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"Charles" Sensei

We usually address our sensei by their last name: "Smith Sensei." But sometimes you will hear sensei addressed by their first name: "Charles Sensei."

When I first learned Shorin-Ryu, I remember that our sensei was often referred to by his first name. I believe that this was because he had started training as a child and had literally grown up in the dojo. When he became the Sensei of his own branch dojo, many of the senior students were older than my sensei. They probably remembered him when he was just a child. So they addressed him by his first name followed by "Sensei."

Other people heard this and probably copied it.

But it is not appropriate for a junior to address his senior in this manner, even if the junior is older. You might see an older senior do so, somewhat out of affection.

It becomes more awkward as the sensei gets older. When a sensei is in his 30s, 40s, 50s, or older, it looks very awkward when people refer to him as "Charles Sensei."

I have even seen this done with 9th dan in their 60's!

The sensei will usually not complain or correct people, but it is my experience that they do not like it. I do not think that this happens as much in Okinawa and Japan. It seems to be more of a Western phenomenon.

It is more polite to refer to the sensei by his last name: Smith Sensei.

This is just my view on the subject.

In my dojo, it can be confusing, since my second son and I are both named Charles and we both are sensei. But is is easy to tell us apart as one of us is tall, dark and muscular.


Charles C. Goodin