From Tales of Rokugan

Info provided by Jeanne Kalvar (Kakita Kaori)

Dojo and Study

In Rokugan, all children between the ages of about six until their gempukku at between thirteen and sixteen are expected to be receiving education in a dojo from their sensei. Each clan's form for this education vary based on their own history and traditions. This section describes the education of children in Rokugan into their adulthood. Note: Some of this comes from the Legend of the Five Rings source books, some of this comes from Chinese and Japanese martial arts traditions, and some is created by myself to fill in the gaps in the lore for Rokugan.

Education in Rokugan hinges on the relationship between three people:

  • Sensei - The most senior instructors for a school or dojo, the pinnacle of their art. Sensei is a very respected title, and is one of the most coveted positions in any clan.
  • Senpai (先輩)- The senior students who do most of the instruction. Senpai is a title a student would give to the one teaching or who has taught him, unless they were being taught by the Sensei himself.
  • Kohai (後輩)- The student under instruction. A Kohai for a Senpai may in turn be serving as a Senpai for younger students

The most valuable resource for any student under instruction is time with the Sensei. They compete with each other to be noticed and recognized, both in the quality of their own work and in the quality and behavior of their students. In the end, if they are lucky, they will win the opportunity to train from the true masters of the art.

The Clans

Crab Clan

Crab still in training, not actively serving on the Wall, most commonly live in small towns and villages across the lands of the Crab. Rather than have one large dojo for the sensei in town, each town or region will have a Sensei who runs a senior dojo in town. The students of that Sensei, the Senpai, will run a number of smaller dojos scattered throughout the area, accepting groups of kohai to learn under them in a much more informal fashion than the pretentious Crane. The Senpai would gather at the senior dojo to study with the town Sensei, and then return to practice what they learned with their own kohai.

Similarly to the Crane, the Senpai of the Crab are very competitive. However, it is traditional for the students of one senpai's dojo to go out and fight the students of another senpai's dojo to prove which dojo is superior. This is generally a friendly brawl, but the senpai of the winning dojo does win extra attention and maybe even special favors and teaching from the Sensei...teaching they can, in turn, pass down to that senpai's kohai. So the motivation to prove yourself the best dojo in town is strong. It is customary to make sure a magistrate is aware before such a fight takes place, and the magistrates will crack down if something gets too out of hand.

Young kohai who seem particularly promising may be sent to live with relatives or friends in towns with more reputable or famous sensei, to better make their mark. but most normal Hida or Yasuki will study within their own villages' dojos. Prior to Clan Wars, due to the loss of the Hiruma style, many young Hiruma were sent to study with other schools. The relationship with the Shinjo, in particular, was of particular note.

Warriors and sensei from the very finest dojos often tour through Crab Lands, visiting and staying with the sensei of the local senior dojo during their trip. They would take the time to observe some of the classes. If they see an extremely promising young warrior, they will contact the young person's family and offer to send them to the most elite dojo in the Crab clan, such as the Sunda Mizu Dojo, It would be almost unthinkable for a family to refuse. The Crab elite dojos are structured in a fashion similar to the Kakita, though many of the sensei are grizzled veterans of the Wall.

The Kuni, given their roving lifestyle and duties, tend to take a single apprentice as their student who they would train throughout their career.

Crane Clan

Crane towns also have local dojos, though generally it would require a great accomplishment for a child being trained at one of these local dojos to go on to one of the elite dojos: the Crane grant entry to the elite dojos early and do not have the scouting of the Lion and Crab. Local dojos therefore tend to be more cooperative than competitive, and will pool their resources to request sensei from the Elite Academies to come visit them and teach a lesson or two. The parents of local children in the dojo, in particular, will use their favors and influence to host artisans of merit to come and stay in their town for as long as a visiting sensei is willing, The sensei gets to enjoy the freedom to pursue their own arts on their own schedule supported in relative luxury, and in return will teach lessons in the local dojos as they see fit. Sometimes, a bushi or artisan of more dubious merit abuses the hospitality of the locals to set up shop, but that is a fast way for them to find themselves in a duel as other travelers of more merit pass through.

