
At what Dan grade is an aikidoka referred to as sensei? Is this a universal understanding within all aikido political groups?

odudog
09-03-2012, 11:53 AM
Sensei has nothing to do with the dan grade. It has all to do with the role of responsibility taken on. One can be a 5th dan and still not be a sensei.

john.burn
09-03-2012, 11:53 AM
At what Dan grade is an aikidoka referred to as sensei? Is this a universal understanding within all aikido political groups?

With my dojo, whoever happens to be teaching is called sensei, but only whilst on the mat. Once off, or, once someone else teaches something then you're back to a mere mortal :).

I'm going the change that though and get em to call me by my first name, I'm not Japanese after all.

oisin bourke
09-03-2012, 12:44 PM
With my dojo, whoever happens to be teaching is called sensei, but only whilst on the mat. Once off, or, once someone else teaches something then you're back to a mere mortal :).

I'm going the change that though and get em to call me by my first name, I'm not Japanese after all.

I think you're right. It feels appropriate in Japan, but it doesn't sit right in English speaking countries. IMO, anyway.

Dave de Vos
09-03-2012, 01:06 PM
We address the teacher by their first name, even when they are teaching. It's an aikikai dojo with teachers ranking up to 6 dan.

My son's aikido teacher is also addressed by his first name. It's an aikibudo / yoseikan dojo and the teacher is a 3 dan if I'm correct.

Tom Verhoeven
09-03-2012, 04:21 PM
How would you address the head-trainer of your footbalteam; with "coach" or "trainer" or with his first name?
How about your physician, would you say doctor or use the first name?
Or the teacher at the university; "professor" or his first name?
Or your priest; "father" or his first name?
Your instructor in fencing; "maitre" or his first name?
How about your father? "Dad" or first name?

Tom

Mary Eastland
09-03-2012, 04:42 PM
I had to think...I would call them all by their first name except for my dad and I would call my mom, mom too.

Hellis
09-03-2012, 05:26 PM
When Kenshiro Abbe Sensei introduced Aikido to Britain in 1955 it was his teaching that once a student reached Shodan he/ she would be referred to as Sensei - I consider if that was the wish of my teacher, then I have no wish to change his teachings - This method still continues in the `Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido` after 55 years - I am sure that it will continue as such once I am gone.

Henry Ellis
Co-author `Positive Aikido`
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/

Tom Verhoeven
09-03-2012, 05:47 PM
How about the queen of England? Would you call her Liz?
How would you address the president of the USA? Mr. President?
How would you address the prime minister of a foreign country?
Or the dalai lama? Or the pope? Would you use "his holiness" or call him by his first name?

Tom

Tom Verhoeven
09-03-2012, 06:00 PM
When Kenshiro Abbe Sensei introduced Aikido to Britain in 1955 it was his teaching that once a student reached Shodan he/ she would be referred to as Sensei - I consider if that was the wish of my teacher, then I have no wish to change his teachings - This method still continues in the `Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido` after 55 years - I am sure that it will continue as such once I am gone.

Henry Ellis
Co-author `Positive Aikido`
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/

That is quite exceptional. Did he ever give a reason for doing this? Is it because he had a need for instructors on a rather short term in order to spread Aikido?

As a contrast, I remember that Ken Cottier (7th dan Aikikai Hombu shihan) never liked to be addressed with sensei - not in the dojo and certainly not outside the dojo.

Tom

Hellis
09-03-2012, 06:15 PM
That is quite exceptional. Did he ever give a reason for doing this? Is it because he had a need for instructors on a rather short term in order to spread Aikido?

As a contrast, I remember that Ken Cottier (7th dan Aikikai Hombu shihan) never liked to be addressed with sensei - not in the dojo and certainly not outside the dojo.

Tom

It was Abbe Sensei's teaching - It never changed. - students were referred to as Mr or Ms.
If anyone came in my dojo using first names they would be out quicker than they came in.

I remember teaching Ken Cottier when he was beginner in Liverpool. He was a Judoka with Fred Wainwright Sensei - Ken didn't have any problems with calling myself and Ken Williams Sensei each time we visited.
I always liked Ken Cottier and invited him as a guest to the `Kenshiro Abbe Memorial Event` in 2005 at Crystal Palace - London.

Henry Ellis
Co-author `Positive Aikido`
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/

Adam Huss
09-03-2012, 06:51 PM
In our group, 'sensei' is a teaching title, the first one, as well as a generic term for "teacher" (or rather 'born first'). We teach that one does not generally become a true sensei until sandan...though for practicality reasons we really don't hold to that these days. For us any yudansha that is teaching can be called 'sensei,' but those who do not teach regularly are not necessarily promoted beyond sandan or yondan as there isn't much of a reason at that point.

Personally, I only like calling my personal teachers 'sensei' as it holds special meaning to me. Also, I feel uncomfortable when others address me as sensei.

Janet Rosen
09-03-2012, 07:12 PM
It means teacher. I routinely call other teachers "teach" or my physicians "doc" - it helps to be middle aged I suppose - meanwhile in the dojo I follow and have no problem with the etiquette that on the mat whoever is teaching/leading at the moment gets the honorific during the class while I address MY teacher + anybody else I place in that category as "sensei" to their face anytime I'm in a dojo.

Mary Eastland
09-03-2012, 07:19 PM
How about the queen of England? Would you call her Liz?
How would you address the president of the USA? Mr. President?
How would you address the prime minister of a foreign country?
Or the dalai lama? Or the pope? Would you use "his holiness" or call him by his first name?

Tom

Why would I not call her Liz or Elizabeth if she prefers? I think Barak is a fine name.Why would I call the pope his holiness?

Carsten Möllering
09-03-2012, 11:56 PM
... then you're back to a mere mortal
sensei is not an esoteric title or something like that, isn't it?
Isn't it just the japanese word for teacher? It's used in elementary school aswell as in the dojo. So there is nothing holy or royal or immortal or whatever in it.
We use this address with Japanese teachers. Or sometimes with teachers who lived in Japan for a while. But when it's used, it's used on an off the tatami.

Dave de Vos
09-04-2012, 12:07 AM
How would you address the head-trainer of your footbalteam; with "coach" or "trainer" or with his first name?
How about your physician, would you say doctor or use the first name?
Or the teacher at the university; "professor" or his first name?
Or your priest; "father" or his first name?
Your instructor in fencing; "maitre" or his first name?
How about your father? "Dad" or first name?

Tom

How about the queen of England? Would you call her Liz?
How would you address the president of the USA? Mr. President?
How would you address the prime minister of a foreign country?
Or the dalai lama? Or the pope? Would you use "his holiness" or call him by his first name?

Tom

It depends on how well I'd know the person and on what they prefer.

With people I don't know well and people older than me, I would use Mr. / Mrs. (+ their last name) and if etiquette requires a more specific honorific, I'll use that: in the karate dojo it was explained that different ranks had different titles, 3 dan and 4 dan was called sensei (sempai for 2 kyu to 2 dan and shihan for 5 dan and up). Outside class, we'd adress them by their first name.

If I know people a little better and if they want to be addressed by their first name, I'll use that.

It just happens to be that the Dutch aikido teachers that I know, prefer first name only.

oisin bourke
09-04-2012, 01:59 AM
I think the term implies a type of relationship with one's instructor. I think Ellis Amdur coined the phrase "at once intimate and distant". It certainly makes sense in a Japanese cultural context and I would certainly use the term for Japanese instructors, but even this is flexible.

For example, I would refer to my Shakuhachi teacher as "xxx Sensei" when addressing him in public (in relation to shakuhachi activities), but I always addressed as "xxx San" outside of that context because it "felt" right. I always referred to my martial Arts instructor as "xxx Sensei".

Chris Li
09-04-2012, 02:54 AM
When I'm in Japan, speaking to Japanese people in Japanese, I don't expect to be called "Mr." - why would I expect to be called by a Japanese title when I'm in the US, speaking English with non-Japanese?

Of course, there are cultural considerations - around here you call most folks by their first name. It's different in Japan - but, then, we're not in Japan are we?

As to the meaning of "sensei" - it denotes exactly zero about qualifications or credentials, it's simply the description of a societal role.

In Japan you usually call someone by their societal role as the first choice, last name as the second choice, and first name as the last choice.

But, for most of the people in this discussion, we're not in Japan, we're not Japanese, and we're not speaking Japanese - most of us don't even have the ability to speak Japanese.

Different culture, different place, different language, different customs. It seems kind of silly to me to insist on importing random Japanese customs that really have no purpose outside of the context of their culture.

Best,

Chris

Eva Antonia
09-04-2012, 03:23 AM
Hello,

in Germany we have this stupid differentiation with "Sie" and "Frau X", or we can say "Du" and "Eva", and the horrid thing is you never know which one is appropriate. There are lots of people insisting on the formal addressing, feeling that it's a lack of respect or imposing inappropriate intimacy if you use the informal one, and others who feel exactly the opposite. I still couldn't get used to "Sie" after being a German for 44 years, and if someone calls me "Frau Röben" I probably wouldn't answer because I wouldn't think he meant me - I'm Eva. But then when I'm in Germany I always try to address people in the way I assume they would like to hear being addressed. Why offend people with such a simple thing? So if I ever would meet the queen of England I'd probably say whatever she expects (no need for such a meeting), and if I meet my sensei I say his first name because that's how he likes to hear it. I'd rather use "sensei" for talking ABOUT a teacher, not to him - expect that's how the custom is in his dojo.

