What is a Karate Sensei?

Many individuals have the wrong idea of what the term “sensei” means in karate. While the ordinary person might believe that the word “sensei” in karate has a complicated connotation, it actually has a very simple meaning. 

Simply put, a karate instructor is referred to as a “Sensei” in the martial art. The original meaning of the word “sensei” in Japanese is “born before.” However, in the context of karate, it refers to an instructor because a teacher has more experience than their students.

The use of the name sensei when addressing someone depends on a person’s status or seniority within the karate community. For instance, a karate instructor cannot refer to themself as a sensei because one cannot surpass oneself in terms of experience. They can, however, refer to a more experienced instructor as a sensei. 

So What is A Sensei?

As mentioned previously, a sensei is a name for a Karate instructor. This name is only used by students and no other individuals. Often, senseis are referred to as “Sensei [first name]” or “Sensei [last name]”.

Becoming a sensei takes time and dedication. Being a sensei does not just mean being a teacher. Senseis are leaders in karate and provide students with a trustworthy model in various facets of life and life skills.

Senseis are there to provide support, and counselling, and help students in overcoming barriers. They ensure all training is conducted in a safe and nurturing environment. Senseis, like all karate students, are always learning and growing their skills.

The ideal sensei is humble, patient, forgiving, selfless, respectful, and honourable. They are, for their students, the role model they should wish to emulate.

What is A Senpai?

Similar to a sensei, a senpai is another senior figure in the karate dojo. The senpai is how karate students address a senior, more experienced student, or mentor. If your mentor is your teacher, then you refer to them as sensei. To refer to older students as senpai is a term of respect.

Is There A Term for Karate Students?

Much like teachers and senior students have a dedicated name, so do students. In Japan, a karate student is referred to as gakusei, but in many other countries, they are referred to just as students. However, many sensei choose to refer to students by calling them [student last name] + kun. Kun is the Japanese term that gives authority to the person using it. Using kun is exclusive to the teacher’s reference to students, and must never be used towards colleagues or senior students.


If you are looking to join a competitive and fun karate dojo led by an experienced Sensei, the Powerhouse Academy has age-specific karate programs for kids to challenge and grow each individual skill.

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