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Old 01-17-2013, 11:34 AM   #1
Ellis Amdur
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What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Particularly in aikido, I've increasingly noticed that when trying to speak to a teacher with respect, one may refer to him or her as "shihan" (or, "soke," "shinan," "shisho", to give a few more examples). It occurs in Japan, too, and some teachers seem to expect it. But it's not really correct.

Shihan is a license, a diploma, more than a term of address. One doesn't get, on the other hand, a "sensei license." Calling someone shihan would be somewhat like calling your university professor, "diplomate emeritus."

One thing that people may not get is that within the formality of the dojo, there is also, hopefully, some ease. Referring to one's instructor by an awkward locution would make things "stiff," if not odd. And those teachers who expect or demand it, therefore, tend to create a brittle, rigid relationship with their students.

So I'd recommend the use of the term "sensei" - it gives respect, but defines you, within the context of the relationship you have with your instructor, as having your own integrity. As most surely know, sensei means "lived before" - implicit in that is "I intend to catch up to you."

BTW - Kancho (like Shioda Gozo) or Dojocho (like lots of people) is a common term - kind of "formal/informal" - sort of like "boss"

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Ellis Amdur

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Old 01-17-2013, 12:32 PM   #2
Walter Martindale
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Kinda thought that way... "Allow me to introduce ____, the Shihan in our area" but "Excuse me, sensei, I don't understand this movement"... addressed to the same person..
Shihan starts a seminar - "Sensei ni rei." not "Shihan ni rei."
Although I ain't likely to catch up to no shihan...

Cheers,
W
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Old 01-17-2013, 02:29 PM   #3
Chris Li
 
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Quote:
Ellis Amdur wrote: View Post
Particularly in aikido, I've increasingly noticed that when trying to speak to a teacher with respect, one may refer to him or her as "shihan" (or, "soke," "shinan," "shisho", to give a few more examples). It occurs in Japan, too, and some teachers seem to expect it. But it's not really correct.

Shihan is a license, a diploma, more than a term of address. One doesn't get, on the other hand, a "sensei license." Calling someone shihan would be somewhat like calling your university professor, "diplomate emeritus."

One thing that people may not get is that within the formality of the dojo, there is also, hopefully, some ease. Referring to one's instructor by an awkward locution would make things "stiff," if not odd. And those teachers who expect or demand it, therefore, tend to create a brittle, rigid relationship with their students.

So I'd recommend the use of the term "sensei" - it gives respect, but defines you, within the context of the relationship you have with your instructor, as having your own integrity. As most surely know, sensei means "lived before" - implicit in that is "I intend to catch up to you."

BTW - Kancho (like Shioda Gozo) or Dojocho (like lots of people) is a common term - kind of "formal/informal" - sort of like "boss"

Best
Ellis Amdur
It seems to me that when I started everybody was "sensei" - but there seems to have been title inflation since then...

OTOH, when speaking to Mitsuteru Ueshiba, who was generally fairly formal, I noticed that he was quite careful about referring to people as "such and such Shihan". Of course, that may be because he's aware of the naming conventions in use now and doesn't want to make waves.

Best,

Chris

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Old 01-17-2013, 02:47 PM   #4
Ellis Amdur
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Chris - question: Referring "to" or referring "about?"

Even <about> is a little discordant, but less so than <to>.

Another nuance is "distance" If I refer about someone as Kanai shihan, for example, it does not imply the personal relationship between us as Kanai sensei.

Ellis Amdur

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Old 01-17-2013, 03:17 PM   #5
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Quote:
Ellis Amdur wrote: View Post
Chris - question: Referring "to" or referring "about?"

Even <about> is a little discordant, but less so than <to>.

Another nuance is "distance" If I refer about someone as Kanai shihan, for example, it does not imply the personal relationship between us as Kanai sensei.

Ellis Amdur
"Referring to" as in "talking about". Yes, part of it (and this is also just my impression) is that he is still very conscious of the distance in the relationships between himself and the old guard.

Best,

Chris

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Old 01-17-2013, 03:31 PM   #6
Ellis Amdur
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Makes sense. I used to see the same thing with Nidai Doshu. On the one hand, Kuroiwa sensei would tell me how Doshu, then "Waka sensei," would get drunk and try to grab the butts of the bar maids, and they'd carry him home singing. With that background, establishing a little formality and distance would be essential.

And on the other hand, he referred to Tomiki sensei as Tomiki-san, stating that he shouldn't call what he did "aikido."

Ellis Amdur

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Old 01-18-2013, 02:13 AM   #7
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Quote:
Christopher Li wrote: View Post
It seems to me that when I started everybody was "sensei" - but there seems to have been title inflation since then...