But when I'm teaching classes at the university, I'd never expect my students to address me formally, and this has nothing to do with laxness, I still expect them to work and to make some efforts to pass their exams. If ever I'd get to the level to teach aikido, it would be the same.

All the best,

Eva

Pauliina Lievonen
09-04-2012, 03:31 AM
Different culture, different place, different language, different customs. It seems kind of silly to me to insist on importing random Japanese customs that really have no purpose outside of the context of their culture.I won't insist. :) But in our dojo we do also wear funny clothes, bow in, and greet each other in the beginning and end of class in Japanese. Our basic rule (not followed very strictly) is that whoever teaches that night is called sensei. Doesn't feel any odder than those other random customs we follow, to me.

kvaak
Pauliina

john.burn
09-04-2012, 05:21 AM
sensei is not an esoteric title or something like that, isn't it?
Isn't it just the japanese word for teacher? It's used in elementary school aswell as in the dojo. So there is nothing holy or royal or immortal or whatever in it.
We use this address with Japanese teachers. Or sometimes with teachers who lived in Japan for a while. But when it's used, it's used on an off the tatami.

That was a tongue in cheek comment! And yes, it's just a word for teacher and I only use the term sensei 24/7 to Japanese teachers.

oisin bourke
09-04-2012, 07:20 AM
I won't insist. :) But in our dojo we do also wear funny clothes, bow in, and greet each other in the beginning and end of class in Japanese. Our basic rule (not followed very strictly) is that whoever teaches that night is called sensei. Doesn't feel any odder than those other random customs we follow, to me.

kvaak
Pauliina

I wouldn't regard any of the above mentioned as random customs. They are all part very important part of the training IMO. So is training under a "sensei".However, training under a "sensei" and all that entails, is very hard (although by no means impossible) outside of Japan because of the cultural references. If it"s just a title of address, you could call your instructor anything, surely?

phitruong
09-04-2012, 09:09 AM
forget the sensei title. what i want is the "Great Grand Master" title. much more impressive. :D

Tom Verhoeven
09-04-2012, 09:42 AM
It was Abbe Sensei's teaching - It never changed. - students were referred to as Mr or Ms.
If anyone came in my dojo using first names they would be out quicker than they came in.

I remember teaching Ken Cottier when he was beginner in Liverpool. He was a Judoka with Fred Wainwright Sensei - Ken didn't have any problems with calling myself and Ken Williams Sensei each time we visited.
I always liked Ken Cottier and invited him as a guest to the `Kenshiro Abbe Memorial Event` in 2005 at Crystal Palace - London.

Henry Ellis
Co-author `Positive Aikido`
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/

Thank you for your reply!

Exactly as I remember Ken Cottier - polite and even formal towards other people. He had no problem whatsoever addressing Aikido instructors as sensei. But as for himself he never insisted on it.

By calling the students Mr. and Ms, Abbe sensei followed in effect the same custom as in Japan, where everyone is addressed with family name and "san".
Of course this Japanese kind of formal politeness was not much different then the European culture of that time (fifties?).

But European culture has changed dramatically and it shows its effect on the Aikido dojo..
I was wondering if you would be willing to share some of your thoughts on this?

If I understand it correctly students and teachers are still addressed in the same formal way in your dojo? How about the teachers that have been educated in your dojo - are they less formal?.

kind regards,

Tom

Tom Verhoeven
09-04-2012, 09:49 AM
forget the sensei title. what i want is the "Great Grand Master" title. much more impressive. :D

Please do not be modest - "great important immortal professor doctor honorable grand magister" seems more appropriate! :)

Tom.

Tom Verhoeven
09-04-2012, 09:55 AM
Hello,

in Germany we have this stupid differentiation with "Sie" and "Frau X", or we can say "Du" and "Eva", and the horrid thing is you never know which one is appropriate. There are lots of people insisting on the formal addressing, feeling that it's a lack of respect or imposing inappropriate intimacy if you use the informal one, and others who feel exactly the opposite. I still couldn't get used to "Sie" after being a German for 44 years, and if someone calls me "Frau Röben" I probably wouldn't answer because I wouldn't think he meant me - I'm Eva.

Eva

But is this not the same in lanquages like Dutch and French?
It is in modern English that we do not use these different ways of addressing someone, many if not most languages do.

Tom

Hellis
09-04-2012, 10:07 AM
Thank you for your reply!

Exactly as I remember Ken Cottier - polite and even formal towards other people. He had no problem whatsoever addressing Aikido instructors as sensei. But as for himself he never insisted on it.

By calling the students Mr. and Ms, Abbe sensei followed in effect the same custom as in Japan, where everyone is addressed with family name and "san".
Of course this Japanese kind of formal politeness was not much different then the European culture of that time (fifties?).

But European culture has changed dramatically and it shows its effect on the Aikido dojo..
I was wondering if you would be willing to share some of your thoughts on this?

If I understand it correctly students and teachers are still addressed in the same formal way in your dojo? How about the teachers that have been educated in your dojo - are they less formal?.

kind regards,

Tom

Tom

Ken Cottier - When I first met Ken he was just another beginner in those early days - The reason I remembered him more than anyone else at that time, he was such a very funny guy - he could impersonate Kenshiro Abbe's voice to perfection - he could also make the sound of a underground train entering and leaving the station, complete with doors opening and shutting. funny what we remember about people :) ( RIP )

In the ESTA dan grades new and old are taught the old traditional style, Derek Eastman and I have not changed our ways, so the students naturally follow. The reason I left Judo to join the first Aikido group was because of the positive power of the Aikido I saw then, I took one look and knew that was what I wanted.
The 1950s was a very difficult time to offer anything that was Japanese - we were all living on war rations until 1957 - Both Derek and I worked with ex-Japanese and German prisoners of war - so the very mention of Judo or Aikido would often lead to unpleasant situations.

Do you know my good friend Gijs Schouten in Holland ?

Henry Ellis
Co-author `Positive Aikido`
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/

Tom Verhoeven
09-04-2012, 10:19 AM
Why would I not call her Liz or Elizabeth if she prefers? I think Barak is a fine name.Why would I call the pope his holiness?

Good question. But it is a question that is of this time and age. Things are changing. There is nothing wrong with change in itself, change is natural. But we should at times wonder if a change in culture is also an improvement and what the thought behind the change is. Was there something wrong with addressing people in a polite formal way, something that needed fixing?

Tom.

ryback
09-04-2012, 10:22 AM
In the same way that we bow,we wear Gi and Hakama,we say "Ikkyo" instead of
"first immobilization" and "kote gaeshi" instead of "the turning of the wrist", the term Sensei is an inseparable part of a dojo's protocol and it should not be neglected because discipline and respect is part of Aikido training.For that reason,in my opinion, it is not out of context even in a non-japanese dojo.Steven Seagal sensei once said that once someone a sensei, you refer to him as sensei whether he is on or off the mats.In our dojo we call sensei only the head instructor of the school and not every senior student who will take the Kamiza for a lesson...I think it is not a matter of rank, one should be considered a sensei when he runs his own dojo.

Chris Li
09-04-2012, 10:48 AM
In the same way that we bow,we wear Gi and Hakama,we say "Ikkyo" instead of
"first immobilization" and "kote gaeshi" instead of "the turning of the wrist", the term Sensei is an inseparable part of a dojo's protocol and it should not be neglected because discipline and respect is part of Aikido training.For that reason,in my opinion, it is not out of context even in a non-japanese dojo.Steven Seagal sensei once said that once someone a sensei, you refer to him as sensei whether he is on or off the mats.In our dojo we call sensei only the head instructor of the school and not every senior student who will take the Kamiza for a lesson...I think it is not a matter of rank, one should be considered a sensei when he runs his own dojo.

Discipline and respect certainly aren't limited to the Japanese language.

Sometimes I wear the funny clothes - and sometimes I don't, and it doesn't seem to affect things very much one way or the other. They wear different funny clothes and use different words now then they did some years ago, even in Japan - things change, don't they?

Now, while we're at preserving the tradition - there's really no such word as "Gi" in Japanese. :D

Best,

Chris

Tom Verhoeven
09-04-2012, 10:51 AM
Tom

Ken Cottier - When I first met Ken he was just another beginner in those early days - The reason I remembered him more than anyone else at that time, he was such a very funny guy - he could impersonate Kenshiro Abbe's voice to perfection - he could also make the sound of a underground train entering and leaving the station, complete with doors opening and shutting. funny what we remember about people :) ( RIP )

In the ESTA dan grades new and old are taught the old traditional style, Derek Eastman and I have not changed our ways, so the students naturally follow. The reason I left Judo to join the first Aikido group was because of the positive power of the Aikido I saw then, I took one look and knew that was what I wanted.
The 1950s was a very difficult time to offer anything that was Japanese - we were all living on war rations until 1957 - Both Derek and I worked with ex-Japanese and German prisoners of war - so the very mention of Judo or Aikido would often lead to unpleasant situations.

