Who Makes You An Official Sifu?

by Philip Holder PhD.
Medical Coordinator – BodySmart Wellness
Grandmaster – North American Wing Chun Association
From copyrighted material. Copyright Philip Holder 2017

Sifu, Martial Arts, Grandmaster Philip Holder

So… You Want To Be A Sifu

If you aspire to be a martial arts instructor, do you know who actually holds the ultimate authority to make you an official Sifu (or whatever equivalent title is used in non-Chinese styles)? Admittedly, there are lots of people who can award you a certificate and you’ll be pleased to know… a certificate and a title, along with a couple dollars, will get you on the subway!

What Is A Sifu?

Sifu means Teacher/Father. The title implies much more than simply an individual who has reached a certain level of martial arts expertise. As well, it takes more than someone renting a space, putting up a sign and opening a school to be a Sifu. He or she is (or at least should be), someone that provides not only quality instruction for the physical and technical part of the art, but also someone the student/family loves, respects and can go to for counsel and mentoring. It requires a person with the knowledge, wisdom and ability to help students integrate the principles and philosophies of Kung Fu into their everyday lives and apply them to the issues facing them on a day to day basis.

What Is A Master

Master is a technical and academic title. It signifies exactly what the name implies. Each martial arts system has principles, training methods and a culture unique to that system. When a student masters all of the elements of the system they are training in, they are by virtue of that, a MASTER of that system.

What Is A Grandmaster

A Grandmaster must meet certain criteria, some of which are academic and some that are not. Traditionally, a Grandmaster must be a MASTER within his or her chosen system (academic criteria). He or she must have a history that extends back far enough so that he or she has students that have become instructors and who via those students has grand-students (demonstrates years of devotion to the art). It is expected that a Grandmaster will have made significant contributions to the continued development of their art and aided in its evolution.

So… Who Makes You A Sifu

In review, becoming a MASTER requires mastering the concepts, principles, and training methods of a system and being able to execute the skills developed through the afore mentioned. It is purely an academic title. A master needs no school and needs no students to use the title of MASTER. A MASTER, however, is not by virtue of the title MASTER, a Sifu.

A Sifu is the undisputed leader of the Kwoon (Kung Fu School) by consent of the family of students that he or she teaches and mentors (Get where I’m going with this yet?). No matter what certificate or title you obtain, ONLY YOUR STUDENTS ACTUALLY MAKE YOU A SIFU. Their trust in you and their willingness to follow your teaching is what actually makes you a true Sifu. The title Teacher-Father would be meaningless without the love, respect and faith in you provided by the students that have graciously given you the privilege and honor of sharing the art with them.

Where does that leave Grandmaster? Grandmaster is in some ways a hybrid between Master and Sifu, or you could look at it as being GRANDPA-SIFU. A GRANDMASTER MUST BE BOTH A MASTER AND A SIFU. The title Grandmaster has the academic requirement of having achieved master level in their chosen system, as well as the requirement of satisfying the test of time and devotion. Other than that, the title Grandmaster, like Sifu, is an honorary title bestowed by the extended Kung Fu Family of students and grand-students who have followed his or her teaching through multiple generations.

So, if you want to be a Sifu, you must recognize that your students are the most important part of the process.

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