View Single Post
Old 08-17-2009, 01:27 PM   #47
Dojo: Shobu Aiki Dojo - OKC, OK
Location: Norman, OK
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 19
Re: Sempai/Kohai Relationship in Aikido

If you look at the senpai/kouhai relationship through a certain lens (someone who doesn't speak fluent japanese, hasn't lived in Japan), then it's easy to have the view point of "It just means senior and junior student". And that's true, to a certain extent. If you get out your japanese - english dictionary, then that's all the information you're going to get. However, most people who have spent a significant amount of time in Japan will tell you that, for better or worse, the senpai/kouhai thing is ABSOLUTELY UNAVOIDABLE IN ANYTHING YOU DO (if you're japanese). Kendo Club. Work. Etc. And it isn't just "Oh, he's the senior student who is fostering my education and guiding me". It's been stated on here before that there have been many and frequent abuses of the relationship, which all stem from the fact that, in that relationship, you pretty much have to kowtow to your seniors. I hate to say it, but arguing with your senpai so much that you annoy them is not something that would be acceptable.

Jouge Kankei (上下関係 the japanese term for the senpai/kouhai relationship) doesn't just exist in martial arts, as I've said. In fact, I recently watched one of my favorite comedy shows (Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!!), where they used hidden cameras to film famous "senpai" comedians getting extremely angry at their "kouhai" for the tiniest reasons. You would think that, in America, even if it were your boss that was screaming on you, you would at one point stand up and say, "I don't deserve to be treated this way, I'm leaving" (that's the nice version, too). But on this tv show, because of the senpai/kouhai thing, you get to watch these kouhai squirm, beg for forgiveness, and a few even start crying openly. After it's revealed that they're on a tv show, everyone laughs and there's the "awww, you got us!" kind of feeling, but there is also that feeling of the kouhai being angry, and feeling abused at the whole situation. You have no idea what some people are put through because of the senpai/kouhai relationship. But here's the good news: we aren't Japanese! We don't even have to risk it! We can just learn together, get better, and avoid possible abuse and social discomfort!

As a foreigner in Japan, you pretty much get a pass on cultural stuff. They don't really care if you hold strictly to a lot of their social mores, as long as you're polite, and not openly rebellious. As such, I can understand Ron not wanting to participate in the senpai/kouhai thing because, as Americans, there's already a precedent set in sports and such for people learning from one another, being taught by superiors and other students alike, without having to kowtow or, in some situations, be abused. It's not an integral part of our societal interaction, as it is in Japan, so why force it? Sure, you can use the terminology, but if you are claiming to also be practicing the relationship as it is practiced in Japan while not doing some of the things I've mentioned above, it's a hollow pursuit.

As to the idea that, because Ron doesn't want to use terms such as Senpai/kouhai because he doesn't care for the (frankly) intrinsic social implications of those words, he's picking and choosing how "Japanese" he wants his art to be, I'm sorry, but that doesn't make sense. It may be Ryan's opinion (or maybe not) that the relationship is present at the heart of aikido in some form or fashion, but if we shouldn't pick and choose, then why isn't every single person practicing aikido fluent in Japanese? As supposedly intrinsic as the senpai/kouhai thing is to aikido, the Japanese language is certainly more so. Not just for techniques, either. If we are trying to transmit aikido exactly as it was and is taught in Japan, then we should all be speaking fluent Japanese. Not to do so would seem to be choosing to ignore the entire language based communication system developed for aikido, in Japan, by the founder and those who came before and after him.

Or is it ok to allow aikido to be adapted and taught in such a way that people here in the US can assimilate it into their lives without having to take on Japanese social attributes just because they exist? Of all my time in Japan, all the great things and not so great things I learned, one thing struck me hard:

I'm not Japanese. That's a good thing. I like being American. I like how we do things. I like Japanese culture, and I have Japanese friends, but I would feel utterly trapped in their culture if I felt I had to take on all of their social attributes to be "doing it right".

Last edited by rdavid445 : 08-17-2009 at 01:33 PM.
  Reply With Quote