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Old 09-05-2012, 04:36 PM   #51
graham christian
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Gary Welborn wrote: View Post
In James P Owen's book "Cowboy Ethics" one of the values he talks to is "Give allegiance and respect where they are deserved and returned"....... for me to call you Sensei and have meaning/value this has to be in play......otherwise it is just a title with an uncertain future.

as always
Gary
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Old 09-05-2012, 05:12 PM   #52
Tom Verhoeven
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Christopher Li wrote: View Post
Well...that's the thing. It's an important part of Japanese culture, and it has correspondingly become a part of Aikido culture.

But that doesn't necessarily mean it's important any more than we should be eating Natto and drinking green tea just because Doshu does (I recommend both, but that's just my personal preference).

The question is, why is it necessary and what are the drawbacks? Especially, what are the drawbacks of implanting it in a foreign culture, and are the benefits really worth it?

IMO - the early instructors coming out of Japan (Tamura, Tada, Chiba, Yamada, Kanai, etc.) had gotten most of their actual teaching experience in university clubs during the build up after the war.

University clubs are notorious for their sempai-kohai shenanigans, and much of that was brought with them out of Japan.The sempai-kohai system was a familiar method for young instructors to impose order in a foreign environment. It might have been different if things had developed more organically.

I also wouldn't discount the effect of pre-war militarism on the martial arts - evidenced in the difference between koryu and gendai practices.

Best,

Chris
Na, the comparison with food and tea is over-simplifying the matter.

In the Western society we already have a junior-senior structure - but most people just do not seem to be aware of it. Perhaps because in daily life we no longer have it in a formal structure, but it is nevertheless there.

By practicing sempai - kohai structure (to me it is part of keiko) in the dojo one becomes conscious of it. And this may have a positive effect in the way we help and support one another.

I remember several training sessions by Tamura sensei were he explained sempai - kohai as a way to support each other. There was no emphasis on hierarchy as such. This can also be found in his books.

The problems that I have seen in a number of Aikido dojo were a result of NOT understanding sempai-kohai relation, and with that came often also a not understanding of the real relationship between teacher and student. Instead of a sempai-kohai structure they had an ordinary pecking order.

As far as the university shenanigans - don't you have them in the US as well? They do happen in the Netherlands, UK and France and they are usually between senior students and newcomers. And it has been like that for a long time.
It may or may not have had an effect on their teachings in the beginning, I am not aware of that.

I would not discount the effect of pre-war militarism either - I think it is important that everyone who practices Japanese Budo should educate themselves about the history and become also aware of the dark side of Budo.
At the same time I feel that in that period all over the world a lot of things that were in itself innocent and even good were stolen from us and misused.

Tom
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Old 09-05-2012, 05:43 PM   #53
Chris Li
 
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Tom Verhoeven wrote: View Post
Na, the comparison with food and tea is over-simplifying the matter.

In the Western society we already have a junior-senior structure - but most people just do not seem to be aware of it. Perhaps because in daily life we no longer have it in a formal structure, but it is nevertheless there.

By practicing sempai - kohai structure (to me it is part of keiko) in the dojo one becomes conscious of it. And this may have a positive effect in the way we help and support one another.

I remember several training sessions by Tamura sensei were he explained sempai - kohai as a way to support each other. There was no emphasis on hierarchy as such. This can also be found in his books.

The problems that I have seen in a number of Aikido dojo were a result of NOT understanding sempai-kohai relation, and with that came often also a not understanding of the real relationship between teacher and student. Instead of a sempai-kohai structure they had an ordinary pecking order.

As far as the university shenanigans - don't you have them in the US as well? They do happen in the Netherlands, UK and France and they are usually between senior students and newcomers. And it has been like that for a long time.
It may or may not have had an effect on their teachings in the beginning, I am not aware of that.