Do you know my good friend Gijs Schouten in Holland ?

Henry Ellis
Co-author `Positive Aikido`
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/

Henry,

Thank you ever so much for sharing that memory with me - it brought tears to my eyes laughing! I did see Ken do his impersonations of Chiba sensei, but it is the first time I have heard about his impersonations of Abbe sensei!

I was in England on several occasions in the 1980s. Aikido by that time seemed quite popular. But the 1950s must have been difficult - had forgotten about those rations, it seems that that lasted longer in England then in the Netherlands - anti-everything-Japanese was common in the Netherlands as well.

Must have been difficult for Abbe sensei himself as well!.

I have not had the pleasure meeting Gijs Schouten - know the name though.
Did you visit the Netherlands for teaching a seminar?

Thank you for your kind response!

Tom

Hellis
09-04-2012, 11:19 AM
Henry,

Thank you ever so much for sharing that memory with me - it brought tears to my eyes laughing! I did see Ken do his impersonations of Chiba sensei, but it is the first time I have heard about his impersonations of Abbe sensei!

I was in England on several occasions in the 1980s. Aikido by that time seemed quite popular. But the 1950s must have been difficult - had forgotten about those rations, it seems that that lasted longer in England then in the Netherlands - anti-everything-Japanese was common in the Netherlands as well.

Must have been difficult for Abbe sensei himself as well!.

I have not had the pleasure meeting Gijs Schouten - know the name though.
Did you visit the Netherlands for teaching a seminar?

Thank you for your kind response!

Tom

Tom

By the 1980s Aikido was pretty well established in the UK - In the 1950s there was just the one dojo "The Hut Dojo" - We would visit Judo dojos to promote Aikido, as was the case with meeting Ken Cottier in Liverpool.
I remember making the trip to Devises Judo Club to take part in the first "Aikido Seminar" in the UK - We were teaching tough Judoka who had to be taken all the way to show that Aikido was effective - If we had asked them to fall down I am sure they would have thrown us out of the door. many of the early students of Aikido were converts as I was from Judo.

It was a tough time for Abbe Sensei as you say - My father had a back injury and could not walk at all - I advised him that I would bring Abbe Sensei to try some Katsu on him - my father was not too happy at this suggestion - he relented - Abbe Sensei had him back on his feet in less than five minutes. My father saw Abbe Sensei in a different light to what was the general image of the Japanese. My father even came to see me at the Royal Albert Hall in 1963 with Abbe Sensei - Nakazono - Noro - Michigami - Hamano - Otani.

I did visit my friend Gijs Schouten a few years ago to teach at a large celebration of Aikido in Holland.

Henry Ellis
Co-author `Positive Aikido`
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/

Walter Martindale
09-04-2012, 12:47 PM
I think it doesn't hurt to know and be able to do "reigi" in an aikido dojo. That said, it's up to the head of each dojo to set the tone.
We're practicing a Japanese martial art, wearing "angry white pajamas" practicing with a "bow" and sitting in "seiza" and, and, and...
Most of the dojo I've been in have referred to the sensei as such at the start and finish of the class, but during class it's been (in approximate order of appearance) Don, Mel, Kawahara Sensei, Rocky, Andrew, Takase Sensei, another Andrew, Masuda Sensei, Ichihashi Sensei, Bill, Phil, Kenji, Steve, Robb, Papu, the second Andrew again, Chris, Irene, Din, Terry, another Bill, and a few others whom I can't remember in Osaka, Hiroshima, Victoria BC, (oh, yeah, Scott, Hilary, Mike)...

On the rare occasions I've led an aikido class, the formalities were adhered to at the start and finish of the class, and during the session it was "Walter..."

On some other notes... As an undergrad I called the professors "Doctor ....." in post-graduate studies, Dr McKenzie (MD, PhD) became "Don", Dr. Robertson was "Gord", etc... During thesis defense it was "Doctor Robertson, McKenzie, etc., and then during beers afterwards it was back to first names.

Pope? If I ever meet up with one I'll probably mumble whatever the protocol requires but it's tough to call someone "holiness" if there are no such things as gods.

I coach for a living. When people call me "Coach" I reply with "My name is Walter, please use it." Most of the rowing community with which I've been involved works that way, but I haven't spent much coaching time in the USA.

The queen? Hmm. Since I'm not directly related, "your majesty" I suppose. I had occasion to speak to the GG of New Zealand once a few years back - I used "Sir" because I didn't know to use "Excellency" as were his staff. It's really awkward when you're not supposed to touch someone and you're trying to help him get a life jacket on...
Parents were "Mum" and "Dad"

Chris Evans
09-04-2012, 12:56 PM
OK, so not so specific in aikido organizations.
In Seido karate a "sensei" is a 4th Dan: That is all.
I see that in my aiki- dojo, we have a 4th Dan that's called "sensei" and a 6th Dan that is the "sensei."

Lyle Laizure
09-04-2012, 03:45 PM
sensei is not an esoteric title or something like that, isn't it?
Isn't it just the japanese word for teacher? It's used in elementary school aswell as in the dojo. So there is nothing holy or royal or immortal or whatever in it.
We use this address with Japanese teachers. Or sometimes with teachers who lived in Japan for a while. But when it's used, it's used on an off the tatami.

Far from being an expert on the Japanese language...I took a beginners Japnese class some time back and the teacher was a native Japanese lady. She said that "Sensei" referred to a master of a given trade. Though generically it can be used as "teacher" it really refers to someone who is a master at their craft. Using that definition I find it hard to believe that so many can be a sensei.

Chris Li
09-04-2012, 03:56 PM
Far from being an expert on the Japanese language...I took a beginners Japnese class some time back and the teacher was a native Japanese lady. She said that "Sensei" referred to a master of a given trade. Though generically it can be used as "teacher" it really refers to someone who is a master at their craft. Using that definition I find it hard to believe that so many can be a sensei.

In every day usage, anybody teaching anything is called "sensei", whether it be pottery or day care - or hip hop street breaking, whatever. Doctors and lawyers are also called "sensei".

Basically, it just means "teacher" - so it's used for anybody teaching because Japanese are anal about using titles to refer to people.

Depending upon where you are and the culture you live in, that may not be the case.

Best,

Chris

Rob Watson
09-04-2012, 07:44 PM
In every day usage, anybody teaching anything is called "sensei", whether it be pottery or day care - or hip hop street breaking, whatever. Doctors and lawyers are also called "sensei".

Basically, it just means "teacher" - so it's used for anybody teaching because Japanese are anal about using titles to refer to people.

Depending upon where you are and the culture you live in, that may not be the case.

Best,

Chris

Also can be used dismissively when one is seen to be acting beyond thier station ... like some 5 kyu shihans, etc.

Adam Huss
09-05-2012, 01:47 AM
I think the overuse of 'sensei' can sometimes lead to the diminishing of the senpai-kohai relationship. I feel like the leadership of senior mudansha, and junior yudansha, is very important to a healthy dojo. Of course, many aikido dojo are relatively small and can't really function with such distinctions...I get that. But I also feel like allowing these senpai to take positions of responsibility for the dojo, themselves, and junior students, is a great opportunity for growth as a persona as well as aikidoka. Some of the biggest influences in my life were my mentors (granted he was yondan at the time) in addition to my sensei.

I guess the correlation to the thread topic I am making is when a shodan or nidan are automatically pushed to a sensei status, that can kind of put a little too big a barrier between other students. There should definitely be a distinction, but I would hope the intimacy of a senpai-kohai relationship can still flourish, regardless of rank.

Chris Li
09-05-2012, 02:19 AM
I think the overuse of 'sensei' can sometimes lead to the diminishing of the senpai-kohai relationship. I feel like the leadership of senior mudansha, and junior yudansha, is very important to a healthy dojo. Of course, many aikido dojo are relatively small and can't really function with such distinctions...I get that. But I also feel like allowing these senpai to take positions of responsibility for the dojo, themselves, and junior students, is a great opportunity for growth as a persona as well as aikidoka. Some of the biggest influences in my life were my mentors (granted he was yondan at the time) in addition to my sensei.

I guess the correlation to the thread topic I am making is when a shodan or nidan are automatically pushed to a sensei status, that can kind of put a little too big a barrier between other students. There should definitely be a distinction, but I would hope the intimacy of a senpai-kohai relationship can still flourish, regardless of rank.

Of course, mentors exist in the West all the time - and without the sempai-kohai stuff.

Personally, it's been my experience that, in the long run, trying to transplant the sempai-kohai stuff out of Japanese culture causes more problems than any benefits you might get out of it.

