Glossary Martial Arts / Term


Japanese martial arts teacher. The martial arts have always been indebted to the sensei, who spent the greater part of his life immersed in the forms of bulutsu. He tested the techniques and strategies of the various styles in actual combat, experimented with its weapons, and devised new methods of coping with life-threatening situations. Above all, he taught his methods to others. Little is known about the criteria adopted to evaluate a candidate for assignment as a sensei. It is assumed that the most naturally inclined and talented men from the members of a clan were appointed. In Chinese culture this appointment depended on merit, ascertained through a series of public examinations, and upon constant supervision of a candidate's performance during his official career. In Japan, however, it became largely hereditary and, consequently, was passed from the original teacher to his natural or adopted son. While the records of masters of arms in China abound with names of individual fighters known for their prowess in various systems, in Japan such records point primarily to schools and families of bujutsu experts who took considerable pride in recalling a long line of professional ancestors and whose written or oral instructions they tended to follow quite closely.

In Japan, a sharp distinction can be made between the teachers of the military class and those belonging to other classes. The sensei of the first category comprised the majority, and their specialties included, in order of importance, archery,spearmanship, swordsmanship, general strategy, and several subordinate styles of unarmed combat, such as jujutsu and alkilutsu, used in combination with the traditional armed styles. The latter category formed the minority, being men who usually specialized in arts of combat that could be practiced without arousing the attention and concern of the military authorities. Among these teachers were specialists in instruments of various social classes: the staff, fan, iron pipes, and chained blades.

Within his dojo a sensei was in a position of supreme authority and unchallenged prestige. A student registered in a particular ryu was principally a pupil of the instructor who accepted him as a disciple. Thus personal discipleship, rather than institutional membership, was the working relationship. It has been observed that even today one seldom witnesses a more pronounced form of respect, often virtually indistinguishable from actual subservience, than that accorded to a Japanese master of any martial art by his Japanese students. There have been many attempts to export and
transplant this type of relationship to the West in certain judo, karate, aikido, kendo schools, etc. More often than not, the results have been frustrating and disappointing to both the Japanese instructor and his Western students, since the necessary cultural promises simply are not present in the West.

Permanent link Sensei - Modification date 2020-01-05 - Creation date 2020-01-05

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