Sifu Meaning

Sifu Meaning

What does Sifu mean? If you're a fan of Chinese Kung Fu movies, you've no doubt heard the term "sifu" or maybe "shifu". But what exactly does the term mean? And what is the relationship exactly between a sifu and a student?

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Sifu Meaning

Sifu Sung Choi | Author

Sifu Sung Choi is the Senior Master Instructor for West Coast Wing Chun Organization and is the owner and of West Coast Wing Chun San Diego.

How do you Pronounce Sifu 師父?

Sifu is pronounced differently in Cantonese as compared to Mandarin.  In Cantonese,  it is pronounced like SEE-FOO.  In Mandarin, you will usually see it as Shifu, and it is pronounced more like SHER-FOO.

What does Sifu mean?

Translated Definition

The translated definition of “sifu” means teacher or master.  It can be generalized to mean a person who teaches a skill or type of technique such as music, woodworking, computing, etc.  If the teacher is particularly skilled in their vocation, then there will be more students that seek that teacher out.  However, due to the intricacies of their knowledge and how to pass it down, many may seek, but only a few may be accepted.  

However, the true meaning of sifu goes much deeper than that.  Being a sifu has a great responsibility for both the students and their lineage.  Let us examine this more in-depth.

Seated Left to RIght, Sifu Bryan Talbot, Sifu Samuel Kwok, Sifu Sung Choi
3 Generations of Sifus - From Left to Right, Sifu Bryan Talbot, Sifu Samuel Kwok, Sifu Sung Choi

How To Become A Sifu

Excels in Skill

Let’s take a look at what it takes to earn the title of sifu in martial arts. This will help us better understand what “sifu” means.  

First, great discipline is needed to become as sifu.   It is not an easy task to accomplish.  However, it is an attainable goal for those who are willing to dedicate themselves to body, mind, and spirit.    

In Wing Chun Kung Fu, one must train with diligence both physically and mentally.  A person must put in the hours to train the body to execute Wing Chun’s techniques properly.  At the least, it will take the dedicated student nine years to complete the initial stages of learning the kung fu system.  

Excels in Understanding

Then, *he must develop an understanding as to why each Wing Chun move exists. Further, he learns under which conditions each should be used.  However, since Wing Chun does not match technique to technique, he must comprehend the art, not only in a wide breadth but with great profundity.

Studying the principles, concepts, maxims, and proverbs of Wing Chun is a necessary deep dive into the philosophy of the art.  Knowing and applying Wing Chun’s philosophy allows one to fully manifest the essence of the art through the mind and body without restriction and gaps in understanding.    

Cultivates Integrity

Then, he must cultivate his spirit to reflect the principles and integrity of the art.  This is only accomplished through the aforementioned discipline, personal introspection, evaluation, and re-evaluation of his actions.  It is consistency and dedication to these scopes of training that takes one closer to becoming a sifu.

Sifu Bryan Talbot - Master of Kung Fu
Sifu Bryan Talbot overseeing class at West Coast Wing Chun.
Cultivates Teaching Skills & Methods

However, it is not enough to be able to learn these skills and understand the principles. One must be able to teach them.  As a sifu of Wing Chun, one must go through many years of apprenticeship to teach.  Through years of their sifu’s tutelage and dedication, one learns to develop their style of teaching methods.  

Moreover, a sifu must develop a curriculum with instruction that is digestible to a vast spectrum of students.  He must create, tune, and hone training methods.  Then, must continually re-evaluate those training methods and curriculum for the benefit of his students.

Sifu Meaning - More than a Martial Arts Instructor

Develops Communication Skills
Sifu Bryan Talbot talking with his students.
Sifu Bryan teaching kids' Wing Chun class.

A sifu’s skill as a teacher goes beyond the technical physical skills and mental development of himself and his students.

A high level of communication skills is needed to properly teach each lesson.  Students come to the Kwoon from all walks of life with different experiences and considerations.  Not only does the sifu need to articulate his words well but must also connect beyond words.  Body language, life experiences, sympathy, and empathy work well together to reach the student in this capacity.