I would not discount the effect of pre-war militarism either - I think it is important that everyone who practices Japanese Budo should educate themselves about the history and become also aware of the dark side of Budo.
At the same time I feel that in that period all over the world a lot of things that were in itself innocent and even good were stolen from us and misused.

Tom
There is "a" junior-senior" structure, but it is markedly different than the one in Japan.

In the same vein - there are shenanigans in US universities, but that doesn't mean that all shenanigans are the same.

Tamura's view is a little idealized, IMO - there is a definite heirarchy in many circumstances - and a whole lot of pecking order in Japan. Actually the record in Japan (and in Aikido, too) among Japanese is not that great. What do we get from importing that?

And if it already exists in western culture, then why do we have to impose another system that does the same thing?

Best,

Chris

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Old 09-05-2012, 05:45 PM   #54
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Christopher Li wrote: View Post
Well, it's much more rigidly structured and formal than anything you normally see in the US these days. Plus, you tend to exacerbate things when you give them "exotic" titles, and you get people here who are more Japanese than Japanese people in Japan.

The question is - why add an additional cultural layer, and what does it really get you?

Best,

Chris
The fact that some terms and ideas do not directly translate to one's native language from Japanese (or other non-romance languages). You can oversimplify a term with an english word, but that often leads to a loss in translation. I know some people are afraid of being accused of being a Japanophile, but at the same time some ideas just don't hold the same symbolic meaning in english terms as they do in their native language.

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Old 09-05-2012, 05:51 PM   #55
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Adam Huss wrote: View Post
The fact that some terms and ideas do not directly translate to one's native language from Japanese (or other non-romance languages). You can oversimplify a term with an english word, but that often leads to a loss in translation. I know some people are afraid of being accused of being a Japanophile, but at the same time some ideas just don't hold the same symbolic meaning in english terms as they do in their native language.
That's true, as far as the terms themselves go. But what value do you get from changing your social model in order to understand those ideas - which are not Budo ideas, per se?

Are you saying that someone could not understand Aikido without going back to the Japanese mindset?

I've practiced in Japanese dojo in Japan, FWIW, that cared nothing for sempai-kohai.

Best,

Chris

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Old 09-06-2012, 07:09 AM   #56
Tom Verhoeven
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Re: Sensei?

You definitely are more sceptical about the Japanese ways then I am !
So if we would not incorporate the original sensei -semai - kohai structure how do you envision the direction to go?

Tom
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Old 09-06-2012, 08:15 AM   #57
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Christopher Li wrote: View Post
The question is - why add an additional cultural layer, and what does it really get you?

Best,

Chris
Some people take the coach structure to odd extremes too, both as the coach and the student, so you can't really use that as a negative against one and not the other. Realistically, a lot of people come to the art for that touch of another culture and the atmosphere of discipline and respect that it conjures in our minds. I don't really see any negatives to it and it brings people to the art that probably wouldn't be there otherwise, which some might see as a negative, but I do not. This doesn't really apply to the more Japanese than the Japanese extreme though, but that is an extreme.
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Old 09-06-2012, 08:18 AM   #58
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Tom Verhoeven wrote: View Post
You definitely are more sceptical about the Japanese ways then I am !
So if we would not incorporate the original sensei -semai - kohai structure how do you envision the direction to go?

Tom
Hello,

I think with these terms (sensei, sempai, kohai) it is not so much being skeptical as taking what you think you need and leaving the rest.

I have been living here for over thirty years and have developed my own intuitions about these terms, not from aikido training, but from being part of a large traditional Japanese organization like a national university. There all the terms are used and have their respective value, but the situations are very sharply defined. So you cannot have the terms without the context—the total context and you cannot focus on one aspect, like sempai helping kohai, and ignore the rest.

I have also been visiting the Netherlands on a regular basis for over thirty years to teach aikido. I have rarely heard any of the terms used, perhaps because I rarely use them myself, but also because they are not established as dojo terms. As others have mentioned, first names are regularly used and the addition of the title Sensei is very much the exception.

