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Wir wissen alle, dass Sensei als „Ausbilder“, oder „Lehrer“ übersetzt wird. Diese Übersetzung ist korrekt, also besteht darin kein Problem.
Ich bekomme einige Fragen bezüglich der Qualifikationen, welche einen Sensei ausmachen. Hier scheint es einen unerwähnten, oder unerklärten Bereich zu geben, welcher für Rätsel im Karatetraining sorgt. Ich mag Rätsel nicht, deshalb werde ich mein Verständnis für den Begriff „Sensei“ mit Ihnen teilen. Ich hoffe, dass es Ihnen bei der Beurteilung, oder auf der Suche nach einem Lehrer helfen wird.
Lassen Sie uns zuerst die Schriftzeichen für „Sensei“ betrachten (先生), welche uns zu einem besseren Verständnis dieses Begriffes verhelfen könnten. Vielleicht erinnern Sie sich an unsere Betrachtung des Zeichens „先“ in dem Wort „Senpai“: Es bedeutet „fortgeschritten“, „voraus“, „älter“, „zuerst“ usw. Aber was ist mit „生“? Dieses bedeutet „Geburt“, oder „Leben“. Insofern bedeutet es wörtlich, dass jemand früher geboren wurde. In anderen Worten heißt es, dass dies eine ältere Person ist, als Sie selbst. Es verrät jedoch nichts über das Alter, oder die Fähigkeiten dieser Person. Interessant, nicht wahr? Die japanische Auffassung besteht also darin, dass man von denjenigen lernt, die älter sind als man selbst, da sie angeblich mehr Erfahrung haben und daher sind sie weiser. Diese Auffassung dürfte nicht allzu sehr überraschend sein, wenn Sie sich an die japanische Vorstellung des zeitlichen Vorranges erinnern, unabhängig davon, ob Sie damit einverstanden sind, oder nicht.
Nun sagen Sie: „OK, ich bin 50 Jahre alt und mein Ausbilder erst 25, also genau halb so alt wie ich. Kann er mein Lehrer sein?“
Um diese Frage zu beantworten, müssen wir die Auffassung von Zeit auf Karate-Verhältnisse umstellen. Nehmen wir an er hatte vor zehn Jahren mit Karate begonnen und Sie erst vor fünf Jahren. Er ist Ihr Senpai im Karate. Wenn er regelmäßig in Ihrem Dojo unterrichtet, dann ist er Ihr Sensei. In einem Dojo zählt der Altersunterschied nicht und der zeitliche Vorrang hängt davon ab, wann man mit Karate angefangen hat. Ob dieser Sensei reif genug ist, um geachtet zu werden und in der Lage ist, Sie auf einem Weg im Leben zu führen, ist eine andere Geschichte.
Eine weitere Person fragte mich: „Mein Lehrer ist erst Nidan. Ich dachte, dass ein echter Lehrer Yondan, oder höher sein sollte. Als was sollte ich ihn nun ansehen?“
Meine Antwort ist: „Er ist Ihr Sensei.“
Jeder, der im Unterricht vorne steht und diesen leitet, gilt als Lehrer, unabhängig von seinem Grad. Ob dieser qualifiziert ist, zu unterrichten (durch ein Zertifikat berechtigt), oder nicht, ist eine andere Frage. Außerdem macht eine Lizenz zum Unterrichten nicht sofort einen guten Sensei aus. Ich kenne einen Nidan, der diesen Grad seit 30 Jahren trägt. Sein Training und seine Unterrichtserfahrung übersteigen womöglich die eines jungen Yondan. Ich habe auch schlecht geplante Anweisungen von älteren Leitern (7. und 8. Dan) gesehen. Der entscheidende Punkt besteht darin, dass der Lehrer begeistert genug ist, um das Wissen und die Kenntnisse, die er besitzt, zu teilen. Wenn Sie etwas von ihm lernen können, dann ist er Ihr Sensei. Wenn Sie kein Bisschen von ihm lernen, dann können Sie jederzeit das Dojo verlassen und sich ein anderes Dojo, oder einen anderen Sensei suchen.
Wir erwarten von unserem Sensei mehr zu sein, als jemand, der uns nur beibringt wie man schlägt und tritt. Das ist wahr, denn der Karate-Do ist mehr als nur Schlagen und Treten. Sie haben Glück, wenn Ihr Sensei Ihnen mehr als das beibringen kann. Können wir das von einem Sensei erwarten, der 25, oder 30 Jahre alt ist? Manche könnten sehr reif sein und viele Jahre des Trainings hinter sich haben, doch die Meisten davon sind zu jung und ihnen mangelt es an diesen Eigenschaften. Haben Sie also keine falschen Erwartungen von einem jungen Sensei. Seine minimalen Verpflichtungen als Übungsleiter bestehen darin in der Lage zu sein Karate-Techniken beibringen zu können. Das bedeutet, dass er diese Techniken zeigen und erklären kann. Auf der anderen Seite besitzen nicht alle fortgeschrittenen und älteren Lehrer diese Eigenschaften und Qualifikationen. Reife und Weisheit kommen nicht unbedingt mit dem Alter. Viele von ihnen verlieren ihre Form. Wenn ein Übungsleiter übergewichtig und nicht in Form ist, um eine Technik vorzuführen, dann betrachte ich diesen nicht als verantwortungsvoll.
