View Full Version : Shihan?

5th April 2002, 21:47
Hello, all:

I am training at a school which offers a big mixture of arts: muay thai, pankration, and karate (I am not sure which kind).

Students are encouraged to call the head instructor "Shihan", and to call senior student instructors "Sempei".

Can anyone tell me what these terms mean, what is their proper application, and what would be the proper way to confer these titles upon someone?


Shitoryu Dude
5th April 2002, 23:55
Shihan means Master Instructor or Teacher and is usually the term of address for 6th dan and above in traditional karate dojos

Sensei means Instructor or Teacher and in many schools means 3rd dan or above

Sempai is how you address those who are senior in rank to you. At the dojo I attend even brown belts are routinely referred to as Sempai

Rohai refers to those who are lower rank - you won't hear that one too often

11th April 2002, 16:55
shihan is an honorific term but should not be used in the same manner as sensei, it is written not spoken. It is certainly not a term that one would demand others to call them. This is what i've been taught.

Rob Alvelais
11th April 2002, 17:29
Originally posted by Shitoryu Dude

Rohai refers to those who are lower rank - you won't hear that one too often [/B]

No,no, no!!

Kohai is the word. Rohai is one of our kata! :laugh:

Rob Alvelais
11th April 2002, 17:33
Originally posted by O'Neill
shihan is an honorific term but should not be used in the same manner as sensei, it is written not spoken. It is certainly not a term that one would demand others to call them. This is what i've been taught.

While strictly speaking you're correct, but practically, it is spoken and used by Japanese instructors in the US. (karate and aikido, at least)
I think that they've adopted the practice for marketing purposes, to distinguish themselves from the plethora of non asian instructors who call themselves "Sensei". Unfortunately, a bunch of the American instructors are now using Renshi, Kyoshi, Hanshi, Shidoshi, etc. :-(


Shitoryu Dude
14th April 2002, 04:02
That would explain the odd look I got when I announced I was going to do Kohai Shodan :laugh:

Like I said, you don't hear it very often - I can't remember ever hearing it at the dojo though it was on the list of vocabulary to learn.


Steven Malanosk
14th April 2002, 06:44
Hello Mr. Moul,

I did some travelling demo's internationally, with a group, that included a former high member of Hayashi Ha, SHIHAN Timothy Brooks. He was given the title, by Teruo Hayashi himself, who Brooks represented, with over 30 dojo's affiliated at the time. I never heard anyone call him anything else but SHIHAN. That is, until he was hamon from Hayashi Ha, by Hayashi himself, and accepted a Doctorate from the Eurotech, and a Soke title from the WHFSC. Now they call him Dr. Brooks. Also, I always saw Hayashi, reffered to as Soke.

In another thread, we discussed folks being called Sensei.

When I listed my organization's criteria for the Sensei title, some folks came back saying that anyone who teaches someone something in Japan, is rightfully called Sensei.

So.....................................perhaps these same folks would reffer to anyone who has taught anyone, who has taught someone else, as Shihan??????????????????????????????????????????????

Semantics..................just being sarcastic..........could not resist.

By the way, Brooks, is a good martial artist, by anyones standards, just using his case, as an example.:toast:

Shitoryu Dude
15th April 2002, 05:40
That lines up pretty closely with how things go at the dojo I attend. Teruo Hayashi is always referred to as Soke, and my chief instructor is always referred to as Shihan. In the Hayashi Ha faction of Shitoryu you get the title of Sensei at Sandan, before that you are still referred to as Sempei. The title of Shihan kicks in at Rokudan.

Interestingly enough, it appears that you can only have one Shihan per dojo. The man who has been studying under Shihan for 30 years is Rokudan, but is referred to as Sensei at the dojo. The thought has crossed my mind that we should properly call him Shihan as well, but it certainly isn't my decision to make.


Anne Marie
16th April 2002, 01:07
In my dojo we have very restrictive use of "sensei". Despite a high number of dan ranks in my school, the only person called "sensei" is our head instructor. When, his instructors come for a seminar we don't call them "shihan", we call them "sensei". The next most senior person is "sempai" -- title wise. Only one person is called sensei.

Shihan, in the USAF (United States Aikido Federation, and Aikikai Hombu, [if I remember correctly]), is a teaching license. They are "master instructors". The next levels below are "Shidoin" and "Fukushidoin." We don't address these people by the name on their teaching license. We only use these terms to indicate the person's certification level.

We don't call every single black belt sensei; we don't call everyone higher than us "sempai"; and we don't call everyone lower than us "kohai". We use these terms (sempai, kohai) to indicate our relationship to one another, but we don' use them as titles.

