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Old 01-21-2013, 11:41 PM   #9
Basia Halliop
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 711
Canada
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

I think things catch on depending on what one hears... if a teacher starts using something all his or her students will soon use the same word and it will sound natural to those people's ears. Likewise junior students in a dojo will listen to what the students senior to them say and copy that.

I've never heard 'Shihan' used as a title or honourific (e.g. as part of a name), so it would never occur to me to use it that way. I've only ever heard it used as a description ( X Sensei is a Shihan, there's always at least one Shihan teaching at Y seminar, etc). E.g., at seminars or when people come back from seminars and talk about the classes they took, the instructors are initially introduced as 'FirstName LastName Sensei' then referred to as 'LastName Sensei,' or if one is being more informal, I sometimes hear 'FirstName Sensei.' Or in situations where there's no ambiguity about which person is being spoken of, just 'Sensei'. And those options are what I'm used to hearing... And come to think of it, 99% of the time if someone is addressing the person directly (rather than speaking about them), they say 'Sensei' without including the name.

However I do occasionally notice when visiting another dojo that in some dojos they will sometimes put Sensei before the name rather than after, which to me sounds really odd and wrong, simply because it's not what I'm used to. But it's a much more common construction in english so maybe it's not surprising that in some dojos it's common. Maybe in a few generations it'll be the norm. Or not, I don't know.

I think the thing is, language evolves independently of its original roots. In english speaking environments, 'sensei' doesn't have the same meaning as it does to someone who speaks japanese, so the use of the word will likely evolve over time without reference to its original meaning. I imagine the same goes for shihan.

So yeah, some of it might be title inflation but in an english-speaking environment I wouldn't discount random drift as well.
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