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The Term "Sensei"

I am only 48. Most of the sensei I know are older than me, some in their 80s. Something I have noticed is that most of them call me "sensei" or "Goodin Sensei." This is because I am the head of my own dojo -- certainly not because I am on the same level of these senior sensei in terms of rank, title, knowledge, or experience. They are showing courtesy to my position as the head of my dojo. The position itself deserves a certain degree of respect.

I went to lunch today with four sensei -- two ninth dan (hanshi) and two eighth dan (kyoshi). Everyone called everyone else "sensei." We only used last names when we needed to distinguish which sensei we were talking about. For example, I might have said, "Oh, Nakata Sensei just came back from Okinawa."

Then Nakata Sensei might have replied, "I was just talking to Goodin Sensei about my trip."

My point is that even very high sensei will refer to heads of dojo, no matter how young and no matter how small the dojo may be, as "sensei."

This can sometimes creates some awkward situations. Sensei Bobby Lowe and Jimmy Miyaji, for example, have many students who have trained much longer than I have. They are my seniors in training. And yet, they generally will not be referred to as "sensei," unless they have their own dojo or possibly their own classes. You could have a 7th dan who assists a 9th dan in a dojo. That 7th dan might not be referred to as "sensei" while a 2nd dan with a dojo would be.

It is important for younger sensei, such as myself, to always remember that titles such as sensei do not indicate seniority with respect to other students/instructors. Even though I may be the sensei of my dojo, I am still junior to many other students in other dojo -- and I should act accordingly. If I fail to do this, I am being a poor sensei and a poor representative of my dojo.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin