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Peter Boylan
03-08-2017, 04:30 PM
I got to spend last November in my old dojo in Japan. They consider me a senior member at this point, and I wrote about the experience and expectations in this blog post:
http://budobum.blogspot.com/2017/03/being-senior-in-japan.html
My question is, what does it mean to be senior in your dojo? What are the requirements, responsibilities and expectations? Are they different from a traditional dojo in Japan? If so, how?

Janet Rosen
03-08-2017, 05:18 PM
Great essay!
At Ukiah Aikido, it is normal for brown belts and yudansha to attend basics class and to partner with newer students. It's an established part of the culture so that even if Sensei doesn't tell us to, we look around to ensure there are good groupings.

Currawong
03-09-2017, 02:34 AM
Great blog as usual. Much of this culture exists in the dojo where I am, with some variation, given a larger (local) organisation. Most importantly, it depends on paying attention to what is going on and how people respond to you, whether it be someone senior engaging you either in casual conversation in the change room, or asking you to train with a junior going for their grading; or a junior visiting the dojo from a university whom you have to instantly understand their level of ability and what level of training they can handle.

Something visitors find amusing is the seniors fighting (in jest) over who gets to fold Sensei's hakama after class, and Sensei playing along with it. Even though it is done in humor, who gives way to whom is quite important.

Cass
03-09-2017, 04:35 AM
A well written and insightful read, thank you for sharing.

To be honest, my experience regarding senior students is a different one to the aforementioned responses. Our senior students (shodan+) outnumber the junior by about 4-1 (or more), so all in all there are not many additional responsibilities for most of them. Several of the Yondan/Sandan also run their own dojos and typically attend mostly the yudansha classes and seminars, though occasionally attending the mixed when they have a test coming up. Because of this, I think many of the seniors are less inclined to partnering with the juniors during "their training", which is understandable. In fact I have found the inverse is usually true, that white belts that feel like they "get it" will partner with other white belts that "don't get it" to help them.

Likewise regarding helping around the dojo, there are 2-3 yudansha that help with video, photography etc. but there are just as many white belts (myself included) that help with social media content, posters, vids and general designwork, so proportionally more white belts help out. Cleaning the dojo.. Heh, well, we are not very traditional in this regard! The students are not involved with that, nor the sensei, I believe the secretariat takes care of this from time to time but it could certainly use more frequent maintenance. I actually inquired once about an uchi deshi program to my sensei and after explaining what being an uchi deshi meant to me (train every day, live in the dojo and maintaining the dojo) he told me I was welcome to do exactly that if I took up the cleaning :P. If I didn't have other responsibilities to be honest I would even be tempted.

I realize a lot of what I just said might shine poorly on our yudansha and there are certainly a few that actively try to come to the "junior side" of the tatami to help. If the juniors have any questions they - mostly - go to any yudansha that they have befriended, or each other, with a yudansha or two supervising (post class). Personally I mix it up quite a bit, sometimes I go to other white belts if I know that they have figured it out, sometimes yudansha, sometimes the sensei. That last option is not very popular, the majority of the students do not like to ask the sensei anything, I think they worry about hassling him, but he has always been very helpful and patient when answering my questions or showing me anything. Oh and nobody folds his hakama, though I'm not sure if anyone has asked I doubt he would approve.

The irony is that by having a "Beginner" class that you have to pass before entering the "Mixed" most of the common questions have to be figured out on your own! Everyone has a brief "introductory" lesson where the sensei explains the ground rules but there is a lot left unexplained (such as how to wear your gi). So either you watch videos at home to figure that out or ask another Beginner that seems like they might know. Everyone talks to everyone though, but on the tatami it gets a little divisive, I have gone from having coffee talking with only yudansha to not partnering with any of them once class starts because they stay "in the deep end". I'm sure if I were confident enough I could just move to that side of the mat and force myself upon them but I have no desire to hinder anyone's training.

Peter Goldsbury
03-09-2017, 04:36 AM
Great blog as usual. Much of this culture exists in the dojo where I am, with some variation, given a larger (local) organisation. Most importantly, it depends on paying attention to what is going on and how people respond to you, whether it be someone senior engaging you either in casual conversation in the change room, or asking you to train with a junior going for their grading; or a junior visiting the dojo from a university whom you have to instantly understand their level of ability and what level of training they can handle.

Something visitors find amusing is the seniors fighting (in jest) over who gets to fold Sensei's hakama after class, and Sensei playing along with it. Even though it is done in humor, who gives way to whom is quite important.

