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Old 08-25-2009, 08:44 PM   #76
Chuck Clark
 
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Re: Sempai/Kohai Relationship in Aikido

Rocky, It's good to see you posting again... I trust all is well with you and your work. I think this subject of sempai/kouhai is one that is widely misunderstood. Lots of folks that I hear talking about it seem to only have heard stories about university, military, or company hazing incidents, etc. Of course, there's much more to it as you have written about very well.

best regards,

Chuck Clark
Jiyushinkai Aikibudo
www.jiyushinkai.org
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Old 08-26-2009, 01:16 PM   #77
Rocky Izumi
Dojo: GUST Aikido Club
Location: Salwa, Kuwait
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Re: Sempai/Kohai Relationship in Aikido

Thanks Chuck,

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.

15/06/03
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Old 08-26-2009, 10:17 PM   #78
gdandscompserv
 
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Re: Sempai/Kohai Relationship in Aikido

Quote:
Hiroaki Izumi wrote: View Post
Part of the problem we had in getting things done perfectly was the lack of a strong Sempai/Kohai relationship in the Dojo.
Ya see Rock, that's what we been trying to tell ya. It just doesn't work well outside of Japan.
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Old 08-26-2009, 11:25 PM   #79
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Sempai/Kohai Relationship in Aikido

Quote:
Hiroaki Izumi wrote: View Post
Thanks Chuck,

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.

15/06/03
Hello Rocky,

Well, here in Hiroshima, we have managed visits from high-ranking visitors with no problems and we do not have a clear cut sempai/kohai system in place. I think you can put in place an efficient framework for running the dojo without such a system.

Of course, our Japanese students might informally regard themselves as sempai or kohai, but I myself doubt it. The atmosphere of our dojo is quite different from that of the aikido club in Hiroshima University's Taiikukai, where sempai expect to be addressed as such. I suspect that the dead weight of Taiikukai tradition has an effect in maintaining the system--and in putting off increasing numbers of students from joining the club. So some of these students come to us, where they can have good training, but without all the sempai/kohai baggage that comes with it.

Best wishes,

PAG

P A Goldsbury
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Old 08-27-2009, 06:37 AM   #80
Ron Tisdale
Dojo: Doshinkan dojo in Roxborough, Pa
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Re: Sempai/Kohai Relationship in Aikido

I can also say that things tend to run very well at the Doshinkan without direct reference to those terms as well, and we host internationally known instructors quite often. But then, as our instructor is Japanese, he let's us know what we need to know far in advance.

Best,
Ron

Ron Tisdale
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"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
St. Bonaventure (ca. 1221-1274)
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Old 08-27-2009, 02:12 PM   #81
gdandscompserv
 
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Re: Sempai/Kohai Relationship in Aikido

Quote:
Ron Tisdale wrote: View Post
I can also say that things tend to run very well at the Doshinkan without direct reference to those terms as well, and we host internationally known instructors quite often. But then, as our instructor is Japanese, he let's us know what we need to know far in advance.

Best,
Ron
Ron,
Are you suggesting American instructor's wouldn't let you know what you need to know far in advance?
Ricky
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Old 08-27-2009, 02:26 PM   #82
Ron Tisdale
Dojo: Doshinkan dojo in Roxborough, Pa
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Re: Sempai/Kohai Relationship in Aikido

Hi Ricky, I'm suggesting that *some* american instructors might not be as aware of some of the "rules". I'm not an instructor, but I know that there's quite a bit I don't know, and probably a lot I don't know I don't know...

I guess my point was that there is a Japanese instructor who doesn't seem to lean on those titles/terms, and who does host people, and yet there aren't issues with who does what. People just step up...and if some need prodding, it's usually provided by one of the "most senior" students or the instructor himself.

Best,
Ron (prodding always gently applied, of course )

Ron Tisdale
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"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
St. Bonaventure (ca. 1221-1274)
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Old 09-07-2009, 09:12 AM   #83
Rocky Izumi
Dojo: GUST Aikido Club
Location: Salwa, Kuwait
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Re: Sempai/Kohai Relationship in Aikido

Quote:
Ricky Wood wrote: View Post
Ya see Rock, that's what we been trying to tell ya. It just doesn't work well outside of Japan.
Actually,. it has worked very well in all the Dojos in which I taught. The Dojo which I was referring to above, I am not the Sensei. I am just the visiting Chief Instructor for that federation (WIAF). The lack of a strong Sempai/Kohai relationship to which I refer is due to the fact that the Dojo is shared with a Karate Dojo and the relationships get mixed upn between the people through the separation of arts. As far as the Aikido people in the WIAF go, they performed marvelously and got everything done that they had to. They have a strong Sempai/Kohai relationship. The problems occurred due to confusion as to who was responsible for what, what things one group could do without the asking permission of the other group, and who to ask about getting certain things done. Because of the lack of a strong organization in the Karate side, some things went haywire. The Karate teacher is very good but his organization is structured strictly around himself without a Sempai/Kohai structure around that. As such, when he was not there, the other Karate students could not answer questions nor say who was in charge. Therefore, some things could not get done.

Overall, the Jamaica seminar, demonstrations, and formal presentations went very well. Much better than anyone ever expected. We were able to cover our deficiencies and perform in a was that the flaws were not evident. However, I knew they were there. I guess I expect perfection in these matters.

Well, the point is that in my experience, the strong Sempai/Kohai structure I create in my Dojos by making everyone responsible for their own Kohai, seems to have worked very well. Yes, situations have arisen where someone did not care for their Kohai well enough and that Kohai had to go to the Dai-Sempai to get a problem resolved. However, hardly any problem ever had to come up to me to be resolved. Only things which even the Dai-Sempai could not resolve came to me. So I think it worked very well. It let people know their responsibilities and made sure people were looked after, and it made sure that my time was spent largely on instruction rather than looking after things in the Dojo.

The nature of the relationship can be very formal, very relaxed, abusive, caring, one-dimensional, or multi-facetted. It is up to the people who create it. As Peter says, at his Dojo, there is a very informal relationship which does not work like most other Sempai/Kohai systems in Japan. However, Peter, you cannot dispute that there is a relationship among the members of the Dojo and that there is a hierarchy among the relationships. In that sense, there is a Sempai/Kohai system in your Dojo, even though it is not like the one that everyone imagines as being typically Japanese. Maybe I shouldn't use the term Sempai/Kohai System since I don't use it in this very limited fashion. Perhaps I should say a hierarchical system of interpersonal relationships based on a hierarchical pattern of mutual responsibility and authority which is governed by the hierarchical structure within the Dojo based on either technical, social, and/or age differences. However, that is just too long for me and the Sempai/Kohai relationship works easier.

Rock
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