Mir gefällt das, was Musashi vor einigen Jahrhunderten sagte. Er sagte, dass jeder, außer ihm selbst, ein Lehrer für ihn ist. Ich folge dieser Idee. Meine eigentlichen Lehrer (Sugano und Asai) sind tot und beerdigt. Ich glaube aber, dass mein jetziger Lehrer jeder ist, der in meinem Leben auftaucht, egal ob er eine Kampfkunst ausübt, oder nicht. Ich möchte etwas von jeder Person und allen Erfahrungen in meinem Leben lernen (sei es gut, oder schlecht). Das ist meine Philosophie und ich erwarte von den Lesern nicht, dass sie mit dieser einverstanden sind, oder sie akzeptieren.
Wie Sie sich Ihren Sensei aussuchen ist Ihnen überlassen. Jeder von uns hat unterschiedliche Erwartungen und Zielsetzungen im Training. Ich hoffe, dass Sie einen Sensei haben, mit dem Sie zufrieden sind. Wenn nicht, dann hoffe ich, dass Sie einen finden, mit dem Sie zufrieden sein werden und von dem Sie eine Menge lernen können.
Wenn Sie ein Sensei in einem Dojo sind, dann ist die minimale Anforderung an Sie die korrekte Lehre der Karate-Techniken. Das bedeutet, dass Sie in Form sein sollten, um die Techniken, die Sie unterrichten, nicht nur erklären, sondern auch vorführen zu können. Ergänzend dazu hoffe ich, dass Sie mehr als nur die Karate-Techniken aufbieten. Viele Ihrer Schüler erwarten dies von Ihnen.
Optional disclaimer about the genders:
Yokota-Sensei verwendete in dem englischen Original die geschlechtsunterscheidenden Begriffe „he/she“ im Bezug auf den Lehrer. Im Englischen ist das machbar, doch im Deutschen wird es durch die zahlreichen Artikel und Wortendungen zusätzlich erschwert und führt zu einem schwer lesbaren Text mit vielen Schrägstrichen und Klammern. Ich habe mich in der Übersetzung dazu entschlossen, den Begriff „Lehrer“ auf das männliche Geschlecht zu reduzieren, was keineswegs zu einer Dezimierung des weiblichen Geschlechtes führen, sondern lediglich dem Zweck der Textkürzung und Lesbarkeit dienen sollte.
When you hear the term “black belt” I am sure it means more than just a black colored belt to you. For the karate practitioners it means our pride and many years of hard training. For the non-practitioners it may mean an expertise in karate or a dangerous person which we think funny.
Because of the movie, Kuro Obi, this Japanese term has become well known to many of the karate practitioners. The movie was not at a Hollywood level but a JKA instructor, Sensei Naka, co-starred. I would say it is interesting to see a real Shotokan instructor playing in a karate movie. Here is the URL to watch the entire movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urQQBsoTjfw
Whatever the color your belt may be, you certainly wear it every time you train. It is so much a part of our karate training, yet there are many facts about karate belts that you may not know. You might have wondered about something related to a karate belt in the past and maybe you are still looking for the answers. The subjects here are, more or less, only the trivia of karate but I think they are interesting. To some extent, it is important for all of us to know and appreciate some facts. For that reason, I hope this article will help you with your better understanding of karate and its culture.