All children of shugenja talents are taken to Shinden Asahina for their training unless a political bargain has been made otherwise, their talents identified by traveling shugenja or their local village monk. The Doji and Daidoji elite schools function much the way of the Kakita Academy.

Dragon Clan

The Dragon, if only out of rebellion against the Kakita, teach in a very different style from the Kakita Academy. The tests for candidates into the school are far more esoteric and focus on character or the resolution to a riddle, rather than the Cranes' comprehensive exams. Instead of learning new techniques primarily from senpai, the Sensei presents all new techniques himself, even if he is presenting them before a courtyard full of a hundred children. However, he will only demonstrate the technique once. From there, it is up to the students to master the form for themselves. Senior students are expected to encourage and help the younger students by correcting them, but they act more as mentors and guides, encouraging the childrens' mastery on their own, rather than instructing them over the Sensei's own teaching. Eventually students who have mastered a wide range of techniques and helped in a gracious fashion will earn the attention of a Sensei, who will take that student one-on-one for individualized teaching and coaching.

Like the elite dojos, local dojos are also taught primarily by Sensei themselves with only the assistance of senpai. Exceptional young students who wish to make the difficult journey are usually granted leave to do so on their own initiative. Many who try, however, return from having been met with shut doors.

Lion Clan

Most Lion children are trained one-on-one by an ashigaru or ji-samurai to whom the task is given. In later years, these children gather in small dojos scattered throughout a region, dojos far more disciplined than the Crab. These dojos were formally set up generations ago and grounded in a particular ancestor whose tradition is carried forward. Dojos compete on behalf of their senior senpai, like the Crab, but these are formal competitions in a variety of formats. They are held on a regular basis, for example, during local festivals each year. The students of the dojo are expected to put in their very best effort to make their senpai and original ashigaru or ji-samurai mentors shine.

Sensei from the the most elite dojo of the Lion, including the War Academy, will come out and watch these festivals, and, occasionally, a particularly brilliant student might catch their eye. If one does, that student will be offered a position in the that sensei's dojo to advance their training. It is a great honor. These most elite dojos, like the Akodo War College. are set up similarly to the Kakita Academy.

Mantis Clan

Routed in their naval tradition, training for the Mantis is an apprenticeship. A young child is assigned a job...on a ship, or on shore, that they are expected to carry out. Friendly or helpful (or drunk) others will start helping them, showing them how to do that job successfully and well, until, eventually, the child gets good at it. At which point, a new job, with more to learn, is assigned to the child. So child can go from learning to swab the decks, to raising and running the sails, to pinning the catch, to fighting with the bushi...a child is expected to scramble and hustle to win his own education as much as anyone is to teach him.

Phoenix Clan

The Phoenix set the example for the primary training of all the shugenja families, but their methods overall are similar to the Crane. The Phoenix have a very test-locked system. A senpai is assigned a smaller group, or even just one, kohai, and that relationship might last for many years unless drastic changes in the student or the teacher occur that require it to be changed. The senpai can teach her kohai however she pleases, but after a certain period of time, the kohai will be taken aside and expected to perform a task....or fail. A young Isawa might be taken to a big stone room with only a candle in it and be told to light the candle. Then the door will be closed and the student will not be permitted to leave until the candle is lit...or the student has declared that he has failed. A failure means reassignment or being sent home or a much longer and slower course of development, and is a failure for the senpai as well.

Scorpion Clan

Outwardly, the Scorpion Clan schools are just like the Crane schools in form and function, and members from all clans are invited to bring their children to attend. The same classes are taught to all, and many non-Scorpion have done well with the schools. However, the sensei of the Scorpion Clan are always looking out for particular talents among the students that could prove useful, and always setting up subtle tests to allow the students to show their strengths in these talents. If students with the right talents are found, they are pulled away for special, additional training with the sensei. This training, however, is secret. The student is expected to also attend all their normal classes and to give no appearance that they are receiving extra training. If they are found out, the training ends. However, while who might be getting the training is hidden from the other students, almost everyone knows that some among them are getting or will get special training from the sensei. All the students compete to look the best in the senseis' eyes in order to be granted the opportunity to win those special lessons. Of course, you can't compete too much...because then you will be found out...

