In the Japanese martial arts, there are various
titles that are used to address one's seniors, and juniors in some
instances. Kyokushin makes use of some, but not all, of these, but
there are some differences world wide in the way the various titles
are used. This page discusses the titles and their variations. It
includes both the mainstream Kyokushin
and some from Kyokushin derivative
One notable point is that there are absolute
titles and there are relative titles. The absolute
titles are those that remain the same regardless of your own grade.
The relative titles are those that depend on what your own grade is.
Another point for discussion and debate is whether
the title should come before or after the name. As I understand it,
in Japanese, the proper way is to have the name before the
title. Here in Australia, we generally do not do that. We use the
titles according to English language conventions where the honorific
comes before the name e.g. Dr. Who, Mr. President, Miss (Ms)
Muffet, Sir Face, Lord Howe etc... This is the convention I am using
on this website. It should also be noted that the plural of all these
titles is the same as the title i.e. one shihan, two shihan.
The Japanese do not add "s" to make it plural.
Note also that when I say "Here in Australia..."
I am specifically referring to Kyokushin in Australia, and not other
styles unless specified otherwise, and specifically just my experience
of Kyokushin. Since the breakup of Kyokushin, names, practices, and
usage of titles may have changed, and I may not have been made aware
of the changes.
If anyone knows or does otherwise with the titles
listed here, or knows of any other titles used in karate, please let
me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Yudansha and Mudansha
This is made up of three
words/characters: yu, dan, and sha. Sha
is a suffix that indicates a group of people belonging to a certain
group i.e. a collective modifier, sort of like a herd of horses
and flock (or gaggle) of geese. Dan, as we all (should)
know, means grade or level. Thus Shodan means "beginner's
grade" and not "first grade" (ever wondered why it's not called
Ichidan?), but from then on, the counting starts and nidan
means second grade and so on. Yu effectively means "with"
or "having". These may not be the exact meanings, but the sense
of it is there.
Thus "yudansha" are "people who have a grade"
i.e. black belts. As a counterpoint, "mu" essentially means "without"
or "not having". Thus, those who have not yet reached black belt
can be called mudansha. Like kohai (see below) this
term should not be used patronisingly or loosely, nor should they
be referred to as such in public and to their faces. Having worked
long and hard to get to where s/he is, this description may be
difficult for a 1st kyu to accept i.e. being seen as having
no grade, but that's how the lines have been
This is a relative title. A kohai is
a junior student anyone of a lower grade than you, or someone
who started training later than yourself. If you are the same
rank, then the younger ones are kohai. It is usually applied
to the kyu ranks. It is generally considered rude and patronising
to use this term when addressing someone directly. It is only
used to refer to them in the third person.
Below are listed the titles commonly used in Kyokushin.
This is not to say they are not used in other systems, but the descriptions
are based on Kyokushin usage.
- Sempai or Senpai
The relative version means Senior
Grade and is used to address anyone older or of senior rank.
While it can be applied among the yudansha e.g. a sandan
might call a yondan by the title of sempai, it is
unlikely, since they already have a title which supersedes it.
Again, this form of the title is more appropriately used among
the kyu grades. The absolute version is
used to address people with the grade of shodan or nidan
It is however worth bearing in mind that in systems where the
titles are conferred rather than automatic, this title can also
be applied to the rank of sandan or even yondan
until he or she has been conferred the title of Sensei.
Everyone from 10th kyu up to 10th dan would call
such people (i.e. shodan and nidan holders,
and sometimes higher) Senpai.
Literally, this means teacher, and in
Australia it is automatically used with 3rd and 4th dan
holders. In other countries/organisations, it is sometimes a conferred
title, and comes in addition to the belt ranking. In some styles,
there is even a further refinement to this title, Sensei-ho
which essentially means "Sensei in training"
and is often used to signify a probabationary promotion.(A similar
terminology and grade can be applied for shodan as well).
