In Japan anyone who teaches anything is called sensei.
A young kindergarten teacher of 20 years old can be addressed
as sensei by a parent of 50 years old because the parent
appreciates the fact that the young teacher is teaching
the child. This is similar to using the Mr, Miss or Ms -
it merely indicates respect toward the person. In Japan
a lawyer or a doctor is normally called sensei because they
are supposed to know more than others. Since lawyers often
become politicians, even politicians are often called sensei.
It is true that in Japan the word sensei is sometimes abused.
In general however, a Japanese teacher is usually addressed
as sensei by his students all over the world.
There is also the question of what makes one a sensei.
When one teaches, one is a sensei. But one might not be
a sensei if one is not teaching. It depends on what one
teaches. If one teaches Aikido techniques, one is a teacher
only on the tatami. If one teaches only on the tatami for
a few hours, it is inconvenient to keep changing one’s
title on and off the tatami. People who are called sensei
are supposed to behave as a teacher in daily life as well.
In this way people can continue to refer to them as sensei
without the need for a change of titles.
This creates a new question: How should a teacher behave
in his daily life? Zen Buddhism began the idea of understanding
life. It suggests that when one understands life, one feels
as if one is newly born. Sen means before and Sei means
to be born. So sensei literally means a person who is born
before. This birth is a spiritual, not physical birth. The
original meaning of sensei is one who is spiritually born
before others. If one sticks to the original meaning, only
those who understand life should be called sensei and a
sensei is behaving like a teacher 24 hours a day, even in
his daily life.
Respect used to be very important to all people all over
the world. One should respect human beings, animals, trees,
etc. In other words, only life and living things should
be respected. One should not respect materials. Even in
the case of highly technological machines like Ferrari cars
or great works of art, it is not the object that should
be respected but the human beings behind the creation of
the object. One respects life because each life is related
to other lives and these millions and billions of relationships
create and maintain life on Earth. Respect creates better
relationships between lives and that is why respect was
and is one of the most important things in life. Respect
actually means not disturbing the relationships among different
When respect was demonstrated, it was called honour. People
used to be ready to die for honour because the relationships
among lives were essential for survival of human beings.
These days both respect and honour are almost forgotten
because we have developed a civilization based on weapon
and material. Survival depends on weapon and politics and
not relationships among different lives anymore.
Aikido is a way (Do) and the way should be maintained in
aikido practice. The person who keeps the way is called
Doshu. There are two different meanings of doshu in Japanese.
The first means ‘master of the way’ and the
second means ‘keeper of the way’. The difference
is that there can be only one master of the way but many
keepers of the way. The top teacher of any aikido organization
should be called doshu - keeper of the way - but actually
many aikido organizations do not have doshu. This is because
most Japanese teachers actually follow the teachings of
somebody else, especially Morihei Ueshiba, even though he
is dead. There are also teachers who do not follow a particular
teacher but instead follow some established philosophy.
They too are not keepers of the way. That is why there are
not many doshu in the aikido world. A teacher is doshu only
when he teaches completely independently of any philosophies
or other teachers including the dead ones.