The dan rank and the black belt system in karate is itself an interesting and a puzzling subject. We must look at the history to understand where this belt system came from. Many of the readers may already know that there was no belt system in the Okinawa karate that was introduced to Japan by Master Funakoshi. Did you know that Funakoshi adopted this system from judo? The founder of judo, Jigoro Kano (1860 – 1938) was a very educated man who was also very talented and successful in business and academic arena. For instance, he founded judo in late 19th century (1882 to be exact) and within a short period of time the membership of his dojo increased to several thousand members. He was also one the first representatives of the Olympic Committee from Japan. I suspect he invented the dan system about the same time he created judo from jujitsu. As you may know that judo and Kano had a huge influence on Shotokan karate at the early stage of Funakoshi teaching in Tokyo. In fact, the name of the style, Shotokan, believe it or not, shows its influence. The name of judo headquarters was Kodokan and it was a very reputable name in the martial arts society in Tokyo at that time. Thus, Funakoshi adopted the “kan” (館Hall or Building) part in Shotokan, probably, hoping to build his dojo as big as Kodokan. There was another reason why Funakoshi chose Shotokan for his dojo name. He believed in having one karate and did not want to create his style, ryu. There was only one organization, Kodokan, in judo and he liked it. This is exactly what he wanted to see with karate and he used Shotokan for his dojo and refused to use “ryu”. This is why Shotokan has no ryu at the end of its name like Shito-ryu and Goju-ryu. Some people recently (ignorant, I am afraid) are referring our karate as Shotokan-ryu which I do not think Master Funakoshi would appreciate or approve. Here is a link to Wikipedia on Jigoro Kano if you are interested in learning more about this interesting man: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jigoro_Kano
OK let’s go back to kuro obi, Funakoshi granted the first dan diploma to a few of his students as early as in 1924, two years after he migrated to Tokyo. In the early period of Shotokan karate the highest rank one could attain was Godan (5th degree) as they followed suit to the system in judo. As the population of judo increased Kodokan expanded its highest dan rank to 10th dan. Thus karate followed the rule change and the highest rank in Shotokan is 10th dan now. In some styles of karate a higher degree wears a different color belt. A practitioner of 6th, 7th or 8th dan would wear a red and white belt. For 9th and 10th dan a full red belt may be worn. These belts are also the imitation from the judo policy. Obviously Funakoshi did not like this idea so he did not adopt it. The Shotokan practitioners only use a black belt for all dan ranks.
In other styles, the stripes are embroidered on the belt to show one’s rank. It is true that you cannot tell one’s rank if his belt is plain. I personally do not like this idea to make the ranks visible. I do not wish to criticize the other styles but I do not like it. In fact, I like the idea of a black belt turning into almost white after many years of wearing. I am proud to wear an old belt as it shared my daily training for many years. I sometimes come across with a few Shotokan practitioners who wear a belt with the stripes. I am sure they are ignorant about our tradition. I want them to know that it is Shotokan tradition to use only a plain black belt.
Kendo is another budo that has a dan system and their highest rank used to be 10th dan rank. It is interesting that in the year of 2000 the All Japan Kendo Federation decided to drop the 9th and the 10th dan ranks thus 8th dan is the highest rank one can attain now in kendo.
What I will bring up next is one particular subject about the karate dan rank system that, I consider, should be discussed more frequently. This is something that you all know well but it has not been discussed openly.
In many of the sports or athletic events they have their own ranking systems. For instance, in boxing it is divided into many weight divisions or classes and in each division they have the world ranks. I am also aware that there are different groups such as WBC, WBA, WBO, etc. and each one has its own ranks but I will not go into this part for our discussion today. The point I wish to bring up is the fact that the ranking systems in boxing are fluid and not permanent. In other words, your rank whether it is first (champion) or 100 will not stay permanently (though such a record may be kept as the historical ranking). It goes down when you lose in a fight and your rank disappears when you retire from the fighting. This is not the case in karate as well as in all budo. Once a dan rank is granted a practitioner will have that rank permanently. He can get promoted but the rank will never come down. I am aware that ranking system of the sports (boxing, tennis, etc.) are different in its objective from the budo’s dan ranks. In fact, judo now has the competitors ranking system called World Ranking (by IJF) that is unrelated to the dan rank system. I believe a dan rank is given on the belief that this particular practitioner will continue his training so that his ability will not deteriorate, in fact, it is expected only to improve. But the sad fact is that many people do not continue their training and quit. Only a handful will remain and train throughout their life. In addition, at a certain age one reaches the maximum of his physical ability and the skill level may even come down despite the continuing of the practice. It is an honorable thing to receive a dan rank and we should be proud of it. At the same time, I feel that the integrity and the substance of the dan ranks must be there to mean anything to us. It is a big shame but there are too many bogus and self-promoted ranks. I can truly understand why Funakoshi sensei refused to receive any dan ranks.
Let’s move on to another interesting subject. Have you ever wondered why kyu rank starts from 8th (at some dojo from 10th) and the rank decreases down to one kyu as a student progresses? Once you reach Shodan or the first degree black belt, the rank increases as you get promoted. When I first joined JKA 50 years ago I wondered why I did not start from 1 kyu. I wondered why the kyu system would not take an increasing system like the dan system and of course I could not ask such a thing to our teacher. Many years later I found that the kyu system had been intentionally structured this way. Let me share the concept behind this system and hopefully you will see the logic.
The fundamental concept of martial arts is that a student is not expected to start a real karate training until you become Shodan (first degree black belt). Some of you may know or practice a custom of making a new Shodan to wear a white belt for a short period of time (a month or so). This custom is to let a new Shodan know that he is now starting a real karate training or he is finally at the starting point of real learning of karatedo. Until that level a student’s objective or a goal is to build the foundation and at the same time, reduce the bad habits or the “natural” ways of body movements.
