Let's take two top persons in Shodokan aikido.

  • Tetsuro Nariyama shihan (9 dan)

  • Shinnosuke Sakai sensei (6 dan)

Both persons are actively teaching.

In the dictionary,

  • 師範 (shihan) means "instructor", "(fencing) teacher", "model"

  • 先生 (sensei) means "teacher", "master", "doctor"


Is 師範 higher than 先生?

1 Answer 1


Probably yes, but it's not as simple as "大佐 is higher than 中佐" or "部長 is higher than 課長".

先生 is a generic term, and many people are called 先生; school teachers, physicians, lawyers, politicians, professional shogi/go players, and so on. But no one is formally 先生 because it's basically an honorific term. We never see 先生 on name cards, where the most proper title is expected.

On the other hand, today 師範 is basically only for instructors of martial arts. 師範 works as a proper title on a name card, but each martial art school has their own definition of 師範. Strictly speaking, 先生 and 師範 do not even belong to the same hierarchy.

That said, 師範 is generally only for very high people. For example, on 講道館's web site, the only person referred to as 師範 is 嘉納治五郎, the deceased founder of 講道館. So if you see 師範 and 先生 both used in the same page, you can usually assume the 師範 is the higher person.

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