Unicorn Clan

The roaming nature of the Unicorn Clan makes any stationary dojos small and reserved for only a few. It is far more likely a Unicorn was trained within their own roving family group, by their parents or other family members. Particularly talented children, or children learning skills not found within the family group, can be sent to live with (and roam with), more distant family members or family friends who travel with known teachers. A skilled battlemaiden might have a small herd of young women traveling with her, learning her techniques and following wherever she goes.

The Structure and Leadership of the Kakita Academy

The Kakita Academy, or the School of the Quiet Arts, trains the Kakita duelists and the Kakita artisans, some of the finest swordsmen and artists in the Empire. It was founded at the order of the first Emerald Champion, Kakita, by his sister Kiyamori, and his son Shimazu, very early in the Empire's history.

As a Crane Holding, the Academy lies ultimately under the authority of the Crane Clan Champion through the Daimyo of the Kakita Family, who is charged with supporting and defending it.

The Daimyo of the Kakita will often select a Grandmaster of the Kakita Academy who is in charge of being the final arbitrator for the the Academy or representing the Academy in the Imperial Court, if need be. The Grandmaster rarely is involved in the day to day operations of the Academy. At the time of the Scorpion Clan Coup, the Kakita Daimyo is Lord Kakita Yoshi, and the Grandmaster of the Kakita Academy is his brother, Kakita Toshimoko, though he has little care for managing the affairs of the school.

The day to day leadership of the Kakita Academy is done by the Council of Master Sensei. All of the Sensei who teach one of the formal disciplines of the School of the Quiet Arts gather and select a representative to serve on the Council of Master Sensei to represent the Sensei and students within their particular discipline. The representative can be chosen based on skill, political savvy, leadership, or title. They can be removed with a vote of no confidence by the other Sensei of the discipline. Frequently, Master Sensei will choose to step away from the life of running the academy to focus on their individual arts and return to it later. The Council of Master Sensei is a quirky and idiosyncratic bunch, and arguments are common and heated. The Iaijutsu Master Sensei, as the one who runs the largest group of students, tends to have more weight in most matters for practical purposes, but formally the Master Sensei are all considered equal on the Council. Special respect is given to the older Master Sensei.

The Primary Disciplines of the Academy which almost always have a representative on the Council are:

  • Iaijutsu
  • Painting
  • Poetry
  • Ikebana
  • Dance
  • Acting
  • Origami
  • Calligraphy
  • Music
  • Jesting

Other disciplines may end up having a representative on the Council of Master Sensei, if they reach a sufficient level of acclaim with a great enough number of students, but this is not always the case. Other disciplines taught are Oratory, Storytelling, Acrobatics, Sculpture, Gardening, Puppetry, and Song.

Each discipline can have a number of Sensei who have students. A Sensei may be serving at the Academy, or may be assigned to various tasks by his Daimyo....serving at a Winter Court for entertainment, or facing a duel on a prominent issue of the Imperial Court. Elderly Sensei may choose not to have any students, simply devoting their lives to their art. Sensei compete with each other for status based on their own skill and the quality and numbers of their students.

Each sensei generally will end up having a large group of students under them. Once those students reach gempukku, some may stay to continue to teach younger students, but most travel to other duties assigned to them by their family or daimyo.

Beginning at the Kakita Academy

Promising young children between the ages of six and seven are brought to the Kakita Academy to be tested for entrance. While most are Crane, other clans can be granted, as a favor, to bring their own children as potential candidates. Each student is supposed to be already aware of the basics: how to sit still and speak politely with a sensei, how to write and read adequately, an understanding of the precepts of Bushido, and so on. Candidates for the Iaijutsu school move through some very basic, unarmed forms, and follow the lead of an instructor, while candidates for Artisan school might be evaluated on their ability to understand color and form, or their grace, or manual dexterity. Every candidate is supposed to be evaluated on their own merits alone, though certainly the child of a Clan Champion or the Emperor will likely be judged favorably despite a lack of skill, Those who fail the entrance test for the Academy are recommended to more local dojo in the Crane clan close to their home towns, or, if showing the aptitudes, to study with the Daidoji or the Doji. This test is often the most nerve-wracking moment of a parent's life, and even very small children are carefully taught by their mothers, fathers, and other family members to get them to be ready to take it. But while many take it, less than a hundred students are accepted each year.

