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Old 01-29-2021, 07:19 AM   #1
Walter Martindale
Location: Edmonton, AB
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 802
Titles in Japanese

Perhaps I'm being pedantic but I'm a bit confused. My command of Japanese is limited to "john went to the hotel by taxi" or "the bookcase is in the corner" as well as some phrases associated with dojo life and judo/aikido skills.

Sensei vs. Shihan.
My understanding is that one would say "Mr. Johnson is a sensei" if he's a teacher/professor/instructor/doctor/etc.
And one would say "Mr. Johnson is a shihan" if he's a person who teaches other sensei.
If you're introducing someone, say, the shihan for an organization, you'd say something like "Mr. Johnson is our shihan" but in addressing him directly you'd still say "Sensei Johnson" and not "Shihan Johnson?" Or if you're speaking to him you'd say "excuse me sensei" instead of "excuse me shihan"? Kinda like how you call the King "your Majesty" instead of "King"?
Or am I overly fussed about very little?
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Old 01-30-2021, 03:05 PM   #2
Ellis Amdur
Ellis Amdur's Avatar
Location: Seattle
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 934
Re: Titles in Japanese

Walter - not overly fussy. This is not cut-and-dried, but it is definitive.

First of all, shihan was originally a title to designate someone who was authorized to teach the entire curriculum of a classical martial tradition. For example, I am a shihan (instructor) of several classical systems (koryu) - this doesn't mean that I 'teach teachers' - it means that I can teach the entire martial tradition from beginning to end and am, in fact, authorized to extend the tradition to another generation.
One should never call someone shihan . . .. as in "Amdur shihan" - and no instructor should allow her or his students to do so. It just sounds . . .off . . .like you refer to your university professor as "Doctor of Philosophy Professor Amdur"

On the other hand, someone quite properly could have a name card that has (using myself as an example again). "Ellis Amdur, shihan, Toda-ha Buko-ryu" or in some traditions, adding the generation as in "Ellis Amdur, 19th generation (代) shihan, etc." Others omit the 'shihan," and just put "19th dai" either because it is obviously implied, or the particular school doesn't use the term shihan.

You would never put, for example, "19th dai sandan"- the term is confined to a lineage holder.

There's been a lot of talk about this in aikido circles - and I don't know the current official opinions and rules - but shihan used to be someone considered a genuine master instructor.

The safest thing to do is simply call anyone you respect and who has authority as 'sensei' -

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Old 01-30-2021, 08:12 PM   #3
Walter Martindale
Location: Edmonton, AB
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 802
Re: Titles in Japanese

Thank you Amdur san. I kinda thought it was like that, and it's good to get more clarification on what "shihan" actually means.
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Old 01-30-2021, 11:45 PM   #4
Peter Goldsbury
Peter Goldsbury's Avatar
Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Join Date: Jul 2001
Posts: 2,308
Re: Titles in Japanese

Hello Walter,

This is mainly to add to what Ellis has stated.

In Japan, if you run your own dojo and have had 6th dan for more than 6 years, you are considered to be a shihan, but there is no 'ceremony' or piece of paper to prove this. Outside Japan, an aikido shihan receives a piece of paper from the Aikikai signed by Doshu and stating that x is now a shihan. This does not happen within Japan, probably in view of the large numbers involved.

You can see this from the recent Aikikai New Year dan promotions. There were just two 8th dans, a rather larger number of 7th dans, but still not very many, a much larger number of 6th dans, and a huge number of 5th dans. I promoted a dojo member to 5th dan, and his diploma was sent to me, together with an invoice. When I received my own 7th dan, I received a telephone call from the Aikikai informing me of the promotion and also that I had to receive the diploma from Doshu personally. So I went to Tokyo to receive the diploma. There was no invoice but a large donation was expected (at least 6 figures).

Am I a shihan? Yes, definitely. However, I have been a university professor for far longer than an aikido shihan, So in formal academic circles I am Goldsbury Kyoju, but I am known much more often as Goldsbury Sensei. This title is also given to doctors, lawyers, and senior members of gangster groups. So I am in mixed company.

I should add that if you actually call someone 'X Shihan' by name in his/her company, the unstated assumption is that the person is extremely eminent, at a higher level of being, and walking at least one foot above the ground--probably gliding.

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 01-30-2021 at 11:55 PM.

P A Goldsbury
Kokusai Dojo,
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Old 02-01-2021, 06:39 AM   #5
Walter Martindale
Location: Edmonton, AB
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 802
Re: Titles in Japanese

Thank you Dr. Goldsbury
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