Japanese term for a teacher of any particular craft or art. Derives from "born first," meaning one of greater range of experience. For example, an elderly shopkeeper who sells really fine tofu might be called "sensei".

Also much lesser honorific often preferred by Japanese Buddhist monastics of various schools to such terms as "Zasu," "Daiso", "Hojo-sama", "Roshi" and so on in which case it conveys a warmth and familiarity.

Sensei is the Japanese form of the Chinese concept rendered in Mandarin as shifu. The basic meaning is "master," in the sense of one who has mastered a skill. It does not necessarily imply a teacher, though the teaching connotations are stronger in Japanese than in Chinese. And it definitely doesn't imply a martial arts teacher, Mr. Miyagi notwithstanding.

The characters for "sensei" actually correspond to "xiansheng" in Mandarin--a fairly neutral title (gentleman) that's more like "mister" than "sensei."
Japanese word corresponding to "teacher" in English. Literally translates to "one who has gone before". In addition to being a noun, it is also an honorific suffix used with a teacher's name (never one's own name).

Hashimoto-sensei wa Nihon-jin desu ne.
Mr. Hashimoto is Japanese, isn't he?

Written sen-sei with the kanji for "before; ahead" and "life; birth".

Curious about you, I search.
Chatterbox notes and second hand tales
are all I know of you.
I search. Beautiful drops of poetry ,
tasty morsels of food,
pictures of Japanese life,
but no you.

Finding no history
where I thought it would be,
I ask to search for thee.

We smile at your mention,
and think of things you've done.
You are action without form.
You are a smile from outside our window.

You are our sensei.

The wisest, sanest person I ever met said that sustained unselfish application of compassion in the service of others leads in time to a certain degree of renown, even fame. But, she added, this is entirely unimportant. It is at best an irrelevance, and at worst a distraction. The truly selfless person is unconcerned with such matters, and continues undisturbed in their path: yet, paradoxically, by this very action they inspire others to follow their example.

Scattered everywhere throughout this site, among the writeups, on numerous home nodes, and very obviously in people’s thoughts and hearts, is Sensei. By the time I first came here, Sensei had already stopped visiting, and so I have never spent even an hour 'in his company'. Yet I have been touched time and again by the respect and affection with which so many of the more established members of this community regard him. His influence is apparent everywhere, and his presence is clearly keenly missed.

I cannot know what Sensei said nor how he said it. But I have been fortunate enough to know at least one person with the gift to inspire others to strive for the greater, higher aspects of humanity; and by those I mean patience, compassion, love, honesty, friendship; all of the beautiful things which humans are capable of and which move the heart and touch the spirit of others. Thus, I recognize Sensei’s unseen face. Every one of us does on some level, because the beauty of true humanity speaks to all humans.

I am certain that Sensei did not seek popularity, renown, or reputation for himself. Yet even in his absence, Sensei’s example is still present here, it is still at work. His influence touches even those of us who have never spoken a word to him. Long may it continue.

I have thought long and hard about posting this. I understand that some of those who know Sensei personally may perhaps find it uncomfortable to hear a newbie speak about him in this way. But I was genuinely moved to write this, and have in fact wanted to write something along these lines for some time now. I firmly believe that those who act unselfishly change the whole world in some small degree with each selfless action. This writeup is therefore as much a mark of gratitude as it is respect. I sincerely hope it does not offend anyone.

Sensei is a survival of the ancient East Asian word for "teacher".

Although the modern Chinese form xiansheng means something like "Mister", in earlier times the Chinese term had the same sense as Japanese sensei. It appears often in Classical Chinese texts and is translatable as "Master"; it referred to someone who was an acknowledged expert in some field of learning that involved apprenticeship and long-term self-cultivation by the student.

Xiansheng/sensei literally means "one born before", but I think that is not the real sense of the term. The second syllable sheng was a common suffix for scholars and students in ancient China, and the compound xiansheng actually means something like "elder scholar" or loosely "one who has been a student before me". This is a serious point; it is deeply bound up with the East Asian tradition of displaying humility when in doubt. The great Tang dynasty writer Han Yu asserted that the qualification for being a teacher was not greater age than the student, nor greater overall knowledge, but merely "prior" (xian) understanding of the subject of instruction:

Suppose someone is born before me;
their learning of the Tao
will, of course, be ahead of me,
and I will take them as my teacher, following them.

Suppose someone is born after me;
if their learning of the Tao
is also ahead of me,
then I will take them as my teacher, following them.

In my taking a teacher of the Tao,
why, what good is it to know whether they were born before or after me?
And so
there is no high or low rank,
there is no elder or younger.
Where Tao is
there the teacher is.

In Taiwanese, as in many southern Chinese dialects, the equivalent term (Taiwanese sin-seN) means "doctor" (usually a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine) or geomancer. Both medicine and geomancy are fields traditionally taught only through apprenticeship. In these southern Chinese languages, the local equivalent of xiansheng is usually also a regular word for "teacher".


As in many other aspects of traditional culture that appear in both the Chinese and Japanese modern languages, Japanese (the recipient of borrowing) preserves the more ancient usage, and Chinese (the source of the borrowing) has developed newer usages. That situation is often observed in cultural borrowings.

What is a Sensei?

Sensei, a Japanese word meaning teacher. The use of the word Sensei in the west is applied to an instructor of Japanese martial arts. In Japan it is applied again to the martial arts instructor, the school teacher and a term of great honour and respect.

During my study of the Japanese arts I have had many “sensei” but few have really personified the true meaning of Sensei. A true Sensei inspires and instructs without need of tangible rewards. They devote their knowledge and time tirelessly to their students and ask only in return that the student applies themselves in a similar way to their studies.

A true Sensei is not a tyrant yet they have an effortless air of authority that you dare not question. They are powerful yet caring and apply their power and energy to the development and protection of others. The perfect example of a Sensei’s outlook on the development of his charges is best expressed by a quote from Jigaro Kano the inventor of Judo: “It is not important to be better than others only better than yesterday.”.

I have been fortunate in recent years to have been instructed by people who I consider worthy of the term Sensei. They have always treated their students with the same respect that they would expect in return. They are concerned about their students personal and spiritual development as well as the perfection of techniques.

I do not intend to name the good Sensei or to put down the not so experienced instructors, I merely intend to express my thanks and gratitude to all true Sensei. It is my hope that I may one day be worthy of such a title.

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