OTOH, when speaking to Mitsuteru Ueshiba, who was generally fairly formal, I noticed that he was quite careful about referring to people as "such and such Shihan". Of course, that may be because he's aware of the naming conventions in use now and doesn't want to make waves.

Best,

Chris
When I first started aikido, in the UK, none of my teachers was ever called 'Sensei'. I regularly heard the term later, however, always applied to K Chiba. The English equivalent of this term was thought to be 'Professor' and I regularly saw letters addressed to 'Prof. K Chiba.'

I do not know when the Hombu practice of titles solidified into the present unwieldy system, but I believe that the instructors who first taught overseas were 派遣師範 (haken shihan) and in the USA they established the 師範会 (shihankai). There might have been some title inflation then, for I am certain that when he first came to the UK, Chiba-shi was not 6th dan, which is the rank commonly recognized here in Japan as equivalent to shihan.

In Hiroshima University all the teachers without exception are called 'Sensei', regardless of whether they are lecturers, associate professors or full professors. There is none of the intellectual contortion involved in trying to attribute a deep meaning to the term, such as 'living/lived before'.

Best wishes,

PAG

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Old 01-18-2013, 10:38 AM   #8
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

I agree that there seems to have been title inflation over the years.
However this seems to come more from students than teachers. Some students think that being a student of so-and-so Shihan gives them more status than being Joe Bloggs student.

This was brought home to me when someone tried to suggest that me calling my father Dad rather than Smith Shihan in the dojo was somehow disrespectful! (we both put him right when we'd stopped laughing).

I've actually never called any of my teachers Shihan only Sensei.
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Old 01-21-2013, 10:41 PM   #9
Basia Halliop
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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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Old 06-28-2013, 09:56 AM   #10
goronic1
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Although I'm new to Aikido, I have yet to hear any instructor go by the title of Shihan. All have been content with the title of Sensei. However, from my inexperienced perspective, I find that Aikido and it practitioners celebrate more of an appreciation of the art, and less insistence on title. In my years in Shotokan, I found more of that insistence on the title of Shihan and a required adherence to it. This is a limited observation though.
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Old 06-28-2013, 10:20 AM   #11
Hellis
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Kenshiro Abbe was always referred to as Sensei - I often see him now referred to as Shihan - Professor - Doctor - Hanshi.

Masahilo Nakazono and Masamichi Noro were always referred to as Sensei. I was surprised recently when looking at Derek Eastmans dan grade certificate from Noro Sensei - it was signed ` Shihan ` in 1963. I never knew Noro Sensei to ever use the Shihan title.

I still call Chiba Sensei - Sensei just seems so natural.

Henry Ellis
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http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/
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Old 06-28-2013, 02:55 PM   #12
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Quote:
Henry Ellis wrote: View Post
During the 1950s and 1960s, Kenshiro Abbe was always referred to as Sensei - I often see him now referred to as Shihan - Professor - Doctor - Hanshi.

Masahilo Nakazono and Masamichi Noro were always referred to as Sensei. I was surprised recently when looking at Derek Eastmans dan grade certificate from Noro Sensei - it was signed ` Shihan ` in 1963. I never knew Noro Sensei to ever use the Shihan title.

I still call Chiba Sensei - Sensei just seems so natural.

Henry Ellis
Co-author `Positive Aikido`
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/
Henry,
Calling Chiba Sensei Sensei or Chiba Sensei -dont we all call him this?While I know both his forename and surname I always refer him as Sensei in conversation with him . In correspondence by letter I address him as Chiba Sensei.As part of the student/teacher relationship one must avoid over familiarity . Even while being taught by juniors at courses I address the the teacher as Sensei , not Bill , Fred or Mabel.Some people call Chiba Sensei {usually in printed matter} 'Chiba' .Most disrespectful in my opinion.Cheers, Joe.
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Old 06-28-2013, 03:08 PM   #13
CorkyQ
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Thanks everyone, particularly Amdur Sensei, for this informative thread
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Old 06-28-2013, 04:17 PM   #14
Hellis
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Quote:
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Henry,
Calling Chiba Sensei Sensei or Chiba Sensei -dont we all call him this?While I know both his forename and surname I always refer him as Sensei in conversation with him . In correspondence by letter I address him as Chiba Sensei.As part of the student/teacher relationship one must avoid over familiarity . Even while being taught by juniors at courses I address the the teacher as Sensei , not Bill , Fred or Mabel.Some people call Chiba Sensei {usually in printed matter} 'Chiba' .Most disrespectful in my opinion.Cheers, Joe.
Hi Joe

We go back a long time my friend, you mention disrespect, I don't remember if I ever told you the following story ?