Anne Marie Giri

Rob Alvelais
16th April 2002, 06:11
Originally posted by Jim Kass
You NEVER call someone verbally SHIHAN, KYOSHI, or HANSHI unless you are ignorant. Everyone who has a teacher , the proper name is SENSEI. The only cause to use formal titles is in writing. As in certificates or correspondence representing the organization. ALL other references are for the EGO..and/or Self-gratification. WAKE_UP!!!!!!!:nono:

Dude, while you're technically correct, there are some prominent Japanese (born and bred) instructors in various arts that insist upon using these titles that way. One might speculate on the reasons, but as their students, we're obliged to comply or walk.
So, while we're waking up, chill. :toast:

Ego in the martial arts? :eek: Tell me it ain't so!!:cry:


Ps. I'm rather proud of my humility

16th April 2002, 06:34
I can't speak to other arts but at least with Aikido and the Aikikai I can partially address this.

Shihan, at this point in time, is recognized by Hombu and a certificate or whatever they get, is issued in recognition of this (the guideline's are on the Aikikai's site). Historically, it applied to anyone at 6th dan, until some Westerners got there and, well, it didn't apply to them. A big stink ensued until the current guidelines were issued. In fact, the first Western Aikikai shihan were only formally recognized very recently. As to only one person having the title shihan in a given dojo that doesn't make much sense to me. Certainly the Aikikai headquarters has a bunch and given enough time I could probably come up with another place or time where that was the case. I think it's more a case of getting so good you go out on your own and so not too many of them hang out together.

Your shihan mileage may vary.

If you are still awake, in regards to sensei, and just to repeat the earlier thread despite the earlier post, my understanding is that anyone who teaches a class is sensei. So, if a 5th kyu is teaching then he/she is sensei. It's not so much a title or sign of respect but rather a statement of fact. Bob is the teacher. But if you want it to mean something then by all means go ahead. It is used that way in a lot of places and if the folks who weighed in on the other thread didn't convince you, I sure won't.

Really, what's the big hangup with just calling them Bob.

Erik Haselhofer

John Bowden
16th April 2002, 15:29
As far as I'm concerned, it's about equal to
going by the title "Grand Master."

The few who actually fit the bill, would not
use the title of their own free will.

Of course, if your Sensei adopts stuff like that,
there isn't much that you can do but grin and
bear it.

Just please, do not allow your wife to call you
anything except "Anata."

16th April 2002, 18:45
Originally posted by Rob Alvelais

Ego in the martial arts? :eek: Tell me it ain't so!!:cry:


Ps. I'm rather proud of my humility

All too true. I'm personally against the use of the "excessive" titles in the martial arts because of just this reason... it breeds ego. The dojo I train in recently adopted our association's "system" of titles. Now, with all these titled instructors running around our dojo, people who were once "just there to train" are now walking with heads held high. You know the type. The ones who get fat and sit on their high horse, hands on hips, preaching to the underlings.

I have a title too. I don't care about it though. The best titles aren't "awarded" they are those given by your actual students; ex, I recently had a student ask me what they should call me... sempai, sensei, etc. I basically responded, "If you believe I am sempai, call me sempai. If you believe I am sensei, call me that then. If, for some reason, you think I am Super-grandmaster hanshi professor man, then call me that. If "Hey You" is what you want to call me, all good. Ken works fine too." :laugh: The students I say this to, all decide "sensei" is good, since they all respect me for what I do for each of them. I like that.

16th April 2002, 23:09
Originally posted by John Bowden
As far as I'm concerned, it's about equal to
going by the title "Grand Master."

The few who actually fit the bill, would not
use the title of their own free will.

I just wanted to add that I mostly agree. I would have great difficulty with someone who introduced themself as Sensei X, Shihan Y or grandmaster Z. I would be wondering when we would be making rap videos. I would almost certainly bail on any dojo (unless something really magical were happening) where an instructor insisted on themselves being called sensei or any other title. I was once part of a failed experiment where space was shared with a TKD guy. I was admonished by the TKD guy to call him master. F... that, this was the same guy who nearly got into a fight with a new student because he wore his hat into the dojo. Besides, I wasn't his student.

However, the shihan title is valid, at least in the Aikido context and I've never bumped into someone misusing it this way. It does get misused regularly by well-meaning students who don't understand the word but I can live with that, more or less, because at least the intent is pure even if I can never convince them they aren't using it correctly.:smash:

By the way, personally, I think the word sensei gets a little too charged here in the US and I try like crazy to not use it preferring Mr. in place of it. In fact, I rarely use the word in a dojo.

Erik Haselhofer

Anne Marie
17th April 2002, 01:44
When I first met my sensei, he said, "Off the mat, you can call me Peter." In other words "sensei" is said on the mat. He doesn't have too much of an attachment to that word.

Anne Marie Giri

17th April 2002, 02:13
I donno, my Sensei's name is Rick, on and off the mat...

