Dave Lowry, the noted martial artist and author wrote:
"My own thinking is that a sensei is very much like another kind of person who is responsible for important matters. A person who, like the sensei seems to be from another age, a person of rare and unique gifts. The sensei, it seems to me, is very much like a vintner.
A vintner is the person who produces wine. He is the one who is responsible for it, from the planting of the grape vines, all the way until the raw wine is poured into casks to age. The vintner is the talented individual who can look at a particular hillside or a handful of soil and can tell you which kinds of grapes will grow best there, what kind of yield you can expect. He knows when the grapes need to be pruned. He makes vital decisions throughout the growing season, to fertilize, to spray for bugs. He must decide when to pick them in the fall, to wait for a few more days to let them fully ripen or to pick now and beat out the rain that can adversely affect the whole harvest.
The vintner is responsible for the blend of grapes that go into fermentation tanks. He must add the sugars if they're needed, to begin the fermentation process. In short, he is the guy responsible for the wine from the time the grape vines are planted or bud out, until the moment the wine is on its own, so to speak, when it has been put in casks and must now age and develop according to the qualities inherent in it.
Doesn't this sound very much like the sensei's task? He is the person responsible for a student, from the time that student enters the training hall until the crucial period of the training process has been completed. The sensei is a person, then, in my estimation, who can take a person of raw and unknown potential and turn out a complete and worthwhile product. He can oversee the process from beginning to end."
- Dave Lowry
I once read that "Sensei" means "One Who Has Gone Before." The word "Sensei" is Japanese, and means instructor, trainer, teacher, guide, or mentor. In Chinese internal martial arts, the instructor or teacher is often called "Laoshi." More advanced and respected teachers, with whom one has a close and long standing mutual relationship, are sometimes called, in Chinese internal martial arts, "Shifu" or "Sifu." Top level teachers with 20 or more years of experience, and many numerous talented students, are sometimes called "Master" by those that respect them greatly.
It is not the name, but the role, the experience, and the dedication to teaching. Helping others learn, bringing out the best in others, passing on a honored tradition, organizing and leading a class activity, and constantly advancing one's knowledge as a teacher ... these are the key elements. Acting as a Mind/Body Arts, Internal Martial Arts "Vinter" ... that idea appeals to a philosophical gardener like me.