In 1967 I was assistant to Chiba Sensei - It was the first day of a week long summer school, I was on the mat taking preparation when Chiba Sensei called me into his changing room, he said " Mr Ellis - the northern students are good students, but they are too familiar " - I asked Sensei to explain.
he said that a group of students would slap him on the back and call him Kazuo - I had never come across this kind of conduct before, so I told Sensei not to worry and I would talk to the whole class before he came on the mat. I thought this would be a simple matter of explaining etiquette. As I advised the class that no one should refer to Sensei by his Christian name, one guy stands up as a spoke person for a particular group, he states that they will not change their ways, he also added that he worked for a national company and called his CEO `` Bill`` - I told him that if he did not know the difference between Budo and Business he should not be on this mat. Now, I have a munity on my hands - instead of a polite chat, I ended up telling the mutineers that if I heard any one of them refer to Chiba Sensei in any disrespectful way, I would personally take the offenders off the mat and batter some sense in to them. only then did they calm down - Chiba Sensei approved, but I don't think the offenders ever forgave me, even to this day

Henry Ellis
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http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/
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Old 06-28-2013, 09:53 PM   #15
Basia Halliop
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

"he also added that he worked for a national company and called his CEO `` Bill`` " It's funny because the most authoritarian boss I ever had, whose workers all seemed terrified of him half the time, was the one who preferred the we use his first name and no title. The ones I've had who I spoke to more formally were mostly comparatively more egalitarian .

In any case I tend to find it odd when people are really insistent on calling a person (whether it's a teacher or friend or coworker or boss or whoever) something other than what that person feels most comfortable being called. Assuming you basically respect the person and want to treat them considerately, wouldn't that normally include calling them what they prefer being called?
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Old 06-28-2013, 10:48 PM   #16
ramenboy
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

We sometimes refer to the head of our dojo as oyabun. Affectionately, of course

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Old 06-28-2013, 11:48 PM   #17
Chris Li
 
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

In Japan you generally address someone by their title (ie, "Kacho") as the first choice, their last name (ie, "Suzuki-san") as the second choice and almost never by their first name unless you know them fairly well, or for children. That doesn't really has much to do with respect, it's just the custom.

Actually, in spoken Japanese I've found that people are often much more informal when speaking about important instructors and historical figures in Aikido than their counterparts outside of Japan usually are.

In any case, most of us are not in Japan, are not Japanese, and do not even speak Japanese. I don't have much of a problem with anybody calling me whatever.

Best,

Chris

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Old 06-29-2013, 12:08 AM   #18
sakumeikan
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Quote:
Basia Halliop wrote: View Post
"he also added that he worked for a national company and called his CEO `` Bill`` " It's funny because the most authoritarian boss I ever had, whose workers all seemed terrified of him half the time, was the one who preferred the we use his first name and no title. The ones I've had who I spoke to more formally were mostly comparatively more egalitarian .

In any case I tend to find it odd when people are really insistent on calling a person (whether it's a teacher or friend or coworker or boss or whoever) something other than what that person feels most comfortable being called. Assuming you basically respect the person and want to treat them considerately, wouldn't that normally include calling them what they prefer being called?
Dear Basia,
As Henry said Aikido is Budo. Being in an Aikido environment is not the same as being in a golf club, tennis club or in a work environment.In matters of addressing the teacher I have always used a formal address eg sensei to my teachers.If someone was in the service of Queen Elizabeth would the person be likely to address her as Lizzy/Queenie/Beth or whatever?I hardly think so.Do you think that White House staff call the President Mr President or Obama?
May I also point out that the current Doshu was known as Waka Sensei prior to his fathers demise.Prior to his fathers demise was he addressed by his colleagues as Moriteru??
Cheers, Joe.
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Old 06-29-2013, 12:18 AM   #19
sakumeikan
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Quote:
Christopher Li wrote: View Post
In Japan you generally address someone by their title (ie, "Kacho") as the first choice, their last name (ie, "Suzuki-san") as the second choice and almost never by their first name unless you know them fairly well, or for children. That doesn't really has much to do with respect, it's just the custom.

Actually, in spoken Japanese I've found that people are often much more informal when speaking about important instructors and historical figures in Aikido than their counterparts outside of Japan usually are.

In any case, most of us are not in Japan, are not Japanese, and do not even speak Japanese. I don't have much of a problem with anybody calling me whatever.

