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Old 08-11-2009, 08:10 AM   #8
Ron Tisdale
Dojo: Doshinkan dojo in Roxborough, Pa
Location: Phila. Pa
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 4,614
Re: 5th Kyu Shihan

Ryan Szesny wrote: View Post
Sempai just means "Senior" a student that is higher ranked or has been there longer is just that... A senior student. It has no connotation of a relationship other than they are also learning, but have been around the block more than you. Why would you be squemish about using the Japanese term when you practice a Japanese marital art. Do you not use terms like Ireminage, shihonage, and jujinage in favor of terms like entering throw, four corner throw, and figure ten throw?
I stated the reason I'd be cautious...because the term carries more significance that just "senior". I happen to train under a Japanese instructor, and from 3rd kyu on our tests are in Japanese. But the terms sempai and kohai are not used. The context for those terms is pretty strongly linked to certain Japanese cultural ideas. They don't always merge well in western social groups (in my opinion). Try a search on some of the abuse issues in Japanese University clubs. I think you'll see what I mean. Especially when linked to deaths in aikido keiko there. See below the wikipedia entry for a *very* basic idea.

Senpai (先輩?) and kōhai (後輩?) are an essential element of Japanese seniority-based status relationships, similar to the way that family and other relationships are decided based on age, with even twins being divided into older and younger sibling. Senpai is roughly equivalent to the western concept of "mentor", while kōhai is roughly equivalent to "protege". Or simply an "elder" vs. someone younger in the family/company/organization -- the terms are used more widely than a true mentor/protege in the West.

A lowerclass student will often refer to upperclass students as "senpai", and alumni/ae will often refer to alumni/ae from earlier classes as "senpai". Particularly if fate brings them together later on, such as joining the same company, serving on a board together, or simply being in a club or parent's organization at the same time.

On rare occasions, a younger person may also be considered the senpai of an older person if circumstances dictate -- such as if the older person entered an organization or company at a later time than the younger person did. This is not all that common, however.

Note that senpai is often seen romanized as "sempai" because it is pronounced that way (the Japanese "n" (ん) is pronounced as "m" when it comes before bilabials, such as "p").

In a Japanese school sports club, such as a baseball team, the kōhai are usually expected to perform various menial tasks for the senpai including washing clothes and cleaning. The kōhai may not be allowed to play the sport at all or have only limited opportunities to do so until they become senpai.

More than simple seniority, senpai implies a relationship with reciprocal obligations, somewhat similar to a mentoring relationship. A kōhai is expected to respect and obey their senpai, and the senpai in turn must guide, protect, and teach their kōhai as best they can. Senpai/kōhai relationships generally last for as long as the two people concerned stay in contact, even if the original context in which the senpai was senior is no longer relevant.
Secondly, how do you know what kind of relationship she has with her seniors? Just because she isn't Japanese doesn't mean she cannot relate. If that were true that one cannot understand a sempai relationship, can you honestly say that an American can understand a Sensei relationship... can one pass on any knowledge of Aikido without at least some knowledge of this relationship?
I don't know, and frankly, it's none of my business. I gave an opinion...only that. In passing. If she would like to take it upon herself to do some research to better understand my comment in passing, good for her. I'd suggest you do the same...

Ron (it is just an opinion, feel free to leave it if you like)

Ron Tisdale
"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
St. Bonaventure (ca. 1221-1274)
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