Proper title?

Shotokan_Tiger_2020

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In Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba is referred to as "Osensei.

Does Funakoshi Gichin have a similar title? I usually refer to him as "The Patriarch" because he was the founder of the Shotokan style of Karate-Do.
 

Chris Parker

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The title, albeit unofficial, of "o-sensei" is one that is not always understood as to it's original meaning... while it's often described as meaning "great (meaning wonderful, fantastic) teacher", it's really closer to "great (bigger) teacher"... and it's usage stems not from Ueshiba's skills, but from the fact that his son, Kisshomaru, was also teaching... so the term "Ueshiba O-Sensei" was used to differentiate which of the two "Ueshiba-sensei" was being meant. Over time, that's been warped to a degree to the more common, though inaccurate, idea of "a really, really good teacher".

When it comes to Funakoshi, I haven't seen any particular terminology as such used for him... while his role in the spread and introduction of karate to Japan, from where it would then continue out to the world, I don't know of many who would say he was the best practitioner or teacher. The right man at the right time in the right place with the right connections (Kano Jigoro), really. That's not to diminish his impact (which is incredible, even to today), or his skills as a teacher, of course, just stating facts.
 

Bill Mattocks

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I cannot speak to the proper title for any given style other than my own. Our founder, Shimabuku Tatsuo, is referred to as sōke. There has been a lot of argument over the proper use of that term, and I'm not going to argue with anyone who thinks they know better what the term sōke means. We use it to mean 'founder of the style'. So, we might say Shimabuku, Sōke to refer to him.

Other than that, in our style, a person could be referred to as 'sensei' after earning their third degree black belt. Other titles, other than sensei, are awarded but not assumed to be automatically given with rank. A person might be a renshi, kyoshi, or hanshi along with their higher ranked black belt, or they might not. Being a 9th Dan, Hanshi, is different than being a 9th Dan. They are titles and not ranks.

There are other styles, but not typically used in my organization. I seldom hear much about titles at all, other than 'sensei' and occasionally 'master' or 'grandmaster'. The latter two are not awarded, and one never refers to themselves as sensei, master, or grandmaster. It is what one is called by others. I call my sensei, sensei. He prefers it, even though others from outside our dojo frequently call him master or even grandmaster. As a 9th Dan Hanshi, he is entitled if anyone is, but he still likes to be called 'sensei'.
 

Chris Parker

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I cannot speak to the proper title for any given style other than my own. Our founder, Shimabuku Tatsuo, is referred to as sōke. There has been a lot of argument over the proper use of that term, and I'm not going to argue with anyone who thinks they know better what the term sōke means. We use it to mean 'founder of the style'. So, we might say Shimabuku, Sōke to refer to him.

Hey, Bill.

Understanding that you don't want to argue, for the benefit of others, I'm going to point out a bit about the title "soke" here.

It does not, in any way, shape, or form, now, or ever, have the meaning of "founder". It never has. The term itself means "head of the family", and is typically a lineal title used to describe the successors to a tradition/line, originally referring to the legal ownership of a particular methodology of an art form, especially as it related to commercial usage, instruction, and licensing of the art form in question. Beyond that, there are a number of both Confucian and Buddhist ideals and concepts that are contained in the title itself.

Within martial arts, it's usage is relatively recent (early/mid Edo period... essentially 17th-18th Century), with it's more common usage being largely 20th Century. This is primarily due to that commercial aspect I referred to before... it's original ideal was to control the licensing of exponents and instruction single arts in a domain... in other words, if you wanted to study Kabuki in a particular domain, there was one person who was in charge of the development and instruction of Kabuki... same with Chado (tea ceremony), same with Ikebana (flower arranging), and so on. That meant no real competition from rival schools, and there would be certain traits that would identify the art of a particular domain as opposed to others... with martial arts, though, this approach simply doesn't work. While you can aim to retain a single approach to flower arranging as the "domain's form", with martial arts, whoever could develop a better technology could teach it if they could find students... so the idea of having only one person controlling the spread and licensing of "martial arts" in a domain was impractical on a number of levels. Instead, each school would have their own single person in charge of licensing for that school... which would become the adoption of the soke, or iemoto, practice.

Even today, there are Iemoto (soke) in many of these traditional arts... but with the end of the domain (feudal) system of governance, they are not the same as they once were, with many of these regional approaches being either incorporated into others to make more "generalised" approaches, or simply lost to time. Martial arts are one of the only areas it still remains, somewhat ironically preserving a more accurate form of the soke system, despite not really being applied the way it was originally constructed (and not being something it applied to). In fact, the closest martial art (Japanese) model that matches the older commercial-based application of the soke/iemoto approach is actually the Kodokan (Judo), who oversee all aspects of Judo worldwide... but they don't use the title, as they consider it applying only to the older, traditional arts, and the Kodokan's Judo is a move away from those approaches.