On the other hand, from the posts by Adam Huss, I can see that the terms are in frequent use in his own dojo and they have value there. It is not my place to pass any judgment about this. I merely state that the situation is quite different in the two dojos in Hiroshima where I am the senior instructor and it has always been different in the main dojo here, where I have trained since I came here and where the senior instructor has 8th dan rank. He is almost always referred to as Dojo-cho; Sensei is a title given to visiting shihans like Hiroshi Tada and sempai and kohai never used outside the university aikido clubs, where there is a very specific context.

So I tend to have a similar way of thinking as Chris Li (except that I do not think I am skeptical). As for envisaging a future direction, well, things work very well here. But things also seem to work very well for Mr Huss and probably for you as well.

Best wishes,

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 09-06-2012 at 08:24 AM.

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Old 09-06-2012, 09:10 AM   #59
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Tom Verhoeven wrote: View Post
You definitely are more sceptical about the Japanese ways then I am !
So if we would not incorporate the original sensei -semai - kohai structure how do you envision the direction to go?

Tom
There's really no one way to coach - or to teach anything, is there? Every culture and region has their own customs - and even people within those regions (depending on how fine-grained you want to get...). Why should it be any different - what does it get you?

Best,

Chris

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Old 09-06-2012, 11:25 AM   #60
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Re: Sensei?

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Henry Ellis wrote: View Post
When Kenshiro Abbe Sensei introduced Aikido to Britain in 1955 it was his teaching that once a student reached Shodan he/ she would be referred to as Sensei
Hi Henry,

I hope you're well. This explains something that I have always found very strange - all of the groups I've practiced with in the midlands that either are still, or were once connected to Ralph Reynolds organisation still do this. I always found it kind of uncomfortable, but at least I know where it came from.

Best Regards,
John

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Old 09-06-2012, 12:10 PM   #61
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Re: Sensei?

Thanks for the input, Prof Goldsbury! It's always great to your take on all things Japanese given your profession and location.

I guess I should clarify that I place importance on the actual relationship between senior and junior students...more so than the terms used. I feel like the dojo cho is only one person and can not be at more than one place at a time...creating a situation where senior kyu and junior dan students can assist in that development of their juniors (as long as there is some level of consistency with instruction). Our dojo places some importance on delegating responsibility, which I think helps ones growth as a person and martial artist. Actually, it is the responsibility of the senior kyu in class to ring the bell, line everyone up, and bow everyone in/out at our school.

As it relates to the terminology discussed, I guess I just don't know a simpler english translation that encompasses the meaning some of the Japanese terms have for me. To me, saying a particular student is my kohai (which I don't actually use as a title, and say only rarely and usually as a reference) means I have a special relationship with him or her. Its someone that I've bonded with, and seek to train with and help both on and off the mat. Currently, I have what could be termed a kohai. I recently helped him purchase a uniform, lent books and dvds that I thought would be appropriate and related to him (based on my knowledge of him as a person), train one-on-one outside of class, etc... We also have discussions about philosophy, life, work, relationships, etc (which I learn quite a bit from him about). I am certain he has no knowledge of terms like kohai, but I don't know how else to describe that kind of relationship other than to say "aikido friend."

When I was an uchideshi I had, what I called, and still do, a 'mentor,' in addition to my sensei/dojo cho. This person I wanted as mentor because I liked his approach to training, techniques, and felt I could learn a lot from him as a person and his ability to apply his aikido training to everyday life. I never referred to him as my sempai, just sensei...though at the time I was something like a 2nd kyu - shodan and he was yondan. Similarly we trained after and before class on the mat, as well as quite a bit of training 'off the mat.'

So I guess I was commenting on the importance of having that relationship within the dojo rather than importance of using terms such as kohai, dohai, sempai, sensei, sewanin, tetsudai, etc... We pretty much just use sensei in our school, sometimes attached to first names and sometimes last names. I'm not really sure why...

