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Old 11-03-2009, 12:50 PM   #26
Basia Halliop
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

It sounds like your sensei has some very specific preferences for etiquette. I think your best bet is just to ask him directly after class one day, (or even in an email depending how you feel comfortable), if he can clarify some of these things for you. If you're uncomfortable with that or keep finding his answers unclear, a friendly senior student in the dojo is also a possibility.

But since etiquette preferences can vary from teacher to teacher and dojo to dojo, I don't think asking people outside the dojo will do as much good as going to the source.

E.g., I've trained about five years and gone to a number of seminars with a number of different teachers and students from different dojos, and I had never even _heard_ of the existence of any rule about which side of the dojo someone stands on when practicing a technique. Other than safety related ones like 'throw away from other people'.

Last edited by Basia Halliop : 11-03-2009 at 01:00 PM.
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Old 11-03-2009, 02:13 PM   #27
Keith Larman
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

FWIW, years ago when I joined my current dojo I remember sensei clapping and everyone sitting down. I stood back to see what they did -- totally random placement. Lined up, but yudansha mixed with mudansha. No order. Just sit. So I sat on one end.

When sensei said "practice" we paired up with whoever bowed to you first. Gokyu or godan, it didn't matter. I loved it.

Nowadays I make a point when I'm taking a class to go find the newer students and sit next to them. So they don't feel quite so nervous when I bow to them when we're supposed to practice.

Yes, I still know who are my sempai. And who are kohai. But it is mostly a irrelevant detail day-to-day.

There are always customs/rituals/etiquette in every context. But sometimes we in the west try so hard to emulate what we think is right we end up taking things to an absurd level.

Lots of good posts in this thread explaining what sempai/dohai/kohai means. "When in Rome..." as the old saying goes is still of course relevant. But I always wonder when I see people who take it to the extremes. Seems too much attention paid to appearances and not enough on the good stuff that's supposed to be inside all that stuff...

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Old 11-03-2009, 02:54 PM   #28
"Lost & Confused"
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

As far as the higher ranker on the one side of the dojo goes, it isn't always that way. We were doing partnered forms with thw swords and whoever was next to sensei would be doing the same thing as him and the other two people on the other side of the dojo would be doing the other half. Evidently, by me going and standing next to sensei, that put me in the sempai spot because they were defending and the person on the other side would be attacking shomen. I get just about everything except sempai and kohai for people of the same rank... it is a bit confusing!
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Old 11-03-2009, 03:53 PM   #29
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

Quote:
Anonymous User wrote: View Post
As far as the higher ranker on the one side of the dojo goes, it isn't always that way. We were doing partnered forms with thw swords and whoever was next to sensei would be doing the same thing as him and the other two people on the other side of the dojo would be doing the other half. Evidently, by me going and standing next to sensei, that put me in the sempai spot because they were defending and the person on the other side would be attacking shomen. I get just about everything except sempai and kohai for people of the same rank... it is a bit confusing!
And from the discussion above, you also should have got that the sempai / kohai relationship does not extend to having 'spots' in the dojo when you do paired weapon practice. When I teach the 31-jo awase, it is easier initially to split the dojo members into two groups, with one side of the dojo doing uchi and the other side doing uke. However, the persons standing closest to me do not thereby become sempai to the other members. They might indeed be sempai, but they will be sempai for other reasons.

Having seen this and other similar discussions on Aikiweb, I have the impression that some teachers / dojos outside Japan invest more into the concept of sempai/kohai than we do here. I am not stating that this is wrong--just pointing out the difference. Dave Lowry has been mentioned above and in his book In the Dojo, he has a discussion on sempai/kohai pp.168-173. But he also includes another, separate discussion, on the roles of defender and attacker in the dojo. The entire chapter (Chapter 12, The Student), is worth reading. Lowry is very careful in this chapter, but he occasionally states things that do not quite square with my own experience here. It is not that he is inaccurate; simply that even in different arts / dojos, there are some aspects that are emphasized more than others.

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 11-03-2009 at 03:55 PM.

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Old 11-03-2009, 04:58 PM   #30
"Lost & Confused"
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

I will have to look into that. And my husband isn't just my sempai with swords, sensei considers him my sempai...period. I guess I just won't get it and I think asking how it works would be rude.

Needless to say, I have really appreciated everyone's imput. The different views have been pretty helpful. I have gotten some interesting thoughts as well as some things that I could look into reading now.

Thanks everyone
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Old 11-03-2009, 05:09 PM   #31
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

Quote:
Anonymous User wrote: View Post
I will have to look into that. And my husband isn't just my sempai with swords, sensei considers him my sempai...period. I guess I just won't get it and I think asking how it works would be rude.

