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Thread: Use of the term Sensei

  1. #1
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    Default Use of the term Sensei

    Hi all

    This is my first posting here on e-budo and I am not really sure whether I am posting this in the right forum.

    My question relates to the following quote:

    “8-9th

    Black Belt Promotions
    Congratulations to: Sensei Ronald Abvajee and Sensei Christopher Thomas.

    These two long serving students were put through their paces, and achieved the coveted rank of Sensei ( 4th Dan ) - OSU! We salute you!”

    Taken from the following website:

    http://www.kenfuderyu.co.za/pages2.htm

    I have never before heard anybody refer to the ‘coveted rank of Sensei’. I have never had the impression that ‘Sensei’ is a rank awarded together with a dan grading, but rather as a form of address for the person instructing you.

    Would somebody be so kind as to cast some light on this subject?

    Thanks,
    Schalkwyk van der Merwe

    Postatem obscuri lateris nescitis.

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    Default

    Essentially you are correct in the notion of "sensei" being a title rather than rank.
    In some organisations, an instructor may be addressed as "sempai" or the like until they reach a certain grade, at which point they are considered senior enough to be "sensei" (One of my Aikido instructors was addressed by his first name until he was promoted to 5th dan - from then on it was "sensei")
    I think the article doesn't convey the idea clearly enough.

    As for your concern that this post may be in the wrong forum, the moderators can move it if they feel it is necessary.
    Welcome to E-Budo!
    Andrew Smallacombe

    Aikido Kenshinkai

    JKA Tokorozawa

    Now trotting over a bridge near you!

  3. #3
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    Default Sensei

    I understand the literal translation of "Sensei" is something along the lines of "[one who] went before".

    Sensei is a term that one chooses to bestow upon another.

    In martial arts terms if someone is senior to you, you should call them "sensei" for instance if my grade is 4th Dan I will call somebody who is 5th Dan, 6th Dan etc "sensei".

    I might choose to call a 2nd Dan "Sensei" in front of his students but this would be at my discretion.

    Similarly if I met a 1st Dan who had been training for 35 years (but chosen not to grade any higher) I might call him "sensei" out of deference to his age or experience.

    In Japan the title follows the name, for example:

    In the case of IMAF's Chief director (random example), his family name (surname) is Sato and his given name ("Christian name") is Shizuya. His grade is 10th Dan and he also has the title of Hanshi. So he would be referred to as:

    "Sato Sensei" or "Sato Shizuya Sensei"

    One would not address him as "Hanshi Sato" for instance.

    If he were to sign off correspondance, he would likely sign it:

    "Sato Shizuya, 10th Dan, Hanshi"

    But he probably wouldn't refer to himself as "Sensei" as this would be thought of as crass.

    As with other Japanese terms that have entered the English language (Karaoke, Hara Kiri, Samurai etc) there has to be some concession for Anglicising the words. For example in Japan "Dojo" could refer to one or more places because there is no plural. But I don't see anything wrong with saying "Dojos" or "Dojo[s]" when addressing an English speaker. Along the same lines I don't think it is too bad to use given name before surname (ie Shizuya Sato) and not really a sin to use the title first. For instance I may say to a young English student "Go and ask Sensei Craig" which of course follow the English convention of title.

    In Japan it would be polite to say "Kanazawa Sensei" but for an English speaker it can often be uncomfortable to address somebody by their surname first ie "Excuse me Jones Sensei...."

    Personally I don't insist that my students call me "sensei" (I only teacher adults, half of whom are older than me) but I do insist that if they attend courses they refer to outside instructors as "sensei".

    There is a nice anecdote in John Van Weenan's book about being on the train with a Karate master (Kanazawa Hirokazu, from memory) and Kanazawa bows to an old gentleman and calls him "sensei". The author assumes the old man must a very high ranking master and is surprised to learn he doesn't even study martial arts. In the story Kanazawa calls the elder man "Sensei" because he is a "teacher of life".

    I suspect from the example you give, they are "bestowed" the title of Sensei in as far as they are, at 4th dan regarded as qualified instructors and therefore more likely to be called "sensei".

    There are similar conventions for "sempai" and "kohai" (senior and junior).
    Last edited by Simon Keegan; 7th November 2008 at 14:40. Reason: typo
    Simon Keegan 4th Dan
    www.bushinkai.org.uk

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    Simon is correct with his assesment. I will say I have seen several American dojo who create the "rank" of sensei with their students but it is not a rank or even a title, so much, rather it is an honorific. Also, it is not exclusive to martial arts. LAwyers refer to senior lawyers as sensei, and so on.