He must find a way to relate his curriculum and information to the student in a way that makes sense to them.  Then, he has to adapt when students are having difficulty understanding concepts and techniques.  It is helpful if a sifu understands how a particular student learns so he may transfer the information in the best way possible to that unique individual.

Demonstrate Conflict Resolution Skills

Further, a sifu is responsible for the culture and the environment within the Kwoon (school).  A sifu must foster a safe learning environment for students to excel.  

Additionally, understanding conflict and psychology is extremely important.  Sifus must teach students how to handle confrontation and the psychology of conflict in both physical and verbal altercations. When conflict occurs among students, the sifu needs to identify, understand, and help resolve it.  Sifu, then, must equip and empower the students with the ability to do the same.  This takes great discernment and communication.

Sifu Meaning - A Father Figure

In the Chinese Martial Arts tradition, the word Sifu (師父) is taken with the utmost significance.  Si (師) translates to mean teacher and Fu (父) translates to father.  The meaning of “sifu” in this context brings a deeper meaning.

West Coast Wing Chun Sifus
Sifu Bryan Talbot with his senior disciple Sifu Sung Choi.
Impacts Student & Community through Love

A sifu makes a significant contribution to his student’s lives.  Through his actions and examples, students will find strength, joy, and support.  He works tirelessly to impart positivity and love, in order to benefit his students, and through them, the community. 

Further, a sifu shapes his students to be the best that they can be, as Wing Chun practitioners and as pillars of strength and love within the community.  At times, he must provocate them into great Wing Chun martial artists and citizens, placing them through trials and challenges that foster growth.  

Empowers the Student to Improve

For example, he may challenge them in their physical training to improve their conditioning.  He may call upon them to serve their younger brothers or sisters within the school.  He could look for ways in which they can serve their kwoon or community. 

Sometimes, a sifu’s challenge will be to find the student a path through personal conflict. He will guide them just enough to keep them within the righteous path.  This allows the student to think on their own but concurrently have guardrails.

Wing Chun Kids clean up the beach.
West Coast Wing Chun Kids serve the community.
Demonstrates Loyalty & Support

When things are tough in a student’s life, he can find comfort and support from their sifu as he is steadfast in his loyalty. He will encourage the student through good times and bad and show him love nonetheless.  A sifu often has the heart of the father that loves no matter what the circumstance or situation and welcomes the student with open arms.

He becomes a defender, a rock to lean on so the student can be vulnerable without fear of what their sifu will think. Sifu will be patient to seek privacy, but will not be afraid to administer discipline.  But mostly, sifu is a net that one can find solace within.

To balance their training, Sifu seeks quality time with his students outside of the kwoon. Oftentimes, a sifu can be a friend to his students. It is common to find sifu and students eating dinner, sharing drinks, or conversing late into the night.

Yet, sifu will always mentor his students first, as he takes his responsibility to his students with great solemnity.

Leaving Behind a Better World

Sifu meaning, at the surface level, translates into teacher or master. Yet,  as we have explored the meaning more – we find that there is a  profound context behind it.  Not only is a sifu a master in Wing Chun / Martial Arts but is also a father figure.  Further,  he teaches students martial abilities, life lessons, and how to be a good citizen within the community.  

A true sifu of martial arts will impact his community and make the world a better place because he leaves his students better than how he found them

*Editor’s note: For ease of reading, we have opted for masculine reference.  A sifu can be male or female.   A student can be male or female.  Gender is irrelevant to the article. 

Sifu Kwok Sifu Talbot Sifu Choi
Sifus Kwok, Talbot and Choi at event in California
Sifu Kwok being playful with Sifu Choi.
Sifu Kwok & Sifu Choi enjoying a playful moment
Sifu Bryan and students in Palos Verdes, Ca USA
Sifu Bryan Talbot relaxing with students.

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