Best,

Chris

oisin bourke
09-05-2012, 03:59 AM
Here's a great piece about the practice of gift giving in Japan, especially to one's sensei;

http://classicbudoka.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/68-orei-giving-thanks-or-sanctioned-bribery/

Tom Verhoeven
09-05-2012, 11:30 AM
Of course, mentors exist in the West all the time - and without the sempai-kohai stuff.

Personally, it's been my experience that, in the long run, trying to transplant the sempai-kohai stuff out of Japanese culture causes more problems than any benefits you might get out of it.

Best,

Chris

What do you think is the difference between the Japanese sempai - kohai structure with the western juniors - seniors in school or in companies?
If we look at the traditional western arts, how they are taught and structured then there does not seem to be much difference between Western way and Japanese way.

What kind of problems do you see with the sempai - kohai structure?

Tom

Tom Verhoeven
09-05-2012, 11:34 AM
Here's a great piece about the practice of gift giving in Japan, especially to one's sensei;

http://classicbudoka.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/68-orei-giving-thanks-or-sanctioned-bribery/

Nice article!
Most older civilisations had a gift-culture. Many modern societies still have this - Japan is one of them. In the West we have a what has become known as a debt-culture. Not much improve,emt there, I think.

Tom

Chris Li
09-05-2012, 11:58 AM
What do you think is the difference between the Japanese sempai - kohai structure with the western juniors - seniors in school or in companies?
If we look at the traditional western arts, how they are taught and structured then there does not seem to be much difference between Western way and Japanese way.

What kind of problems do you see with the sempai - kohai structure?

Tom

Well, it's much more rigidly structured and formal than anything you normally see in the US these days. Plus, you tend to exacerbate things when you give them "exotic" titles, and you get people here who are more Japanese than Japanese people in Japan.

The question is - why add an additional cultural layer, and what does it really get you?

Best,

Chris

Tom Verhoeven
09-05-2012, 12:20 PM
Far from being an expert on the Japanese language...I took a beginners Japnese class some time back and the teacher was a native Japanese lady. She said that "Sensei" referred to a master of a given trade. Though generically it can be used as "teacher" it really refers to someone who is a master at their craft. Using that definition I find it hard to believe that so many can be a sensei.

I fear the word "master of an art or trade" has lost much of its original value. Just about everybody seems to claim mastership of an art or trade. There is no longer a standard to reach for, many people seem quite early in their progression of any art satisfied with the level they have. In a similar way the word sensei and the relationship sensei - montei has lost much of its original meaning. Especially in Aikido - with the exception of the more traditional dojo. In particular the old ryuha have maintained much of its original meaning and purpose. Personally I prefer the old ways.

Tom

Tom Verhoeven
09-05-2012, 12:47 PM
Well, it's much more rigidly structured and formal than anything you normally see in the US these days. Plus, you tend to exacerbate things when you give them "exotic" titles, and you get people here who are more Japanese than Japanese people in Japan.

The question is - why add an additional cultural layer, and what does it really get you?

Best,

Chris

It certainly is more structured and formal. And that is exactly what I like about it. The down side is that just like a few decades ago in Europe things can become too rigid. It is however not as I experienced it, quite the opposite; a relaxed atmosphere seems to come naturally with a certain amount of formality.

You have stayed quite some time in Japan. Did you feel the formality and social structure as a constant hindrance?

Your second point is true enough and I have seen plenty of examples of this - but is this not also a matter of education and experience? It is a bit like thinking that every Dutchman wears wooden clogs (I do actually, but that is beside the point). Once someone has been in the Netherlands he knows better.

Your last point is of course an open question. It is up to each individual to answer this for him/herself.

Tom

Chris Li
09-05-2012, 01:16 PM
It certainly is more structured and formal. And that is exactly what I like about it. The down side is that just like a few decades ago in Europe things can become too rigid. It is however not as I experienced it, quite the opposite; a relaxed atmosphere seems to come naturally with a certain amount of formality.

You have stayed quite some time in Japan. Did you feel the formality and social structure as a constant hindrance?

In general, yes - it's not an entirely negative thing, but it's not for everbody - and it is different in many ways from what is usual in the US. Enough so that I'd question the desireability of imposing one random section of it into a foreign culture.

OTOH, I found dojo atmospheres - even in very traditional arts (and I trained in some of the oldest of the old) were much more relaxed than you find in US dojo - despite the extra rules, perhaps because it's a natural extension of the culture rather than a foreign imposition.


Your second point is true enough and I have seen plenty of examples of this - but is this not also a matter of education and experience? It is a bit like thinking that every Dutchman wears wooden clogs (I do actually, but that is beside the point). Once someone has been in the Netherlands he knows better.


True - but the percentage of folks with real Japan experience is very small, even among senior folks - hence the difficulties.

Best,

Chris

Gary David
09-05-2012, 01:37 PM
In James P Owen's book "Cowboy Ethics" one of the values he talks to is "Give allegiance and respect where they are deserved and returned"....... for me to call you Sensei and have meaning/value this has to be in play......otherwise it is just a title with an uncertain future.

as always
Gary

Tom Verhoeven
09-05-2012, 03:42 PM
In James P Owen's book "Cowboy Ethics" one of the values he talks to is "Give allegiance and respect where they are deserved and returned"....... for me to call you Sensei and have meaning/value this has to be in play......otherwise it is just a title with an uncertain future.

as always
Gary

And I agree wholeheartedly - especially with the emphasis on the last bit; "...otherwise it is just a title with an uncertain future."

Tom

Tom Verhoeven
09-05-2012, 04:05 PM
In general, yes - it's not an entirely negative thing, but it's not for everbody - and it is different in many ways from what is usual in the US. Enough so that I'd question the desireability of imposing one random section of it into a foreign culture.

OTOH, I found dojo atmospheres - even in very traditional arts (and I trained in some of the oldest of the old) were much more relaxed than you find in US dojo - despite the extra rules, perhaps because it's a natural extension of the culture rather than a foreign imposition.

True - but the percentage of folks with real Japan experience is very small, even among senior folks - hence the difficulties.

Best,

Chris

Sure, but city life is neither for everyone. Of course you have a point if we were talking about a random
part of the Japanese culture - but is kohai - sempai not an important if not necessary part of Aikido culture? And therefore more a matter of proper education?

Well, I agree with your second point.

As for your last point - that is regrettably true. Even worse, too many people did not even have a change to interact personally with Japanese teachers during seminars.

Tom .

Chris Li
09-05-2012, 04:28 PM
Sure, but city life is neither for everyone. Of course you have a point if we were talking about a random
part of the Japanese culture - but is kohai - sempai not an important if not necessary part of Aikido culture? And therefore more a matter of proper education?

Well...that's the thing. It's an important part of Japanese culture, and it has correspondingly become a part of Aikido culture.

But that doesn't necessarily mean it's important any more than we should be eating Natto and drinking green tea just because Doshu does (I recommend both, but that's just my personal preference).

The question is, why is it necessary and what are the drawbacks? Especially, what are the drawbacks of implanting it in a foreign culture, and are the benefits really worth it?

IMO - the early instructors coming out of Japan (Tamura, Tada, Chiba, Yamada, Kanai, etc.) had gotten most of their actual teaching experience in university clubs during the build up after the war.

University clubs are notorious for their sempai-kohai shenanigans, and much of that was brought with them out of Japan.The sempai-kohai system was a familiar method for young instructors to impose order in a foreign environment. It might have been different if things had developed more organically.

I also wouldn't discount the effect of pre-war militarism on the martial arts - evidenced in the difference between koryu and gendai practices.

Best,

Chris

graham christian
09-05-2012, 05:36 PM
In James P Owen's book "Cowboy Ethics" one of the values he talks to is "Give allegiance and respect where they are deserved and returned"....... for me to call you Sensei and have meaning/value this has to be in play......otherwise it is just a title with an uncertain future.

as always
Gary

Like:cool:

Peace.G.

Tom Verhoeven
09-05-2012, 06:12 PM
Well...that's the thing. It's an important part of Japanese culture, and it has correspondingly become a part of Aikido culture.

But that doesn't necessarily mean it's important any more than we should be eating Natto and drinking green tea just because Doshu does (I recommend both, but that's just my personal preference).

The question is, why is it necessary and what are the drawbacks? Especially, what are the drawbacks of implanting it in a foreign culture, and are the benefits really worth it?

IMO - the early instructors coming out of Japan (Tamura, Tada, Chiba, Yamada, Kanai, etc.) had gotten most of their actual teaching experience in university clubs during the build up after the war.

University clubs are notorious for their sempai-kohai shenanigans, and much of that was brought with them out of Japan.The sempai-kohai system was a familiar method for young instructors to impose order in a foreign environment. It might have been different if things had developed more organically.

I also wouldn't discount the effect of pre-war militarism on the martial arts - evidenced in the difference between koryu and gendai practices.

Best,

Chris

Na, the comparison with food and tea is over-simplifying the matter.

In the Western society we already have a junior-senior structure - but most people just do not seem to be aware of it. Perhaps because in daily life we no longer have it in a formal structure, but it is nevertheless there.

