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happysod 01-08-2003 01:04 PM

Call a sensei a sensei?
Do you call your teacher "sensei" outside of the dojo? If so, is this normal for your dojo?

The reason I'm starting this thread is down to Eric's call me sensei thread, so blame him.

Following Jun's gentle "stick to the point of the thread" I wanted to respond to the following from Chris

"If you had to opportunity to meet O Sensei today how would you address him??? Nice to meet you Mr. Morihei? Hows it goin Ueshiba?

The title of Sensei has its' place and should be used and applied with common sense to show respect to someone who teaches you. If I run into my instructor in town I don't address him with "hey Dom" I simply say good afternoon Sensei, no big deal, just basic stuff."

Nope, just can't get this one myself. Outside of the dojo I call people by their given name. Depending on how formal our relationship is this may or may not have that country's normal honorific. So, yes, I would say Mr. Morihei if we'd ever met in normal life (and I could stop stammering/giggling inanely etc.). However, I have heard sensei used outside the dojo and I find this slightly disturbing as there is more of an emphasis on the word sensei outside of Japan and it isn't a common-use appellation. Using this term outside of a dojo context seems to imply the recognition of another person's superiority to yourself that is to be carried into all areas of life, not just the dojo (shudder).

OK, had my say, have fun pointing out my obvious flaws of logic...

rachmass 01-08-2003 01:22 PM

Hmnn, well, I call my primary teacher "sensei" out of the dojo too. He is Japanese, and maybe that is part of it; maybe it is partly as the norm from the dojo I was brought up in. I certainly address Yamada Sensei as Sensei, as well as Chiba Sensei, Kanai Sensei, and Shibata Sensei.

Folks who are more contemporary to me I generally call by their names outside the dojo (not in the dojo), but then again, they are hardly that senior.

The harder one for me is the sensei who are Western and in the 5th, 6th and 7th dan range and seem casual. My inclination is to call them sensei too, both in and outside of the dojo. Sometimes I get corrected and asked to call them by their given names, but I would prefer to err on the side of formality rather than be too casual.

Anyone else?

MikeE 01-08-2003 01:40 PM

When I first met Sosa Sensei, he asked me to call him Bill. I just could not do it. Not even in private when it was just he and I at his house. In my eyes he had my respect and deserved to be called sensei.

And everyone except his wife called him Sensei anyway. :)

I have met people of similar rank that I didn't feel the inclination to call sensei.

I guess for me it's the impression and energy I get from the person. Regardless of ethnicity.

The good thing is there are very few high ranking aikidoka that I don't have respect for.

rachmass 01-08-2003 01:57 PM

ooh, I hope I wasn't being ethnocentric, didn't mean that! I meant it in terms of the casualness that is so often there....oops!

lt-rentaroo 01-08-2003 02:46 PM

I've always referred to my instructor's as sensei ______ or shihan______. The kids in my children's class call me sensei in and out of the dojo, for them it's entirely out of respect.

Tim Harley 01-08-2003 03:41 PM

I don't think I use the title Sensei other than in class or in being descriptive. That's not to be disrespectful. I've never called a teacher of anything, "Teacher". But I call them Mr. or Ms. accordingly. In the Dojo, I don't often ask for anything. I use proper etiquette when bowing and entering or leaving the mat and use "Domo Arigato Gozaimashita." or "Thank you very much, Sensei."

Something for me to think about.


DaveO 01-08-2003 04:14 PM

I personally call my Sensei by her given name outside the dojo; the same holds true for the senseis of other dojos whom I consider to be personal friends. This is part a reflection of familiarity, and also of rank, I think; if I were ever fortunate enough to be a member of a dojo run by - for instance - Chin or Kashewaya Senseis, I would refer to them by their title. Just my own personal way, I think. :)

erikmenzel 01-08-2003 05:03 PM

I call my teacher sensei when it is aikido or dojo related. At other occasions, like in the pub or on the street, I call him by his given name.

Of course it gets complicated when we start talking about aikido in the pub.

Karen Wolek 01-08-2003 06:45 PM

I think that I would feel funny calling my sensei anything BUT sensei. But I don't really see him outside of the dojo and anytime I talk to him, it is "aikido-related", so not much opportunity there! ;).....and I just started Aikido three months ago. So maybe once I know him for awhile, it might be easier to call him by his first name. I don't know! Good question, though!

Thalib 01-08-2003 07:57 PM

At first, during the first year I believe, I called my Sensei by his given name. The strange thing is over the years I have quite a respect for him that I and my fellow students call him Sensei on and off the matts.

This is not true however for other yudanshas. Not that I disrespect them. I call them by their given name if their about my age group and call them sirs if they have quite an age difference with myself.

I call my Sensei "Sensei" not because I have to, it's because I want to, it's because I respect him as a teacher. The same as I repect a lecturer or a teacher in and outside the classroom. I also call people "Sensei" for those who has earned that respect, not because of the color of their belt.

