Is there a difference between a sensei and a consultant?

Two years ago, I advocated dropping the “Sensei” nonsense but it soldiers on. Blog readers keep asking questions about it. Consultants who do not speak Japanese keep answering that there is a fundamental difference between a sensei and a consultant, and seeing a deep meaning in the word “Sensei” that just isn’t there. There is indeed a difference, but it is basic: “Sensei” is a polite term for schoolteachers and other instructors, while a consultant is someone who gets paid for an engagement, as opposed to an employee. One word refers to a role; the other one, to a business relationship.

4 comments on “Is there a difference between a sensei and a consultant?

  1. My martial arts experience is slightly different. I have been learning Shotokan Karate for 17 years with Hanshi Jim Mather. Now in his 70s, he was known 40 years ago for his ability to catch and break arrows in mid flight, which he had developed as part of academic research on increasing the body’s response speed. Incidentally, it made for good TV.

    He still teaches at the California Karate Academy and his style is nothing like the caricature in the video you posted.

  2. I think it’s obnoxious and unfortunately when somebody calls themselves a “sensei.” Somebody might refer to you as a sensei, but you don’t call yourself that. Even worse is a so-called “certified Lean sensei” (a claim I’ve seen before).

    • Your comment reminds me of the following lines from the movie The Untouchables:

      Ness: I’m a treasury officer.
      […]
      Ness: Hey, wait a minute! What the hell kind of policemen you got in this god damn city? You just turned your back on an armed man.
      Malone: You’re a treasury officer.
      Ness: How do you know that? I just told you that.
      Malone: Who would claim to be that who was not? Hmm?

      In Japan, you would say the same about a sensei.

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