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chris w
02-07-2006, 01:55 PM
this seems like a question that i should already know the answer to, but i dont. in my dojo, students sometimes refer to each other as "joe-san", "bill-san" ,or"george-san". what does the "san" actually mean? is it like "mister" in english? why is it said after the first name? and, finally can you refer to females as "san"?

Mike James
02-07-2006, 02:59 PM
Yes, it can be interpreted as "mister", but also as Ms., Mrs., or Miss. It can also be used with the sur name. Basically, it is a respectful honorific.

koz
02-07-2006, 03:38 PM
As stated above, it's a non-gender-specific honorific, relatively formal. Just like Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms. It's also not used to refer to oneself, I would never call myself Koz-san for example, but I might be introduced to you as such.

Usually such honorifics were used to denote relative social standing. -sama was used if the person was of a higher standing (although not really in use today), -kun to someone junior, and -chan for a young boy/girl or as a term of endearment.

Personally, if not in Japan, I find the use of -san a little overzealous in the let's-make-everything-as-Japanese-as-possible department. I would therefore call everyone -kun or -chan, including senior grades. Particularly senior grades!

chris w
02-07-2006, 04:31 PM
Personally, if not in Japan, I find the use of -san a little overzealous in the let's-make-everything-as-Japanese-as-possible department. I would therefore call everyone -kun or -chan, including senior grades. Particularly senior grades!

that makes sense to me. thanks to you both for your replies

nekobaka
02-07-2006, 04:54 PM
I agree, it's kind of pretentious to use it outside of Japan, speaking English.

Duarh
02-07-2006, 08:09 PM
Which, of course, using 'sensei' and 'onegai shimasu' isn't ;).The decision of where to draw the line is pretty much arbitrary, and up to each school/organization to decide, I should think. Tongue-in-cheek though the suggestions above might be, calling one's chief instructor -chan could land one in an awkward spot. If 'san' is customary, 'san' should be used. It's that whole Rome and Romans thing, you know.

To be honest, the more comfortable I become with the Japanese language, the more amusing I find the use of Japanese terms in training. When discussing iaido I'll sometimes refer to my scabbard, and people will feel compelled to say 'you mean, your saya' before we can go on with our conversation (not to mention the times when an instructor says 'do saya-biki', instead of 'pull back your scabbard). It's almost like people think words they don't understand imbue the ob/subjects referenced with some kind of magic. And sometimes, it is difficult to keep from smiling when I hear another Russian or American interpretation of 'kote gaeshi' or 'ichi ni san shi'. But if that's the nomenclature used by the particular organization I'm training with, I, being in the position of a junior student, will go ahead and use it. Doing otherwise would be disrespectful of the organization and only hamper communication.

(Besides, all the Japanese does come in useful when you go visit dojos abroad. You don't want to have to figure out how to say 'Power Block #2, rear entry' or 'Secret transmission #15 from frontal kick' in Spanish, for instance!)

djyoung
02-08-2006, 11:00 AM
Well, I to be honest find that the lack of Japanese in some martial arts in Australia is annoying. We have a most laid back attitude towards things that there is often very little respect for other students or for the instructors. The relaxed attitude also has some people often forgetting to bow before getting on the mat or entering the dojo (in fact at the last dojo nobody EVER bowed at the door). So you have the elements of respect to think about. Too often if you slacken the respect youll get people going "oi you" (meaning 'sensei') and it often helps to remind us idiotic full-of-ourself westerners where we stand... the instructor is respected, so use a term of respect at all times.

I also know many Judo throws incidentally... and it is very annoying when talking about a "Stomach Throw" to a Judoka and them having no idea what im on about, after much explaining the throw being told "OH! Thats 'tomeo nage'"... so yes the problem of communication is an issue. Also the point that these arent Japanese words for English things, the English words we fix to a Japanese word is ONLY AN APPROXIMATION. Therefore a scabbard is NOT a saya, a saya is the scabbard of a japanese sword... and what is a japanese sword? a "sword"? or a "katana"? You have swords from all around the world being called by their traditional name, why dont we just call them all 'sword'?

I have also done some Wing Chun Kung Fu and they use a lot of bowing, chinese, 'sifu', 'sihing', 'dailo', 'pak sao', 'larp sao' etc. they call each other brother/sister etc in chinese.

And does it need to be reminded that martial arts isnt just about killing people? We all know martial arts is just about death right?... oh excuse the sarcasm..hehe .. yes, culture... what a thing, your learning a part of Japanese culture when you learn a Japanese martial art, the Japanese language is also a part of Japanese culture right??? So in other words its not "lets try and make this as Japanese as possible just to be cool" its "lets keep this as traditional and culturally accurate as possible whilst still being possible to learn in our country".

Also, if I am not mistaken -kun is male specific? And why would you call an instructor -chan or even -san? All teachers in Japan are -sensei. Its also more proper to use someones last name than first name using most of those endings apart from the friendlier ones (since when your friendly your on first name terms with people). Again its just respectful, respect being a part of Japanese culture and something western society would do well to learn about.

Sorry if this post has a rather annoyed note to it but I am getting rather annoyed as someone who studies Japanese and Japanese culture when I see their culture dying away and become westernised. I am getting annoyed with how western countries are trying to tell everyone that they know best and that every other country should become westernised. *sigh* Here we come world where no nation has its own identity and all culture throughout the world disappears. :mad:

Josh Reyer
02-08-2006, 12:21 PM
And does it need to be reminded that martial arts isnt just about killing people? We all know martial arts is just about death right?... oh excuse the sarcasm..hehe .. yes, culture... what a thing, your learning a part of Japanese culture when you learn a Japanese martial art, the Japanese language is also a part of Japanese culture right??? So in other words its not "lets try and make this as Japanese as possible just to be cool" its "lets keep this as traditional and culturally accurate as possible whilst still being possible to learn in our country".