This may be a difficult concept but is an important one. In other words a student will learn the basic karate ways or the conditions that are necessary to learn the real karate techniques. For an example, if you ask a street person to make a fist he can probably make something that is similar to a karate fist, seiken 正拳.However, if you ask him to show you an open hand he will show you something like Photo A (natural open hand, left above). You ask him next to put the fingers together, he will show you a hand like Photo B (right above) but never shuto 手刀(knife hand, Photo C below). It will require a little learning to make a shuto hand. It will require numerous repetition to “forget” your natural hand forms (A and B) and make this shuto hand (C) “natural” to you.
This is just a small example and the scope of the preparation (forgetting the natural ways) will extend to all those stances, body shifting, postures, breathing method, leg strength, ki-ai as well as the dojo etiquettes just to name a few. All the knowledge and the techniques, indeed, are necessary before a practitioner can “start” the karate training. Note: In a perfect world, all those “pre-requisites” should be learned in advance, but in a real situation the learning of these matters are done in parallel as he engages in karate training. This is why you start from 8th kyu and move up to one kyu as you get yourself prepared for the real karate training.
Another subject; we all know that a beginner starts with a white belt. Before he reaches a black belt there are many different colors such as yellow, blue, green, etc. When I started my karate training in early 60’s there were only two colors before black. They were white and brown. If I remember correctly I started from Mu-kyu (no kyu) and with the first exam I became 6th kyu. We were all white until we reached 3 kyu (brown belt). Now most of the dojos start from either 8th kyu or 10th kyu. Some dojo even give a stripe to show a half kyu advancement. In one dojo the chief instructor told me he would never advance a student by one full kyu. With the first exam a student will become 10 and a half kyu. With this system this student has to take 20 kyu examinations before he reaches 1 kyu to go for a black belt. I did not make any comment to this instructor (luckily he was and is not in the same organization) as he considered karate as a pure business. I am not here to make a judgment on making karate a pure business but I personally would not send my sons to his dojo. Each student is different in his development and speed of learning. Though it may not be good for a business but I do not like having so many examinations in order to receive more money from of the students (or their parents).
A popular question I receive is if the colors to the kyu ranks are fixed or if there is a universal order. The quick answer is no. The basic idea is to start from white (no color) and the belt gets darker towards black. At many dojo the next color to white is either yellow or light blue and I think it makes sense. However, some dojo start with a red belt for 10th and 9th kyu. It is indeed a very dark color but it is intentional. As we all know that the drop-out rate is the highest with the white belt. The instructors believe the red color belt will give more motivation than a yellow or a blue to the beginners and they will stay with the training longer. This may be true and that would be another business decision a dojo instructor needs to make. Incidentally I find it interesting because in judo and a few karate organizations, a red belt is allowed to 9th and 10 dan. In our organization, we have a guideline of the colors that are associated with the kyu ranks but it is not mandatory. We let the member dojo decide on the colors for the kyu ranks.
Here is another popular question. After having a lengthy absence or illness, say more than a year or longer, you may wonder if you deserve to wear your old black belt. You may not be sure what color of a belt you should wear when you return to your dojo. There is no universal rule on this subject and it is up to the policy of an individual dojo. Many dojos or organizations do not mind a member wearing his black belt even if had a long absence. Some dojos have a policy that a returned practitioner has to wear a white belt for a certain period of time. That length varies and again, it will depend on an organization’s rule or policy.
If you are a black belt but you had a long absence and today is your first day back. What belt should you wear? Ask yourself if you can perform just as good as you did right before your lengthy absence. If you are exceptionally talented and if you are confident in your performance, then you can wear your old kuro-obi. However, if you are an average person then you feel less coordinated and out of shape. You may even forget some of the kata. If this is the case, why not wear a white belt? Or does your self-pride or ego bother you? I would rather look as a great white belt than a very poor black belt. Believe me the color of a belt does not help you with your karate. It will not make you look any better or worse so why not wear a white belt for a few months until you gain back your coordination, your stamina, etc? Length of being a white belt depends on the length of one’s absence as well as that person’s ability to gain back to the black belt level. It can be only a couple of months to a half year. It will all depend on an individual and your sensei should be able to tell you when you are ready.
So, what do you think of your kuro obi now? One thing I can tell you is that even if your belt is black, it will not help you with your karate or make you look any better. On the other hand, if you wear a kuro obi there will be a certain amount of obligation and responsibility associated with your belt. For instance, you need to train not once or twice a week but every day. You must be in shape and lead a healthy life. Obesity must not be tolerated for a black belt. You also need to live by Dojo Kun and follow Niju Kun.
Bowing, rei is a very important ritual and etiquette in our dojo but do you know the proper way of doing rei? I hear that in many dojo a correct way does not get taught properly. I also find the incorrect way of bowing is exercised in some of the dojo I visit. I will explain the correct way here so you can use this as your reference. I must clarify that what I describe here is the common etiquette exercised in the standard Shotokan dojo in Japan.