When it comes to Shimabuku-sensei, could he be referred to accurately as "soke"? Yes, he could... as he was the one person in charge of licensing, teaching, and so forth, for Isshin Ryu karate. However, the usage of it to mean "founder" would be inaccurate... the term afforded a founder of a ryu-ha is ryuso... pretty literally "head (fount) of the style/system". Can the founder also be a soke? Yes... but it's not often used to describe them until the school is in it's second generation at least. The title of "ryuso" actually puts them separate to the line of soke... in a sense that soke are the ones whose job it is to preserve and protect the work and efforts of the ryuso themselves. But, retroactively, they can often also be considered the first-generation soke... so using the term isn't "wrong", just defining it as "founder" is.

Other than that, in our style, a person could be referred to as 'sensei' after earning their third degree black belt. Other titles, other than sensei, are awarded but not assumed to be automatically given with rank. A person might be a renshi, kyoshi, or hanshi along with their higher ranked black belt, or they might not. Being a 9th Dan, Hanshi, is different than being a 9th Dan. They are titles and not ranks.

It's interesting that you afford a particular rank requirement to the term "sensei"... really, it's not a title in any formal sense of the word, and more a term of respect for the relative position of another to yourself. All it really means is "someone more senior than yourself" (literally: one who was born earlier/before), and is used for anyone from kindergarten teachers to university lecturers, to doctors, to politicians, and can be used for anyone in a more senior position to yourself (such as a boss at work, although you'd often use more formal titles for their specific positions). I've seen a number of cases, mostly Western, where there is an attempt to "formalise" the term sensei as a title that is earned at a particular rank (most often shodan, but can be others), but most Japanese will just be confused by that, ha!

When it comes to the other titles given there (renshi, kyoshi, hanshi), they often have a far more official status and set of requirements... albeit somewhat vague in how they can be awarded. In simple terms, they are different titles referring to levels of teaching authority. They were first developed for use within early Kendo by the Dai Nihon Butokukai, and later got adopted by the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei, it's direct successor, as well as various arts under the Nippon Budokan's perview (karate, judo, aikido etc). Each of the three teaching titles has a minimum requirement of both grade and age, however simply attaining the rank (dan) is not a guarantee that you also then get awarded the shogo title... as Bill said, you could be a 9th Dan Hanshi, or a 9th Dan (without Hanshi), and the Hanshi would technically be the senior, despite it not being an actual "rank", so to speak. Interestingly, though (just because of the example given), we should note that, in the ZNKR, the effective highest dan grade is Hachidan (8th Dan), as of the year 2000... so any art that has a "9th Dan Hanshi" has most likely awarded it themselves, also adopting this shogo method, rather than from the association (ZNKR) that is genuinely in charge of them.

There are other styles, but not typically used in my organization. I seldom hear much about titles at all, other than 'sensei' and occasionally 'master' or 'grandmaster'. The latter two are not awarded, and one never refers to themselves as sensei, master, or grandmaster. It is what one is called by others. I call my sensei, sensei. He prefers it, even though others from outside our dojo frequently call him master or even grandmaster. As a 9th Dan Hanshi, he is entitled if anyone is, but he still likes to be called 'sensei'.

The idea of not being addressed by these titles is also very much the way it is done. You would have the titles on your name-card (like a personal business card given out to friends and associates with your personal details on it), on any certification you sign, and in formal usage, but rarely would you address someone by the title. At most, the title would be used to refer to an individual to a third party ("Did you see what Nishioka-kyoshi was showing last week? Quite different to Toyama-hanshi's approach!"), but not to the person themselves... in the majority of cases, the most common "to the face" title would be sensei, as Bill says.

When it comes to other titles, there are Shihan, Shihan-dai, Jun-Shihan, Shidoin, Fuku-Shidoin, Shidosha, Shidoshi, Sempai, Kohai, Monjin, Nyumonsha, and more used by various groups/ryu for differing reasons... Shihan, for example, is often a more unofficial title that is used to precede the awarding of shogo titles (in other words, it comes before renshi), however in arts such as Aikido, or the Takamatsuden arts (Bujinkan, Genbukan etc), it is used to describe a senior teacher (where the shogo titles aren't used). Shidoin, Shidosha, and Shidoshi all basically just mean "teacher" (whereas Kyoshi, often rendered as "teacher", has more of the meaning of "professor"... in regular Japanese life, if you are a teacher, then in describing yourself, kyoshi is the more common term to use... you wouldn't introduce yourself and say "watashi wa Eigo no sensei" [I am an English language sensei], you would say "watashi wa Eigo no kyoshi" [I am an English professor/teacher]), with the latter being coined by Hatsumi of the Bujinkan, based on the other terms. Sempai and kohai simply refer to your relative position to others (sempai if you've been doing it longer than someone, kohai if you've been doing it less... so pretty much everyone is both sempai and kohai at all times), monjin, nyumonsha etc are terms used for members, with many others also applied (kai-in as an example). I could go on, but the point is that such titles are often simply applied in-house in the way the particular school wants to use them, and may be taken from, or shared with other groups... or be pretty much unique.
 

