Karate Titles

This week our etiquette lesson takes us to the various titles used in karate.


Soke is awarded to the head of a style or system. This is generally the person who created it or has a style passed down from the one who created it. Hanshi Mather’s Sensei is Soke Tak Kubota who created Gosoku-ryu.


An honorary title given to the highest Black Belt of an organization, signifying their understanding of their art.


“Knowledgeable person,” usually this title are conferred at Rokudan or Shichidan, depending on the system.


A formal title meaning, approximately, “master instructor.” A “teacher of teachers.”


“A person who has mastered oneself.” This person is considered an expert instructor. A Renshi “has a name.” Renshi is no longer one of the many, so to speak.


“Teacher.” It is usually considered proper to address the instructor during practice as “Sensei” rather than by his/her name. If the instructor is a permanent instructor for one’s dojo or for an organization, it is proper to address him/her as “Sensei” off the mat as well.

It is generally acceptable to address any instructor as Sensei if you do not know their actual title.

Sensei Deshi

“Student Teacher.” This is a person who is studying to become a teacher.


Black Belt holder of any rank. Mudansha is a student of below black belt rank.


“Student of the art.” One who diligently studies and trains in all aspects of karate.


“Big Brother” This title has two levels. Highest is that which is awarded, specifically to a student. The other is simply anyone who is higher ranked than you are. They are often referred to as Sempai with a “Big S” and sempai with a “Little S.” Kohai is “little brother” or one who is below you in rank.

A Sempai title is awarded to students based on many factors, including their behavior both on the mat and off, inside the dojo and outside as well.

A Sempai leads by example as does each person with a title.