What is a Sifu?

I would like to dedicate this piece to the many confused individuals/tourists/westerners/people I see randomly calling everyone they see in a monk suit a “sifu”, which in direct translation means (teacher/master/craftsman).

So who do you call a sifu? Well to be honest, it’s like the word “kungfu”. Just like how you can have “kungfu” or skill developed over time, in any art, activity, or skill. You can literally be a “sifu” in anything. In China, it is mainly directed at those who uses their hands and body to perform a certain skill, for instance, a plumber, a chef, a handyman are all referred to by the term of respect called “sifu”.

Now enter into the martial arts world and a sifu is basically someone who commands enough respect from those around him, that he has been able to have many disciples study and train under him. But nowadays, you lose this type of respect and culture due to the growing commercialized, modernized, and westernized culture, and you get people who are basically just coaches being called a “sifu”. So yes, the word has lost some of its meaning in today’s world.

So what do you call monks? well nowadays with amazon and the internet, it is very easy to get your hands on some monk robes, which means the possibility of you meeting a “not-real monk” is rather high. But if you do meet a real monk, the proper term call be “sifu” for those who are working on the pass to enlightenment, and for those already established you can call them big monk or “da heshang” or just “sifu” cause most of them would not care. Those who really care about these things, probably aren’t that “real”.

Life @ Shaolin: What I Actually Do

With the backdrop of an rapidly advancing China led its new open-minded leaders and the rise of the commercialized enterprise called “Shaolin Temple” lead by its political minded abbot Yongxin, I think it is important to talk about why I am here and what I really do.

I came to Shaolin, not because of the flashy kungfu so often wrongly portrayed as voilence in action movies, but because of the “spirit of shaolin”; it’s essence of a peaceful mind centered around three parts the chan ( Zen Meditation), wu (martial arts), and yi (Chinese herbal medicine). These are the reasons why I came to Shaolin, and these are the principles that, many say, have been neglected in preference for tourists dollars, commercial deals, and personal indulgence in the name of spreading the Shaolin name. But just because many say it isn’t here, doesn’t mean I will just pack my bags up and leave (the thought never crossed my mind), and now after months of work and working my connections, I ended up with my own version of the “Chan, Wu, Yi”.

A typical day looks a little like this:
5:30-6:30 am: Morning Prayer Class with the few monks that actually wake up early enough for this, most tend to sleep in till much later.
7:30am: Breakfast at my current residence, a flat I rented on a nearby hill just beyond the temple’s view.

9:00-12:00pm: Traditional kungfu training with my master in the mountains behind the temple, away from the swarming tourists.

12:30pm: Lunch back at my place, follow by meditation then a nap till 2:00pm.

2:30-5:30pm: Training in the mountains, sometimes we train among the thousand yr old buildings in the temple to get a bit more feel.

6:30pm: Dinner.

7:00-9:00: Tea time at my master’s tea lounge, where I meet and learn from all kinds of people from Chinese medicine experts to martial arts film directors, it is truly one of the most enriching experiences of the day, even after all the training.

9:30: Usually when I go to sleep, once a wk, I will take time to reply to all my emails, fb msg, and etc. But most nights ends in me sleeping soundly.

This happens to me Monday through Friday, sometimes I have more Zen-centered conversations with my master during training, so I have to train more on my own time, but this is a rough sketch of my life here. On Saturdays, I head down to the Shaolin Orphanage a couple miles down the mountain to spend some time with the kids, they are just the cutest, weirdest, most awesome-part of my week. I play basketball with them, teach them how to rap to Tupac songs, educate them in the art of sarcasm, occasionally some formal English classes when the head of the orphanage is looking, but en general just spreading that “Jerry Wisdom”. On Sundays, I wash my cloth and myself included, clean the uncleaned, unwrinkled the wrinkled, write the unwritten, blog the un-blogged, and check usually send a call to my mother telling her that I am still alive and well and that I hope she knows how lucky and unlucky she is to be living in Amurica.

Surely, I did not expect to experience 90% of the troubles I have met so far, but life has a way of circling back to where it begins, so eventually I did end up with the Shaolin spirit of (chan, wu, yi), just in my own unplanned, unexpected, and unique way. And I made a whole bunch of friends along the ways, who are all in some way connected to my past.

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