Last edited by Adam Huss : 09-06-2012 at 12:24 PM.

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Old 09-06-2012, 12:11 PM   #62
Keith Larman
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Re: Sensei?

Just as a fwiw... I sometimes use the sempai-kohai terminology with the kids in our kids program. But really not as any sort of strict "you must do this" sort of thing and certainly not with the depth of meaning it can often take on. As a matter of fact I don't use the terms very often. I'll just remind them that the students who have been there longer have some degree of responsibility in helping the newer ones. It's good for the kids in keeping them focused on their own behavior in class and helps build them up a bit, giving them a bit more confidence feeling they need to help and demonstrate proper behavior as well. As they get older, well, we don't talk about it much any longer.

Now of course this isn't the full "deep, richly cultural" meaning of sempai/kohai. But since the kids think it's special and important it can be helpful in teaching them better self-control, to help their fellow students, responsibility, etc.

So I don't get all that wound up about this stuff. And it's not like we're worshiping at the alter of all things Nihon...

Last edited by Keith Larman : 09-06-2012 at 12:12 PM. Reason: Really freakish typing error. Not sure what i was thinking of typing, but I got it wrong...

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Old 09-06-2012, 02:40 PM   #63
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Re: Sensei?

"Different culture, different place, different language, different customs. It seems kind of silly to me to insist on importing random Japanese customs that really have no purpose outside of the context of their culture."

I think some of the things being referred to here have a long history in western dojos. We pick things up from our teachers, they pick things up from their teachers, etc. It isn't necessarily 'imported' in some kind of forced or artificial or sudden way, often customs just naturally are passed on from teachers to students. If you follow the chain back enough, the geography does change, as do many other contextual things, but that doesn't necessarily make it fake. Neither does it mean it is or should be identical to its cousins across the world or to other generations; it will naturally have its own flavour. And each generation when they become teachers passes on their own version of the customs that feels natural or right to them.

Of course if someone is running a dojo if certain words or customs don't feel right to them they can always do things differently. But IMO if you belong to a small community where everyone does something a certain way, deliberately deciding to change it to 'something more logical' or 'something with a more local history' can just as easily end up feeling forced or unnatural.
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Old 09-06-2012, 02:50 PM   #64
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Basia Halliop wrote: View Post
"Different culture, different place, different language, different customs. It seems kind of silly to me to insist on importing random Japanese customs that really have no purpose outside of the context of their culture."

I think some of the things being referred to here have a long history in western dojos. We pick things up from our teachers, they pick things up from their teachers, etc. It isn't necessarily 'imported' in some kind of forced or artificial or sudden way, often customs just naturally are passed on from teachers to students. If you follow the chain back enough, the geography does change, as do many other contextual things, but that doesn't necessarily make it fake. Neither does it mean it is or should be identical to its cousins across the world or to other generations; it will naturally have its own flavour. And each generation when they become teachers passes on their own version of the customs that feels natural or right to them.

Of course if someone is running a dojo if certain words or customs don't feel right to them they can always do things differently. But IMO if you belong to a small community where everyone does something a certain way, deliberately deciding to change it to 'something more logical' or 'something with a more local history' can just as easily end up feeling forced or unnatural.
Sure, people can do what they like - but people who insist on it for some imagined deep oriental meaning, or as an essential part of the budo experience, well...

I've had folks (quite a few of them) insist that people who wouldn't bow to a picture ought to be excluded from training, for example...

Best,

Chris

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Old 09-06-2012, 03:30 PM   #65
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Christopher Li wrote: View Post
Sure, people can do what they like - but people who insist on it for some imagined deep oriental meaning, or as an essential part of the budo experience, well...

I've had folks (quite a few of them) insist that people who wouldn't bow to a picture ought to be excluded from training, for example...