By practicing sempai - kohai structure (to me it is part of keiko) in the dojo one becomes conscious of it. And this may have a positive effect in the way we help and support one another.

I remember several training sessions by Tamura sensei were he explained sempai - kohai as a way to support each other. There was no emphasis on hierarchy as such. This can also be found in his books.

The problems that I have seen in a number of Aikido dojo were a result of NOT understanding sempai-kohai relation, and with that came often also a not understanding of the real relationship between teacher and student. Instead of a sempai-kohai structure they had an ordinary pecking order.

As far as the university shenanigans - don't you have them in the US as well? They do happen in the Netherlands, UK and France and they are usually between senior students and newcomers. And it has been like that for a long time.
It may or may not have had an effect on their teachings in the beginning, I am not aware of that.

I would not discount the effect of pre-war militarism either - I think it is important that everyone who practices Japanese Budo should educate themselves about the history and become also aware of the dark side of Budo.
At the same time I feel that in that period all over the world a lot of things that were in itself innocent and even good were stolen from us and misused.

Tom

Chris Li
09-05-2012, 06:43 PM
Na, the comparison with food and tea is over-simplifying the matter.

In the Western society we already have a junior-senior structure - but most people just do not seem to be aware of it. Perhaps because in daily life we no longer have it in a formal structure, but it is nevertheless there.

By practicing sempai - kohai structure (to me it is part of keiko) in the dojo one becomes conscious of it. And this may have a positive effect in the way we help and support one another.

I remember several training sessions by Tamura sensei were he explained sempai - kohai as a way to support each other. There was no emphasis on hierarchy as such. This can also be found in his books.

The problems that I have seen in a number of Aikido dojo were a result of NOT understanding sempai-kohai relation, and with that came often also a not understanding of the real relationship between teacher and student. Instead of a sempai-kohai structure they had an ordinary pecking order.

As far as the university shenanigans - don't you have them in the US as well? They do happen in the Netherlands, UK and France and they are usually between senior students and newcomers. And it has been like that for a long time.
It may or may not have had an effect on their teachings in the beginning, I am not aware of that.

I would not discount the effect of pre-war militarism either - I think it is important that everyone who practices Japanese Budo should educate themselves about the history and become also aware of the dark side of Budo.
At the same time I feel that in that period all over the world a lot of things that were in itself innocent and even good were stolen from us and misused.

Tom

There is "a" junior-senior" structure, but it is markedly different than the one in Japan.

In the same vein - there are shenanigans in US universities, but that doesn't mean that all shenanigans are the same.

Tamura's view is a little idealized, IMO - there is a definite heirarchy in many circumstances - and a whole lot of pecking order in Japan. Actually the record in Japan (and in Aikido, too) among Japanese is not that great. What do we get from importing that?

And if it already exists in western culture, then why do we have to impose another system that does the same thing?

Best,

Chris

Adam Huss
09-05-2012, 06:45 PM
Well, it's much more rigidly structured and formal than anything you normally see in the US these days. Plus, you tend to exacerbate things when you give them "exotic" titles, and you get people here who are more Japanese than Japanese people in Japan.

The question is - why add an additional cultural layer, and what does it really get you?

Best,

Chris

The fact that some terms and ideas do not directly translate to one's native language from Japanese (or other non-romance languages). You can oversimplify a term with an english word, but that often leads to a loss in translation. I know some people are afraid of being accused of being a Japanophile, but at the same time some ideas just don't hold the same symbolic meaning in english terms as they do in their native language.

Chris Li
09-05-2012, 06:51 PM
The fact that some terms and ideas do not directly translate to one's native language from Japanese (or other non-romance languages). You can oversimplify a term with an english word, but that often leads to a loss in translation. I know some people are afraid of being accused of being a Japanophile, but at the same time some ideas just don't hold the same symbolic meaning in english terms as they do in their native language.

That's true, as far as the terms themselves go. But what value do you get from changing your social model in order to understand those ideas - which are not Budo ideas, per se?

Are you saying that someone could not understand Aikido without going back to the Japanese mindset?

I've practiced in Japanese dojo in Japan, FWIW, that cared nothing for sempai-kohai.

Best,

Chris

Tom Verhoeven
09-06-2012, 08:09 AM
You definitely are more sceptical about the Japanese ways then I am !
So if we would not incorporate the original sensei -semai - kohai structure how do you envision the direction to go?

Tom

chillzATL
09-06-2012, 09:15 AM
The question is - why add an additional cultural layer, and what does it really get you?

Best,

Chris

Some people take the coach structure to odd extremes too, both as the coach and the student, so you can't really use that as a negative against one and not the other. Realistically, a lot of people come to the art for that touch of another culture and the atmosphere of discipline and respect that it conjures in our minds. I don't really see any negatives to it and it brings people to the art that probably wouldn't be there otherwise, which some might see as a negative, but I do not. This doesn't really apply to the more Japanese than the Japanese extreme though, but that is an extreme.

Peter Goldsbury
09-06-2012, 09:18 AM
You definitely are more sceptical about the Japanese ways then I am !
So if we would not incorporate the original sensei -semai - kohai structure how do you envision the direction to go?

Tom

Hello,

I think with these terms (sensei, sempai, kohai) it is not so much being skeptical as taking what you think you need and leaving the rest.

I have been living here for over thirty years and have developed my own intuitions about these terms, not from aikido training, but from being part of a large traditional Japanese organization like a national university. There all the terms are used and have their respective value, but the situations are very sharply defined. So you cannot have the terms without the context—the total context and you cannot focus on one aspect, like sempai helping kohai, and ignore the rest.

I have also been visiting the Netherlands on a regular basis for over thirty years to teach aikido. I have rarely heard any of the terms used, perhaps because I rarely use them myself, but also because they are not established as dojo terms. As others have mentioned, first names are regularly used and the addition of the title Sensei is very much the exception.

On the other hand, from the posts by Adam Huss, I can see that the terms are in frequent use in his own dojo and they have value there. It is not my place to pass any judgment about this. I merely state that the situation is quite different in the two dojos in Hiroshima where I am the senior instructor and it has always been different in the main dojo here, where I have trained since I came here and where the senior instructor has 8th dan rank. He is almost always referred to as Dojo-cho; Sensei is a title given to visiting shihans like Hiroshi Tada and sempai and kohai never used outside the university aikido clubs, where there is a very specific context.

So I tend to have a similar way of thinking as Chris Li (except that I do not think I am skeptical). As for envisaging a future direction, well, things work very well here. But things also seem to work very well for Mr Huss and probably for you as well.

Best wishes,

Chris Li
09-06-2012, 10:10 AM
You definitely are more sceptical about the Japanese ways then I am !
So if we would not incorporate the original sensei -semai - kohai structure how do you envision the direction to go?

Tom

There's really no one way to coach - or to teach anything, is there? Every culture and region has their own customs - and even people within those regions (depending on how fine-grained you want to get...). Why should it be any different - what does it get you?

Best,

Chris

john.burn
09-06-2012, 12:25 PM
When Kenshiro Abbe Sensei introduced Aikido to Britain in 1955 it was his teaching that once a student reached Shodan he/ she would be referred to as Sensei

Hi Henry,

I hope you're well. This explains something that I have always found very strange - all of the groups I've practiced with in the midlands that either are still, or were once connected to Ralph Reynolds organisation still do this. I always found it kind of uncomfortable, but at least I know where it came from.

Adam Huss
09-06-2012, 01:10 PM
Thanks for the input, Prof Goldsbury! It's always great to your take on all things Japanese given your profession and location.

I guess I should clarify that I place importance on the actual relationship between senior and junior students...more so than the terms used. I feel like the dojo cho is only one person and can not be at more than one place at a time...creating a situation where senior kyu and junior dan students can assist in that development of their juniors (as long as there is some level of consistency with instruction). Our dojo places some importance on delegating responsibility, which I think helps ones growth as a person and martial artist. Actually, it is the responsibility of the senior kyu in class to ring the bell, line everyone up, and bow everyone in/out at our school.

As it relates to the terminology discussed, I guess I just don't know a simpler english translation that encompasses the meaning some of the Japanese terms have for me. To me, saying a particular student is my kohai (which I don't actually use as a title, and say only rarely and usually as a reference) means I have a special relationship with him or her. Its someone that I've bonded with, and seek to train with and help both on and off the mat. Currently, I have what could be termed a kohai. I recently helped him purchase a uniform, lent books and dvds that I thought would be appropriate and related to him (based on my knowledge of him as a person), train one-on-one outside of class, etc... We also have discussions about philosophy, life, work, relationships, etc (which I learn quite a bit from him about). I am certain he has no knowledge of terms like kohai, but I don't know how else to describe that kind of relationship other than to say "aikido friend."

When I was an uchideshi I had, what I called, and still do, a 'mentor,' in addition to my sensei/dojo cho. This person I wanted as mentor because I liked his approach to training, techniques, and felt I could learn a lot from him as a person and his ability to apply his aikido training to everyday life. I never referred to him as my sempai, just sensei...though at the time I was something like a 2nd kyu - shodan and he was yondan. Similarly we trained after and before class on the mat, as well as quite a bit of training 'off the mat.'

