Master Devine

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.


Rosado Sensei

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. 

Senior ladies with over 40 years combined training deserve special respect. 

Shishido Sensei and Ms. Black


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.

 Be alert to use this concept at the next special session.

                          Master Devine  9-5-02


Master Chaney                                                        


The intensity of karate radiates from Luke Altenau. Respect your seniors and you become like them.