Gyakuto

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I think a warning sign of undeserved grandiosity can be referring to oneself as Sōke/shihan/master/grandmaster. Telling an adult student, who has a family and is maybe a person of significant standing in society to call you ‘sensei’ grates on me somewhat. When I was teaching and my students very kindly called me ‘sensei’ I’d ask them to call me by my first name. My students at my university were expected to call me Dr ‘Gyakuto’ but if they were polite and courteous I’d say ‘just call me Gyak’!

It seems all these grand titles are generally an US-thing. I’ve even seen one US MA teacher call himself ‘hanshi’ which is ridiculous if you understand the Japanese shogo system. It seems less frequent, but no unheard of, for European teachers to self-aggrandise in this way.

Very great and probably now historical Japanese persons have no honourifics. For example Tokugawa Ieyasu/Hideyoshi/Nobunaga have no ‘sama’, ‘ san’ or ‘shogun’ applied to his name. It‘s just not required and it’s not done. So I think it should be ‘Funakoshi Gichin’ if you want him held in very high regard!
 

Bill Mattocks

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Hey, Bill.

Understanding that you don't want to argue, for the benefit of others, I'm going to point out a bit about the title "soke" here.
What I meant by that is that I do understand what you said about the term 'soke', but that we refer to Shimabuku Tatsuo as 'soke' and I'm not at liberty to argue the point. It is what it is.
It's interesting that you afford a particular rank requirement to the term "sensei"... really, it's not a title in any formal sense of the word, and more a term of respect for the relative position of another to yourself. All it really means is "someone more senior than yourself" (literally: one who was born earlier/before), and is used for anyone from kindergarten teachers to university lecturers, to doctors, to politicians, and can be used for anyone in a more senior position to yourself (such as a boss at work, although you'd often use more formal titles for their specific positions). I've seen a number of cases, mostly Western, where there is an attempt to "formalise" the term sensei as a title that is earned at a particular rank (most often shodan, but can be others), but most Japanese will just be confused by that, ha!
It may be more tradition than a formal rule. I've never seen it written down anywhere, in any case. In our style, those who have achieved the rank of sandan are referred to as 'sensei' by other students.

It's not all that formal. In our dojo for example, we refer to each other with the honorific of 'Mister' and "Ms/Mrs/Miss" and then either first of last name. Many of my students still call me "Mister Bill," as they have known me since I was a kyu rank. I note that my sensei goes out of his way to call me "Sensei Bill" in the dojo, as I believe this is how he wants the students to see me. Person to person, he calls me "Billy," lol.

I never forget that part of my training at this point is not just in karate, but in how to be a good sensei. I am being trained and guided by training and guiding others.

When it comes to the other titles given there (renshi, kyoshi, hanshi), they often have a far more official status and set of requirements... albeit somewhat vague in how they can be awarded. In simple terms, they are different titles referring to levels of teaching authority. They were first developed for use within early Kendo by the Dai Nihon Butokukai, and later got adopted by the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei, it's direct successor, as well as various arts under the Nippon Budokan's perview (karate, judo, aikido etc). Each of the three teaching titles has a minimum requirement of both grade and age, however simply attaining the rank (dan) is not a guarantee that you also then get awarded the shogo title... as Bill said, you could be a 9th Dan Hanshi, or a 9th Dan (without Hanshi), and the Hanshi would technically be the senior, despite it not being an actual "rank", so to speak. Interestingly, though (just because of the example given), we should note that, in the ZNKR, the effective highest dan grade is Hachidan (8th Dan), as of the year 2000... so any art that has a "9th Dan Hanshi" has most likely awarded it themselves, also adopting this shogo method, rather than from the association (ZNKR) that is genuinely in charge of them.
There is always a question about how the highest ranks came to be in our organization and in others. Our soke of course is presumed to be 10th Dan as founder of the style. After that, he awarded rank as he saw fit, as was his right. After his passing, things of course changed. Various organizations split off and went their own way. One presumes that some heads of some styles self-promoted to 10th Dan so that they could have a complete system and not have to go outside their own group for promotion to the highest ranks. Others sought promotions from outside organizations, some with great respect in the outside world, such as the Okinawa Ken Karatedo Rengokai, and others of somewhat lesser status. As has been discussed at length, some organizations seem to exist to grant promotions to one another...

My own group does not get too tangled up in titles. We have several 'hanshi' and that's more or less it as far as I know. Some high ranks, but not everyone has a title.

The idea of not being addressed by these titles is also very much the way it is done. You would have the titles on your name-card (like a personal business card given out to friends and associates with your personal details on it), on any certification you sign, and in formal usage, but rarely would you address someone by the title. At most, the title would be used to refer to an individual to a third party ("Did you see what Nishioka-kyoshi was showing last week? Quite different to Toyama-hanshi's approach!"), but not to the person themselves... in the majority of cases, the most common "to the face" title would be sensei, as Bill says.

