Thread: so and so san
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Old 02-08-2006, 12:21 PM   #8
Josh Reyer
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Location: Aichi-ken, Nagoya-shi
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Re: so and so san

David Young wrote:
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.

Josh Reyer

The lyf so short, the crafte so longe to lerne,
Th'assay so harde, so sharpe the conquerynge...
- Chaucer
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