View Full Version : Senpai responsibility
09-09-2001, 10:35 AM
Iím wondering what responsibility one grows into in the position of senpai and what the expectation of a good senpai would be from both above and below in the chain of command?
As Sensei, would you expect a student immediately superior to another to be responsible for their general behavior? For instance, if a student had a hygiene problem when coming to class, would it be acceptable to ignore this problem, or would it be incumbent upon the sempai to discreetly mention it? If a problem is not corrected should it be brought up again?
As Senpai, do you give all you have in terms of guidance, or are you selective in application because of your personal feelings regarding your Kohai?
As Kohai, do you rely upon your senpai for important information regarding aspects of the dojo?
09-10-2001, 11:32 PM
To really understand the sempai/kohei relationship, you need to actually experience it or at least observe it in real life and practical terms. The sempai is responsible for the kohei in much the same way as an older sibling is responsible to and for their younger siblings. Yet there are many deeper implications in the Japanese culture which are not easily understood within our own experiences. There is no "chain of command" which applies to this relationship, for example, so your questions regarding this aspect really make no sense. Any other answer would be meaningless.
There are a few good texts on the nature of such relationships, both within the martial arts and other social environments. Reading them might be a good place to begin understanding the psychology and objectives of such complex social structures. Hearing about them secondhand from those who have no real understanding of the cultural implications is only going to lead to further misunderstandings. At this point, you may find that the actual expectations and responsibilities as defined in your particular school or style are far removed from similar roles in Japanese dojos as well as in business and personal relationships.
In fact, many implications and expectations of such sempai/kohai relationships are impractical in our culture. For example, as the section leader (katcho) of a technical communications group in a Japanese telecommunications company, I was expected to help many of my Japanese subordinates with such practical matters as balancing their own checkbooks and setting up and tracking their personal budgets. Many of our new employees were right out of universities and technical schools. Often they came from rural areas and were unfamiliar with life in a larger and more impersonal city like Tokyo. Although they may have lived on campus for a couple of years, this was the first time that many had been so far removed from the close-knit support structure common in most Japanese families. Unlike most American graduates, they often had never completely lived on their own or ever had to manage their own personal and financial affairs. In an U.S. company, my involvement in an employee's personal affairs would be considered an affront, yet in this situation it was a requirement. It also addressed a situation which would be quite uncommon in our own culture.
I was also held much more accountable for my staff's personal behavior and was expected to present a role model for their conduct in business meetings, technical presentations, etc. I had to be open and ready to listen to extremely personal issues and in many situations offer advice for very personal problems. This kind of relationship would not be practical in a Western culture where such issues are often not discussed between peers, much less with seniors.
Finally, I was also expected to do such things as pay for all work-related expenses, even sometimes social functions. My subordinates were polite, but not self-effacing in their external behavior toward me. There were also specific situations in which they could effectively complain to me about my own behavior or disagree with my decisions. These situations were often carefully choreographed to specifically exclude any potential confrontation or to allow for retaliation regarding criticism of both professional decisions and sometimes personal matters.
I suggest you either go to Japan to experience such relationships firsthand or do some serious research about the nature of such sophisticated social roles. Just relying on others to explain it in simple terms such as anecdotal responsibilities and general obligations will never give you the insight necessary to fully comprehend the full nature of this complicated subject.
Understanding this, you may begin to realize that such relationships are not easily translated or fully applicable in our own Western culture. Anything that Mr. Bergstrom, your own teacher, or even I may relate regarding specific roles and responsibilities of sempai/kohei relationships in our own schools would therefore be as we might have defined them within our own personal context. They are not likely the same definitions even within our respective styles. They are surely not the same as these roles are socially defined in the larger group context experienced in Japanese culture.
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