Those children without the family connections, promise, or rank to secure the opportunity to test for the elite Academy, or those who fail the test, will return to their home towns. Many home villages have smaller dojos, where Sensei not linked to the elite academy and their Sempai teach the essential skills of the samurai caste. These village dojos tend to take the aspect of the town that they are situated in and the family of samurai who have led that town for generations.

The First Years

Those children who are successful in passing their tests are assigned to a Senior Senpai...a student of one of the Sensei at one of the schools, who is charge of acting as a leader and teacher for the children, or kohai, under his or her care. Each Senpai has about fifteen kohai. They look after two chambers of kohai, one for male students, and one for female students, and will usually sleep in between the two chambers. In return for this time consuming and important duty, Senior Senpai get special classes from the Sensei or even the Master Sensei for their discipline, and the position is therefore coveted. Senior Senpai compete amongst themselves for who has the best students, and those whose students win get particular favor from the Sensei. The competition can get quite fierce.

The young children learn in groups from their senior Senpai, assisted by other students a few years ahead of them for some exercises. While they focus on their own art in particular, the whole group of kohai are taken regularly to get lessons from other Senpai in areas of skill that everyone should know, like Etiquette and various arts, as well as improving their writing and reading and thinking skills.

In addition to their normal learning, kohai are expected to do various chores around the academy....these are considered learning opportunities for judgement and character, and students are expected to embrace their chores as a learning opportunity.


On a regular basis, the Sensei will observe the kohai being taught by the various senior senpai. When they feel the student has advanced enough, they will assign the student to a new Senpai, one who will work with a smaller group of students in a more focused way. Each senpai is competing on the quality of their own kohai, so are very motivated for their kohai to be successful.

The most promising of the kohai earn the opportunity to do the very best chores. Cleaning the dojo, for example, is a valued chore because it gives the opportunity to see the older senpai and even the sensei practice their arts...a learning opportunity. Serving as errand runners introduce a young person to many sensei and visiting dignitaries, and serving meals at banquets or acting as servants to guests teach the students etiquette and how to manage themselves in court. The better the student, the better opportunities and the better chores are assigned.

Eventually a student might be assigned to teach a few things to younger students of their own. At this point, they have become senpai themselves, and they get to continue to teach in order to earn greater and greater opportunities to study with their betters until they too can stand as a strong representative of the arts of their school. As their schooling continues, they will have different kohai assigned to them. If they are lucky, and appropriately good-natured, they may become a senior senpai to a dorm of six year olds of their own....and the special lessons from the Master Sensei that come with it.

Only the very best of the best would be granted the privilege of testing for the right to represent the Kakita Academy at the prestigious Topaz Championship. Others go through a more family-oriented gempukku, lauded by their parents and their peers.


It would cause political strife if students were ever expelled from the Kakita Academy for poor performance or anything other than dishonorable behavior. Not to mention their failure reflecting poorly on their senpai. However, not every student is of the caliber to be a highly successful artisan or duelist. Those who do not do well find themselves assigned to senpai who focus more on the homemaking arts, or the normal business of day to day affairs, without kohai of their own to study with. When a wedding is arranged for them, they will be considered to have their training complete and go on their way. If they refuse, they will find themselves without teachers at all. At that point, they are expected to withdraw themselves from the school. For particular students, a sensei may come to offer them a single lesson: an opportunity for the sensei to see if there is some particular deficit or that a different kind of instruction or a change in discipline that might help. If there is, they can be reassigned to a different senpai with better advice on how to train them. But if that fails, they will drift to their gempukku without further education. On their gempukku, their daimyo will be informed, as he is for all the new graduates, of the student's qualities and failures.

Returning after Gempukku

If a student has had their gempukku and advanced out of the school, they are assigned a duty by their daimyo. But it is expected that they would continue to keep in touch with their sensei. From time to time, they may return to visit the Academy. They might stay briefly or for a while, stepping back into a temporary senpai role to teach a group of young ones about how life in the real world really is, and learning the advanced techniques of the Academy while they were there.