Monday, January 31, 2011

Titles in Martial Arts

If you know me at all, you surely realize that I am not hung up on titles. If you aren't sure, please reference my post dealing with Master Martin's Magical Martial T'ai Ch'i. Though, I get asked often enough about a Taij teachers title. So, here goes a quick lesson in Chinese.

1. Chinese is not written using letters like we spell in English. It is a language of characters like this. 師傅. Any word you see spelled out is a form of "Romanization" or attempt to spell out the sounds associated with the character. A great example for this would be T'ai Ch'i, the Wade Giles romanization for 太極拳. Of course now Pinyin is the standard romanization, so we play Taijiquan.

2. There are two predominate languages in China, Mandarin and Cantonese. Both are written using identical characters, but pronounced differently. (Fact - many Japanese words are written using Chinese characters)

Now on to what you should call the teacher. It really depends on what language your school has adopted, be it Cantonese or Mandarin (Google Translate only has Chinese and Mandarin it is.) It is my experience that most Taiji Instructors, unless native Cantonese speakers, or associated with a school that uses Cantonese will use Mandarin as the language to count, for names of postures and for simple phrases. Soooooo,

Shifu (師傅 and 師父;Pinyin: shīfu) is the identical pronunciation of two Chinese terms for a master.The Cantonese pronunciation is Sifu.

From Wikipedia, " The character 師 means “teacher”. The meaning of 傅 is “tutor”, and of 父, “father”. Both characters are read fu with the same tones in Cantonese and Mandarin, creating some ambiguity. A similar term often used in Chinese is 老師 lǎoshī (Cantonese lou5 si1), "teacher".

Though pronounced identically and bearing similar meanings, the two terms are distinct and usage is different. The former term (師傅) bears only the meaning of "master", and is used to express the speaker's general respect for the addressee's skills and experience. Thus, for example, a customer may address a motor mechanic as such. The latter term (師父) bears the dual meaning of "master" and "father", and thus connotes a linearity in a teacher-student relationship. As such, when addressing a tradesperson, it would only be used to address the speaker's own teacher or master. In the preceding example, the motor mechanic's apprentice would address his or her master as such, but the customer would not. On the other hand, a religious personality, and, by extension, experts of Chinese martial arts, can be addressed as "master-father" (師父) in all contexts."

By the way, I am not the type of individual to ask my class to call me this. I think that this title is earned, and that people will call me this if I deserve it. I think it is funny when martial arts teachers make a big deal about being addressed by their titles. You will note, in the Chinese Martial Arts, the title system is very related to familial relationships, big brother, father elder uncle, etc. I hope understanding the context of the names and how they are formed helps you understand Chinese Martial Arts in a deeper, more meaningful way.

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