What is a senpai
A senpai or senpai is never an older student with whom one has a direct relationship and who teaches in the dojo. A senpai is a mentor, i.e. an older student who takes special care of a younger (new) student and helps and supports him wherever he can. That is why an older student who stands in front and almost never teaches the senpai is for the others, because he can hardly have such a special and intimate relationship with the whole class.
A teacher will never refer to himself as a sensei. When he speaks of himself, he uses the word "kyoshi" which means teacher. Sensei is a form of address that others use when addressing the teacher. But it is also the address for doctors and lawyers.
There is no age or graduation limit in Japan that has to be reached in order to be addressed as a Sensei.
Whoever teaches is the sensei - regardless of whether it is a blue, a brown or a black belt. In Japan teachers are not addressed as "Mr. Kobayashi" (Kobayashi san), but as "Kobayashi sensei". Regardless of this, however, the teacher, sensei, can also be the senpai due to a special relationship. In this case, of course, for the sake of courtesy, one would prefer to use the salutation "Sensei" in Japan.
It is a bad habit of the western world to imitate everything and also to introduce it here without understanding the right sense of the exercise. Much in Japan (and elsewhere in the Far East) has outgrown tradition and has existed for a very long time. We don't have to struggle and try to give new meaning to these traditions here in our world that never really existed.
A sensei is someone who teaches me something that affects me in a positive way.
Even black belts approached lower graduates with Sensei when they had to teach.
Whoever calls whom a teacher is up to everyone. In Japan, the salutation "Sensei" is a question of courtesy and respect one shows others. Sensei is basically anyone who teaches - just a teacher - nothing more.
Why shouldn't a yellow belt be called a teacher? What does the graduation say about people and their abilities? This is just an outward sign that shouldn't really be given any meaning ...
Here, too, I basically have to agree with you, but you misjudge one thing: In Japan the sensei is only the direct teacher (director) of a dojo. Other teachers in the dojo are also addressed as Sensei, since they are also teachers, but here a very clear distinction must be made between the address "Sensei" and the deeper meaning of the word "Sensei".
I will post a short outline of the 3 most important points from our homepage - maybe that will help a little ...
What is a sensei?
Sen is a Japanese expression and means "in front". “Be” means “life”, “birth” or “alive”. Hence the sensei is a teacher. It is born earlier and therefore usually has more knowledge. You don't call yourself sensei. This word is only used when addressing the teacher, never when the teacher is talking about himself. The word sensei also has the meaning of respect and esteem. However, one does not show respect for oneself. When speaking of yourself, the word kyoshi is used. It is also not proper to ask others to be addressed as sensei. Writing the word sensei on business cards, jackets, suits and training bags is a testament to stupidity and ignorance on top of that. If one is older than the teacher, the use of the word sensei is also inappropriate.
How should I behave towards the sensei?
Your teacher is likely to be very polite and will not ask you to bow to him or to address him as Sensei. But this is precisely where the dangers lie. Never discuss with your teacher if he shows you a mistake or improves your technique during the practice lesson. Sharp remarks and jokes are also inappropriate to the teacher. If you don't like the word sensei, then simply address your teacher with the salutation Mr. (name) or Mrs. (name).
Who is the Senpai?
When you take on a job in a company, a mentor will sometimes take you under his care and initiate you into everything you need to know. This also often happens between older and younger students in karate. Usually the older student sees a certain potential in the younger one and then does his best to help him further. In Japan this mentor is your Senpai. In terms of meaning, the senpai is getting older and more experienced. What has been said about the term "Sensei" also applies here. It is not appropriate to insist on the salutation Senpai or to note this writing anywhere on personal belongings. The term senpai is widely misunderstood by the western world of culture and should therefore not be used.
Some believe that the highest graduate is always the sensei, while the second highest in the hierarchy is the senpai. This is wrong and shows ignorance of Japanese culture. Anyone who is a teacher or who is older than oneself can be called sensei. You can also address lawyers and doctors by addressing them as Sensei. The word senpai is only used in relation to the personal mentor. You can just as easily call your senpai sensei, although this designation should be reserved for the actual teacher.
In many karate clubs there is a custom of naming the highest graduate student sensei. Only then is someone your Senpai if he has a personal interest in advising his junior. He's helping you up, spending much of his time protecting and educating you, paying your bills ... Do you have this relationship with all of your older students? I do not think so. And that's precisely why they are not your Senpai, they are higher graduates - nothing more.
Who is the Kohai?
The Kohai is the younger in the Senpai - Kohai relationship. Many in our culture take this terminology too literally and believe that all those who are below them in terms of graduation are their Kohai and all students above them are their Senpai. This is wrong. To be Senpai, you have to take care of someone personally, instruct them, train them and teach them and also be older (older in years and older in experience) than them.
The highest graduate student in a club is not called a senpai. This practice developed in Japan for a different reason and was simply adopted in Europe without much thought. The major karate clubs in Japan are based at the universities. New members in these associations were regularly the first semester students and many first semester students had a mentor, a senpai, among the older students. This usage of language was adopted into karate by European students at the Japanese universities without any closer knowledge of the actual background. Japanese children also always call the older ones Senpai if they are familiar enough with them. Nobody in Japan calls someone "Kohai". This is considered rude.
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