At the last grading, I was promoted, and given the title Dai Sempai by the Shihan. He told all of us who had been promoted to make sure all of the students refered to each other using the correct title to show respect. Both before and since the grading I had heard the similar advice given by other Sensei. However, thus far I have had difficulty in getting students to address me as such. Does anyone have any advice on this or had similar difficulties in the past? Most sensei's have managed to resolve this. I have also noticed some of the of Dai Sempai's who instruct the classes of students older then them not be shown proper etiquette. Is there anything I should say in these situations, when a Sensei is not present.

5 Answers 5


So for those that don't know, "Dai Sempai" is a kind of rank or recognition that is given to the head student in the class. This is typically the student with the highest rank who has spent the most amount of time at that school than any other student who might have the same rank. They often lead classes through basic exercises and drills and act as an assistant instructor.

In some cases, Dai Sempai is a title formally given by the main instructor to the student. In other cases, it is simply understood by the other students. Classes usually line up in rank order, and the senior student in the class will have the first position in the line-up.

My advice to you is don't worry about it and don't take it personally if your fellow classmates don't recognize you as Dai Sempai. As time goes on, they will recognize that you're the head student and will begin referring to you as such all on their own. For you to insist they call you it might make you appear to be vain, and that might create resentment amongst the other students.

In the meanwhile, just keep it to yourself. If someone asks you what they should refer to you as, go ahead and tell them. But if someone doesn't remember or doesn't think it's important to call you Dai Sempai, just let it go and continue on being a good student and model for others to follow.

If someone is deliberately disrespectful to you in an active way (not just simply forgetting to refer to you as Dai Sempai), bring it up with your instructor in private. Let him/her straighten it out.

Let me tell you a short story about my high school's Judo club. In my 2nd year of high school, I joined the Judo club. The instructor was a woman who wore a black belt. I trained in that club for 2 years. All during this time, our classes were very informal, not a lot of bowing or saying "Yes sir! Yes ma'am!". They were just a lot of fun and very casual feeling. In my last few weeks of training at the club before graduating, I looked at my instructor's belt and noticed something different for the first time. It had stripes. And I counted the stripes and saw she was a 5th dan. All that time, I just assumed she was a 1st dan, because she had no stripes on her regular black belt. And at that moment, my jaw just dropped, and I exclaimed, "You're a 5th dan?!" She laughed and said she didn't care about rank. It wasn't important to her. She was there to enjoy her class. It didn't matter that her students treated her mostly as a "coach" rather than some big, super high ranked important person that she actually was, in my opinion. I just stood there in awe, realizing that I had such a highly ranked teacher and didn't even know it. But here's the thing. I trained in probably a dozen martial arts, and I still remember that Judo club as being one of the best experiences I had. If she had demanded strictness and formality, I'm not sure I or any of the other kids would have enjoyed it as much. Now, that being said, had I known she was a 5th dan all along, I would have given her a lot more, "Yes ma'am!"'s, and would have bowed a lot more. But I would be doing that myself, voluntarily. And that's the difference.

Hope that helps!


He told all of us who had been promoted to make sure all of the students referred to each other using the correct title...

Then you probably feel obliged to make some actual effort to encourage this, and not just ignore it as Steve's suggesting... ;-o. So, my advice focuses on how to do this in the best way possible....

I suppose the students in question were not listening when the Shihan was telling you to make sure they used the title? If not, then I think your local sensei should have made an announcement to the class, taken the chance to correct the first student who didn't use the title in his/her presence, or even started referring to you by the title so the rest might catch on....

IMHO, it will sit better coming from someone else, rather than you asking the whole class to call you by that title.

If the sensei's not doing anything, and if you're close to a couple practitioners immediately below you in rank, you could ask them in a friendly way to help set an example or correct the more junior students... explaining the pressure from the Shihan... at their rank and knowing you longer, they would hopefully be mature and understanding enough not to misjudge you - thinking you're posturing or big-noting yourself - the way unfortunately some juniors might if they don't know you and apply their expectations and attitudes from outside training.

Otherwise, perhaps make it less personal by teaching the beginners the titles others in the dojo might expect, and just list your title along the way without emphasising it overly. Make it seem like you're more interested in ensuring they address your seniors properly, but get them to practice at the various levels....

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    Great piece of advice. The last thing you want is to come across as an arrogant dork. Oct 20, 2014 at 8:10

At my dojo we do not use first names. I would be called Mr. Lee by other adults, and Senpai Lee by all the youth. Perhaps your dojo does the same thing. In my opinion having a more professional naming system used by everyone all the time would help make title changes easier. Another thing that we do is bow to each other when we say each other's name. As a Zen Buddhist practitioner, this is a moment to be mindful of the other person and to prepare oneself for deep listening and right speech. I only mention buddhism, because I find it to be inseparable with my karate-do. If one takes a few seconds to compose themselves before addressing another person they might become better at remembering people's names and titles.


Over the years, I've met a number of very skilled and very unassuming martial artists. We could share a meal, a beer, and some laughs, but I could also maintain proper respect in addressing them by their title. For me, it was a non-issue. You just do it. They've earned it, so I respect it.

When someone was promoted to a level that now warranted a new title, or a different title, there could always be an adjustment period in which one did not address them by their correct title. Some adjust and adapt more quickly and easily than others. Still others may have known George as George for more years than me, so it may take them longer to begin addressing George as Sir.

I would say don't take it personally, and lead by example in trying to address others by their correct title. While I would not single out every single instance, you will need to correct the behavior. If you politely point out an instance of a student not addressing another by their correct title, it will take the focus off of you, but leave in the minds of others, "Oh, I need to properly address Dai Sempai as such." If they were to respond, "Yes, Dai Sempai", that would be a good indication that they took the hint.

Bring it up with your instructor, but don't turn it from a molehill to a mountain. Perhaps put it in the form of a question to your instructor as to whether they had challenges being properly addressed when they became Dai Sempai and how they addressed it. They should then be able to guide you as to how they want you to handle it. If you raise the issue excessively, it may seem like chest thumping. However, if a Sensei or Shihan says it, it will resonate deeper.


I was way more relaxed when it came to using titles. My students called me by my first name ( wasn't much older than most of them). I felt that they needed to learn to respect me for what I could do and teach them to do, rather than my title. HOWEVER, I have absolutely no problem with schools that are more formal.

To answer the question: The first thing to be done is for the Sensei (or whatever your instructor is called) to announce your new title and that he expects you to be referred to as such. The second thing to do is to make a point of referring to your fellow students by THEIR titles, if there is such a practice.

It will backfire on you if you start being pushy about your fancy new title. The key here is to remain humble (and not phony-humble like a pharisee) and act like the title is no big deal. And try to earn respect, rather than demand it. It's a much more pleasant and rewarding experience. If your fellow students respect you for your skill and dedication they will be much more readily inclined to use your honorific than if you acted like a whiny jackass.

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