Best,

Chris
Hi Whatever,
Hope you are comfortable with your new adopted foremame.
Why not add the phrase will be will be to whatever and then change the new name to Que Sera Sera?All your class members could then start a sing a long in the dojo each time they engage with you in conversation.Cheers, Joe.
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Old 06-29-2013, 12:31 AM   #20
sakumeikan
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Quote:
Philip Smith wrote: View Post
I agree that there seems to have been title inflation over the years.
However this seems to come more from students than teachers. Some students think that being a student of so-and-so Shihan gives them more status than being Joe Bloggs student.

This was brought home to me when someone tried to suggest that me calling my father Dad rather than Smith Shihan in the dojo was somehow disrespectful! (we both put him right when we'd stopped laughing).

I've actually never called any of my teachers Shihan only Sensei.
Dear Philip,
Even Chiba Sensei while talking about your Dad always addressed him as Mr Smith as did most people.We addressed him as Mr Smith as a token of our respect him.Even years after Mr Smiths passing I still think of him as Mr Smith.I do miss him even now.He was always a gentlemen, courteous and cared about the students.
Hope all is well with you and your family.Please pass on Jenny and my warmest regards to your Mum aka Mrs Smith.Tell her we send her our love and best wishes, Cheers, Joe.
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Old 06-29-2013, 12:45 AM   #21
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Quote:
Joe Curran wrote: View Post
Hi Whatever,
Hope you are comfortable with your new adopted foremame.
Why not add the phrase will be will be to whatever and then change the new name to Que Sera Sera?All your class members could then start a sing a long in the dojo each time they engage with you in conversation.Cheers, Joe.
Well, we've been known to have singing in the dojo during practice - but maybe you had to be there to really appreciate it.

Best,

Chris

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Old 06-29-2013, 01:36 AM   #22
sakumeikan
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Quote:
Christopher Li wrote: View Post
Well, we've been known to have singing in the dojo during practice - but maybe you had to be there to really appreciate it.

Best,

Chris
Dear Chris,
Guess I missed the choir practice when I visited Hawaii.Next time I go there I will pack my grass skirt/leii/ukelele and join you guys in a few drunken versions of local pop songs.By the way my hula dancing is sensational. Cheers, Joe.
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Old 06-30-2013, 04:53 PM   #23
James Sawers
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

Part of it may be a generational thing. When I first moved to the States (from Scotland), I was shocked when first I heard a stranger call my mother by her first name......America was just more informal than Britain was, at the time, anyway.

I gotta admit, that part of me cringes at the more formal parts of any culture. My time in the Army was a real education for me, in this respect, but you get used to it...........Even when I was living in Korea, sometimes I would get irritated by being called something as simple as Jim-san. I knew it was a form of respect, but.... (I just longed to simply hear my name as it was). It was explained to me that the addition of "san" added to my name was to separate me from the animals (perhaps I misunderstood??).

Things change, people change, cultures change, you change........life moves on.

Best.......Jim

Last edited by James Sawers : 06-30-2013 at 05:06 PM.

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Old 07-01-2013, 05:10 PM   #24
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

I call my instructor Nick off the mat, and sir while on. Works for him.

I call my judo coaches/instructorsBob& Ray/Raymond.

My respect for them is obvious, and even lacking an honorfic, which they ask that people don't use anyway, the respect is obvious.

There's a certain cynicism about the need for "titles" I think, at least in the part of the States where I grew into adulthood, if one can call what I am now an adult. My wife sometimes calls that into question.

Still, I had no problem referring to Professor Yoji Kondo (astrophysics, as well as aikido and judo) as Sensei. HE didn't want the Shihan tag, either.

I find it interesting that the kanji character for kuzushi illustrates a mountain falling on a house.
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Old 07-01-2013, 05:41 PM   #25
graham christian
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Re: What's in a name? sensei, shihan, etc.

I think it's respect and actually shows who doesn't have it. Now and again you will get someone who insists you call them by their name or you have someone who is family or long term friend but all this 'culture change' idea I think is nonsense on the whole. (unless your culture is going down the pan)

Apart from respectful and dutiful Sensei also means teacher doesn't it? So I'm sure if you look at your culture and sports you will find say American Football players calling a certain person 'coach'. (Not Bill or Fred) I doubt any football player over here calls Ferguson 'Alex'.

I'm also interested if some teacher who says 'call me John' gets upset when a respectful student calls him Sensei.

In all walks of life their is still respect and people may say 'yes guv' or 'yes boss' .

Therefor I would say it's that area called respect and even good manners and nothing to do with formality really.

Peace.G.
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