    I once walked into a sushi bar outside of Atlanta and the chef behind the counter referred to me as sensei.
    With respect,

    Mitch Saret

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    Thank you guys. I really appreciate your assitance in clearing things up a little. I have never before seen the term used like that before, except by well meaning journalists, and got a little confused seeing it used like that on a martial arts website. Thanks again.
    Schalkwyk van der Merwe

    Postatem obscuri lateris nescitis.

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    My sensei says that one cannot be a parent without children. The same as one cannot be a sensei without students. I tend to like this approach as I have university students who call me sensei but in the dojo I am just イースト.

    Just my 2円。


    James East

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    For me this discussion simply lead to yet another question. When do you refer to someone as Master?

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    Thats a really good question!!
    Yours in Karate-Do,
    Brandon Fisher
    Okinawa Karate of Twinsburg
    Twinsburg, OH

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    Quote Originally Posted by Xenophon456 View Post
    For me this discussion simply lead to yet another question. When do you refer to someone as Master?
    When I meet a master I refer to them as sensei.
    When I meet a grand master I refer to them as sensei.
    When I meet a supreme grand master I refer to them as sensei.
    And so on.

    But that's just me.
    Joe Stitz

    "Black belt and white belt are the same, white belt is the beginning of technique. Black belt is the beginning of understanding. Both are beginner belts."
    - Doug Perry -Hanshi, KuDan -Shorin Ryu ShorinKan

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    Quote Originally Posted by Xenophon456 View Post
    For me this discussion simply lead to yet another question. When do you refer to someone as Master?
    Master? Hmmm, guess never, although I do refer to Zenpo Shimabukuro as o-sensei.
    Timo Saksholm

    Shorin ryu Seibukan karate
    Jinbukan kobudo

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    Default I concur

    Based on my understanding and the replies above I agree with JS3. But that's just me.
    Schalkwyk van der Merwe

    Postatem obscuri lateris nescitis.

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    Okay, let me change the question a little.
    When does someone get the title of master?
    Or, How does someone get the title of master?
    and What does the title of master mean?

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    Default Oddball answer?

    If my puppy could speak, she would call me Master Wayne. Then again, maybe she wouldn't. She has a mind of her own sometimes.

    Other than that, folks in my dojo call me Wayne. One person from Japan tends to call me sensei, and that's more because I'm over twice as old as he is, so he calls me sensei more out of respect for me being an old geezer and still alive after a wasted youth of too much merriment and frivolity. He thinks he can learn from me to avoid my bad example.

    Seriously..."Master" is a poor translation of whatever Japanese terms you try to figure it came from. Usually, extremely high ranking teachers (of art, budo, karaoke, etc.) are still called sensei. It's we Westerners that get into the "Master Po" thingie a bit too much, maybe from all those badly translated Chinese kung fu movies.

    "Master instructor" might be a nice title, sort of like "Master of Business Adminstration," M.B.A., but if it's from the hanshi-kyoshi titling, then you would still refer to someone in person (as has been noted in other posts) as such-and-such sensei.

    Just had to let one joke in about my dog.

    Wayne Muromoto

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    Yes, Wayne, but what would your mother's cat call you?

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    Dang, Joe...are we getting into some Freudian double entendres now?!? My mom doesn't even have a cat.

    Hmmm. If she did, what WOULD that cat call me, if she could talk? It is my observation of our neighborhood cats that they would disdain calling anyone "Master," even if their owners feed and care for them. The domestic cat seems a particularly disrespectful species, with minds of their own. Dogs, on the other hand, seem to have a NEED for a master, a pack leader (see Cesar Millan, "Be the Pack Leader") or they get really disbalanced.

    Back to point: Some modern budo, like kyudo, have the hanshi-kyoshi-renshi ranking system accompanying the dan-kyu system, and it might roughly translates as "master," but it would be more akin to saying "professor," "associate professor," and so on. Sort of. Sans that, I've trained under various sensei who were way past fifth dan or equivalent ranking and they were still referred to in conversations as "Such and Such Sensei, who is a hanshi, hachidan."

    If you want to designate someone as a "master," for their skills or accomplishments, on the other hand, that would be a subjective decision and up to you and/or your system or school. I wouldn't see it as a fixed ranking, per se, IMHO. Outside of tea ceremony and other gei (arts) usage for the current familial head of the school, I don't see it used much. The Japanese word is iemoto; to be simple it's translated as "grandmaster," but that's really not what iemoto means. Flower arrangement and other art schools also use the iemoto-sei system, and it's often translated as the "grandmaster" system, but that's not a literal translation, nor is it the best translation of what iemoto means.)

    Wayne Muromoto

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