Here this job is given to younger members who have just received shodan, as a way of making sure that they learn how to do it correctly. :)

lbb
03-09-2017, 12:33 PM
"Senior" means one thing when you're lining up, another thing when you're training, another thing altogether when you're off the mat. If we're newbie-heavy on a given night, a third kyu may end up on the "senior" end of the line when bowing in, but it doesn't mean he's responsible for teaching his juniors, and it doesn't mean he's considered one of those who makes the dojo function. The one is a formality, the other is something you earn in a different way.

Susan Dalton
03-12-2017, 08:03 PM
Great essay, Peter San. Thank you! One lesson we are trying to instill in our children's class is that being sempai doesn't mean you get to boss people around. Being sempai means you are responsible for all the students junior to you and you should help take care of them.

Peter Goldsbury
04-28-2017, 02:34 AM
Great blog as usual. Much of this culture exists in the dojo where I am, with some variation, given a larger (local) organisation. Most importantly, it depends on paying attention to what is going on and how people respond to you, whether it be someone senior engaging you either in casual conversation in the change room, or asking you to train with a junior going for their grading; or a junior visiting the dojo from a university whom you have to instantly understand their level of ability and what level of training they can handle.

Something visitors find amusing is the seniors fighting (in jest) over who gets to fold Sensei's hakama after class, and Sensei playing along with it. Even though it is done in humor, who gives way to whom is quite important.

Do you have the actual designations of sempai [先輩] and kohai [後輩] in the dojo? Here everything is cloaked in relative anonymity and apart from the yudansha, who are some dan or other, seniority is determined only by who teaches or assists on the occasions when I am not there. We do not have 名札 with dan rankings in in the dojo.

Currawong
04-28-2017, 09:37 AM
Do you have the actual designations of sempai [先輩] and kohai [後輩] in the dojo? Here everything is cloaked in relative anonymity and apart from the yudansha, who are some dan or other, seniority is determined only by who teaches or assists on the occasions when I am not there. We do not have 名札 with dan rankings in in the dojo.

We have a 名札 board in the main dojos, so everyone knows who is senior to whom, but, at least to me, there isn't a lot of focus given to it. Many times the person teaching may not be the most senior, often because it is necessary for people to practice teaching. Some non-main dojos have people rotate through who teaches each week for this reason, such as the one I am occasionally called to teach at.

Then, there's the factor of there being multiple dojos, all fairly close-by, where often the people training are not training at their home dojo, and each week different people might show up to the same class.

For example, many people train at multiple dojos as they might follow Sensei, wish to train every day they can, or end up volunteer-teaching at one (non-main) dojo one day and training at another on a different day. Then there is the consideration of whether a person is shidoin or not. However, most people who have been around a while know each other, at least just a little. There's probably a lot that I miss, not being Japanese, and thus being trained in the subtleties. Not to mention much that is hard to describe amongst the interactions.

I still find it weird to be senior a lot of the time, in those classes where I am. I am always careful most of the time to express anything I teach as "The way I understand it is...", especially given that I didn't start Aikido here originally.

SeiserL
04-29-2017, 07:48 AM
In 22 years in Aikido (almost 50 in martial arts), I have never been told how to act as a senior (rank, not age ... LOL) member ... I tend not to think about or take it too seriously/personally ...
However, when I started I always thanked the black belts for working-out/helping me ... they all said that someone had them them ... my only job in expressing gratitude was to pass it on ...

nikyu62
05-01-2017, 04:36 PM
It means my wife and I arrive first, unload gear, open the dojo, clean the floor, open the windows, hang the pictures, and start laying down the mats........after class, reverse the process. Also teach the class.

Shadowfax
05-04-2017, 05:05 PM
It means I kept showing up for loner than those who started with me and I just happen to have been around longer than those I currently train with.

Currawong
05-06-2017, 09:04 AM
It means my wife and I arrive first, unload gear, open the dojo, clean the floor, open the windows, hang the pictures, and start laying down the mats........after class, reverse the process. Also teach the class.

You just revived a wonderful memory of when I mistook the start time of an early morning class and arrived far too early. At the dojo, about one-and-a-half hours before class were two people, one of them the most senior student in the whole organisation. He, along with one of the teachers, was cleaning the dojo before anyone else had even arrived.

I am not afraid to admit that the Japanese attitude in this way was initially very alien to me, so I have been observing how it has been affecting my attitude over the years I have been living here.