Many of the other styles and martial arts do their rei differently. I was a member of Kyokushinkai for one year and they do it differently. When I joined Kyokushinkai I was already sandan in Shotokan. I wanted to experience the full contact karate as I was struggling with the idea of non contact kumite. When I joined kyokushinkai, ignorantly I expected the rei method to be identical. I remember clearly how surprised I was when I found it was quite different. I will not go into their method as this article is written specifically for the Shotokan practitioners. If you practice aikido, kendo, i-aido, etc. you most likely have experienced different rituals.
In a Shotokan dojo, there are two situations for bowing. One is ritsurei from standing position and the other zarei from sitting or seiza. Let me explain both situations and start with Ritsurei as it is simpler.
Part 1 Ritsurei立礼
From shizentai stance (natural stance with the feet in shoulder length apart) with your arms and open hands extended on the sides of your body. I will explain using the illustration below (front view).
1) Bring right foot inward (hands and arms do not move). There is another method which is not as polite as the method above but it can be done as follow; bring left foot half way in first then bring right foot in to complete.
2) Make musubi dachi
3) Bow by bending from the hips with the upper body straight. Your eye sight goes down to the floor in front of you. Bend down about 30 to 45 degrees. In Japan there are many rules and the degrees of the bowing change depending on the situations. In dojo situation approximately 30 to 45 degrees is proper. It does not need to be any deeper than 45 degrees. An extreme deep bowing (close to 90 degrees) is very rarely done and it is used only in an unique and unusual situations such as apologizing in Japan. This is not necessary in dojo situation. At the same time, the bowing must not be less than 30 degree as it will appear as disrespecting and impolite. (see the side view below)
5) Bring the fists to your front with a shoulder width apart as you assume shizentai stance.
Standing bow is not too difficult for the westerners and most practitioners perform well with this bowing ritual.
One common question I hear is the position of the hands. Some people said “When I visited Japan most of the people put their hands in front of their thighs rather than the side (photo). It is true that this method is very common especially among the merchants and women. I do not have a photo here but I remember seeing a photo of Funakoshi sensei bowing this way. So, I do not think this is an incorrect way but I can say it is not very common among the karate practitioners.
I need to bring your attention to two common mistakes I see in the western world:
The child in the photo here is showing a common incorrect bowing that I see in many dojos. One western sensei told me that he teaches the students to keep looking at their opponents as it is dangerous to look down and lose the sight of the opponents. It sounds almost convincing but this concept does not bode well with the Japanese budo concept. I even saw a movie where a Japanese sensei was beaten up by a western karateka who attacked him in the middle of a rei. I laughed at the scene when I saw it. If this Japanese sensei was a real master then he could have seen the unexpected move of the opponent’s feet and detected an attack. To me it was not realistic and obviously the director was non-Japanese who obviously did not understand budo or Japanese martial arts. I hope all sensei of Shotokan will teach their students that rei is a ritual to show a mutual respect before a fight. This means the head will go down as you bow to show the respect.
I see this action frequently done by the competitors in the tournaments. Maybe some people believe this would show some spirit but this action is considered impolite and we consider it silly. This behavior should not be taught nor permitted.
I will explain Zarei, seiza bowing in Part 2 which will be out in a day or two.
What is “Oss”? 「押忍」ってどんな意味？
Here is another Japanese culture lesson today. We will take the same process of understanding the base meaning of the kanji that is used for this popular dojo word. Then I will add the interesting cultural aspect of this unique word.
This word is prounced and written in a few different ways. Many write “Osu” or “Oss”, some pronounce it “Ous” and I write “Ossu”. They are just different pronunciations and all of them are“correct”.
O from “oss” is written like this,押 and it means to push or surpress. The part of “ss” or “su” is written in kanji as 忍 which means to endure or persevere. Therefore, these two kanji together, 押忍 symbolizes the attitude of suppressing your own emotions and endure the hard training or tiring toil or duty. This word is commonly used by the budo practitioners such as karate, judo and kendo. But it is also used by the athletes of the sports that are typically considered aggressive or macho such as baseball, football, etc.
It is also typically used by the male practitioners or athletes in Japan. This is because “osu” is also written as 牡 which means “male”, therefore many Japanese female feel uncomfortable saying “Osu”. In many dojo they are allowed or even recommended not to use “Osu” and use the normal greeting words and also yes and no when they answer back to their sensei , senpai and colleagues. As Judo and karate became so popular around the world, so did the word Oss/Osu. The cultural part of the word being very male oriented, however, did not spread so many western female practitioners and athletes use this word.
Let’s look at the history. Surprisingly, the origin is not clear and there are a few theories. I share two of them.
One theory is that this word was invented only in mid-20th century in the imperial Navy of Japan which supposed to have nurtured the spirit of samurai. The way it happened was like this. The Japanese for Good morning is Ohayo gozai masu. The soldiers were trained to do things in a hurry all the time in the navy including the greetings and responses. Thus, supposedly, the greetings of Ohayo gozai masu was cut down to only “O” and “su” and became “O-su”. The greetings for the afternoon and evening are different, of course, but “Osu” began to be used for all occasions including the answers whether
it is yes or no.
