What is your title?

Ok, I am sure to take some heat for this. I see lots of people using “professor” as their title in BJJ. Here is the thing, if you are Brazilian with Portuguese as your 1st language, I have no issue with you calling your teacher “professor”, because in Portuguese, it means teacher! The English definition for “Professor” does not apply.

From Wikipedia: Professor (commonly abbreviated as Prof.)[1] is an academic rank at universities and other post-secondary education and research institutions in most countries. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences, a teacher of the highest rank

I have the same complaint about Sensei, Shihan, Soke, in Karate along with Kru in Muay Thai when you are not a native speaker of the origin country. Before you blow a gasket, let me explain.

If you train in a martial art from a different country of origin than your own, if you choose to use that countries language in your titles, you also have to teach in that language. If you teach in English but carry a fancy title in a foreign tongue, you are not being authentic and you are disrespecting your art.

I learned Japanese arts where we spoke the techniques in Japanese. We used Japanese terms and commands for 99% of training. We understood the meaning of the Japanese terms and the context in which the terms are applied plus the origins. Using Japanese terms to define titles fit the overall model of what we did. I have moved on from Karate as my primary style and now primarily teach MMA. Most of my students and athletes call me coach. People that trained Karate with me still call me Sensei, and that is there choice, not my demand.

If you teach people any art where you teach the practical application in English, your titles should be English. If you teach an art along with the culture of its origin, using the native language for titles makes more sense. If you use titles to sound fancy, you probably are not prepared to lead people.

Being authentic is important. It is the most honest representation of what you know. If you are making up etiquette or mimicking things you do not really understand deeply, you are not a teacher, you are a charlatan. Your physical prowess does not mean a thing in these matters. You may be good at what you do, but you are a bad person if you are faking the trappings to create an exotic allure.

Ricardo Almeida is a Professor. Marcelo Garcia is a Professor. They are not simply because they are extremely high level instructors, it is because they speak Portuguese as a 1st language and teach in both Portuguese and English. They are not professor because they have advanced degrees. Students may misrepresent the title due to our English understanding of the term, but these are humble men that understanding its meaning.

I guess my point is that we have to understand why we do what we do and represent what it is we do in the most relevant and authentic way we know it. We should not use terms to sound cool, but when it is appropriate due to our cultural immersion in an art. I can go on and on about this because we have so much misuse of terms and made up definitions for practical positions plus misplaced reverence for simple titles because we were sold false ideas about words we don’t know.

Sensei means teacher. Professor means teacher. Teacher means teacher. Nothing more or less. Don’t let anyone sell you on a grand meaning to simple words. A senior who teaches you a way deserves the respect of the deferential terms of your culture and/or theirs. Know what you are saying and why. Do not do anything just because you are told too - that is how we ended up in this jumbled bag of misunderstood and misrepresented words.

Brian Wright