Friday, 24 October 2014

Approaching Respect, Honorifics, Titles, and Rank in Karate Do (Part 2)

Keigo in the Karate Do Context
I have found in my personal experience that no matter how highly you are ranked, you should always treat those around and especially those senior to you in age with the utmost respect. More often than not, this is expressed in many ways that not verbal. These subtleties can often either go unnoticed or can be misinterpreted if we don’t have the basic cultural understanding that I discussed in my previous posts. As with anything, there are always exceptions to this rule and showing one’s respect for and or toward another is no different. However, a good rule of thumb would be to remember that age seniority trumps all other ranks in almost every case.
The Image (Sensei and Professor)
Let’s take a common example and put it into a Karate Do context: A university/college student would address his/her professor(s) in a respectful way whether that respect is has been earned or not. They may call them "Sir." or "Dr.~" as a sign of this respect. However, the professor wouldn't have to be as formally polite when talking to the student (Rozek, 2010).

This is a pretty straight forward and easy to understand example but, I have a question for you. As you read that example what kind of mental picture did you create? Did you get a mental picture of the University Professor? What about the student? What is the common image of the ‘Professor’? Did you picture an older man, possibly with a beard or a moustache, wearing a tweed jacket? How about the typical image of a university/collage student? Was the student you pictured younger than the Professor? If we ask enough people this question we will be able to judge the common answer but, it may be assumed that the common image of the Professor is older than the student(s), would you agree? Assuming this to be the norm we can begin relating this example to Karate Do.

The student of Karate Do was traditionally referred to as the 弟子 Deshi, the Pupil and in this case the Professor would be the Sensei, The Instructor or Teacher of Karate Do. Please recall your mental image of the Deshi and the Sensei. Did you picture something similar to Mr. Miyagi and Daniel San from the movie ‘the Karate Kid’? Again, it may be assumed that the typical image of the Sensei (before Master Ken) was an old Japanese man teaching a young Western boy the secret art of his father’s Karate. How does an image like this hold up today?
Let's take another look at the example of the University Professor and student but in a more modern context. What if the student was a returning student or someone upgrading and the professor was a new, part-time teacher who hadn't received tenure at that institution, or someone who was teaching while working on their Ph.D. fresh out of a Master's program? Wouldn’t it then be possible that the student could be older than the professor? Such is the case in some if not many Dojo these days. The point I want to make here is that in this context even in spite of the exception to the age difference, the roles do not change. The professor still has to teach the class and deliver the necessary information outlined in the curriculum in the same fashion to the entire student body regardless of their age or various backgrounds. A similar responsibility falls on the shoulders of the Karate Do Sensei no matter their age. Therefore, during the class or the training session each must act appropriately according to their social standing in that specific context of their roles. This does not mean that anyone has the right to be disrespectful but, the verbal cues may be specific to the roles assumed during the lesson. However, when that time is up things may change.

In my opinion, the teacher would be a fool not to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from their students especially those who have more life experience than them and, in this fashion, show him/her sincere respect both inside and outside of the classroom or Dojo while still conducting their social role appropriately.

We must also familiarize ourselves with the literal translation of the term 先生 Sensei, which literally means 先生まれった Saki Umaretta, Born before. But in some cases, like the one given above, it is used as a title of social standing. For example, Doctors, Dentists, Educators, and Lawyers are commonly referred to as Sensei In Japan. The true challenge is to be able to go back and forth between the roles of teacher and learner smoothly and with the appropriate amount of confidence. It takes a great deal of self-confidence and self-awareness to be able to do this within both of the roles; teacher and student with sincerity of spirit. Therefore, until we are able to do this effectively and appropriately my advice is to go back to the general rule that ‘age seniority trumps all’.
The Setting (Dojo and the Classroom)
The confusion regarding the similarities in the example illustrated above lies somewhat in the setting. At first glance the typical university/collage classroom may seem very different than the traditional Dojo. However, there are in fact many similarities. One of which is the common purpose of each institution; to foster the growth of mind, body and spirit. 心技体 Shin Gi Tai (I will address this principle in detail in a later post) Albeit, in many cases the former focuses more on the mind and the later focuses more on the body but, Both were developed with the common purpose of forging sincerity of character reaching both mind and spirit through physically demanding exercises.
The atmosphere in the Dojo may be comparatively more intimidating to some but it shouldn’t be misinterpreted. The Sensei should never be rude to the student when addressing them even in the less formal manner. Please don’t misinterpret their actions. They are just acting appropriately within the position that the Martial Arts society gives them. This should never be met by a lack of formality on the part of the student. One must understand their place. Outside of the Dojo after the training a different level of mutual respect must also be shown.
The lack of a use of Keigo by the Sensei is especially evident during training where orders can appear to be ‘barked’ at the students. It is important not to misunderstand this situation. The Sensei is not ‘barking’ orders to intimidate or belittle the students. This is done with the full intent of developing the students’ mental toughness and to push them to higher levels of physical development. If this is not the case, then the intent will not be genuine and the opposite of the desired outcome is sure to occur. This is easily recognizable when you follow your 'gut feeling' while assessing the environment.

In traditional Dojo while training, the Sensei has complete control over the class. The students can only reply in one fashion: はい、分かりました Hai, wakarimashita, Yes, I understand. While training, it is not the students place to give their opinions on anything. Furthermore, the student can in no way challenge the authority of their Sensei or disagree with them regarding any aspect of training. In this respect, it is the responsibility of the Sensei to provide quality training and sincerity of spirit toward the art being practiced while maintaining respect for their students.

The signs of respect are not only limited to the way the student speaks of or to the Sensei. The true signs of respect are shown in the way the students conduct themselves in and out of the Dojo on a regular basis. A good Sensei also works hard to earn and maintain the respect of their students in a similar fashion. The “do as I say not as I do” mentality has no place in the Karate Do Dojo.
Now that we have a general understanding of the context we can address the kinds of polite language and focus on applying them more appropriately to our situations in and out of the Dojo depending on our rank and position while always maintaining a sincere spirit of purpose.
I will focus on this in the posts to follow.

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