What is a sensei? – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

To some folks, a sensei is someone with a 5dan. Or whatever rank works for your dojo or your organization. Once you hit “the rank” you’re a teacher. It’s not a huge problem I suppose, and community centers need some sort of certification so why not just define it as 5dan.

Does rank prepare you to teach? Sure it does if all you’re worrying about is the technique, if you know the kata you can teach the kata. If you know the moves of chess you can teach your cousin how to play chess.

Does that sound different? Do you assume it takes more than knowing how the knight moves to play a game of chess? It doesn’t, you’re thinking of playing a good game of chess aren’t you? Not just a game. It doesn’t take very long to learn a kata, and it takes not that much longer to do it smoothly and accurately.

Then you’re done? For some, yes you’re done. For some, you’re never done, you keep practicing to get even more smooth and more accurate. And of course, to stay up to date with the latest changes from on high.

Do we wonder why so many people drop out of the martial arts? I mean the “shodan drop” where you get your black belt and quit. If it’s about learning the techniques why would anyone carry on? Especially if there’s nothing beyond learning the moves. Now some folks figure tournaments are what’s beyond, playing chess at the local club, competing in kendo or judo or MMA, or doing karate and iaido taikai, working for the nod for the best performance.

Some folks figure the reason you stay is the company, going out for beers after class. Getting the plate of team wings and having a laugh.

Why not? In those cases your sensei should be the coach who teaches you how to win the tournament, and maybe he’s the guy who buys the first pitcher and tells the first story.

I’ve met lots of sensei I like, who meet those criteria, but they’re not the ones I treasure. The sensei I’ve met who have most influenced me, who are closest to my heart, are, how can I put this, disturbing.

This sensei is uncomfortable, often not very likeable, they disturb, they offbalance, they challenge, they almost never praise, they are never satisfied. They push, they prod, they have that “look” that they give you when you have figured something out and show them. The look that happens just before they blow through your newfound technique and put you on your ass.

This sensei is pretty simple. He forces change, constant, often violent change. Change in your technique, change in your attitude to life. He forces growth, plain and simple.

You know, sometimes the things he demands go in circles, you know how to strike, then you don’t, you spend two years changing the strike, modifying it to please sensei and then, one day two years down the road, he’s telling you to do it exactly the way you did it two years ago.

But it’s not, it’s not the same way is it? You’ve changed. You’ve grown, what’s behind that strike is something quite different than was there originally.

Have you met one of these sensei? I hope you do.

Kim Taylor
Dec 22, 2018


April 6, Seito Bugei Juku seminar in Peterborough.

May 17-20 Annual CKF International Jodo and Iaido seminar and grading, (Kurogo sensei and Mansfield sensei) Guelph.

November 8-10 Annual CKF International Jodo seminar and grading (Kurogo sensei), Mississauga (Port Credit).

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