So I guess I was commenting on the importance of having that relationship within the dojo rather than importance of using terms such as kohai, dohai, sempai, sensei, sewanin, tetsudai, etc... We pretty much just use sensei in our school, sometimes attached to first names and sometimes last names. I'm not really sure why...

Keith Larman
09-06-2012, 01:11 PM
Just as a fwiw... I sometimes use the sempai-kohai terminology with the kids in our kids program. But really not as any sort of strict "you must do this" sort of thing and certainly not with the depth of meaning it can often take on. As a matter of fact I don't use the terms very often. I'll just remind them that the students who have been there longer have some degree of responsibility in helping the newer ones. It's good for the kids in keeping them focused on their own behavior in class and helps build them up a bit, giving them a bit more confidence feeling they need to help and demonstrate proper behavior as well. As they get older, well, we don't talk about it much any longer.

Now of course this isn't the full "deep, richly cultural" meaning of sempai/kohai. But since the kids think it's special and important it can be helpful in teaching them better self-control, to help their fellow students, responsibility, etc.

So I don't get all that wound up about this stuff. And it's not like we're worshiping at the alter of all things Nihon...

Basia Halliop
09-06-2012, 03:40 PM
"Different culture, different place, different language, different customs. It seems kind of silly to me to insist on importing random Japanese customs that really have no purpose outside of the context of their culture."

I think some of the things being referred to here have a long history in western dojos. We pick things up from our teachers, they pick things up from their teachers, etc. It isn't necessarily 'imported' in some kind of forced or artificial or sudden way, often customs just naturally are passed on from teachers to students. If you follow the chain back enough, the geography does change, as do many other contextual things, but that doesn't necessarily make it fake. Neither does it mean it is or should be identical to its cousins across the world or to other generations; it will naturally have its own flavour. And each generation when they become teachers passes on their own version of the customs that feels natural or right to them.

Of course if someone is running a dojo if certain words or customs don't feel right to them they can always do things differently. But IMO if you belong to a small community where everyone does something a certain way, deliberately deciding to change it to 'something more logical' or 'something with a more local history' can just as easily end up feeling forced or unnatural.

Chris Li
09-06-2012, 03:50 PM
"Different culture, different place, different language, different customs. It seems kind of silly to me to insist on importing random Japanese customs that really have no purpose outside of the context of their culture."

I think some of the things being referred to here have a long history in western dojos. We pick things up from our teachers, they pick things up from their teachers, etc. It isn't necessarily 'imported' in some kind of forced or artificial or sudden way, often customs just naturally are passed on from teachers to students. If you follow the chain back enough, the geography does change, as do many other contextual things, but that doesn't necessarily make it fake. Neither does it mean it is or should be identical to its cousins across the world or to other generations; it will naturally have its own flavour. And each generation when they become teachers passes on their own version of the customs that feels natural or right to them.

Of course if someone is running a dojo if certain words or customs don't feel right to them they can always do things differently. But IMO if you belong to a small community where everyone does something a certain way, deliberately deciding to change it to 'something more logical' or 'something with a more local history' can just as easily end up feeling forced or unnatural.

Sure, people can do what they like - but people who insist on it for some imagined deep oriental meaning, or as an essential part of the budo experience, well...

I've had folks (quite a few of them) insist that people who wouldn't bow to a picture ought to be excluded from training, for example...

Best,

Chris

Adam Huss
09-06-2012, 04:30 PM
Sure, people can do what they like - but people who insist on it for some imagined deep oriental meaning, or as an essential part of the budo experience, well...

I've had folks (quite a few of them) insist that people who wouldn't bow to a picture ought to be excluded from training, for example...

Best,

Chris

Both of the dojo I train at stopped putting anything kind of shrine or kamidana in the kamiza area just to eliminate any potential issues. One has an American flag, the other has a chalk board.

Basia Halliop
09-06-2012, 04:39 PM
"Sure, people can do what they like - but people who insist on it for some imagined deep oriental meaning, or as an essential part of the budo experience, well...

I've had folks (quite a few of them) insist that people who wouldn't bow to a picture ought to be excluded from training, for example..."

One way I've had it explained to me before was that there are certain values or mental processes that were in some way embodied or practiced through some of the etiquette that are genuinely an important part of training -- e.g., respect for others, self-control, and so on. At the same time, they might theoretically be embodied in many different ways, with the specific details of the etiquette being much less important than the actual attitudes that govern them. To me this makes sense...

Basia Halliop
09-06-2012, 04:42 PM
Both of the dojo I train at stopped putting anything kind of shrine or kamidana in the kamiza area just to eliminate any potential issues. One has an American flag, the other has a chalk board.

Personally I'd find it far far more creepy to bow to a political symbol than to a photo (especially in the context of a martial art where we are constantly bowing to other humans in a mutually respectful but totally non-worshiping way). I would not be comfortable bowing to a flag at all. YMMV.

Tom Verhoeven
09-06-2012, 06:57 PM
Hello,

I think with these terms (sensei, sempai, kohai) it is not so much being skeptical as taking what you think you need and leaving the rest.

I have been living here for over thirty years and have developed my own intuitions about these terms, not from aikido training, but from being part of a large traditional Japanese organization like a national university. There all the terms are used and have their respective value, but the situations are very sharply defined. So you cannot have the terms without the context—the total context and you cannot focus on one aspect, like sempai helping kohai, and ignore the rest.

I have also been visiting the Netherlands on a regular basis for over thirty years to teach aikido. I have rarely heard any of the terms used, perhaps because I rarely use them myself, but also because they are not established as dojo terms. As others have mentioned, first names are regularly used and the addition of the title Sensei is very much the exception.

On the other hand, from the posts by Adam Huss, I can see that the terms are in frequent use in his own dojo and they have value there. It is not my place to pass any judgment about this. I merely state that the situation is quite different in the two dojos in Hiroshima where I am the senior instructor and it has always been different in the main dojo here, where I have trained since I came here and where the senior instructor has 8th dan rank. He is almost always referred to as Dojo-cho; Sensei is a title given to visiting shihans like Hiroshi Tada and sempai and kohai never used outside the university aikido clubs, where there is a very specific context.

So I tend to have a similar way of thinking as Chris Li (except that I do not think I am skeptical). As for envisaging a future direction, well, things work very well here. But things also seem to work very well for Mr Huss and probably for you as well.

Best wishes,

Dear Peter,
The word skeptical was not meant as a criticism, nor did it refer only to the terms sensei, sempai kohai (although "sensei" is the subject of this thread). I think Chris is at times critical and skeptical about the Japanese ways, much in the same way as I am skeptical about the western ways of thinking. In itself I see this as a healthy attitude.

It is only that we differ of opinion; where he criticizes sempai - kohai structure there I see something worthwhile studying and applying. Also I think that it is not a structure that is alien to us; it is not much different from the hierarchical structure on board of ships, the kitchen of a restaurant or the fire-brigade. I have trained in several traditional kobudo dojo where this structure was in use without any problems. It is typically the members and instructors of Aikido dojo who have problems with it. . .

As for your visits to the Netherlands, with all due respect, the organization that invited you, represented only a small part of the aikidoka of the Netherlands. There are dojo who do use the title sensei.and use it with a proper understanding of what it means.

As for my own training and teaching; it is a reflection of the teachings and the structure of the dojo in Japan where I am a member of. It works for me and I am more then happy with it.

Best wishes from the Auvergne,

Tom

.

Shadowfax
09-10-2012, 08:44 AM
Where I train we refer to whomever is teaching on the mat as sensei. Has nothing to do with rank. I do not hold a dan rank but have led class a couple of times and at those times it was not considered inappropriate by my teachers for other students to refer to me as sensei.

Mostly we only use the title when we are being formal. Even on the mat we generally call the instructor by their first name. It is just how things are done in our dojo. We are not particularly big on tradition in the dojo and etiquette is minimal but we do have a kamidama and we do bow to O'Sensei's picture and to me these things allow us to enjoy some connection with the tradition and history of aikido's founder. We show respect for his legacy by doing these things but nobody is forced to take part. People really do seem to make a bigger deal out of such things than they really need to.

Keith Larman
09-10-2012, 09:32 AM
I have been looking but have been unable to find an old story. It was about a western fella walking in to a room in Japan. There he sees Japanese men wearing jeans, western shirts, cowboy hats, boots, spurs with a gun belt slung low. They walk around kind of bow legged saying "Howdy" and "pardner". Then they get together and practice their fast draw techniques in all sorts of different ways with their toy guns.

All meant to compare and contrast with typical westerners all dressed up in Japanese garb practicing their sword drawing techniques while using (and sometimes torturing) Japanese terms.

How much is "playing the part" and how much is "real" practice?