When it comes to other titles, there are Shihan, Shihan-dai, Jun-Shihan, Shidoin, Fuku-Shidoin, Shidosha, Shidoshi, Sempai, Kohai, Monjin, Nyumonsha, and more used by various groups/ryu for differing reasons... Shihan, for example, is often a more unofficial title that is used to precede the awarding of shogo titles (in other words, it comes before renshi), however in arts such as Aikido, or the Takamatsuden arts (Bujinkan, Genbukan etc), it is used to describe a senior teacher (where the shogo titles aren't used). Shidoin, Shidosha, and Shidoshi all basically just mean "teacher" (whereas Kyoshi, often rendered as "teacher", has more of the meaning of "professor"... in regular Japanese life, if you are a teacher, then in describing yourself, kyoshi is the more common term to use... you wouldn't introduce yourself and say "watashi wa Eigo no sensei" [I am an English language sensei], you would say "watashi wa Eigo no kyoshi" [I am an English professor/teacher]), with the latter being coined by Hatsumi of the Bujinkan, based on the other terms. Sempai and kohai simply refer to your relative position to others (sempai if you've been doing it longer than someone, kohai if you've been doing it less... so pretty much everyone is both sempai and kohai at all times), monjin, nyumonsha etc are terms used for members, with many others also applied (kai-in as an example). I could go on, but the point is that such titles are often simply applied in-house in the way the particular school wants to use them, and may be taken from, or shared with other groups... or be pretty much unique.
We are on friendly terms with other Isshinryu dojos that use terms we do not use ourselves. I have seen Shihan, Kyoshi, and other titles used. Of course I respect however they wish to be addressed. If a persons students call them "Master so-and-so" and they don't indicate the wish to be addressed differently, then I will gladly address them as that. I don't worry to much about it. If someone named Paul wants to be called George, then George it is. No skin off my back.

As to kohai and sempai, we do use those terms in our dojo, although not often. We understand them the same way you do. We sometimes form mentorship roles that more closely resemble that in nature, but not always.

We also use the terms uke and tori, but I would not call them titles, as they are completely transferable depending upon whether one is perfoming a technique or one is having a technique performed on them. Being a good uke is a definite skill one needs to develop if one wishes to be a good training partner.
 

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I think a warning sign of undeserved grandiosity can be referring to oneself as Sōke/shihan/master/grandmaster. Telling an adult student, who has a family and is maybe a person of significant standing in society to call you ‘sensei’ grates on me somewhat. When I was teaching and my students very kindly called me ‘sensei’ I’d ask them to call me by my first name. My students at my university were expected to call me Dr ‘Gyakuto’ but if they were polite and courteous I’d say ‘just call me Gyak’!

It seems all these grand titles are generally an US-thing. I’ve even seen one US MA teacher call himself ‘hanshi’ which is ridiculous if you understand the Japanese shogo system. It seems less frequent, but no unheard of, for European teachers to self-aggrandise in this way.

Very great and probably now historical Japanese persons have no honourifics. For example Tokugawa Ieyasu/Hideyoshi/Nobunaga have no ‘sama’, ‘ san’ or ‘shogun’ applied to his name. It‘s just not required and it’s not done. So I think it should be ‘Funakoshi Gichin’ if you want him held in very high regard!
Everyone is different and I respect your choices. In our dojo, we do refer to those who have achieved 3rd Dan as 'sensei', but I suppose if a student had an objection to it, that would be OK too. We also bow to our shomen at the beginning and end of training, and some object to that. I get it. I'm willing to go along with the tradition, so it just doesn't bother me.

As to calling people by their titles, my sensei is technically entitled by tradition to be called 'master' or even 'grandmaster', but he doesn't care for those titles, so we call him 'sensei'. He also possesses two Masters degrees and a PhD and teaches at a local university, so he's also entitled to be called 'professor' or 'doctor' if he wishes. He is also a pilot and holds officer rank in the C.A.P. and would technically be entitled to be referred to as that rank, at least when he's in uniform. Of all the titles he could legitimately claim, he is happy to be 'sensei' and that's what I call him. I'm an adult student, I started training when I was 46. I'm 60 now. I have no problem calling another adult 'sensei'. But as I said, everyone is different. I respect your choices.
 

gpseymour

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Hey, Bill.

Understanding that you don't want to argue, for the benefit of others, I'm going to point out a bit about the title "soke" here.

It does not, in any way, shape, or form, now, or ever, have the meaning of "founder". It never has. The term itself means "head of the family", and is typically a lineal title used to describe the successors to a tradition/line, originally referring to the legal ownership of a particular methodology of an art form, especially as it related to commercial usage, instruction, and licensing of the art form in question. Beyond that, there are a number of both Confucian and Buddhist ideals and concepts that are contained in the title itself.

Within martial arts, it's usage is relatively recent (early/mid Edo period... essentially 17th-18th Century), with it's more common usage being largely 20th Century. This is primarily due to that commercial aspect I referred to before... it's original ideal was to control the licensing of exponents and instruction single arts in a domain... in other words, if you wanted to study Kabuki in a particular domain, there was one person who was in charge of the development and instruction of Kabuki... same with Chado (tea ceremony), same with Ikebana (flower arranging), and so on. That meant no real competition from rival schools, and there would be certain traits that would identify the art of a particular domain as opposed to others... with martial arts, though, this approach simply doesn't work. While you can aim to retain a single approach to flower arranging as the "domain's form", with martial arts, whoever could develop a better technology could teach it if they could find students... so the idea of having only one person controlling the spread and licensing of "martial arts" in a domain was impractical on a number of levels. Instead, each school would have their own single person in charge of licensing for that school... which would become the adoption of the soke, or iemoto, practice.