Best,

Chris
Both of the dojo I train at stopped putting anything kind of shrine or kamidana in the kamiza area just to eliminate any potential issues. One has an American flag, the other has a chalk board.

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Old 09-06-2012, 03:39 PM   #66
Basia Halliop
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Re: Sensei?

"Sure, people can do what they like - but people who insist on it for some imagined deep oriental meaning, or as an essential part of the budo experience, well...

I've had folks (quite a few of them) insist that people who wouldn't bow to a picture ought to be excluded from training, for example..."

One way I've had it explained to me before was that there are certain values or mental processes that were in some way embodied or practiced through some of the etiquette that are genuinely an important part of training -- e.g., respect for others, self-control, and so on. At the same time, they might theoretically be embodied in many different ways, with the specific details of the etiquette being much less important than the actual attitudes that govern them. To me this makes sense...
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Old 09-06-2012, 03:42 PM   #67
Basia Halliop
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Both of the dojo I train at stopped putting anything kind of shrine or kamidana in the kamiza area just to eliminate any potential issues. One has an American flag, the other has a chalk board.
Personally I'd find it far far more creepy to bow to a political symbol than to a photo (especially in the context of a martial art where we are constantly bowing to other humans in a mutually respectful but totally non-worshiping way). I would not be comfortable bowing to a flag at all. YMMV.
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Old 09-06-2012, 05:57 PM   #68
Tom Verhoeven
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
Hello,

I think with these terms (sensei, sempai, kohai) it is not so much being skeptical as taking what you think you need and leaving the rest.

I have been living here for over thirty years and have developed my own intuitions about these terms, not from aikido training, but from being part of a large traditional Japanese organization like a national university. There all the terms are used and have their respective value, but the situations are very sharply defined. So you cannot have the terms without the context—the total context and you cannot focus on one aspect, like sempai helping kohai, and ignore the rest.

I have also been visiting the Netherlands on a regular basis for over thirty years to teach aikido. I have rarely heard any of the terms used, perhaps because I rarely use them myself, but also because they are not established as dojo terms. As others have mentioned, first names are regularly used and the addition of the title Sensei is very much the exception.

On the other hand, from the posts by Adam Huss, I can see that the terms are in frequent use in his own dojo and they have value there. It is not my place to pass any judgment about this. I merely state that the situation is quite different in the two dojos in Hiroshima where I am the senior instructor and it has always been different in the main dojo here, where I have trained since I came here and where the senior instructor has 8th dan rank. He is almost always referred to as Dojo-cho; Sensei is a title given to visiting shihans like Hiroshi Tada and sempai and kohai never used outside the university aikido clubs, where there is a very specific context.

So I tend to have a similar way of thinking as Chris Li (except that I do not think I am skeptical). As for envisaging a future direction, well, things work very well here. But things also seem to work very well for Mr Huss and probably for you as well.

Best wishes,
Dear Peter,
The word skeptical was not meant as a criticism, nor did it refer only to the terms sensei, sempai kohai (although "sensei" is the subject of this thread). I think Chris is at times critical and skeptical about the Japanese ways, much in the same way as I am skeptical about the western ways of thinking. In itself I see this as a healthy attitude.

It is only that we differ of opinion; where he criticizes sempai - kohai structure there I see something worthwhile studying and applying. Also I think that it is not a structure that is alien to us; it is not much different from the hierarchical structure on board of ships, the kitchen of a restaurant or the fire-brigade. I have trained in several traditional kobudo dojo where this structure was in use without any problems. It is typically the members and instructors of Aikido dojo who have problems with it. . .

As for your visits to the Netherlands, with all due respect, the organization that invited you, represented only a small part of the aikidoka of the Netherlands. There are dojo who do use the title sensei.and use it with a proper understanding of what it means.

As for my own training and teaching; it is a reflection of the teachings and the structure of the dojo in Japan where I am a member of. It works for me and I am more then happy with it.