CitoMaramba
09-10-2012, 10:38 AM
I have been looking but have been unable to find an old story. It was about a western fella walking in to a room in Japan. There he sees Japanese men wearing jeans, western shirts, cowboy hats, boots, spurs with a gun belt slung low. They walk around kind of bow legged saying "Howdy" and "pardner". Then they get together and practice their fast draw techniques in all sorts of different ways with their toy guns.

All meant to compare and contrast with typical westerners all dressed up in Japanese garb practicing their sword drawing techniques while using (and sometimes torturing) Japanese terms.

How much is "playing the part" and how much is "real" practice?

The Japanese "cowboys" probably looked like this:
http://www.fastdraw.org/graphics/fd_jp10.jpg

He's a participant in "Fast Draw" competitions in Japan..
Now.. do they call their teachers "sensei?" or "Sherrif"? :D

akiy
09-10-2012, 12:10 PM
I have been looking but have been unable to find an old story. It was about a western fella walking in to a room in Japan. There he sees Japanese men wearing jeans, western shirts, cowboy hats, boots, spurs with a gun belt slung low. They walk around kind of bow legged saying "Howdy" and "pardner". Then they get together and practice their fast draw techniques in all sorts of different ways with their toy guns.

http://www.aikiweb.com/humor/baker1.html

-- Jun

miser
09-10-2012, 12:12 PM
At the club I train at, 'sensei' is used more-or-less a gesture of politeness and respect acknowledging the training and knowledge acquired by a person. We don't usually use the term off-the-mat, but do sometimes. Generally a person starts being called sensei when they reach shodan as they usually begin to take on teaching responsibilities. I don't think the grade matters particularly with the term - I see it simply as an acknowledgement that the person being referred to is a person from whom others can learn.

Keith Larman
09-10-2012, 03:04 PM
http://www.aikiweb.com/humor/baker1.html

-- Jun

Ah, thanks Jun, that was it.

trl
09-12-2012, 12:10 PM
Or the pope? Would you use "his holiness" or call him by his first name?

Tom

"Uh... Hi Ben. Listen... you could learn a thing or two from Johnny's example. He was the man." :D

Tom Verhoeven
09-12-2012, 06:40 PM
"Uh... Hi Ben. Listen... you could learn a thing or two from Johnny's example. He was the man." :D
That is a good one! :D But it must be the time of day or something, for it took me a minute or so before I got it.:)
Tom

Peter Goldsbury
09-12-2012, 07:19 PM
As for your visits to the Netherlands, with all due respect, the organization that invited you, represented only a small part of the aikidoka of the Netherlands. There are dojo who do use the title sensei.and use it with a proper understanding of what it means.
Well, with respect to Holland, we will have to agree to disagree. I have been visiting that country since before all the splits. A discussion would increase the thread drift too much.

As for my own training and teaching; it is a reflection of the teachings and the structure of the dojo in Japan where I am a member of. It works for me and I am more then happy with it.
Good. I could say exactly the same thing about my situation here.

Best wishes from the Auvergne,

Tom

.
Thank you. Best wishes from Sanyo chiku.

PAG

MM
09-12-2012, 08:44 PM
Dear Peter,
The word skeptical was not meant as a criticism, nor did it refer only to the terms sensei, sempai kohai (although "sensei" is the subject of this thread). I think Chris is at times critical and skeptical about the Japanese ways, much in the same way as I am skeptical about the western ways of thinking. In itself I see this as a healthy attitude.

It is only that we differ of opinion; where he criticizes sempai - kohai structure there I see something worthwhile studying and applying. Also I think that it is not a structure that is alien to us; it is not much different from the hierarchical structure on board of ships, the kitchen of a restaurant or the fire-brigade. I have trained in several traditional kobudo dojo where this structure was in use without any problems. It is typically the members and instructors of Aikido dojo who have problems with it. . .

Best wishes from the Auvergne,

Tom

.

If I remember correctly, Peter has written a couple of posts about the sempai-kohei relationship here on Aikiweb. They are worth finding. If it wasnt Peter, my apologies. My memory is not always the best. Still, in areas like this, I would make sure that I was on very, very solid ground before debating either Peter or Chris. Just my opinion.

Basia Halliop
09-12-2012, 10:30 PM
"Uh... Hi Ben. Listen... you could learn a thing or two from Johnny's example. He was the man." :D

Surely you'd say Josef and Karol if you really meant to be informal, though? (Unless you actually meant Angelo)

Tom Verhoeven
09-14-2012, 03:29 PM
If I remember correctly, Peter has written a couple of posts about the sempai-kohei relationship here on Aikiweb. They are worth finding. If it wasnt Peter, my apologies. My memory is not always the best. Still, in areas like this, I would make sure that I was on very, very solid ground before debating either Peter or Chris. Just my opinion.

Not to worry, I am here on just as solid ground as they are. But I appreciate your concern.

Tom

CitoMaramba
09-16-2012, 06:56 AM
Surely you'd say Josef and Karol if you really meant to be informal, though? (Unless you actually meant Angelo)

And between Angelo and Karol was Giovanni... but I would have only addressed them as "Your Holiness"... :D

Robert Cowham
09-16-2012, 03:35 PM
Personally I'd find it far far more creepy to bow to a political symbol than to a photo (especially in the context of a martial art where we are constantly bowing to other humans in a mutually respectful but totally non-worshiping way). I would not be comfortable bowing to a flag at all. YMMV.

I have been interested to observe a muslim practitioner in a dojo who stated up front that he had problems bowing to other people, and exemptions were granted. While I respect his religious views, I have thought on occasion that he applies them slightly variably himself, and I have a strong suspicion takes advantage occasionally of the "exemption" he has. It's a difficult area.

My own line of teaching leads to Inaba sensei of the Meiji Jingu Shiseikan - he is devout in his Shinto beliefs and explains them as the basis of his Budo - and yet he also challenges others to find the equivalent for their culture and religious beliefs - he is not seeking to convert people to Shinto.

In Japanese Budo, there are plenty of people that tend to be (or at least aspire to be) "more Japanese than the Japanese" - a position which I find entertaining at times :) I remember visiting a dojo in the USA where the (caucasian) teacher seemed to be speaking (almost grunting) pidgin Japanese but with a Scottish accent (I grew up and went to university in Scotland) - his aikido was fine but I did find the scenario a little bizarre!

My own personal predilections are to seek to separate where possible the Japanese cultural baggage from the core truths - not an easy task, and the risk is to throw baby out with bathwater - but life is full of risks :) Interestingly the more experience I gain, the more I realise how careful you need to be in distinguishing what is valuable, and what is baggage - and yet in a way the more I realise the value of basic respect for others - it costs nothing to be polite and act as a gentleman (showing my age and gender...).

hughrbeyer
09-16-2012, 10:03 PM
In Japanese Budo, there are plenty of people that tend to be (or at least aspire to be) "more Japanese than the Japanese" - a position which I find entertaining at times :) I remember visiting a dojo in the USA where the (caucasian) teacher seemed to be speaking (almost grunting) pidgin Japanese but with a Scottish accent (I grew up and went to university in Scotland) - his aikido was fine but I did find the scenario a little bizarre!

Be careful about your interpretation here. My own sensei spent 10 years learning aikido in Japan, and when he's on the mat a bunch of Japanese mannerisms and syntax reappear. But it's not put on--that's the context in which he learned aikido, so being on the mat re-creates them. Might be the same for the guy you saw.

Also, there's value in ritual itself, if the activity you're engaged in has any significance at all. We create ritual to express the significance of what we do--even a baseball game has ritual, as the roshi of the Zen monastery I visit used to explain. The ritual of the dojo ties us to the history of aikido and has value in itself--if we don't use the ritual that's given to us, what do we do instead? Invent it?

Robert Cowham
09-17-2012, 03:28 AM
Be careful about your interpretation here. My own sensei spent 10 years learning aikido in Japan, and when he's on the mat a bunch of Japanese mannerisms and syntax reappear. But it's not put on--that's the context in which he learned aikido, so being on the mat re-creates them. Might be the same for the guy you saw.

Also, there's value in ritual itself, if the activity you're engaged in has any significance at all. We create ritual to express the significance of what we do--even a baseball game has ritual, as the roshi of the Zen monastery I visit used to explain.

Valid point - it's all a question of degree, and perhaps a matter of personal preference and style. You pays yer money and makes yer choice!

Done in a genuine way, I have no problem with it.

The ritual of the dojo ties us to the history of aikido and has value in itself--if we don't use the ritual that's given to us, what do we do instead? Invent it?
I don't think we should be frightened of inventing our own rituals - though of course there are plenty of dangers inherent in this.

Each dojo in any case tends to have its own personality and way of practice. As a teacher it is obvious to me how my own bad habits are magnified in my students!