Even today, there are Iemoto (soke) in many of these traditional arts... but with the end of the domain (feudal) system of governance, they are not the same as they once were, with many of these regional approaches being either incorporated into others to make more "generalised" approaches, or simply lost to time. Martial arts are one of the only areas it still remains, somewhat ironically preserving a more accurate form of the soke system, despite not really being applied the way it was originally constructed (and not being something it applied to). In fact, the closest martial art (Japanese) model that matches the older commercial-based application of the soke/iemoto approach is actually the Kodokan (Judo), who oversee all aspects of Judo worldwide... but they don't use the title, as they consider it applying only to the older, traditional arts, and the Kodokan's Judo is a move away from those approaches.

When it comes to Shimabuku-sensei, could he be referred to accurately as "soke"? Yes, he could... as he was the one person in charge of licensing, teaching, and so forth, for Isshin Ryu karate. However, the usage of it to mean "founder" would be inaccurate... the term afforded a founder of a ryu-ha is ryuso... pretty literally "head (fount) of the style/system". Can the founder also be a soke? Yes... but it's not often used to describe them until the school is in it's second generation at least. The title of "ryuso" actually puts them separate to the line of soke... in a sense that soke are the ones whose job it is to preserve and protect the work and efforts of the ryuso themselves. But, retroactively, they can often also be considered the first-generation soke... so using the term isn't "wrong", just defining it as "founder" is.



It's interesting that you afford a particular rank requirement to the term "sensei"... really, it's not a title in any formal sense of the word, and more a term of respect for the relative position of another to yourself. All it really means is "someone more senior than yourself" (literally: one who was born earlier/before), and is used for anyone from kindergarten teachers to university lecturers, to doctors, to politicians, and can be used for anyone in a more senior position to yourself (such as a boss at work, although you'd often use more formal titles for their specific positions). I've seen a number of cases, mostly Western, where there is an attempt to "formalise" the term sensei as a title that is earned at a particular rank (most often shodan, but can be others), but most Japanese will just be confused by that, ha!

When it comes to the other titles given there (renshi, kyoshi, hanshi), they often have a far more official status and set of requirements... albeit somewhat vague in how they can be awarded. In simple terms, they are different titles referring to levels of teaching authority. They were first developed for use within early Kendo by the Dai Nihon Butokukai, and later got adopted by the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei, it's direct successor, as well as various arts under the Nippon Budokan's perview (karate, judo, aikido etc). Each of the three teaching titles has a minimum requirement of both grade and age, however simply attaining the rank (dan) is not a guarantee that you also then get awarded the shogo title... as Bill said, you could be a 9th Dan Hanshi, or a 9th Dan (without Hanshi), and the Hanshi would technically be the senior, despite it not being an actual "rank", so to speak. Interestingly, though (just because of the example given), we should note that, in the ZNKR, the effective highest dan grade is Hachidan (8th Dan), as of the year 2000... so any art that has a "9th Dan Hanshi" has most likely awarded it themselves, also adopting this shogo method, rather than from the association (ZNKR) that is genuinely in charge of them.



The idea of not being addressed by these titles is also very much the way it is done. You would have the titles on your name-card (like a personal business card given out to friends and associates with your personal details on it), on any certification you sign, and in formal usage, but rarely would you address someone by the title. At most, the title would be used to refer to an individual to a third party ("Did you see what Nishioka-kyoshi was showing last week? Quite different to Toyama-hanshi's approach!"), but not to the person themselves... in the majority of cases, the most common "to the face" title would be sensei, as Bill says.

When it comes to other titles, there are Shihan, Shihan-dai, Jun-Shihan, Shidoin, Fuku-Shidoin, Shidosha, Shidoshi, Sempai, Kohai, Monjin, Nyumonsha, and more used by various groups/ryu for differing reasons... Shihan, for example, is often a more unofficial title that is used to precede the awarding of shogo titles (in other words, it comes before renshi), however in arts such as Aikido, or the Takamatsuden arts (Bujinkan, Genbukan etc), it is used to describe a senior teacher (where the shogo titles aren't used). Shidoin, Shidosha, and Shidoshi all basically just mean "teacher" (whereas Kyoshi, often rendered as "teacher", has more of the meaning of "professor"... in regular Japanese life, if you are a teacher, then in describing yourself, kyoshi is the more common term to use... you wouldn't introduce yourself and say "watashi wa Eigo no sensei" [I am an English language sensei], you would say "watashi wa Eigo no kyoshi" [I am an English professor/teacher]), with the latter being coined by Hatsumi of the Bujinkan, based on the other terms. Sempai and kohai simply refer to your relative position to others (sempai if you've been doing it longer than someone, kohai if you've been doing it less... so pretty much everyone is both sempai and kohai at all times), monjin, nyumonsha etc are terms used for members, with many others also applied (kai-in as an example). I could go on, but the point is that such titles are often simply applied in-house in the way the particular school wants to use them, and may be taken from, or shared with other groups... or be pretty much unique.
I always love hearing about the original (and perhaps still "correct", in the language of origin) usage of words. In this case, if I understand correctly, you're addressing the correct usage (and origin) in Japanese. One of the quirks of loan words is that they rarely retain that original usage anything like perfectly. So terms like "soke" and "sensei" gain a different meaning within that new context.

