In my naginata class, there are a handful of teachers (many of whom are very close to me in age), a few middle school students, the occasional high schooler, a handful of adults including myself, and a bunch of elementary school students. In the older grades kids who want to practice naginata would usually do so on a school team. As I am not enrolled in a middle school or high school, I go to the Shimane Prefectural Martial Arts hall, along with a lot of other kids and adults who are not part of school teams.

Teachers of all kinds–as well as other dedicated professionals–are addressed as “Sensei” either as is or with their name attached. I am occasionally called “Sensei” or “Buri-sensei” when I visit schools and community centers, but it feels weird. Furthermore, my visits are brief, and I am not a regular teacher–more like a sporadic guest lecturer. However, being so accustomed to multi-faceted CIR work, I sometimes forget that when most people see me as a part of daily life in Japan, they probably think, “ah, it’s an English teacher.”

However, being called “sensei” among a dojo with my fellow naginata classmates and a handful of people I call “sensei” feels especially weird. To be clear, I am not qualified to teach naginata! I don’t know that I’ll even reach the first dan rank (I’m still in the kyuu ranks right now), so being called “sensei” in the context of naginata isn’t even a far-off dream.

Every Naginata-sensei I’ve met is way too cool for me to be so presumptuous as to think I have even a fraction of their coolness!