Another theory says it was invented by the samurai of Saga clan (佐賀
藩 in Kyushu island). Famous author of Hagakure(葉隠), Yamamoto Tsunetomo (山本常朝 1659 – 1719) w
as born in this clan and bushido was very strong and strictly exercised there. Sup
posedly the young samurai of Saga clan in 18th and 19th centuries used “Osu” for their morning greetings.
Hagakure was considered by many samurai as the spiritual guide to true bushido. If you do not know about this famous book, Hagakure read the simple explanation in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hagakure
Many people asked me why there is only one “Osu” for both yes and no answers. To be able to understand this you need to understand the culture of bushido or Japanese martial arts. The backbone of bushido is total obedience. Read Hagakure and you will have a better understanding whether you agree or disagree with the fundamental concept of total obedience. Here in the western world, when a sensei says “jump” the students may ask “why” or say “no”. Of course, some of them may ask “How high?” In a Japanese dojo, all the students without an exception would answer “Osu” and jump. So, there is no need for a“no” answer in a dojo in Japan. I am sure many Western people would probably consider this act “stupid” or brain washed and unwise. I want to emphasize that the purpose of the comparison of the cultures of the two different worlds is not to judge which is better or right, but rather to show merely the differences so that the readers will have a better understanding.
I hope you now have a better idea of what “Oss” stands for and where it came from. I also hope that you will appreciate this word better and be more conscientious when you say "Oss!".
Special thanks to Colin Watkin who provided the picture. You can find great articles on his website: www.hyoho.com
Many people ask me about these titles and today I want to give you not only the meaning of these Japanese words and the history behind them.
First, I use Shihan in front of my name. It is not because I need or want to tell the world that I am a big sensei or a big shot. I retired from a high-tech company three years ago but I was in the industry for 30 years. During those years I kept my karate background secret or confidential from my bosses and even colleagues. I was not ashamed of my karate background but karate was (and still is) a very personal thing to me and I wanted to separate my business life away from my karate life. I used LinkedIn for my high-tech network and you can check it there but I used only my name. When I joined FaceBook 5 or 6 years ago I was still working for a high-tech company so I decided to use shihan as my first name and posted myself as Shihan Yokota. Now that I do not need to keep my karate background secret anymore I changed the name on FB as Shihan Kousaku Yokota by adding my real first name. I could have dropped shihan but it became almost like my nickname so I kept it. That is all and I will not be offended at all if anyone calls me without this title.
OK that is enough of an introduction. Let me explain about those confusing Japanese titles. In my explanation I will add Soke and Kancho as a bonus.
Let's start with shihan. First of all, shihan is not exactly a title. In other words, this is not something an organization would bestow or permit. Shihan (師範) means literally "to be a model" but it is only a formal word for sensei or instructor or teacher. So if you are teaching karate; for that matter any martial arts and non martial arts field, you can be addressed as shihan. However, it is customarily reserved for the senior instructors or teachers. For instance, if a Nidan or Sandan person at the age of 20's will not normally be addressed as shihan even if he or she may be the chief instructor of a dojo or a club. Since it is not a bestowed title it does not have the age or rank requirement. We would consider Godan and above as the senior ranks those sensei can be addressed as Shihan. On the same token, it will not be considered as impolite or rude if you address a senior instructor as sensei even if he is 8th or 9th dan. In other words, you can address me as sensei instead of shihan.
There is one exception to the above rule. There is a bestowed title of Shuseki Shihan. Shuseki means "Top position" so it means the Chief Instructor of an organization. This is used only in a large organization like JKA, JKS, ISKF, etc as they have multiple number of senior instructors. If you are the only instructor in your dojo or an organization then you should not use Shuseki Shihan even if you are asenior rank instructor.
On the other hand, Kyoshi, Renshi and Hanshi are bestowed titles. However, in general in karate (with JKA, ISKF, JKS, IJKA and WJKA) we do not use those titles. The only exception is Zen Nihon Karatedo Renmei (Japan Karate Federation or JKF). This organization is a non style specific organization and its members are Shotokan, Shito ryu, Goju ryu and Wado ryu. It is a member of WKF and I assume it also grants these titles. I do not know why they grants these titles but I suspect there is an influence from Kendo. The history goes back to 1895 when the martial arts organization called Dai Nihon Butokukai was established. They promoted various martial arts including kendo, judo, jujitsu, kyudo, and a few others. However, this organization was dismantled by the occupation force (GQ) in 1945. Even though the same name organization was established in 1957 it is not related to the original Dai Nihon Butokukai though they probably wish to claim as such as the prewar organization received a lot of respect and honor as it was sponsored by the Japanese government. The current organization is no longer well known or large in membership as it is only a private organization without any sponsorship from the government.
