What is a karate teacher called?

Karate teacher watching student

Every martial art has specific names for the teachers that instruct their classes. In karate, there are a variety of different names that student’s call their karate instructors.

Let’s answer the question of what a karate teacher is called? Going over the different titles of a karate instructor and the significance of each one.

We’ll also list some of the other names that other martial arts instructors go by just for a comparison.

What is a karate teacher called? In most forms of karate, the instructor is referred to as “sensei.” Other titles for a karate teacher may include: grandmaster, master, shihan, doshi, renshi, tashi, kyoshi, hanshi.

Different titles for a karate teacher 

A karate teacher can go by a variety of different titles. Depending on the style of karate they practice and the number of years that they have been training. Here are some of the more formal titles that a karate instructor can prefer to go by.


The most widely used out of all of the terms for a karate instructor is sensei. Karate was developed in Japan, so of course they would use the name sensei that directly translates to teacher.

A more poetic meaning for a sensei is “one that has gone before.” Basically someone that dedicated their life to learning Karate and has earned the rank of teacher or sensei.

To earn the title of sensei, you will have to hold the rank of 4th dan in Karate.


Shihan is a title that is given to expert or senior martial arts instructors. The name is the combination of the Japanese characters shi and han put together.

A shihan is the title after renshi. At this title, the instructors are experts at basic Karate techniques, but are still learning and growing their knowledge.


A renshi is a 5th dan that has been at the black belt level for at least 12 years. When a karate teacher gets to the level of renshi, this signifies that they are a polished instructor. 

Meaning that they are well versed and knowledgeable about the teachings of karate. It is one of the more used titles for a karate instructor.


Doshi is a rather uncommon title that isn’t used much anymore. Some niche karate schools may have teachers that hold this title that comes before renshi.


A tashi is basically a teacher’s assistant or a teacher’s assistant in training. They are usually between the 2nd and 4th dan black belt level. 

Their job generally consists of assisting the head instructor with beginner and color belt classes. Also covering these classes whenever the head instructor is away and cannot teach.


Kyoshi is the title that some forms of Karate give an instructor that reaches the rank of 7th dan. This title is referred to as the “teacher of teachers.” This is one of the hardest ranks to achieve that few Karate practitioners seldomly attain.


The title of hanshi is the highest rank that you can achieve within Karate that isn’t grandmaster. No black belt below the level of 7th dan is ever given the title of hanshi. 

If a Karate instructor holds this rank, that means that they have given their life to the martial art. Being a representative for the martial art and is a model for what others should strive to be like.


A soke is a Japanese term that is basically the equivalent of grand master. The term translates to English as “the head of the house” or “founder of a style.”

This title can be reserved for someone that either created their style. A title that no one else can be given.

The dans or black belt levels

To go through all of these different titles for a Karate teacher, you would have to go through the dans.(Ranks of black belts) Here are all of the names in order starting with a first degree black belt to the tenth degree.

  • Shodan(1st Dan)
  • Nidan(2nd Dan)
  • Sandan(3rd Dan)
  • Yondan(4th Dan)
  • Godan(5th Dan)
  • Rokudan(6th Dan)
  • Nanadan(7th Dan)
  • Hachidan(8th Dan)
  • Kyudan(9th Dan)
  • Judan(10th Dan)

Other informal names that some karate teachers use

Other karate teachers may prefer not to go by any of the formal names that are used for a karate instructor. Preferring to go by more generic titles. Here are some other non formal names that karate teachers go by.


Some karate teachers may prefer that you call them coach followed by their first name or last name. Since most karate schools have competition teams that compete in various karate competitions, the teachers may prefer to be called coaches. Probably the most used of the informal titles for a Karate teacher that’s also used for various other martial arts/sports.


Another informal title that some instructors go by is either using the title of Mr. or Mrs. Instead of a formal Karate title, they’d rather prefer a title that you would call a normal teacher in grade school.

First name

Then there are some karate teachers that just completely do away with titles altogether. Preferring that you just call them by their first name and not go by any given title.

Are there any other martial arts that use the term “sensei?”

Yes, since sensei is the Japanese word for teacher, all of the Japanese based martial arts use this term. Sensei is also the title given to teachers of Judo and Japanese Ju-Jitsu, and aikido. Each of these Japanese martial arts have different requirements to earn this title, but they all use sensei.

Names for teachers of other styles of martial arts

To go along with the names for a Karate teacher, you may be curious about names for other martial arts instructors. Here are some titles that instructors of other martial arts go by.

  • Sifu: Kung Fu Teacher
  • Sabom: Taekwondo Instructor
  • Professor/Mestre: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Instructor
  • Goro: A Kali Instructor
  • Coach: Generic term used for everything from MMA, kickboxing, wrestling, sambo, boxing, etc.

Do female karate teachers go by the same titles?

Yes, female karate teachers are given the same instructor titles as the men. There is no separate list of titles for female karate instructors.

What should I call my karate teacher?

You should call your teacher by whatever title they wish. They put their time in training within karate and have earned the right to be called by their preferred title. Please show them the utmost respect and always refer to them as their formal teacher name, unless they say otherwise.

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Let's Roll BJJ aims to be the leading source of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Grappling information and news on the web. Dorian, the owner and editor of Let's Roll BJJ is a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu and has been training and competing for over 6 years. Apart from being a BJJ geek, Dorian is a software developer by trade, a husband, and a father of two wonderful kids who he's recently began teaching Jiu Jitsu. When he's not training, coding, or writing, you can find him hiking, camping or occasionally binging on video games.


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