Somehow it still grates a bit when I hear what I know to be "incorrect" (actually, adapted) usage of terms and words, even though I know correctness is defined by common usage....and that I'm as guilty as anyone of creating usage drift in loan words.

So, though I know the terms "sensei", "shihan", and "sempai" don't - in their original usage - technically mean what they are used for within the NGAA, for instance, I know that the shared usage defines their meaning there and I use them that way.

Language are fun! :D
 

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I think a warning sign of undeserved grandiosity can be referring to oneself as Sōke/shihan/master/grandmaster. Telling an adult student, who has a family and is maybe a person of significant standing in society to call you ‘sensei’ grates on me somewhat. When I was teaching and my students very kindly called me ‘sensei’ I’d ask them to call me by my first name. My students at my university were expected to call me Dr ‘Gyakuto’ but if they were polite and courteous I’d say ‘just call me Gyak’!

It seems all these grand titles are generally an US-thing. I’ve even seen one US MA teacher call himself ‘hanshi’ which is ridiculous if you understand the Japanese shogo system. It seems less frequent, but no unheard of, for European teachers to self-aggrandise in this way.

Very great and probably now historical Japanese persons have no honourifics. For example Tokugawa Ieyasu/Hideyoshi/Nobunaga have no ‘sama’, ‘ san’ or ‘shogun’ applied to his name. It‘s just not required and it’s not done. So I think it should be ‘Funakoshi Gichin’ if you want him held in very high regard!
I think in most casese it's not as self-aggrandizing as it seems. Most of these folks were taught that this was the way those titles worked, and use them that way because it's just the way they were taught. I've met someone who used the title "hanshi" (no idea what the original meaning was, for my part), but he's a pretty humble and gentle guy. I've met quite a few people who used terms like "master", "grandmaster", and "sensei" as formal address. It was just the culture of the group, and not all that odd within the context.

Heck, I'm very used to being called "sensei" or "sir" within the organization I used to belong to. Many of my students adopted the practice or brought it in from their prior training. So it feels normal, and pretty comfortable. Call me "sir" outside a dojo, and it seems weird to me, though, even from my students.
 

Bill Mattocks

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I think in most casese it's not as self-aggrandizing as it seems. Most of these folks were taught that this was the way those titles worked, and use them that way because it's just the way they were taught. I've met someone who used the title "hanshi" (no idea what the original meaning was, for my part), but he's a pretty humble and gentle guy. I've met quite a few people who used terms like "master", "grandmaster", and "sensei" as formal address. It was just the culture of the group, and not all that odd within the context.

Heck, I'm very used to being called "sensei" or "sir" within the organization I used to belong to. Many of my students adopted the practice or brought it in from their prior training. So it feels normal, and pretty comfortable. Call me "sir" outside a dojo, and it seems weird to me, though, even from my students.
I refer to my sensei even outside the dojo as 'sensei'. I think everyone does who is or was ever one of his students. It would feel very weird to me to address him by his given name. My wife calls him 'sensei' also. Many of us even refer to his wife as "Mrs. Sensei," although of course we all realize that's not correct. She, of course, calls him by his given name... ;)

When my sensei asks me to do something, I say "Yes, sir," and I move quickly. That's probably the military training in me. He doesn't demand it, but I show that level of respect in the dojo and I hope it helps set an example for others.
 

Chris Parker

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Hey again, Bill (Billy? Ha!).

What I meant by that is that I do understand what you said about the term 'soke', but that we refer to Shimabuku Tatsuo as 'soke' and I'm not at liberty to argue the point. It is what it is.

Oh, I get what you meant. As mentioned, you weren't interested in debating it, so it was more for others to get a sense of the proper usage and meaning of the title. It's far more "inheritor" than anything else, and a founder can't be the inheritor, as they aren't inheriting the school... they're founding it. But, as that's an implication of the title, not a definition (the definition is "head of the family"), it's not uncommon to refer to the first generation heads of systems to be retroactively referred to as "soke"... which is why I said there wasn't an issue in the term, except if you describe it as meaning "founder".

It may be more tradition than a formal rule. I've never seen it written down anywhere, in any case. In our style, those who have achieved the rank of sandan are referred to as 'sensei' by other students.

Again, that's what I understood you to mean. All I was saying was that it was interesting that it was given a formal rank, and that the rank was sandan... just an interesting bit of information to know, that's all. In many Japanese arts, you aren't considered a teacher until godan (5th Dan)... others pick sandan, others shodan, and so on (the Jinenkan of Manaka Unsui, for example, considers someone an instructor at sandan, but the Bujinkan considers them one at godan).