Anyway, I find it interesting to meet so many Kyoshi in the Americas but yet not too many Renshi or Hanshi. According to Dai Nihon Butokukai or JKF, the ranks starts with Renshi and ends with Hanshi being the highest. So, Kyoshi is the middle rank and I do not know why I meet only Kyoshi among the instructors.
For your information, let me list the requirements to qualify those ranks (by JKF):
Hanshi （範士）: 8th dan for more than 2 years, older than 60
Kyoshi (教士）: 6th dan and above for minimum 2 years, older than 50
Renshi （錬士）: 5th dan and above for minimum 1 year, older than 40
What is Kancho (館長）? You are familiar with Shotokan and the part of "kan" is the same here. Kan means building so the connotation is the dojo. Cho means the head or top (i.e. shacho: president). Kanazawa sensei uses Kancho as his title. I wonder if he wants to claim that he is the top of Shotokan which I do not know. This is a little mystery as his organization (Kokusai Shotokan Karatedo Renmei) does not end with "kan".
The last one is Soke（宗家）and I find and hear about so many soke in the US. I laugh about this as I know they cannot be legitimate. Soke means a central family who carries a certain art as their family tradition. Though you can find such a family in some Japanese martial arts such as kenjutsu this tradition is more popularly with the non martial arts such as tea ceremony (sado), flower arrangement (kado), Japanese dancing (kabuki, noh, etc), Japanese music and instruments (shakuhachi, koto, etc). It is customarily carried by the same family of the founder but of course there are some exceptions. This is why I laugh when I see an American guy who claims a "soke" title for his karate. This means he had to create his own style which is possible but I am not sure how legitimate his style can be. Or there is another possibility which is more unlikely that is his Japanese master decided to hand over the title as this American guy was good enough to carry the style. Anyway, if you meet any one in the western world with Soke in front of his name do not trust him too much.
As many of the readers can guess that Funakoshi sensei did not care for the titles. He never accepted any rank for himself even though he granted those ranks to his students. Thus, I am confident to conclude he did not accept any worldly titles such as Soke, Hanshi, Kyoshi, Renshi or even Kancho which he could have and deserved. The only exception is Shuseki Shihan. When Japan Karate Association (JKA) was founded in 1948 he accepted to become the first Chief Instructor. Even with this title he resigned in 1956, a year before his passing. I understand that he wanted to remain neutral as JKA was having some friction with Shotokai in 50s when both groups claimed the ownership of Funakoshi lineage.
Nakayama sensei and Asai sensei both held Shuseki Shihan positions. As far as I know they did not claim any other titles. Personally, I have no desire to claim any titles including Shuseki Shihan or even the dan rank from any organization. Dan ranks are mass produced these days and they no longer prove any real skill level or proficiency but this another subject so I will not go into this now.
I hope my short explanation of various titles was helpful and you have better idea about them. If you should have any questions about this matter feel free to send me any questions. I look forward to hearing from many of you.
Here is Kanji for senpai; 先輩. Sen, same in Sensei, means before or earlier. Pai or Hai means fellow, buddy, comrade, associate, etc. The literal meaning of senpai is a person or a fellow who joined before or earlier. Kanji for kohai is 後輩, a person who joined later or more recently. We use these terms not only in a dojo situation but also in any affiliation such as other clubs or associations and even in the work situation. Maybe, many of the readers have already known this much. Let's go into the fine points of these terms that may be confusing to non Japanese.
The vertical structure of human relationship is very rigid and strictly enforced in Japan. This senpai status stays for the rest of one's life. What becomes confusing or hard for a westerner to understand is it goes beyond the dan ranks. In other words, even if a kohai attains a higher rank he cannot be a senpai. This kohai may sit higher position in a line up but he cannot change the status of kohai to his senpai. In Japan the following is commonly observed. A kohai will not be allowed to take his dan exam before all his senpai take theirs. Of course, if a senpai quits a dojo or his training a kohai can take a dan exam and he could exceed his dan rank over his senpai. But still his senpai is called as "senpai" when they happen to run into each other, say, in a street. This part is probably the biggest difference in the definition of senpai/kohai between Japan and Western world. Here, any student can take a dan exam without restriction or consideration to his senpai. A kohai can easily become higher rank and he will be called "senpai" because this word is considered as higher rank or senior rank or senior position.
In Japan, you must be at least Nidan to be an assistant instructor who must go through minimum two years of instructor's training. These people are not called "sensei" but "kenshusei" or trainee. When he successfully completes his training and becomes Sandan then he will become "shidoin" or a certified instructor. Some of course becomes Sandan without going through the instructor's training and starts teaching. He may be called sensei but technically not shidoin as he is not certified by the organization such as JKA, JKS, etc. As these terms are many and confusing to the non Japanese people only the term of sensei is used in the western world. Often times the terms of senpai, kohai and sensei are used incorrectly (from the Japanese culture perspective) I feel strange but I go along with it. I feel the concept I just explained is too Japanese and it cannot be applied to the western culture. I would like to hear what the readers think about this. Also, if you have a question on any specific case feel free to send me your question.