And yet I wonder at the wisdom of learning Japanese "at the dojo". If one wants to learn Japanese to supplement their aikido training, I think that's fantastic. But one problem with learning "the culture" at the dojo is that dojo etiquette is but one facet of one particular sub-culture in Japan. I don't think one gets a particularly full picture of Japanese culture at the dojo.

I also have problems with "dojo Japanese". I can see two sides of this. I, myself, love sumo. I watch sumo in Japanese, I read the Japanese sumo magazines, my sumo vocabulary is pretty much all Japanese. I find it difficult to talk about or explain a match without using Japanese terms. So I can understand why the Japanese instructors, and the foreign instructors who have lived and trained in Japan, tend to rely on Japanese terms for concepts and techniques. But on the flip side of that, you get transmission error. People who haven't learned in Japan, who don't speak Japanese, are given this terminology, and very quick and dirty glosses, sometimes too literal, sometimes not idiomatic, and after running with these terms for a while they pass them on to others, and you get something like a multi-generation dubbing or Xerox copy.

One example is "zanshin", which has a very specific and defined meaning in Japanese (retaining awareness for other threats after executing technique), and it gets reduced to simple awareness of others on the mat (so you don't bump into them), or worse yet, simply a strong posture when finishing a technique.

Sensei is a good example. People will throw out kanji etymologies: "It literally means, "one who was born before, and so, someone you should respect!" and totally ignore that in Chinese it is merely a term for "mister" (which no one thinks of as "master" anymore, incidently). So the word gets embued with connotations of respect, loyalty, reverence, etc., that apparently people don't feel can be found in any English word, even though those connotations are not inherent in the word "sensei".

In the U.S., at least, a person is "Sensei" on the mat when they teach, and "George" or "Bill", or "Wanda", off the mat. I think most agree that it would be weird to call somone "sensei" all the time. But that distinction isn't made in Japan. If you call someone sensei on the mat, you call them sensei off the mat, and when you are talking to someone else about them, and when you complain or insult them (if you choose to do so). You could respect them more than anyone else, and you'd call them sensei. You could have zero respect for them, and you'd still do the same.

All of which is to say: if we aren't using the word in this manner, the idiomatic Japanese manner, then are we gaining any benefit from using the word at all? Have we really learned anything about Japanese culture, aside from a vocabulary word one could pick up from a Karate Kid movie? For some, study in aikido will lead to studying Japanese, but for most it won't, and the Japanese terms will simply be code-words; exclusive terminology used by those in the club.

Let us not even get into the issue of "ki".

Also, if I am not mistaken -kun is male specific?

Kun is subordinate-specific, and is generally used for men, but is not uncommonly used for women in business settings, and some school settings.

And why would you call an instructor -chan or even -san?

He was being facetious.

Again its just respectful, respect being a part of Japanese culture and something western society would do well to learn about.

Respect is just as a part of western society as it is a part of Japanese culture; it's just expressed differently. Indeed, "respect" is not quite the same as keii, 敬意.

Sorry if this post has a rather annoyed note to it but I am getting rather annoyed as someone who studies Japanese and Japanese culture when I see their culture dying away and become westernised. I am getting annoyed with how western countries are trying to tell everyone that they know best and that every other country should become westernised.

Frankly, I doubt the most Japanese dojo in the west is as Japanese as the most westernized sports gym in Japan. And Japanese culture is more than just the cosmetic trappings of bowing, kamiza, keiko-gi, and terminology in a dojo. It's also a set of conceptions that are the starting point for interaction with the world, a set of conceptions often quite different from someone born and raised in the west. It is no disservice to understand that a lot of what happens in a dojo is simply cultural cross-dressing. It's an excellent springboard for diving into Japanese culture, but let's not delude ourselves into thinking it is Japanese culture.

djyoung
02-08-2006, 02:10 PM
Very good points Josh.

I still think its the least you can do when learning a skill from another country to learn a little of their language and use the terms they made for things. The English language has borrowed many words (yes possibly often bastardised them) over the years for other things, why should it be any different in martial arts? :)

MikeLogan
02-08-2006, 02:27 PM
Josh.

I think that has got to be my favorite aiki-web post ever. Not really negative, not really positive, purt' near objective in fact. Wow.

mike.

koz
02-27-2006, 07:14 AM
...your learning a part of Japanese culture when you learn a Japanese martial art, the Japanese language is also a part of Japanese culture right??? So in other words its not "lets try and make this as Japanese as possible just to be cool" its "lets keep this as traditional and culturally accurate as possible whilst still being possible to learn in our country".

Well, I think you're reading a lot more into this than there really is.

There is a difference, in my eyes, between maintaining proper dojo etiquette and the traditional japanese names of techniques on the one hand and the calling everyone -san, eating nothing but Japanese pickles and rice, living in a cave and doing 1000 ken suburi every morning and evening on the other.

You can try too hard, you know.

And why would you call an instructor -chan or even -san? All teachers in Japan are -sensei.

That's of course a literal translation. If they are yondan and above, yes, then sensei is a title rather than a description.

Sorry if this post has a rather annoyed note to it but I am getting rather annoyed as someone who studies Japanese and Japanese culture when I see their culture dying away and become westernised.

This is, of course, opens another discussion entirely. Cultures evolve or stagnate. A culture that does not change over time is one that is dying, not the one that evolves.

Kaan Berberoglu
03-15-2006, 12:51 AM
All are very true arguments. Very informative, too. I personally respect all your perspective. Thank you, all.