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While junior students are required to treat senior students with proper courtesy and respect, senior students are obliged to live up to the respect paid to them. As you continue in your studies of karate, you will see that new students are constantly enrolling in your school. These students, who have studied karate for a shorter time than you, are called your kohai, and your responsibilities toward them are considerable.

Kohai is written with the ideograms ko, which means “behind” or “following,” and hai (also pronounced pai), which means "a group.” A kohai is a colleague who follows you within a group.

The traditional relationship between the SENPAI, the senior members of an organization, and their kohai is vert much alive in many areas of Japanese society, not just the martial arts. The tennis club at a junior high school, for instance, may stipulate that new members must collect the balls after the senpai practice. The kohai may not even be allowed to practice themselves until they have put in a period of obligatory service or apprenticeship. When members of an organization live together, such as company dormitories, boarding schools, or training camos for sports teams, the kohai will often be assigned menial daily chores, such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry.

While you might conclude that your hardships are over as soon as you have some kohai to look after you, the senpai also have their own obligation to fulfill for the benefit of the kohai. Taking another example from Japan, if a karate team goes out for a mean after a hard practice or a day of competition, the senpai are usually responsible for paying for the meal, as well as making sure each of their kohai is going home with a full belly. The alumni of the team- also senpai- are often called upon to donate funds to the team and show support at important tournaments, even if this means taking a day off of work.

It may be too much to expect students of karate outside of Japan to undertake such traditional social obligations, but the unchanging and primary duty of the senpai, in any country or culture, is to keep his or her kohai motivated. You can fulfill this duty by offering individual instruction when the teacher is not available, or by offering words of encouragement to kohai experiencing difficulty mastering a particular technique.

The senpai must always be vigilant, because the position of power a senpai has over his kohai can be very easily abused. Hazing, sexual harassment, or other abuses of authority have no place in the sanpai-kohai relationship or the practice of karate.

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