Re: Correcting sempai

Lisa Tomoleoni (shindo@GOL.COM)

Jeff Pettigrew  wrote:
If I ever do open a dojo, a formal banning of the sempai/kohai relationship will
 be in the dojo regulations.  It only encourages stagnation in the senior


"If there is anything you do not understand, press the master tenaciously until
 you are satisfied with his explanation" - Jigoro Kano

**This is potentially true, but I believe that the sempai/kohai
relationship invites the sempai to train more diligently. It is the
sempai's responsibility to not create a situation where the kohai feels the
need to correct him/her. Therefore, the sempai must train that much more
seriously, to earn the title of sempai on a daily basis. Sempai should feel
the need to stay a step ahead of kohai, in all aspects of training, not to
be "better than kohai", but to provide a good sempai for kohai to learn
from. There is responsibility that goes along with the title of sempai. The
responsibility to guide kohai in his/her training. The responsibility of
showing those who come after what proper behavior, training attitude,
technique are. The responsibility of continuing growth in order to help
those who come after. There is a responsibility that goes with being kohai.
The responsibility of learning and giving sempai the incentive to grow. One
must learn to accept the responsibility of being kohai. Then, gradually,
once one can do this, one learns how to accept the responsibility of
sempai. If one does not know how to be a good kohai, one cannot become a
good sempai.

Of course, sempai is not infallible. Mistakes will be made, on the mat and
off. It is then, in my opinion, a case by case situation, whether to say
something or not, and how I say whatever it is I decide I must say. But
more often than not, I will not make it my business to teach sempai. My
responsibility is to learn. I can learn just as much from sempai's mistakes
as I can from his/her correct execution of technique. I can also learn from
how sempai regards his/her training, is he aware that there is some problem
with technique? Does he try to fix it? Is he trying to grow? But if I have
to make it my business to correct sempai, then what happens to the dojo
system? Next, do I start telling Sensei when I think he is doing something
wrong? If so, why am I here? Have I come with the feeling of wanting to
shed my ego, to empty myself and learn from the experiences of those who
have come before me, or what? The sempai/ kohai system is an integral part
of the dojo. Are we all destined to make the same mistakes because there is
nobody who went before us to help us past the rough spots?If there is no
need for the sempai/kohai system, then why even bother with a sensei?
When I am sempai, I feel the responsibility of that position and must do
the best I possibly can to be a good sempai. I must be viligant throughout
my training, and not let kohai down. Therefore, if technique is not working
I must decide by myself, without the prompt from another, that something is
wrong here...what can I do to fix it? But of course, if one does not have
this thought, sempai or kohai, then one is not training.
When I am kohai I must train as diligently as possible, and provide sempai
with a chance to train. This, to me, means basically keeping my mouth shut
and moving. I must be aware that everybody is training from their own
position, and what I can see or feel may not be the level sempai is
thinking about at the time. I don't just fall down. If sempai chooses to do
a different style than sensei, well, that's his business. It won't
interfere with my training. If sempai's technique is flawed, well, then
maybe I attack a little more directly to give him the chance to find his
holes, but it is not my job to say "Hey, you're doing this wrong". I think
people in general talk too much during practice anyhow!

One more comment, Jeff, do you think Kano Sensei meant, by the above quote,
that the student should tell the teacher "Hey you're doing it wrong"? What
I know from my training is that Kano Sensei, too, respected and utilized
the sempai/kohai system in his dojo, and it is still in place today at the
Kodokan. There is a means of "asking " questions within the framework
provided. If you change the system, be it the system Ueshiba Sensei adopted
for the practice of aikido, or the system Kano Sensei adopted for the
practice of judo, can you still call it the same aikido or judo? We do
keiko, right? The kanji for the word means to study that which is old. If
we throw away this old stuff, are we doing keiko? I don't think so.

Yet another long post....sorry.....

Lisa Tomoleoni
Aikido Shindo Dojo
Tokyo, Japan