It's not all that formal. In our dojo for example, we refer to each other with the honorific of 'Mister' and "Ms/Mrs/Miss" and then either first of last name. Many of my students still call me "Mister Bill," as they have known me since I was a kyu rank. I note that my sensei goes out of his way to call me "Sensei Bill" in the dojo, as I believe this is how he wants the students to see me. Person to person, he calls me "Billy," lol.

The usage of Western-style honorific (Mr, Ms) and the surname is the way we have done things as well in my Takamatsuden school... in the others, it's far less formal, which surprises some.

I never forget that part of my training at this point is not just in karate, but in how to be a good sensei. I am being trained and guided by training and guiding others.

Absolutely.

There is always a question about how the highest ranks came to be in our organization and in others. Our soke of course is presumed to be 10th Dan as founder of the style. After that, he awarded rank as he saw fit, as was his right. After his passing, things of course changed. Various organizations split off and went their own way. One presumes that some heads of some styles self-promoted to 10th Dan so that they could have a complete system and not have to go outside their own group for promotion to the highest ranks. Others sought promotions from outside organizations, some with great respect in the outside world, such as the Okinawa Ken Karatedo Rengokai, and others of somewhat lesser status. As has been discussed at length, some organizations seem to exist to grant promotions to one another...

My own group does not get too tangled up in titles. We have several 'hanshi' and that's more or less it as far as I know. Some high ranks, but not everyone has a title.

Ha, a sad, but accurate description of some organisations there...

We are on friendly terms with other Isshinryu dojos that use terms we do not use ourselves. I have seen Shihan, Kyoshi, and other titles used. Of course I respect however they wish to be addressed. If a persons students call them "Master so-and-so" and they don't indicate the wish to be addressed differently, then I will gladly address them as that. I don't worry to much about it. If someone named Paul wants to be called George, then George it is. No skin off my back.

And that's the thing... titles, and their usage, are typically used "in-house"... so the house gets to say how they want them used, by and large. The best thing to do is to follow the way the house wants them to be applied.

As to kohai and sempai, we do use those terms in our dojo, although not often. We understand them the same way you do. We sometimes form mentorship roles that more closely resemble that in nature, but not always.

Of course, "sempai" and "kohai" are descriptions of relative relationships between individual members, not titles... basically, if someone joined before you, regardless of rank, they're your sempai... if you joined before them, regardless of rank, you're their sempai, and they're your kohai. Which means you can be higher rank, but still "junior" to someone, just because they joined before you... even if just by a few minutes. If two people start on the same night, in the same class, but one arrives two minutes before the other, that sets the sempai/kohai relationship between them...

We also use the terms uke and tori, but I would not call them titles, as they are completely transferable depending upon whether one is perfoming a technique or one is having a technique performed on them. Being a good uke is a definite skill one needs to develop if one wishes to be a good training partner.

Absolutely right, they're not "titles", they're descriptive terms to define roles within practice. They come from Judo, which, in turn, took them from Tenjin Shin'yo Ryu Jujutsu (where the terms are "ukemi" and "torimi", with the "mi" referring to "body", making them "receiving body" and "taking/capturing body"). And, naturally, many schools use different terms... such as aite, or teki for the opponent ("partner" for aite, and "enemy" as a translation for teki)... or Aikido's uke and nage (receiving, and throwing). Then we have all the weapon arts, commonly using things like uchidachi and shidachi (striking sword and "performing" sword), but other arts use terms like kirikomi (cutting side), ukedachi (receiving sword), and so on.

I always love hearing about the original (and perhaps still "correct", in the language of origin) usage of words. In this case, if I understand correctly, you're addressing the correct usage (and origin) in Japanese. One of the quirks of loan words is that they rarely retain that original usage anything like perfectly. So terms like "soke" and "sensei" gain a different meaning within that new context.

Somehow it still grates a bit when I hear what I know to be "incorrect" (actually, adapted) usage of terms and words, even though I know correctness is defined by common usage....and that I'm as guilty as anyone of creating usage drift in loan words.

So, though I know the terms "sensei", "shihan", and "sempai" don't - in their original usage - technically mean what they are used for within the NGAA, for instance, I know that the shared usage defines their meaning there and I use them that way.

Language are fun! :D

Languages are fun... but I wouldn't describe "soke", "sensei" etc as "loan words". They're Japanese words being used in a Japanese context in relation to Japanese arts and Japanese application. That the people using them may be native English speakers really means little... they're not being used in English contexts. So it grates on myself when there is a lack of appreciation of the actual meaning as well... but I understand that the nuances get lost cross-culture, which leads to some rather... uh... less than accurate application.
 

Gyakuto

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I always love hearing about the original (and perhaps still "correct", in the language of origin) usage of words. In this case, if I understand correctly, you're addressing the correct usage (and origin) in Japanese. One of the quirks of loan words is that they rarely retain that original usage anything like perfectly. So terms like "soke" and "sensei" gain a different meaning within that new context.

Somehow it still grates a bit when I hear what I know to be "incorrect" (actually, adapted) usage of terms and words, even though I know correctness is defined by common usage....and that I'm as guilty as anyone of creating usage drift in loan words.