The core for me is respect and a spirit of research. For example my major influence has been Inaba sensei of the Meiji Jingu Shiseikan - he frequently talks about and demonstrates how his own Shinto beliefs are the core of his Budo. But he also says that he is not seeking to convert people, he is instead challenging them to find their own core consistent with their culture and heritage. There are times when I "channel my inner Inaba sensei" on the mat - I am sure that can look strange to others too.

oisin bourke
09-17-2012, 06:21 AM
The core for me is respect and a spirit of research. For example my major influence has been Inaba sensei of the Meiji Jingu Shiseikan - he frequently talks about and demonstrates how his own Shinto beliefs are the core of his Budo. But he also says that he is not seeking to convert people, he is instead challenging them to find their own core consistent with their culture and heritage. There are times when I "channel my inner Inaba sensei" on the mat - I am sure that can look strange to others too.
Here is an interview with Inaba Sensei from the Japan Times website;

"Losing is always a sore subject. Japan lost the war in 1945 and it's still bleeding from its wounds. We have not recovered from the aftereffects of the Occupation. Healing takes time because the wounds are picked again and again so the scabs can never fall off.

Believe that the end is always good. In Shinto, our creation story begins with great happiness and lovemaking and Amaterasu the sun goddess giving birth to many children. Shinto is all about positive feelings and I think this is why Japanese people are optimists and never give up. Even after the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we were immediately rebuilding and never blamed the United States ever. Life is just too fun to waste.

We lost the war, but at least we have the Emperor. Japanese culture originates with him. Our nation's foundation is Shinto, with the Emperor as the highest priest who listens to the sun goddess and offers her festivals and ceremonies. He is the one person who knows the feelings and wishes of both the goddess and the people.

In the Japanese language words and emotions are perfectly matched. When foreigners speak Japanese, they are much kinder and gentler than when they use their mother tongue. Their facial expressions soften and they are unable to say yes or no clearly. Japanese food also contributes to this metamorphosis — after five days living here on miso soup and rice, the color of their faces is healthier and they look better."

Now, I find these statements... uncomfortable, but the question is, if your sensei starts publicly making statements like this, what does one do?

Robert Cowham
09-17-2012, 07:57 AM
Now, I find these statements... uncomfortable, but the question is, if your sensei starts publicly making statements like this, what does one do?

I consider it a challenge to research these things more deeply for myself. I am not Japanese, I don't have the same beliefs regarding the Emperor. As a Brit and a practising Anglican, I could potentially substitute the Queen (as head of the church) for the Emperor and all would be well - after all, we all know that God is an Englishman ;) But then again, may be not!

For me it is interesting to seek to understand the underlying essence and core truths - a large project. Maybe if I ate more miso and rice it would do my weight some good :)

Robert Cowham
09-17-2012, 09:16 AM
Quick follow up, I need to mention Peter Goldsbury's hugely informative essays including aspects of O Sensei's religious beliefs - what do we need to understand and believe in order to study and progress in Aikido?

Also, from Ellis Amdur's "Hidden in Plain Site":
Ueshiba saw himself as a kind of avatar, instrumental in ushering in a golden age of redemption, the unification of Heaven, Earth, and Man. To a considerable degree, he was unconcerned about whether others became avatars like himself. He regarded aikido practitioners as living out their fate as appointed by their 'chief guardian deity,' doing the work of the "spiritual proletariat," accumulating merit and energy through aikido practice.

For those of us studying Aikido (and related arts) for more than just purely physical aspects, why are we doing what we are doing? What do we accept from our teacher's beliefs and what do we create for ourselves?

Eric Winters
09-17-2012, 08:32 PM
I consider it a challenge to research these things more deeply for myself. I am not Japanese, I don't have the same beliefs regarding the Emperor. As a Brit and a practising Anglican, I could potentially substitute the Queen (as head of the church) for the Emperor and all would be well - after all, we all know that God is an Englishman ;) But then again, may be not!

For me it is interesting to seek to understand the underlying essence and core truths - a large project. Maybe if I ate more miso and rice it would do my weight some good :)

You have got it TOTALLY WRONG. The DEVIL is an Englishman. Just look at all the movies the Devil always has a British accent. :D

Eric

hughrbeyer
09-18-2012, 03:38 PM
In the Japanese language words and emotions are perfectly matched. When foreigners speak Japanese, they are much kinder and gentler than when they use their mother tongue. Their facial expressions soften and they are unable to say yes or no clearly. Japanese food also contributes to this metamorphosis — after five days living here on miso soup and rice, the color of their faces is healthier and they look better."

Now, I find these statements... uncomfortable, but the question is, if your sensei starts publicly making statements like this, what does one do?

Choose one or more of the following:

1. Know that that's what your sensei thinks, which doesn't create an obligation on you to think it.

2. Be glad you're learning aikido from him, not languages or culture or nutrition.

3. Look for the underlying truths in what he says. Does speaking Japanese influence how you think? It certainly discourages saying yes or no clearly--is that a good thing? How does it change social interactions? Etc etc.

Robert Cowham
09-19-2012, 03:08 PM
You have got it TOTALLY WRONG. The DEVIL is an Englishman. Just look at all the movies the Devil always has a British accent. :D

There was certainly a spate of Hollywood movies with English accented baddies - but we just treat that as sour grapes and magnanimously rise above it :)

Patrick Hutchinson
09-19-2012, 06:02 PM
I always wondered why all the orcs had Cockney accents in the LOTR movies.

Jonathan Guzzo
09-27-2012, 05:39 PM
This thread is a little old, but it's interesting. I don't post much, but thought I would in this one.

In our dojo, the instructor is always called sensei--no exceptions. When bowing in seiza, we put our left hand down first, then the right. When rising from the bow, we raise the right hand first, then the left. When moving into seiza from hanmi, we put our left knee down first, then the right. When standing, we raise the right knee first, then the left.

When walking off the mat with a weapon, we back away--never turning our backs to the shomen.

Lots of little points of etiquette allow the mind to string together continuous attention and give us a common nonverbal language. At the same time, the spirit in our dojo is very light. There is a lot of laughter, no drama, and we are all devoted to one another. We train rigorously in a clean, uncluttered style with lots of martial directness. It's a great place, and I think the etiquette is one of the things that makes it so.

Jonathan

Adam Huss
10-01-2012, 10:39 PM
This thread is a little old, but it's interesting. I don't post much, but thought I would in this one.

In our dojo, the instructor is always called sensei--no exceptions. When bowing in seiza, we put our left hand down first, then the right. When rising from the bow, we raise the right hand first, then the left. When moving into seiza from hanmi, we put our left knee down first, then the right. When standing, we raise the right knee first, then the left.

When walking off the mat with a weapon, we back away--never turning our backs to the shomen.

Lots of little points of etiquette allow the mind to string together continuous attention and give us a common nonverbal language. At the same time, the spirit in our dojo is very light. There is a lot of laughter, no drama, and we are all devoted to one another. We train rigorously in a clean, uncluttered style with lots of martial directness. It's a great place, and I think the etiquette is one of the things that makes it so.

Jonathan

Jonathan,

I completely agree. These little minutiae that we adhere to may seem frivolous to many people. Why bow? Why step onto the mat with a specific foot? Why hand a weapon off in a particular manner? Some argue over what is right and what is wrong. This is, to some degrees, ridiculous! These are practical actions. They are done for self-developmentment, not the appeasement of some nebulous historical traditions. The Japanese did not do these things arbitrarily, so why should we? I understand that people may not understand the reasons behind some of these actions, which makes it no surprise they don't place value to them. The actual act isn't so important as the intent behind it and the benefit one gets from it (if they let themselves).

For example, I totally get why you back out of the dojo with weapons vice turning your back to the shomen. It makes sense. My group has the exact opposite tradition, we would never walk backwards with weapons for practical purposes (of course we bow out shomen ho when leaving the mat). Even though we have opposite traditions when it comes to leaving the mat, the result in the same benefits....developing awareness (doing something for a particular reason at a particular time), forcing yourself to live in the moment (vice plodding off the mat, giving a half ass bow, with that cold gatorade in your near future in your head), etc.

Etiquette is such an important part of training and is such a practical part of budo training.

lars beyer
10-12-2012, 05:19 PM
Jonathan,

I completely agree. These little minutiae that we adhere to may seem frivolous to many people. Why bow? Why step onto the mat with a specific foot? Why hand a weapon off in a particular manner? Some argue over what is right and what is wrong. This is, to some degrees, ridiculous! These are practical actions. They are done for self-developmentment, not the appeasement of some nebulous historical traditions. The Japanese did not do these things arbitrarily, so why should we? I understand that people may not understand the reasons behind some of these actions, which makes it no surprise they don't place value to them. The actual act isn't so important as the intent behind it and the benefit one gets from it (if they let themselves).

For example, I totally get why you back out of the dojo with weapons vice turning your back to the shomen. It makes sense. My group has the exact opposite tradition, we would never walk backwards with weapons for practical purposes (of course we bow out shomen ho when leaving the mat). Even though we have opposite traditions when it comes to leaving the mat, the result in the same benefits....developing awareness (doing something for a particular reason at a particular time), forcing yourself to live in the moment (vice plodding off the mat, giving a half ass bow, with that cold gatorade in your near future in your head), etc.

Etiquette is such an important part of training and is such a practical part of budo training.

Agree