Sensei is however, also a general term of respect in
Japanese for all teachers of skills, and not just in karate. It
means something to the effect of "S/he who has gone there
before me", and is more along the lines of leading the way
rather than instructing. My mother taught porcelain painting to
Japanese women in Malaysia, and they all called my mother Sensei
too. Consequently, people with shodan and nidan
are often also called Sensei if they are the chief or only
instructor(s) in a dojo. Interestingly, I have been told
by some that in Japan, this title is often not used with people
who are actually teachers in schools since they have other words
to mean academic teacher. Yet others have told me that in many
situations where people are in a position of seniority, they might
be called Sensei out of courtesy e.g. teachers, doctors,
lawers, judges etc...
Cameron Quinn's book
, this means expert
. I have also
been told that it literally means Master Teacher
. It is
the generic title for all ranks above and including 5th dan
in Kyokushin. In some regional IKO organisations, this title is
only used by Branch Chiefs, and thus everyone above and including
is called Sensei
unless he or she is a Branch
Again, like with Sensei,
in some organisations it is also a conferred title that does not
come automatically with grade, and in some organisations it may
even be conferred on people with only a 4th dan.
I have previously stated here that the -dai
suffix indicated the most senior of a particular grade e.g. Shihan-dai
or Sensei-dai. I'm truly disappointed
that some wiser, fluent Japanese speaking person didn't correct
me! It seems that the correct suffix is -cho.
This is commonly found in other terms such as Kancho,
Honcho, and Kaicho (see below for more detail
about Kancho and Kaicho). Thus you would say
shihan-cho and sensei-cho,
though I have only heard of the former actually being used.
It seems that the -dai
suffix means you are "in training", so to speak. So
as a 4th dan, for example, you might be Shihan-dai
rather than Sensei. In the past, even
before Kyokushin, when there might only have been one Shihan
in an organisation or dojo, it might also have meant "Acting
Shihan". The suffixed titles are not commonly used in Kyokushin.
This generally is applied only to those with
a 7th dan and higher in Kyokushin. The syllable reversal with
is often interpreted as Teacher of Masters. Even
though it may be the case i.e. this person teaches the masters
i.e. the Shihan
, this translation is not correct. While
is indeed the same as in shihan
in this case means gentleman, samurai or warrior,
or scholar. In Japanese, this is a shogo
qualification, much like a degree, and rather than being an implicit
indication of technical ability (which however usually does come
with it) it is more a recognition of a person’s time in,
and more importantly, contribution to the art. The lesser titles
are also of the same genre
i.e. based on scholastic and/or contributary merit, rather than
straightforward rank. As the ranks of higher grades in Kyokushin
swell in this brand new millenium, and magnified by the multitude
of Kyokushin groups, the adoption of Hanshi
be becoming more popular. More information about the titles can
be read in this
Literally, the word means Head of the Training
hall and comes from the two words kan (training hall)
and cho (head, leader). Effectively, this means Chairman.
Mas Oyama held this title initially, and it is the title now used,
among others, by Akiyoshi Matsui, his heir apparent in the IKO(1)
and was used by Chiyako Oyama, Mas Oyama's widow, in the IKO(2).
In the case of Kyokushin and related styles, the term Kancho can
be used to signify the "boss" man of the organisation even though
the training hall has many other branches. That is why the style
was known as Kyokushinkaikan or Ashiharakaikan
- Saiko komon
This, I am told, means highest adviser.
It is the title that was used by Hatsuo Royama and Yuzo Goda in
their capacity as chief advisers to Kancho Matsui.
I am told that this means President,
and was adopted by Mas Oyama in 1985 when he assumed additional
administrative positions in the organisation.
This literally means Founder, and is
used by Shigeru Oyama who started the World Oyama Karate group.
- Shoseki Shihan
This means Top of the Shihan and is
very similar to Saiko Shihan.
- Saiko Shihan
This means something like Highest of Shihan
and was the title given to Shigeru Oyama while he was still with
- Kai means association or society and cho
means head" or leader, therefore this means head
of the association