I’ve been reading about a number of different terms that are used within martial arts circles. Some of them have been confusing me and there’s a difference between some of the terms that are used. I thought I would take the time to cover two of them off, as many people tend to use them interchangeably, even if they’re not.
The first term I want to cover is martialist. This is a term I’ve found in a number of philosophy and martial arts books. So, what is a martialist? And how does it differ from a martial artist? Well, Webster’s Dictionary defines a martialist as someone “skilled in warlike arts and techniques.” A martial artist, on the other hand, is a person who studies an art form developed for the purpose of self-defence and combat, although most of them can find their roots in military or war-based origins.
The next term I’ll cover is Senpai. This is a term that refers to a senior member of a dojo who also instructs, generally ranked below the Sensei. In Japan, the terms Senpai and Kohai are meant to mean “Senior” and “Junior”, respectively. But in karate, a Senpai is someone who steps in and teaches as a direct assistant to the Sensei, but not the Sensei himself (or herself).
I’ll be the first to admit that the martial arts is a rich tapestry that crosses many different cultures and backgrounds. Sometimes, it gets difficult to keep all the different terminology straight, depending on your background and what style you may be studying. Doing an internet search will only get you so far, and there is a fair amount of confusion or inaccurate information out there.
if you already study the martial arts, don’t be afraid to ask you Sensei if you have questions about proper terminology. You should likely do this AFTER class, so as to not take away from the Sensei’s stretching and warm-up before class. If your instructor tells you something vague like how you shouldn’t worry about such things, he or she may not have your best interests in mind. Your curiosities should be accommodated wherever it’s appropriate. ☯