Suru 01-08-2003 07:58 PM

I had basketball and golf coaches in high school. I always called them "Coach ..." whether I was on the court or course, or in school. I almost always call my sensei "Sensei" unless I get a vibe that they'd rather me call them by their name instead. So, I see very little difference between "Coach Smith" or "Coach" and "Smith Sensei" or "Sensei."


akiy 01-09-2003 12:48 AM

For me, it's cultural as I'm Japanese and have that culture integrated into my life.

My current teacher is Japanese. I call him "sensei" when I speak to him directly and also when I speak about him to others. This occurs both off and on the mat. (Eg "Sensei, did you want to catch a bite to eat after class?" Now, if I weren't involved in aikido at all and he were just your average run-of-the-mill guy, I'd probably still call him by his last name and "san" as that's natural and polite in the Japanese language/culture (as he's older than I am and, hence, "higher" on the hierarchical societal structure).

As it stands, I pretty much call all Japanese aikido teachers "sensei" both on and off the mat, even if I'd never trained with that person in my life. It's just natural to me. I'd feel like I were slighting the person by not using "sensei." It just feels, well, incorrect almost at a biological level or something if I started referring to them as "Yamada," "Chiba," and such.

Usually in Japanese culture, only people who are at about the same hierarchical level call others by their last name without "san" or such, and even that after some acquaintance. When I was doing research in Japan during college, folks in the undergratuate section called me "Akiyama san" while the doctoral candidates and such called me "Akiyama kun." If, say, I had been classmates with one of them for a while, they might have called me "Akiyama."

Now, non-Japanese aikido teachers I'll usually address by their first name but use "sensei" on the mat (eg "Mary sensei," "John sensei") but just by their first name off the mat. Even our 6th dan senior student here I'll just call by his first name off the mat. Some folks, though, I'll say have earned my respect and the whole Japanese cultural hierarchical thing kicks in; I do call some Western aikido teachers (most with thirty to forty years of experience) "sensei" too...

But, when I'm speaking of teachers in the third person to folks who may not know them personally, especially to folks who may hold the teacher in high regard, I'll usually use "sensei" in that context to be polite.

Hope that didn't muddy up the waters too much.

-- Jun

Edward 01-09-2003 01:34 AM


Do you mean that Japanese teachers deserve more respect than non-Japanese? And that non-Japanese should have at least 30-40 years experience before they deserve this title off the mats?

batemanb 01-09-2003 02:57 AM


Edward Karaa (Edward) wrote:

Do you mean that Japanese teachers deserve more respect than non-Japanese? And that non-Japanese should have at least 30-40 years experience before they deserve this title off the mats?

I'm not answering for Jun, but I don't think that's quite how he meant it. I was/ am going to write something similar.

Here in the UK, I have always called everyone at the dojo by their first name on and off the mat, that includes visiting sensei. This is not done out of disrespect, it's just the culture in our dojo.

When I was living in Japan, Sensei was always referred to as Sensei, both on and off the mat. There were in fact more than one in our association, so we usually referred to them as "surname" sensei. I don't recall anyone being called shihan (except during announcements at the All Japan Embutaikai), the only other title I heard (apart from Doshu) was kaicho, and that was reserved for the founder of our association, he is usually referred to as Kaicho, although sensei is equally acceptable.

Going back to what Jun was saying, my take on it is that it is a cultural thing mixed with personal comfort. I feel quite happy referring to a Japanese sensei as "sensei", however, despite the fact that we are studying a Japanese art, I don't always feel comfortable referring to a wester sensei as such. That's not to say that it doesn't slip out from time to time, I just avoid using the term back home if possible.

happysod 01-09-2003 03:29 AM

Unfair! I was expecting to get lambasted to the 13th generation, instead you've confounded me by reasoned argument. As far as I can see, most agree that the use of the "sensei" honorific in non-dojo situations seems to be determined by a combination of familiarity and/or cultural imperatives. This seems emminently reasonable. However, I still find myself unhappy with the thought of using the term outside the dojo, but I'll put that down to my own background and culture.

What I'm now curious about is how people who are actually referred to as sensei by the students outside the dojo feel about their students doing this? The only time I ever experienced this (a more incorrect use of the term I can't imagine I hasten to add) I felt only acute embarressment.

Zenogantner 01-09-2003 04:28 AM

In Germany, I call my teacher by his first name, and here in Singapore, I call him/her first name + "Sensei".

If I called my German teacher "Sensei", he'd be a little bit surprised (no one does this), and I think it would be the same for my Singaporean teachers if I call them just by their first names. I do not think it would hurt their egos, as they seem quite humble to me.

akiy 01-09-2003 08:52 AM


Edward Karaa (Edward) wrote:
Do you mean that Japanese teachers deserve more respect than non-Japanese? And that non-Japanese should have at least 30-40 years experience before they deserve this title off the mats?

I don't think I'm using the title as a sense of respect, per se.

