I have been training in GoJu Karate for about seven years now. Recently the school hosted a seminar by Guru Master Julius Megrito. The heads of about five other clubs came together for classes with him, along with some of their most senior students. All of them came from their own schools and had their own titles. As we know titles differ from style to style. In a conversation with one instructor, I mistakenly addressed him as Sensei. As it turns out he was a fifth dan black belt in a different style of karate.

My question is how to respectfully address masters of other styles.

5 Answers 5


The Japanese term "sensei" isn't so much a title as it is a form of respect for those who have paved the way for you in some way or another. It is often given to teachers, but also to doctors, lawyers, politicians and even members of the church. It can even be used when referring to artists, or basically anyone that has mastered an art form or a specific skill. While its usage tend to be more formal in western dojos, referring only to the head of the school, this is mostly due to the fact it is not a term that is part of our everyday vocabulary.

Usually, addressing a master of another style as "sensei" shouldn't be considered bad manners, since you are showing respect to his accomplishments and the role he is currently playing in your own martial development. However, it is not impossible that some martial artists might take offense at being referred to as what they perceive to be a purely karate title. If this happens, apologize, and mention that, in Japanese, the term is not restricted to karate, but rather used to show respect to teachers, figures of authority and masters of a wide variety of skills, such as medicine or art.

But in the end, if you are going to be working with masters of different styles on a regular basis, you should probably ask them how their regular students refer to them. This will show your willingness to learn from them despite your own different style, as well as your desire to learn part of their martial culture and heritage.

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    It's also given to mutant rats. Dec 16, 2014 at 15:42

I'm a Taekwondo Master, but having met plenty of martial artists over the years I've been referred to as Sensei by Karateka (along with their traditional "oss" shout) and Sifu by Wing Chun practitioners (with a wrapped fist gesture). In all case I normally bow in the way I have been taught and (if meeting them for the first time) say "just Andy is fine". If I've met them before and already asked them to use my first name and they still use a title, then I assume they prefer using a title and just continue with the conversation/greeting.

Never does their calling me by their choice of title cause offence and I don't think it should. I don't correct their title usage, I accept that they are using a respectful title in their system and appreciate the respect shown.

So I would say either go with what you know (whatever the titles are in your system) or use the English of "Master Surname". If you are greeting someone of a high enough dan to warrant a title usage, they will understand you are trying to be respectful and I'm sure will not be offended by an incorrect one.

In a similar way, when I speak to my Taekwondo seniors in Korea, I have to use the informal levels of Korean speech and non-honorific terms - because that's what I know at this point - they understand that I'm trying to communicate with them as best I can, don't judge me for the incorrect language and accept me for trying to use their terms. It's the same in your question, you are trying to be respectful and all martial artists worthy of the title will appreciate that and not be offended.


[...] how to respectfully address masters of other styles.

In exactly the same way as you would do in any other setting: politely ask them.

If you do not know something, you seek knowledge. You read books, ask those more knowledgeable as yourself (like on this site ^_~), and if all else fails use the scientific method. The latter is deviating from the topic. No one should mind you asking them how to call them. However remaining ignorant is abhorrent.

Reminds me of when I started Aikido. I said "thank you sensei" after I was shown something and her answer was "My name is Tish. That's what people call me." And from there onward, that's what I called her. I continue that tradition when I teach.

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    Excellent answer. The respect is evident in your tone and mannerisms. They are not going to bite your head off if you get it wrong, but they sure will be grouchy if you're not respectful. It's actually really easy to say something like "I'm sorry for asking, but I'm not sure of the correct title to call you by?". You could almost safely bet that other people will be glad you asked because they didn't know either.
    – slugster
    Dec 16, 2014 at 10:04

You could try "Sir", or "Ma'am"/"Miss" (or local equivalents thereof).

In Taekwondo, there are Korean terms for instructor, assistant instructor, etc., but in my organisation we address each other (both senior and junior) as "Sir" or "Ma'am"/"Miss".

Both other answers and your own question highlight the most important part of addressing other students and instructors: respect. As long as you are respectful in your form of address, no-one should hold it against you!


My own rule of thumb is: if all else fails, use English. Every style's instructor is a master, regardless of whether you're using the Chinese, Korean or Japanese term. Unless the guy is a grandmaster, in which case you'll refer to him as such. You will find that while a senior rank will appreciate you calling him by his title, he won't be as anal about it as someone whose black belt certificate's ink is still wet.

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