Steve Kovalcik

17th April 2002, 19:54
Yeah… my teacher is Steve, on the mat or off. And coming from a very strict school, etiquette-wise, it’s a refreshing change that I find adds greatly to training. By the way, while we’ve moved pretty far from the original question – Pankration, Muay Thai – why would you use any Japanese terminology at in these arts?

Josh Gepner

Tim Chilcott
26th April 2002, 03:54
Personally, I feel somewhat indifferent to these titles. Some of our black belts relish the use of them as to expect to be referred to as such. As for me, they can have them. Don't misunderstand me, these are titles of honor, but sometimes they are taken too far because of ego. I personally don't want the titles, don't need them, it certainly won't make me a better person or martial artist. Not to mention the fact our federation charges for these titles, a sum close to the test fees for the equivalent Dan rank. I believe these titles should be given for work well done, not something you get for a fee. Just my thoughts on the matter.

Be Well,
Tim Chilcott

Shitoryu Dude
26th April 2002, 04:54
I'm called Sempei all the time - it took me months to get used to it and I think it still puts me off a bit. While I would rather just go by Harv or even "Hey You", I understand and agree with the why the title is used by all the kyu ranks towards me.

I'm just glad none of them has gone "ossu Sempei" when they run into me at the store.


Tim Chilcott
26th April 2002, 22:20
I need to be more specific. I'm refering to the titles of Renshi, Shihan, Kyoshi and Hanshi. The titles of Sensei and Sempai are appropriate in the dojo, to denote respect. The other titles are fine, but one should exercise humility in their use. In the dojo my students call me Sensei, outside of the dojo they call me Tim. But then again this is just my opinion and what it means to me, others may see it differently, and that's okay for them.

Be Well,
Tim Chilcott

26th April 2002, 23:16
All the Japanese honourifics (including -san) are meant to be used when addressing or referring to someone else. Addressing oneself by an honourific is a westernisation. So is putting the title before the name, ie properly it is Haga-sensei, not Sensei Haga. Although a western person might introduce himself as Mr. Smith or Dr. Smith, a Japanese person would never introduce himself as Yoshida-san or Yoshida-sensei or god forbid Sensei Yoshida.

Sensei means "one who has gone before" and is a relative title. You call your teacher sensei, when referring to someone else's teacher to them you would also use sensei but not necessarily when addressing them directly unless they are your sensei. Eg, suppose Haga-sensei (hanshi hachidan, very famous guy) comes to visit our dojo. My instructor refers to him as Haga-sensei always. Haga-sensei refers to my instructor as Miyaoka-sensei if he is talking about him to his students, but when talking to him directly says Miyaoka-san. This is because Haga-sensei is Miyaoka-sensei's instructor but recognises that Miyaoka's instructor status with even more junior people. If either gentleman introduced themselves, they would simply say "I am Haga" or "I am Miyaoka".

In kendo, people aren't generally regarded as full-fledged instructors until 6th dan although in North America 4th dans are regarded as junior instructors. This is generally reflected in how other instructors use the terms. If a 3rd dan runs a club, his students may well call him sensei but visiting senior instructors won't refer to him as sensei when talking to his students. So there is a level involved but it's case by case. (FWIW any 3rd dan who knows his place in the kendo pecking order would discourage his students calling him sensei).

As far as the teaching levels go, in the kendo case they are renshi, kyoshi, hanshi, and they are formally awarded based on a minimum rank, minimum years in that rank and a test. They are also rarely used in the presence of the person who holds them. Haga-sensei would never refer to himself as Haga-hanshi (or even Haga-san, for that matter). He might, if asked directly, tell you that he holds that title. Miyaoka-sensei would never refer to him as Haga-hanshi. He might introduce him that way at the start of a seminar (this is Haga-sensei, he is hanshi hachidan) but now that I write that I don't recall him ever doing that. Haga-hanshi or haga-hachidan are valid forms of address but most instructors prefer to be called just plain old sensei. Ranks and titles are something that you normally talk about when the other guy's not around.

Kendo in Canada still has very strong ties to Japan. All of the senior instructors are first-generation immigrants, and most of the up and comers are nisei. So I believe that the usage we have in kendo is the correct Japanese style. Other more popular martial arts have been more westernised and use these titles incorrectly. In some cases there are even Japanese people using them incorrectly but as another poster stated this is probably a nod to marketing realities.

Tim Chilcott
27th April 2002, 04:29
That is a good example of the use of titles in their proper place, thank you for the information!

Be Well,
Tim Chilcott:toast:

Joseph Svinth
27th April 2002, 08:12
Last time I channeled Neil Yamamoto, I could have sworn that I heard that the proper form of address for Shihans and Sokes was "Dude."

Joseph Svinth
28th April 2002, 04:56
Jim --

Hopefully you were plugging http://ejmas.com -- the site you sent me to was a search engine... :cry: