Re: Sempai/Kohai Relationship in Aikido
Just sitting at the Toronto airport waiting to check in and find my wife who flew in from Regina. Got back from doing the Jamaica seminar yesterday and headed out to do the England seminar this weekend before heading back to Kuwait. The Jamaica seminar went well considering we had a visit from the In-coming Ambassador from Japan to Jamaica. We had to hustle to get the Dojo ready for Yamaguchi-sama and his wife, set up security, clean the street, and teach the students the correct etiquette.
Part of the problem we had in getting things done perfectly was the lack of a strong Sempai/Kohai relationship in the Dojo. I see the relationship as one of responsibility and without a clear-cut set of relationships, some responsibilities for managing certain things for the visit and demo fell between the cracks and Kiyoshi Payne and I had to fill in those cracks ourselves.
When it comes to a situation such as the visit of a high-ranked dignitary to the Dojo, no mistakes can be allowed. In those cases, the Sempai/Kohai relationship becomes critical for ensuring messages are passed on, responsibilities assigned, and checks are done to ensure things are ship-shape. The Sempai/Kohai relationship helps by providing a structure for getting things done.
To provide a bit more background on this, I am attaching an old piece I wrote for one of my Dojos way back:
Sempai and Kohai
The term Sempai can be translated to be something like a mentor. The Sempai is a senior student who takes another junior student under their wing, helping them progress, stay out of trouble, learn the ropes around the dojo, teaches them special lessons, disciplines them, and makes sure that the junior student is on the right path. The junior student is then the Kohai of that senior student. The Sempai-Kohai relationship is a special personal one that each must accept willingly. The relationship never ends even if the Kohai may someday attain a higher ranking than the Sempai. The Sempai may not even be a higher rank than the Kohai. However, the Sempai will always have been at the Dojo longer than the Kohai. Only by being at the Dojo for a longer time, does the Sempai understand all the things that go on in the Dojo. The Sempai will know the moods of the Sensei better and have a better idea of things that must be done in the Dojo and how those things should be done.
All students in the Dojo should have a Sempai except for the Dai-Sempai who is the top student and has been there the longest. The Dai-Sempai only has the Sensei to look after him or her. All students in the Dojo should also have a Kohai, except for the newest student who has no one below them.
The Dai-Sempai has almost as much responsibility for the Dojo as the Sensei. Whether it functions well or falls apart is all on the head of the Dai-Sempai. He or she is the glue that holds the Dojo together. He or she is responsible for carrying out the wishes of the Sensei, making sure things are done the way Sensei wants and making sure all things are done, period. He or she is the one who handles overall discipline in the Dojo. He or she is the one who translates the wishes of Sensei into action. It is the most difficult position in the Dojo since he or she will be the brunt of all of Sensei's anger and displeasure at what is going on in the Dojo. If the Sensei is away, the Dai-Sempai is responsible for making sure the Dojo continues operating as Sensei wishes. It is not a pleasant position and should be taken only by those students who are committed to improving quickly in Aikido and are interested in becoming a Sensei at some time. Their whole life must become the Dojo and Sensei's welfare.
The Sempai-Kohai relationship does not happen automatically. This would be dangerous since not everyone makes a good Sempai or Kohai to each other. The two must be able to develop a special relationship of understanding and trust. Thus, there will be people with no Sempai or Kohai in the Dojo, even though this should not happen.
Being a Sempai is not easy. It involves a lot of responsibility. If Kohai is not feeling well or is in some sort of trouble, Sempai should look after them, even if it is outside the Dojo. Being a Kohai is not easy. It involves a lot of trust of the Sempai and means helping Sempai do their duties in the Dojo like maintenance, doing the books, taking care of Sensei, or taking care of other students. Some popular Sempai may have several Kohai but each Kohai will have only one special Sempai.
The Sempai-Kohai relationship helps the Dojo and the students in several ways. Often, Sensei will only show a technique once. Sempai is responsible for teaching Kohai if they are unsure about the technique (this should be done outside the Dojo practice time). This aids the Sensei in teaching the students and gives the Kohai a one-on-one lesson that may be more helpful (this is the time that Sempai should do the talking to the Kohai, not in the Dojo during practice time). It helps in the discipline of the Dojo as Sempai can explain to the Kohai if they have done something wrong (again, this should be done by everyone except the Dai-Sempai outside the Dojo practice time).
This also teaches Sempai how to become a Dai-Sempai and sometime later, a Sensei. It also helps the Sempai by providing them with someone who can help them in doing their Dojo duties. It teaches Sempai how to teach and keep discipline. It helps Sempai practice their teaching, directing, and how to get people to do what they want. It even gives Sempai extra practice, working with their Kohai.
In response, Kohai must listen to Sempai and do things the way Sempai directs.
The Sempai-Kohai relationship is integral to the function of a Dojo. If the majority of students do not develop a Sempai-Kohai relationship, the Dojo will fall apart since Sensei cannot do everything nor look after the Dojo by himself. Look to develop a Sempai-Kohai relationship but be careful who you choose for a Sempai or Kohai. It is a life-long relationship and should not be entered into casually.