I will put up another blog later this week on the meaning of "Shihan", "Kyoshi", "Renshi" and "Hanshi".
The following table lists graduates from the legendary JKA Instructor program.
|Name||Year of Graduation||Rank||Position|
|Mikami Takayuki||1957||9th dan||USA JKA/AF Southern|
|Kanazawa Hirokazu||1957||10th dan||Founder SKIF|
|Yaguchi Yutaka||1958||9th dan||USA ISKF Mountain States|
|Ueki Masaaki||1961||9th dan(2011)||HQ Shihan Chief Instructor Worldwide|
|Keinosuke Enoeda||1961||9th dan||"Deceased 29th March 2003".|
|*Miyazaki Satoshi||1961||8th dan||"Deceased 31st May 1993".|
|Sakai Ryusuke||1962||7th dan|
|Ochi Hideo||1963||8th dan||"JKA Germany".|
|Abe Keigo||1965||9th dan||Japan JSKA |
|Takashina Shigeru||1966||8th dan||USA JKA/WFA South Atlantic|
|Kawazoe Masao||1967||8th Dan (Also Chief Instructor ITKF)|
|Okamoto Hideki||1967||8th dan||Egypt|
|Takahashi Shunsuke||1967||8th dan||Chief Instructor TSKF Australia |
|Okuda Taketo||1967||8th dan||"Butoku-kan (Brazil)".|
|Osaka Yoshiharu||1972||8th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Imura Takenori||1977||7th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Kurasako Kenro||1977||7th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Kawawada Minoru||1978||7th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Omura Fujikiyo||1978||7th dan||"JKA Thailand".|
|Ohta Yoshinobu||Attendee||7th Dan||"Head JKA England".|
|Ogura Yasunori||1982||7th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Imamura Tomio||1983||7th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Izumiya Seizo||1986||6th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Shiina Katsutoshi||1986||6th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Hanzaki Yasuo||1987||6th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Naka Tatsuya||1989||7th dan (2012)||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Taniyama Takuya||1990||6th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Takahashi Satoshi||1992||5th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Kobayashi Kunio||1993||5th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Ogata Koji||1994||5th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Walter Crockford||1996||5th dan||"JKA Canada".|
|Hirayama Yuko||1998||6th dan (as of 2012)||HQ Secretariat|
|Okuma Koichiro||1998||4th dan||HQ Full-Time Instructor|
|Iwasawa Mayumi||1998||3rd dan||HQ Secretariat|
|Aragaki Misako||2003||3rd dan||HQ Secretariat|
Abe Keigo, 9th dan (former JKA HQ instructor) JSKA Chief Instructor
Aramoto Nobuyuki, 8th dan (former JKA instructor)
Asai Tetsuhiko, 10th dan (former HQ JKA instructor) JKS/IJKA Chief instructor (passed)
Inaba Tsuneyuki, 7th dan (former JKA instructor
Isaka Akito, 7th dan (former JKA instructor) KWF
Ishimine Minoru, 7th dan (former JKA instructor)
Kagawa Masao, 8th dan (former JKA instructor) JKS Chief Instructor
Kagawa Masayoshi, 7th dan (former JKA member, not JKA instructor graduate)
Kanayama Kyosho, 7th dan (former JKA instructor)
Mizuno Yoshihisa, 8th dan (former JKA instructor)
Naito Takashi, 7th dan (Has left E.T.K.F & returned to JKA)
Shin Naomitsu, 7th dan (former JKA member, not JKA instructor graduate)
Tamang Pemba, 8th dan (former JKA HQ instructor) NSKF Chief Instructor
Tanaka Chougo, 7th dan (former JKA member, not JKA instructor graduate)
Yahara Mikio, 8th dan (former JKA HQ instructor) KWF Chief Instructor
Yamaguchi Takashi, 8th dan (former JKA instructor)
Kanazawa Hirokazu, 10th dan (former JKA HQ instructor) Chief instructor SKIF
Kase Yasuharu, 10th dan (former JKA HQ instructor) Chief Instructor SRKH (passed)
Kasuya Hitoshi, 8th dan (former JKA instructor) Chief Instructor WSKF
Katsumata (Suzuki) Yutaka, 7th dan (former JKA instructor)
Shirai Hiroshi, 10th dan (former JKA instructor) WSKA
Kyle Kamal Helou, 4th dan (JKS instructor) JKS
Tatetsu Meicho, 7th dan (former JKA instructor)
Asano Shiro, 9th dan (former JKA member, not JKA instructor graduate) SKIF
Kato Sadashige, 9th dan (former JKA member, not JKA instructor graduate) Chief Instructor IJKA (not recognized or sanctioned by Asai IJKA)
The list might not be complete.