One word we hear in the dojo fairly often is the word Sempai. Literally Sempai refers to the “senior” students in the dojo, often a title associated with junior blackbelt grades. In our dojo, like in most traditional dojo, however, anyone who has been training even a day longer than you is your Sempai. The dojo relationship between more junior students (kohai) and their Sempai is an important one. Sempai set the pace and constantly demonstrate good behavior, effort, and technique to their class mates.
As adults there is almost always someone we work with who has been around longer and mentors their greener coworkers, setting a good example of what to strive for as you grow in your career. However, we don’t often experience this type of relationship growing up. Schools are typically divided into age groups, limiting the interaction between students and their more senior counterparts. The Sempai structure in a traditional dojo can therefore be a unique opportunity for young students.
Sempai are important for younger students to best grasp etiquette and proper behavior. When a senior student makes a strong effort to not react negatively to hard work, sweat, and challenge it makes it a lot easier to swallow and accept this view point as a younger student. Perhaps even more important, however, is the value this adds for the Sempai themselves. It is extremely easy to fall into the habit of being lazy, avoiding hard work. The act of taking one’s role in the dojo seriously is an important reminder and spark to always perform at the best of your ability. As a role model, you never know who may be watching. Always put your best foot forward and help remind those following in your footsteps how to carry one’s self with honor and dignity.
In the dojo, Sempai also have another very important role. That role is assisting junior students. Being paired with a much junior partner in a drill should be seen as a valuable opportunity to practice teaching and coaching, and to verify understanding of the topic at hand. You don’t truly know what you know (or truly own the material) until you can teach it.
All of this can be boiled down to one thing. Your Sempai should be good role models for you. Be a good role model for the students looking up to you and you’ll reap immense benefits, helping you grow as a person and a karateka.