Traditions and Customs
Every martial arts school has traditions and customs or certain practices associated with it. The practices discussed herein are those of Sheng Hun Kung Fu but may seem similar to you own kung fu or martial art.
In the old days a martial artist could be simply a simple peasant or he could be a priest or family elder bound to, or part of a clan, temple, village or other association. Many times martial arts were built around the family hierarchical system. Titles within the system were based on family roles such as grandfather, father, mother, uncle, aunt, etc. Thus we have Shi Gong, Da Shi Fu, Shi Fu, Shi Xiong, Shi Jie and so on. In Cantonese you would have Si Gung, Tai Si Fu, Si Fu, Si Hing and Si Jie, etc. These titles and terminologies will differ, often considerably, between different schools and organizations of kung fu.
Shi Gong is the most senior elder and protector and lineage holder of the art. He is responsible for maintaining the purity of the art and the continued transmission from one lineage holder to another.
Da Shi Fu is a term most commonly used amongst Shi Fu’s to denote the most senior and most learned of all other Shi Fu’s. A Da Shi Fu would be next in line to assume the position of Shi Gong and is considered the chosen lineage holder of the art.
A Shun Shi Fu is a Shi Fu who has mastered the physical aspects of the family system and is ready to take the place of the Da Shi Fu should the Shi Gong pass away. In this way succession is always clearly defined.
The term Shi Fu is most commonly used to refer to a teacher of martial arts. This term has two meanings, written differently but pronounced the same way
The first Shi Fu literally means an instructing teacher. This term is also a complimentary term used for a Buddhist priest; however, it is used in recognition of a physical, as opposed to literary accomplishment. This term therefore could also be used for a chef, painter, tailor, etc. Shi Fu is primarily a common name for a Kung Fu practitioner or teacher.
The second meaning of Shi Fu is written as a compound of two characters or words, Shi meaning to initiate, teach and Fu meaning father. This term Shi Fu was closely connected with ancestor-veneration and the Chinese family lineage system. Although pronounced exactly the same, the first term is different in written form and its usage is far more personal.
What it means to be a Shi Fu
A Shi Fu is an individual trained as a martial artist to carry on a traditions and methods of a given school, system or style of the martial arts. He may not necessarily be related by blood to the school, system, style or teachers but has achieved a certain mastery of the martial arts. If so decided by the Shi Gong he would carry on the teaching of that style or school and could someday be the inheritor of the lineage. As a Shi Fu, he may earn the right to an important ceremony, called Bai Shi or "being made a disciple". In Chinese martial arts Bai Shi is a ceremony by which Shi Gong allows a student to "Enter the Door" and become a disciple.
A student by undergoing Bai Shi has made a commitment to the school, to the founder, to his kung fu brothers and sisters as well as to his teacher. The teacher recognizes this commitment and in turn pledges to give the student the full transmission of the art. Some schools would refer to this person as Men Ren, or literally, "door person".
Ceremonies of this type are seen throughout Chinese secret societies and Buddhist and Taoist religious orders. In all of these initiations the ceremony was only the first step in a long process of transmitting the inner teachings. The process was designed to produce a band of brothers or sisters who would be dedicated to the continuance and preservation of the art.
During the ceremony most of the elders of the school would be present and the Shi Gong would sit on a chair to the right of the school memorial (Sun Toi). This position represents Wen, or civil position, which allows him to be a teacher and have students. The elder shifus of that school would sit to the left of the memorial in order of their seniority. This is the traditional position of the Wu, or military.
The novice would then be led before the memorial and would kneel before the Shi Gong. He would announce his name and where he was from. Then he requests to become an apprentice of the Shi Gong. The assembly would then be asked if anyone knew of any wrong doing of the novice. If there were no objections from anyone, there would then be a speech on proper conduct and martial spirit, or Wu De. After this was done gifts were presented to Shi Gong in gratitude. The novice would also serve Shi Gong a cup of tea as a symbol of his discipleship.
Shi Gong would then give the student a set of new clothes. The student would once more kneel and bow and then rise to his feet. The attending students would then help him dress in his new clothes. After the student was completely dressed, he would stand silent and then offer incense to the memorial. This would signify that the novice was accepted as an apprentice and thus become a member of that school. The disciple would then serve tea to his kung fu family.
In today’s world of careers and families it is not possible to recreate the lifestyle of our kung fu ancestors. We preserve this ceremony in a manner more fitting our modern society. A student who passes the requirements and final tests and becomes a Shi Fu receives a gift of clothing (shi fu’s uniform top) representing his time in the art and takes part in the kung fu tea ceremony. The kung fu tea ceremony is a way of acknowledging and rewarding your accomplishment and hard work. It encourages fellowship and connects us to the old customs.