The following is an extract from an article written by Glen Henry Sensei of Chushinkan Dojo on the role of sempai:
Katachi Tadashi Karabe Kage Naoshi - If the form is correct the shadow will follow
As students progress and aspire to be instructors it is easy to lose focus on what a good Sempai should provide to those following.
Some believe that they should “defeat” all they train with and thus show they are superior against lower level students, others feel they have the right to teach there own version of a technique despite having a “Sensei” who teaches it a certain way, or to question that way … and others display mannerisms which are elitist and less humble than what should be the case. (Blog author’s note: some sempai will also not apply the proper targeting and/or intensity in their instruction to kohai [some with the belief that doing so will not lead to injuries], which will lead to the kohai learning improper techniques).
These things are not uncommon as progress in the technical elements can bolster ones ego and the lamentable characteristics afore mentioned are displayed.
Real progress toward becoming a teacher and being recognised as such comes when the student firstly focuses on the phrase at the start of this article. Some will immediately think that the “form” is the physical performance of the technique, but in reality it is more encompassing. Of course the physical technique must be exemplary, and this requires continuous self assessment and acceptance of correction by their sensei, in his way.
He may show various ways depending on the student, and he may explain the context for the variation, what the scenario may be for doing that way, but there will always be a “basic” way, the one which is what should be taught to all students from the start. It is important for the aspiring instructor to remember that technique, because when the sensei puts the responsibility on a senior to assist a new student, that is what he expects seniors to teach.
Seniors should also refrain from teaching what they are not ready or able to teach.
This last point leads to humility, and the acceptance that although a lot of progress has been made by someone, they need to be very careful on how they “teach/assist” a less advanced student.
It is the … word … Gojo that sets apart the person who is ready to become the teacher. Comprehension and practice of the tenets of Gojo are the real form of the teacher, and it was this point that was explained in some detail to me on receipt of the Oku Iri of SMR.
When I was first given the “lecture” on this I thought, that should be easy to follow, 5 simple ideals common sense values I understand. How wrong could I be??
The difficulty is expressing those ideals on a daily basis, and especially during the pressure of teaching. The frustrations waiting for a beginner to get the technique, the continuous corrections to give for weeks, months and years that follow, the opportunity to train regularly with higher levels at higher levels becomes either irregular or a distant past. The only thing to focus on—the Kihon, the basic forms of the Ryu, to become absorbed in them with the goal of perfecting them alone. Not to defeat the beginner, not to train at full speed and power, not train for yourself; no, you must give over to the student so that he may succeed. You must show patience, humility, acceptance of their efforts and be prepared to provide the best possible model as the image to be copied.
You must become the shadow of your own teacher, such as that experienced people will easily recognise who was your teacher.
This is no easy task, and it requires many years of practice to fully understand, and absorb these concepts and to put them into practice.