So, though I know the terms "sensei", "shihan", and "sempai" don't - in their original usage - technically mean what they are used for within the NGAA, for instance, I know that the shared usage defines their meaning there and I use them that way.

Language are fun! :D
You’re spot-on when you say usages change so why use them at all? We’re not Japanese and neither do we live in Japan (or wherever your art originates). Use ‘coach’ or… 🤔 ...’martial arts teacher-person’! OR…be absolutely accurate in their usage by reading-up or seeking guidance from a Japanese teacher. It’s not a ’gi’, it’s a ‘dogi’ or ‘keikogi’ OR ‘karoddy pyjamas‘!
 

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Martial arts titles have always been very confusing to me and many times I've asked my own sensei what a particular title means. I have been "awarded" quite a few titles, most are still "head-scratchers" for me. My students often called me by my first name, which I was very comfortable with. And many called me Sir in class and some used that out of class.

Some years back in my semi retirement I found a school, in another state, and the grandmaster and I were the same rank, albeit in different arts. In class I called him "Sir" like everyone else. I just wanted a place to train and keep fit but he nevertheless registered me through Kukkiwan as a shodan in his TKD style. He became a dear friend and I sometimes taught specific skills at the school. He put my photograph on the wall among the other "official" school instructors and presented me with a - what he called a real - grandmaster's belt. Having moved again I do so miss the students and instructors there and of course "sir".

I studied/trained at another school owned by a friend but still called him Sir in class. Titles are a bit odd to me and it seems some of them are redundant. But the organizations I belong to, including USJA, have their own proprietary language.
 

Bill Mattocks

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You’re spot-on when you say usages change so why use them at all? We’re not Japanese and neither do we live in Japan (or wherever your art originates). Use ‘coach’ or… 🤔 ...’martial arts teacher-person’! OR…be absolutely accurate in their usage by reading-up or seeking guidance from a Japanese teacher. It’s not a ’gi’, it’s a ‘dogi’ or ‘keikogi’ OR ‘karoddy pyjamas‘!

My sensei is Japanese on his mother's side. He speaks Japanese.

In any case, the 'why use Japanese at all' argument isn't for me to decide. I'm a student and instructor at the dojo where I train, but it's not my dojo. If it was my dojo, I could make the rules. It isn't, so I cannot.

Even if I could, I like things the way they are and would not change them. I'm not even a little bit Japanese, but so what.
 

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I’m big fan of the martial arts author, Dave Lowry. This chapter from his book, ‘Traditions’ is very interesting…
 

Buka

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I refer to my sensei even outside the dojo as 'sensei'. I think everyone does who is or was ever one of his students. It would feel very weird to me to address him by his given name. My wife calls him 'sensei' also. Many of us even refer to his wife as "Mrs. Sensei," although of course we all realize that's not correct. She, of course, calls him by his given name... ;)

When my sensei asks me to do something, I say "Yes, sir," and I move quickly. That's probably the military training in me. He doesn't demand it, but I show that level of respect in the dojo and I hope it helps set an example for others.
I address my teachers as they wish to be addressed, either in the official capacity in Dojo or in private life. But I guess that can be said about anyone, you want me to call you Poderosa, I'll call you Ponderosa.

But I'm with you Bill, I say "Yes sir" and move quickly. And I believe it does set an example for others, a good example.
 

Bill Mattocks

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I’m big fan of the martial arts author, Dave Lowry. This chapter from his book, ‘Traditions’ is very interesting…
I would ask how that applies to those of us who are simply students in a dojo, with no dynasty or directorships involved.
 

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Martial arts titles have always been very confusing to me and many times I've asked my own sensei what a particular title means. I have been "awarded" quite a few titles, most are still "head-scratchers" for me. My students often called me by my first name, which I was very comfortable with. And many called me Sir in class and some used that out of class.

Some years back in my semi retirement I found a school, in another state, and the grandmaster and I were the same rank, albeit in different arts. In class I called him "Sir" like everyone else. I just wanted a place to train and keep fit but he nevertheless registered me through Kukkiwan as a shodan in his TKD style. He became a dear friend and I sometimes taught specific skills at the school. He put my photograph on the wall among the other "official" school instructors and presented me with a - what he called a real - grandmaster's belt. Having moved again I do so miss the students and instructors there and of course "sir".

I studied/trained at another school owned by a friend but still called him Sir in class. Titles are a bit odd to me and it seems some of them are redundant. But the organizations I belong to, including USJA, have their own proprietary language.
I originally had my students call me by my first name, then various people I trained under had my students address me by formal rank title. And that changed as the years went by and rank changed along with Instructors. For the last twenty years I’m addressed as Coach, which I enjoy.

The best thing about the various titles is when I run into a student from long ago that I don’t really remember. If they say “Sensei” I immediately know from what era he was from. :)
 

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Our KJN is very Korean, so in class he expects me to be called Master or Sabumnim or Sir. All Dan holders are Sir or M'am. Kids call all adults Sir or M'am. Outside of class, I'm Mark. And frankly I've never once "corrected" anyone who didn't use titles in class. It's just not something I consider all that important.
 
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