Best wishes from the Auvergne,

Tom

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Old 09-10-2012, 07:44 AM   #69
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Re: Sensei?

Where I train we refer to whomever is teaching on the mat as sensei. Has nothing to do with rank. I do not hold a dan rank but have led class a couple of times and at those times it was not considered inappropriate by my teachers for other students to refer to me as sensei.

Mostly we only use the title when we are being formal. Even on the mat we generally call the instructor by their first name. It is just how things are done in our dojo. We are not particularly big on tradition in the dojo and etiquette is minimal but we do have a kamidama and we do bow to O'Sensei's picture and to me these things allow us to enjoy some connection with the tradition and history of aikido's founder. We show respect for his legacy by doing these things but nobody is forced to take part. People really do seem to make a bigger deal out of such things than they really need to.
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Old 09-10-2012, 08:32 AM   #70
Keith Larman
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Re: Sensei?

I have been looking but have been unable to find an old story. It was about a western fella walking in to a room in Japan. There he sees Japanese men wearing jeans, western shirts, cowboy hats, boots, spurs with a gun belt slung low. They walk around kind of bow legged saying "Howdy" and "pardner". Then they get together and practice their fast draw techniques in all sorts of different ways with their toy guns.

All meant to compare and contrast with typical westerners all dressed up in Japanese garb practicing their sword drawing techniques while using (and sometimes torturing) Japanese terms.

How much is "playing the part" and how much is "real" practice?

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Old 09-10-2012, 09:38 AM   #71
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Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Keith Larman wrote: View Post
I have been looking but have been unable to find an old story. It was about a western fella walking in to a room in Japan. There he sees Japanese men wearing jeans, western shirts, cowboy hats, boots, spurs with a gun belt slung low. They walk around kind of bow legged saying "Howdy" and "pardner". Then they get together and practice their fast draw techniques in all sorts of different ways with their toy guns.

All meant to compare and contrast with typical westerners all dressed up in Japanese garb practicing their sword drawing techniques while using (and sometimes torturing) Japanese terms.

How much is "playing the part" and how much is "real" practice?
The Japanese "cowboys" probably looked like this:


He's a participant in "Fast Draw" competitions in Japan..
Now.. do they call their teachers "sensei?" or "Sherrif"?

Inocencio Maramba, MD, MSc
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Old 09-10-2012, 11:10 AM   #72
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Re: Sensei?

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Keith Larman wrote: View Post
I have been looking but have been unable to find an old story. It was about a western fella walking in to a room in Japan. There he sees Japanese men wearing jeans, western shirts, cowboy hats, boots, spurs with a gun belt slung low. They walk around kind of bow legged saying "Howdy" and "pardner". Then they get together and practice their fast draw techniques in all sorts of different ways with their toy guns.
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Old 09-10-2012, 11:12 AM   #73
miser
Location: Weston-super-Mare
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Re: Sensei?

At the club I train at, 'sensei' is used more-or-less a gesture of politeness and respect acknowledging the training and knowledge acquired by a person. We don't usually use the term off-the-mat, but do sometimes. Generally a person starts being called sensei when they reach shodan as they usually begin to take on teaching responsibilities. I don't think the grade matters particularly with the term - I see it simply as an acknowledgement that the person being referred to is a person from whom others can learn.

Last edited by miser : 09-10-2012 at 11:14 AM. Reason: spelling
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Old 09-10-2012, 02:04 PM   #74
Keith Larman
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Re: Sensei?

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Jun Akiyama wrote: View Post
Ah, thanks Jun, that was it.

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Old 09-12-2012, 11:10 AM   #75
trl
 
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Dojo: Bob MacQuarrie Recreation Complex Aikido Club
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Talking Re: Sensei?

Quote:
Tom Verhoeven wrote: View Post
Or the pope? Would you use "his holiness" or call him by his first name?

Tom
"Uh... Hi Ben. Listen... you could learn a thing or two from Johnny's example. He was the man."
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