I'm studying aikido. I'm a part of the aikido world. Heck, I'm part of the budo world. As such, I'm sensitive to knowing who is a teacher and who isn't. Also as a Japanase citizen and having been brought up in the Japanese culture, I'm inculcated with the language's nuances.

When I encounter any Japanese person, it's just a part of me to be polite; that's just a part of the Japanese language and culture (the two, of course, are almost inseperable). Regardless of who the person might be, if they're Japanese, it usually makes a lot more common sennse to me to use at least "san" after their name.

Combine that with my involvement in aikido pretty much forces me to use Japanese people's titles. That's why I'd use "sensei" for Japanese people. It's not out of "respect," per se, but due to the fact that that's how you'd address them in Japanese. The fact that most Japanese instructors whom I've met in the art are older than I am pretty much requires I use "sensei" with them, too.

However, I've lived in the United States for the past 25 years (with a brief stint in Japan for university research). It's the culture and language here to call people by their first names. It's not a sign of disrespect to do so, especially with folks whom I personally know. Also, many of the Western teachers with whom I've studied I'd consider to be a personal friend. Combine the two and you get the fact that it feels a lot more natural for me to call Western people by their first names.

However, with some teachers whom I've encountered, I'm not "friends," per se. These happen to be those who already occupy a very high place in the hierarchy. Although I know them and they know me, it's mighty difficult for me to overcome my Japanese cultural tendencies combined with my aikido involvement that, in this case, I call them Such-and-such sensei instead of something like Bill sensei or Frank sensei.

Of coruse, there are some Western folks I know whom I consider to be a personal friend who happen to have studied aikido for the past 40 to 50 years. These people I'll just call by their first names due to my interaction and relationship off the mat. Japanese folks, regardless of how well I know them off the mat, I'll most likely always call Such-and-such sensei.

So, as Bryan said, it's just an interesting mix of personal and cultural comfort. It's not that I respect Japanese instructors more -- it's just that, to me, the Japanese and Western cultural influences with which I've grown up show up (rather interestingly, if I may say so myself)...

Hope that made more sense...

-- Jun

Edward 01-09-2003 11:41 AM

Jun, I knew this is what you meant from the beginning. I just saw the "suki" in your first post and I couldn't resist the temptation :)

akiy 01-09-2003 11:49 AM

Heh -- thanks, Edward for keeping me honest. I promise I'll stop by the next time I'm in Bangkok..

-- Jun

Ron Tisdale 01-09-2003 11:53 AM

I really liked those answers, Jun. Strangely enough, I tend to operate the same way, but (of course) I'm not japanese. I'm always feeling caught between wanting to operate in a proper fashion relative to the cultural aspects of aikido, and *not* wanting to be a japanophile. It is sometimes a very thin line indeed.

Ron Tisdale

Mike Collins 01-09-2003 12:21 PM

I have called my teacher by his first name at times, and frequently I've called him Sensei. Usually, but not always, in the dojo, it's Sensei; in most other situations it's Jack, unless it's somehow Aikido related and it's important that we each recognize our relative positions in that context, or that others see him receive that respect.

The teachers I've been acquainted with who're from Japan are always Sensei, and I have no idea why, but there's such a gulf of experience between us, I'd simply not feel comfortable calling them anything else. I have friends who are way beyond me in rank, up to 6th dan, and if they've not been my teacher, except as a training partner, and often when they have, I still refer to them by their name and add "san" if they live in Japan.

Teachers I don't know well, but respect, will almost always be Sensei, whether they're American or Japanese.

I doubt rules are really as critical as a certain kind of awareness of custom and appropriateness.

Sven Groot 01-10-2003 07:17 AM

I usually refer to him as Sensei, both on and off the mat. I've never met him outside the dojo, so that's never come up.

I haven't been doing Aikido for very long, and I feel I do not know my Sensei enough to feel comfortable addressing him as Tom, and somehow using Sensei (without a name) seems less awkward to me than saying Mr. Verhoeven.

Hanna B 01-10-2003 05:55 PM

Thanks Jun, that was very interesting. I have had a slight problem with Japanese teachers being called titles, while native teachers around me are just called their names. You have given me a good explanation for this.

Edward 01-10-2003 10:13 PM


Jun Akiyama (akiy) wrote:
Heh -- thanks, Edward for keeping me honest. I promise I'll stop by the next time I'm in Bangkok..

-- Jun

That would be great! Hopefully soon.

As for myself, I always make sure to call any person who officially instructs a class "sensei", on and off the mats, regardless of their nationality. There are however people with whom I developed a very close friendship, these I call "sensei" only on the mats. Another group is my Sempai with whom we started on a first name basis, but later became instructors. These I still call them by first name on and off the mats.

strider 01-13-2003 04:45 PM

well, I think the dilemma of calling someone sensei or something else is related to degree of your relationship in practice. People around me ,who are older or close friends to my sensei, call him by his first name.

I think it make sense, if you call a doctor, professor or principal by their names in their lives it is also appropriate to call a sensei by his name out of dojo.

As I cited this is my observation and I don't know how should be in theory, either.

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