When does Seniority Matter? Part 2

I realized from my previous post that I didn’t extend it thoroughly. So I’m going to answer these questions myself.

So when does seniority matter? 

Seniority matters when it comes to dojo/school etiquette. When it comes to maintaining a sense of structure in a class setting that’s when seniority matters. This is usually put in how one addresses one’s seniors and juniors. With seniority there are titles for the teachers, seniors, and juniors with the appropriate gestures. For example at my Aikido dojo there’s the Sensei at the top who is addressed as simply “Sensei” – we do not address him by his name at all during class. Most of the members of the dojo do slight bow when addressing him. From there it becomes quasi-informal; the yudansha are simply addressed by their first name and we (the non-black belts) are not required to bow. The same is for all of the belts under black: pretty informal. At the end of each class all of the students (regardless of belt) all bow to each other thanking each other for the training.

The system of seniority gives as sense of community; a cohesiveness of “the group”. At the moment I’m trying to remember a reading that I did a few years regarding how humans are naturally a tribal species and how within each “tribe” there is a system of how each member is treat each other. I can’t remember it but if I find it I’d make a note to make a post about it. Back to the topic all of these levels of seniority give the tribe – in this case my dojo – a sense of formality and structure whose bigger goal is to as I mentioned earlier is to form a community. This is when seniority matters.

What does *true* seniority mean?

I hate it to say this because some of me is in “1st Kyu” mode. But honestly I believe that true seniority rests on several things: SkillActualization of Self, and Maturity of Self.  Now let’s break it down: Skill is pretty obvious, skill = you are considered in the top bracket in your school and/or area. Your teacher believes in your skill and has asked you to demonstrate your skills along with them in demonstrations in front of the class and in public events, etc. The first one is pretty obvious.

Now what I mean by actualization of self is that every single one of us has “aspects” of ourselves that have yet to brought out and polished. Take myself for example: When I first trained at this school in 2008 I was very unaware of many of my bad habits such as daydreaming in the middle of public. I also had tendencies to become “tunneled visioned” – not taking into account things that are happening in the sidelines of my point of view – spatially, psychologically, presence wise, etc . This included anything from considering other people’s point of view to being an active listener. Not to mention that I had a horrible habit of being silent when I should have been more proactive given the circumstances.

Not to say any of these are completely gone (I wish), however – my journey of self actualization has brought forth many positive aspects of myself that either negated or are slowly replacing these habits of mine. In turn, I have actualize things that have only begun to show themselves more under the appropriate circumstances – writing for example!

Last but not least the maturity of self is like the previous; something that is not easily quantifiable. Nonetheless it is an integral part – if not the most important of being a “senior” in a martial arts school (as well as in life, but that’s a different post). Right up there with actualization of self.

People in a school come for many different reasons – to get away from family, start a new routine, rediscover themselves, etc. Each one I have seen come through the doors of the dojo with some part of themselves wanting to be better, needing to be better (I turned out to be one of them). Keeping my own journey in mind, I have observed that some do allow some aspect of themselves to grow while others don’t. It could just be a priorities thing – there are just somethings that are easily expressed on the mat compared to others.

This aspects of people, expressed through physical motions are then polished through trial and error, teacher correction, interaction with fellow students, mistakes done with members of the dojo senior and junior to them, glaring mistakes, etc. I guess in the end, there is really not definable level of maturity. Only an ongoing process – especially with the maturity of self.


I seriously just though of the last line right now. Anyway, I hope you guys enjoy my own explains of my own questions. Till next time!


One thought on “When does Seniority Matter? Part 2

  1. I think that one of the strengths of NOT having an artificial ranking system in Chinese martial arts, for example, is that you don’t get distracted by belts. You pay attention to skill, ability and maturity.

    I’ve heard a saying in CMA: “Who has the kung fu is the teacher.”

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