Needless to say, I have really appreciated everyone's imput. The different views have been pretty helpful. I have gotten some interesting thoughts as well as some things that I could look into reading now.

Thanks everyone
And your sensei is not Japanese, but trained with K Chiba and at the Hombu, right? Well, I did the same thing, but had probably the advantage of being able to discuss with him issues such as this face to face.

This might be hard for you to accept, but discussing such topics in a forum like this, with people who do not know your sensei from Adam, occasionally puts people in the position of having to accept what their sensei says, along with the realization that he or she can be wrong.

Best wishes,

P A Goldsbury
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Old 11-03-2009, 08:09 PM   #32
Josh Reyer
 
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

Quote:
Anonymous User wrote: View Post
I will have to look into that. And my husband isn't just my sempai with swords, sensei considers him my sempai...period. I guess I just won't get it and I think asking how it works would be rude.
Your sensei is importing a culturally specific social convention into a foreign environment. It is not inappropriate to ask him to explain it, or at least his interpretation of it, to you in detail. In fact, it's his responsibility to do so. To not do so invites, well, loss and confusion.

Your sensei may have a misunderstanding about sempai-kohai. Or maybe he understands quite well but has not adequately explained his understanding to you. As Professor Goldsbury suggests, he might be wrong. OTOH, it's his dojo to order as he pleases. Or maybe he simply has the mistaken impression that your husband started earlier than you. In any event, he is bound to give more useful answers than we can here. I strongly recommend you broach the matter with him directly, and I doubt it will be a problem. If it is a problem, perhaps you should reconsider your place of training.

Josh Reyer

The lyf so short, the crafte so longe to lerne,
Th'assay so harde, so sharpe the conquerynge...
- Chaucer
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Old 11-04-2009, 10:37 AM   #33
"Lost & Confused"
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

Thanks again everyone. Maybe I can talk to him about it after class sometime. He is a pretty laid back person and I think he would answer my question. I just don't want him to think that I think I am better then my husband or something and that I am challenging him. I guess that is my biggest worry. You are right though, I will never know unless I ask!
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Old 11-04-2009, 03:56 PM   #34
Ron Tisdale
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

This very discussion is why I think this custom should be left...

In Japan.

Best,
Ron

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Old 11-05-2009, 06:08 AM   #35
Rennis Buchner
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

Quote:
Ron Tisdale wrote: View Post
This very discussion is why I think this custom should be left...

In Japan.
But then we'd have to find something else to split hairs about....
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Old 11-05-2009, 10:01 AM   #36
Brett Charvat
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

Maybe, but I hate to blame the custom for some Westerners' inability and/or unwillingness to understand it.
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Old 11-05-2009, 10:31 AM   #37
Basia Halliop
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

I think in discussions about etiquette (whether it's Japanese etiquette or any other kind of etiquette) a fact that often seems to get oddly neglected is that etiquette is a common language of rituals and signals that people use to interact and _communicate_ various things like, e.g., respect or insult or more subtle things like helpfulness or authority. Since by definition things that are 'etiquette' _aren't_ things that simply come from logical deduction, i.e., from ethical necessity or practical necessity, their entire use and purpose comes from the fact that they're a common language that both members in an exchange understand.

Trying to use rules of etiquette when both parties haven't established a shared language renders the whole exercise meaningless...
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Old 11-05-2009, 07:31 PM   #38
gdandscompserv
 
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

It was a little bit weird for me at Okinawa Aikikai, where I had been absent from for ten years, to have them treat me as sempai.
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Old 11-06-2009, 03:03 PM   #39
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Re: Sempai-Kohai relationship

"I will have to look into that. And my husband isn't just my sempai with swords, sensei considers him my sempai...period. I guess I just won't get it and I think asking how it works would be rude."

First and foremost, it is not rude to ask your sensei to explain himself if you don't understand something. It is never rude to ask your sensei a question. You should at all times feel comfortable to ask your Sensei any question. But, it is a matter of how you approach it. Don't approach him on the mat about it. Rather, ask him off the mat without other students around or paying much attention. Ask him in a way of gaining understanding.

I would harbor to guess the reasons he considers your husband your sempai despite you both starting aikido in that dojo at the same time:
1) As you stated, your husband has previously practiced aikido.
2) Your husband might be older than you even by a few months.
3) Your sensei sees your husband as more skilled or picking up aikido faster (Some sensei/schools do attribute sempai/kohai relationship to skill rather than the time you entered the dojo.)
4) Your sensei thinks the husband/male is always higher "in rank" than the wife/woman.
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