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”.

In China, learning is moral; in US, cognitive

For Chinese families, Education is the emperor. Education is like respecting your ancestors. Education is Morality. No matter where you are in the world, as long as you are of the Chinese heritage, you must have seen/heard/tasted/smell/experienced a snippet of this during your early days of moral education (unless you have misfit parents like mine). Your parents might say “oh, you know the killing is no good, stealing no good, lying definitely no good”. But what is good? “Oh you know, the honesty is good, humility is good, but if you can’t do those two at least get good grades and straight As, understand?” Alright, that might been slightly exaggerated to an effect, but you get the point. The activity of Learning in the Chinese culture is not only a choice of whether to increase one’s knowledge and cognitive capacities (like it is in the West), but also a choice of being morally righteous or not.

But things weren’t always this way. China had a plethora of schools of thought during the period of/before the warring states, and people learned simply because they wanted to or had an intellectual question that they wanted an answer to. Then this dude, later named Confucius came along and had this whole “Confucianism” ideas along with his own “entourage” comprised of students, friends and family. And it was great, it was a new school of thought and added to the selection pool from which the rulers of each state would select his central principle to guide his policies. Flash forward 1,000 yr to the Song Dynasty, when some crazy-ass Education Minister named “Mr. Zhu” decided that it was too time-consuming to deal with so much variance in opinion and it might confuse the students to have more options in terms of education, so after some thought, he decided to select a few collection of writings (9 to be exact) and put it all under the umbrella of Confucianism and just shove it at all the aspiring young Chinese students. What of the other schools of thought? Well, most were politely banned until it got too tedious so he ended up burning the rest of the “variety of opinions”, so no one would end up being Confused by so many different opinions and it would create harmony. This was the first major act of standardized education in the history of China, and it forever altered d the educational landscape of China and deprived those who came after it (us and all the other Chinese students who lived since that point in history) of the opportunity and resources to re-create the Renaissance-like learning environment of Old China, which happened 2,000 years before their European counterparts.

Anyways, the main idea is that education’s role in the Chinese culture wasn’t always like it is now, and learning wasn’t also a moral issue. This cultural trend took time and many stimulus along the way to develop and catch-on, just like any other cultural practice. So it is a “safe bet” to assume when you meet a fellow Asian student, that their family probably values education somewhat A LOT, hell I mean they are in college, with you. But it is also a nice and considerate thing to probably read and research a little of how that cultural significance came to be, just a thought.

Things mentioned in the article above might not be entirely accurate, since I wasn’t alive to see all of the events unfold. But to be honest, who was?

What is Kungfu?

When I say the word kungfu, most of my White friends would start inmitating Bruce Lee sounds and pretending to be a martial arts master. But the word kungfu is not directly connected to martial arts in any way, as most tend to misuse it. The word “kungfu” in Chinese simply means “time spent (practicing something)” or “a learned skill”, most of the time it is use to desribed an amount of time/effort or to compliment someone’s skill in an area.

The word “kungfu” ‘s written form is very symbolic of its meaning, the writting is comprised of two horinzontal lines and two diagnol lines coming through them. It examplies the idea that it is simple to practice something, but to master it takes years upon years of dedication and creative ingenuity. People aren’t seperated by what form or techniques they use, they are seperated by their kungfu, their time spent in one area and their skills acquired in that area.

One can have kungfu in almost anything; writing, cooking, singing, even skills like chopping vegetables can be considered kungfu. More modern activites like skating or basketball are areas as well, most of the time kungfu is used to described mastery of “physical activities” (yes writing is a physical activity, a manifestation of mental thoughts).