Tetsudai is another one of those very neat Japanese words
that signals a whole paragraph of meanings. Tetsudai literaly means helper or
assistant but used in a greater context towards a visiting teacher, it is the
process of looking after that teacher.
When a visiting senior Sensei comes to the dojo to give a guest lesson, there
are certain courtesies and care that must be shown. This could include arranging
hotel rooms, transportation, meals, honorarium, and company.
Famous karate columnist David Lowry once again has featured a word or idea that
PMA already has deep in its foundation. I give him credit for exposing the word
that represents the idea.
When someone like a Master Barrera or Master Plum visits the dojo, they are
usually showing great support and loyalty to our dojo by giving us their
expertise. We have a giri (obligation and duty) to give them back certain acts
of courtesy and comfort. They should be treated like special people if we truly
value the martial arts. By treating them well, we are showing our respect and
appreciation of the arts.
Lowry tells a story of one aikido sensei who was invited to be a special guest
at a big seminar and conference of aikidoists. The host group had arranged a
hotel for him but someone messed up the next day and they did not tell him when
and where dinner was. No one even
picked him up. Ignored, he simply took the next plane back. Perhaps he had the
attitude that if the group is so little capable of looking after him and even
feeding him, they were not the kind of students who were going to absorb and
profit from his teaching in any case.
In fact, this concept of tetsudai extends to your own
immediate teachers. These men and women sempai have been teaching and training
maybe twenty years or more, bringing to each lesson they attend an experience,
care, skill level and insight that make you a better student. Yet seldom do I
see lower belts showing any signs of gratitude or appreciation. If Grandmaster
Hughes visits, I make a big deal out of the visit so everyone claps loudly,
offers him sodas, and are all smiles. Yet when a national champion such as Eric
Rosado or Luke Altenau are training alongside you and giving you the benefit
of their leadership, they might be lucky to get a simple ‘good evening sir’
as a salutation.
The sempai-kohai relationship in the PMA is a very profound
and strong system. It is one of the reasons why so many students last so long
and are carefully nurtured in their development.
with over 40 years combined training deserve special respect.
Sensei and Ms.
However, many students
seriously misinterpret the meanings of sempai-kohai and ascribe rules and
behavior not meant to be there. Sempai kohai begins with this feeling of
tetsudai or concern for the teachers. It is a one way obligation of the junior
kohai to the most senior of sempai. The acts of kindness and appreciation are in
turn applied to all other students in a most giving and generous way throughout
your karate days.
Lowry writes in his article, “It was late. And hot. I had been driving all day
to get to the house where we were staying, and so had four other senior
students. The juniors were all asleep in various rooms and out in the yard, and
I wished to be among them. I was not and neither were the other seniors because
the Sensei was on his way. His plane was delayed and it was near midnight before
he touched down. When a Sensei of his status arrives, the seniors have to be
there to greet him. It isn’t a rule written down anywhere, but it is part of
testsudai and important element of budo training.”
Students at our of town dojos have done this act of respect by showing up in
large groups with signs, flowers and gifts for me when I arrive on trips. The
same courtesy needs to be shown by the students in San Diego when I return from
these official trips. Sometimes it has been done. Lower belts should scramble to
be included in this ritual. It shows support for the dojo and the karate
training. The lower belt gets to
meet other karate students, make deeper friendships, and perhaps learn some more
about karate meanings.
Lowry goes on to write: “Japanese sensei or those influenced by Japanese
culture are sometimes reticent to express any needs, so you have to try to
anticipate them. Does he have blanket in his room? Is he getting water during
hot training sessions? Are we tiring him excessively, keeping him awake too late
by asking all kinds of questions during post-training conversations? These are
the sorts of questions the persons responsible for tetsudai must ask and should
answer as quickly as possible.”
Tetsudai is a
valuable tool to be used by a tradition rich dojo to further its teaching. It
brings glue to the training. It brings alertness, care, respect and a lot more.
alert to use this concept at the next special session.
Master Devine 9-5-02
intensity of karate radiates from Luke Altenau. Respect your seniors and you
become like them.