A couple of weeks ago I came across an ad for a dojo quite close to my house. Two things stuck out like a sore thumb on the ad:

  1. They couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be a ‘Karate Fans Club’ or a ‘Karate Funs Club’. But hey, Malaysians being Malaysians, let’s just pin it down to bad grammar.
  2. The number of ‘MASTERs’ they have on their instructor roster. WOW! At the very least they have 8-9 ‘Masters’…… and 1 ‘Sensei'(??) In my some odd 20 years of martial arts training, I have trained with AT MOST, 3 or 4 bona fide ‘Masters’. And these 3 or 4 people would never in their right mind call themselves that, but rather, went by a more humble title of ‘Sensei’, generally meaning teacher. Perhaps I should join up with them and gain the opportunity to train with 9 ‘Masters’ under 1 roof. Mmmmm……

What qualifies someone to use the title ‘Sensei’ or ‘Master’? More importantly what does those 2 words actually mean? To my knowledge and experience (but hey, what do I know 😉 ), no one ever calls themselves ‘Sensei’, much lest ‘Master’. The Japanese usually append the word Sensei to the end of someone’s name rather than the beginning when addressing them. So the proper usage would be Funakoshi Sensei, rather than the more commonly used Sensei Funakoshi. A literal translation of the word (well, actually two words, sen and sei) would be someone who was born before us, someone’s who’s older than us, or better yet, mentor. The term sensei is an expression of respect, much like the word ‘San’. It’s use is not exclusive to the martial arts. Doctors, lawyers, teachers and scientists are also called sensei as a way to say ‘Sir’ very politely. Never would they be caught dead with a business card naming themselves ‘Sensei Tanaka @ Tanaka Sensei’. And here we are stumbling over ourselves making cards and ads, uniforms and t-shirts calling ourselves ‘Sensei’ It is as strange as introducing oneself as “Hi, my name  is Mr. Smith”.

We all train hard to get our kihon, kumite and kata perfect. We look for an organization that at the very least presents itself with some degree of legitimacy. We find instructors that have the technical skills to train us right….. why then, why do we trip ourselves over such trivial yet at the same time glaring mistake? Is it ego…. hey buddy, I’m Sensei X, I’m a martial arts instructor….. don’t mess with me bro… or I’m gonna whoop your <bleep>!… Is it ignorance?… Or is it just plain dumb. Even worst, to call oneself MASTER!!!!!! (note: I found out that the 9 masters at the aforementioned dojo were actually 1st and 2nd Dans…. LOL….. That would make me a ‘Master’ too… maybe I should change strategy and get my student to call me master… mmmmm…… Master Jim…. Has a ring to it don’t you think?…. LOL…..


To finish off today’s ramblings, I’d like to quote the words of the unconventionally traditional teacher, a rare true master in his own right, Patrick McCarthy Hanshi : Egotism, the wind that blows out the lamp of knowledge.

p.s. by the way, if there are any typos…. sorry 🙂


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