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A Sempai is simply "one who has come before you". In general terms it is applied to students who are your senior in rank or time within the study of a Ryu. Ironically there are two ways to spell this term. Some use Sempai, others use Senpai...but they mean the same thing.

Within a good, traditional dojo, the Sensei is the chief instructor and head of the dojo. Each Sensei will learn to rely on their senior students from time to time which includes the Sempai. Becoming a Sempai should make you feel very honored. Karate is not a path that everyone will choose to walk. Many people will come and go from the studies in a good dojo but the ones that remain have earned their Sensei's respect. Most people commonly call all students who are your senior a Sempai, which is not totally how the term was meant to be used.

Sempai are referred to by the Sensei. When your instructor begins calling you a Sempai, or senior student, it means that you have earned their respect and they feel that you are a decent example for the dojo. You will be given responsibilities to test your sincerity as a Sempai and depending on how you perform them you will either remain a senior student or will stop being called one.

In terms of the Kohai, or your junior students, a Sempai's role is to help them in their studies. This in turns helps you to get a better understanding of your own training. Sempai should never be cocky or pushy with the Kohai but rather think of it as being guide to help them travel the path you have already walked. All good Sempai must be serious about their training and typically they will be at the dojo three to four days a week, or whenever classes are held. You can find them cleaning, fixing up and helping to grow the dojo...but they never forget they must train very hard to set the example.

Becoming a Sempai is an extreme honor for a student. Do not take it lightly and remember that you have gained the trust of your seniors but only you can ruin it. In Karate once a student abuses the trust from their seniors they have to earn it back with twice as much work.