"What is the appropriate way to use the term "sensei"? At what point does a person become or start being addressed as "sensei"? I would imagine that opinions vary on the subject, as would various schools and arts, so I'm curious to see what folks might have to say."
Nick Lowry responded...
"in the budo tradition we come from, typically after 4th dan students and peers may use the term sensei to refer to a teacher-- though in Japansese culture in general,
who serves as a teacher may be refered to in this way -- Later, after 6th dan you hear the term shihan or "leader of men" used as well, though the term sensei is still also completely appropraite reguardless of rank--
as with all honorific titles and ranks it is coinsidered rude and arrogant to use such terms to refer to oneself -- a point widely overlooked in the west where such usage has become an ugly form of advertising --
For myself, i am pointedly embarassed at my own (unknowing) misuse of such in the past -- i see that i was just following the examples of my role models, but i did not yet understand how my models were themselves being rude and arrogant
there are also a variety of other honorific titles that have been misused over the years which are missappropriations form other ranking systems-- i think it is best to just avoid them entirely"
And I say.....
What??? But I am the Sensei Strange!!!
Let me explain something about myself. I have degrees in Anthropology and Psychology. Like Indiana Jones, I was sure when I moved to Japan I was going to seamlessly blend into the culture, mastering the language in days. Contrary to my fantasies I remained a giant, fat, larger than life, boisterous heavy beer drinker. Much of my fitting in involved dancing on desktops (much to coworkers horror) staging fire shows, pouring Tequila into the city mayor until he ceremoniously vomited over a banquet and levitating cards in classrooms. I have a flair for the dramatic after all.
Let's get one thing straight I know I am going to catch a lot of crap over the goofy name. Fact is though I am a sensei. I would never refer to myself as that in conversation. I am a professional educator. That is all sensei means.
In 2000 I was writing articles for a few Zen and Budo online magazines. I found no matter how well crafted and insightful I wrote, no one would remember my name. One day I was teaching an English class and I performed a bit of dance and ended with a magic trick. I heard one of the students gasp - "henna sensei" which means strange teacher.Then in a flash "Sensei Strange" came to me. Well aware of the Japanese language conventions, I started using it as a pen name. Instantly I became memorable. Interesting thing about art - how you frame it is as important as the art itself.
So I adopted Sensei...not as a mere title. I adopted it as my pen name!!!! Again, I proved myself to be a white, bearded Godzilla plowing through Japanese conventions.
I ran the name by some of my Japanese friends as a stage name for the magic act I was developing. They all gave it an enthusiastic yes vote. Then slowly over the next few years, being a shameless self promoter of magic I introduced myself as Sensei Strange more and more! It became my real and only name for almost everyone I now know in some circles. It is my professional freak name of sorts.
Then it came time for me to open a dojo. I explained for all my students not to call me sensei. Eventually I stopped fighting it. The title/name became an avatar to aspire to fill. I had to live up to my own legend. Yes I have the proper qualifications to take the sensei title in several martial arts now. But still I do not think of myself as the exalted budo sensei. I am a teacher though, and budo happens to be just one of my forums.
That's my story. Is it arrogant and rude to call yourself Sensei? yup. Magicians are special though. Martial arts magicians are double special. We can trick you AND trip you. Plus really pretty people like me can do what we like. :D No, I am just kidding of course if you couldn't pick up the jesting nature from the text alone.
When I wrestled with this pickle I found myself in, I threw caution to the wind and decided to continue to pillage Japanese culture - with reverence! Like in calligraphy and aikido, if you really know the rules - you suddenly find you can break them! I know the rules. I choose to break them, and ironically I find it silly when I find someone else breaking this convention. haha - ain't life a kicker! Do as I say, not as I do. It is all a goofy game.
I am now the Sensei Strange, sometimes online and on the magic stage. I have business cards and a website to prove it. Do I like the name? - not all the time. But for now it seems to have stuck.