Renshi me this batman!

Renshi Me This Batman!!!!!



After my promotion to 5th Dan , one of my dojo parents kindly and innocently asked me if everyone should call me “Renshi” now. My reply was that Sensei is still the appropriate term. I explained that these titles are only honorific and are not used in front of instructor’s names. On Okinawa, if you were to call any Sensei Kyoshi or Renshi, they would probably think that you had too many trips to the Orion Beer Factory.

Many dojo around the world(outside of Okinawa) have instructors and students wearing a red and white striped belt for the level of Renshi. I talked to the people at Shureido on Okinawa about this belt and their response was that they do not exist on Okinawa and are “a headache.” In fact, after talking with various Okinawan Sensei, I was informed that the belt has never existed on the island.

As far as the title is concerned, there is no “instructor” certificate, such as a Shihan menjo, issued with the title Renshi. “Renshi” is commonly written on rank certificates at the 5th or 6th dan level on Okinawa.(ex. Joe Smith, Rokudan/Renshi). This title does not change your status or recognize you for amazing physical feats in karate-it recognizes one’s ability to teach and develop students. It also signifies an instructors own personal knowledge and committment to the art that they have dedicated themselves to.

Let me add that dojos that use these belts are not bad dojos or those who wear them are not bad sensei, however, they have to be used for the right reasons. If you are using it to distinguish the higher ranking black belts/senior black belts from the other yudansha, then I imagine it is acceptable. I have good friends who wear this obi and they are fine karateka, instructors and some of the most humble individuals you will meet.

However, to wear one to recognize your newly acquired 5th dan or 6th dan rank and so that you can feel more important by having people call you “renshi”, then the joke is on you. It reminds me of the popular Dr. Suess story “Sneeches on Beaches.” In Uechi Ryu, I admire that there is no belt except the black obi and that the only recognition of rank status begins only at Rokudan level with a single stripe to indicate instructor level.

We have to remember that with every step up, there has to be a return to the beginning and with new rank, comes new responsibility and expectations. It does not bring us fame or new metaphyical abilities. Each new step or rank puts us in the crosshairs of our students, our peers and ourselves. Often, it used by the insecure to make themselves “higher” than others. They look to these visual markers that “magically” transform them into untouchable martial artists/teachers instead of concentrating on the improvement of their character and their own development in karate-do.

I would have loved to have one of my graduate school professors say, “Welcome to Ethics, please call me Doctoral-degree candidate/Masters Degree/tenured Joe Smith.”

 1 Renshi is an HONORIFIC title, not to be used in front of one’s name. Just like Joe Smith, B.A, or M.A. It roughly translates as “trainer”. 
 2 THERE IS NO RENSHI BELT OR CERTIFICATE ON OKINAWA! The only belt recognized by any association on Okinawa is the Kyoshi and Hanshi obi.
 3 If you are visiting a martial art school and the instructor TELLS you to address them as “Renshi”- RUN, don’t walk, to the nearest emergency exit. 
 4 Remember lessons 1-3.