Some people say, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.” Some parents don’t mind their kids calling them by their first names. Some aunts and uncles prefer their nephews and nieces to call them by their first names, with no endearing family title.
Gauger Renshi and I are not some people. We prefer our younger family to call us by a family title. We don’t like kids to call us simply by our first names. When it comes to our students, we have extremely special relationships which take more explaining than the above.
My teachers called me Jen or Jenifer. My parents and cousins, doctors and friends call me by my first name, so do telemarketers. There is nothing special about that. In so doing, they are doing nothing more than getting my momentary attention.
However, when a student calls me Renshi (or Shihan, or Sensei), they are doing more than addressing me. They are reminding me of my responsibilities as a dojo leader, and as a martial arts instructor. Those responsibilities include: considering what is best for my students and our dojo; being the best martial artist I can be, in all facets of my life; being a mentor in any capacity that’s needed; and serving our community.
When I hear my title, Renshi, it’s a subconscious reminder that I am a role-model for many, young and old alike. I hold my students to a higher standard, and they hold me to one as well. Out of all the people I speak with, only a small percent are in the position to call me Renshi.
The relationship between a traditional martial arts instructor and his student is a special one unlike any other single relationship in a person’s life. A sensei is like a respected older family member, but a sensei also sweats with and works hard with her student. The sensei has a lot to teach and cares about the well-being and the training of his student. She is a sounding-board at times, and an advice-giver at others. He pushes his student to strive for excellence. At the same time, when the student respects his sensei, as can be evidenced by calling her by her title, the student pushes his sensei to strive for excellence as well.
Anyone can call me by my first name, but when you call me by me title as an instructor, you respect the special relationship that we have. You reaffirm that what I do every day is worthwhile and valuable to us both.