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Terminology
 

 

 

    As we've covered on the What is Wing Tsun page, unlike Mandarin, there is no standard Romanization for the transliteration of Cantonese characters into English. Translation can also be tricky at times, with certain words having multiple meanings or implications by context, not to mention Wing Tsun terminology is subject to a lot of century old Foshan slang and a half century old Hong Kong slang, so the word meanings implied might differ from standard or other sub-dialects of Cantonese, or even other Kung Fu styles... but the transliteration can sometimes be all over the place. One must have an idea of what they are looking at, and understand that something that is spelled different from one place to another doesn't necessarily mean it's something different, or that one is right and one is wrong.

Kung Fu, Gong Fu

Wing Tsun, Wing Chun, Ving Tsun

Taan Sao, Tan Sau (palm up, dispersing hand)

Kuen, Kune (fist/punch)

Siu Nim Tao, Siu Lim Tao, Sil Lim Tao (Little Idea, Small Thought; the 1st form)

Chum Kiu, Cham Kiu (Seeking/Sinking the Bridge; the 2nd form)

Biu Tze, Biu Gee, Bil Jee (Thrusting/Darting Fingers; the 3rd form)

Yip Maan, Ip Man, Yip Man (Name of the Grandmaster, Leung Ting and Bruce Lee's teacher)

Fook Sao, Fuk Sau (bridging/controlling/covering/subduing arm)

Baat Cham Dao, Bart Jam Do (Eight slash swords/knives)

Gwoh Sao, Gor Sau (Cross Hands)

    Discrepancies can always be settled with the Chinese characters, but in the grand scheme of things, the names are fairly unimportant. What is important is proper application of the techniques when one needs to defend themselves. However, serious practitioners will find life a lot simpler if they have a basic general understanding of some of the terminology. Below is a list of some of the basics that one must become familiar with. This is by far not an all inclusive list, but just a tip of the iceberg that you can refer to in your learning process, as most of these are things that you will come across quite often.

 

Sifu/Si-Fu - Master, teacher, father figure. Note that when one refers to their own Sifu, it's spelled Si-Fu. Even though the two words (Sifu/Si-Fu) are basically spelled the same in English and sound exactly the same when spoken, they are actually spelled differently in Cantonese. More on that later...

Dai Si-Fu - Your first Sifu. You will only address him as such after you have began training under another Sifu.

Dai Sifu - A very experienced/elder Sifu. This is not a title one gives themselves, rather used when there are multiple Sifu's gathered, referring to the Sifu in the room who has been teaching the longest. Sometimes mistakenly used by Westerners to refer to a "Sifu of Sifu's" or even Grandmaster, however Dai Sifu is something that someone calls you out of respect, not a title that you give yourself. This name was misconstrued by the EWTO. While they are free to use it how they wish in their organization, the meaning they attributed to the word is wrong by Cantonese standards.

Si-Hing - Big brother, senior male classmate

Si-Dai - Little brother, junior male classmate

Si-Je - Big sister, senior female classmate

Si-Mui - Little sister, junior female classmate

Si-Gung - Your Kung Fu grandfather, you Sifu's Sifu

Si-Tai-Gung - Your Si-Gung's Sifu. 

Si-Jo - 1. Your Si-Gung's Sifu, or 2. the founder of the system. Sometimes also used for Grandmaster of a particular lineage, or for an elder ancestor of your lineage/branch.

Si-Mo - Wife of your Si-Fu

Si-Bak- Elder uncle, you S-Fu's Sihing

Si-Suk - Junior uncle, your Si-Fu's Sidai

Si-Guma - Elder aunt, you Si-Fu's Sije

Si-Guje - Junior aunt, you Si-Fu's Simui

 

Siu Nim Tao - Little Idea, 1st form

Chum Kiu - Seeking/Sinking the Bridge/Arm, 2nd form

Biu Tze - Thrusting Fingers, 3rd form

 

Taan Sao - Palm up/dispersing hand

Bong Sao - Wing arm

Kao Sao - Circling arm

Fook Sao - Bridging/controlling/subduing/"to cover" arm

Maan Sao - Asking/seeking hand. There are 2 "hands" with this name in the system. Some lineages refer to the Maan Sao used in the guard position as Chong/Jong Sao - ready hand. 

Wu Sao - Protecting hand

Paak Sao - Slapping hand

Gaan Sao - Splitting/cultivating arm

Jut Sao - Sinking/Jerking/shocking arm

Jum Sao - Sinking arm

Gum Sao - Pinning hand

Laap Sao - Pulling hand

Huen Sao - Circling hand (external rotation)

Kwan Sao - 1. Rotating hand (internal rotation), 2. Rotating arms (Bong/Taan position)

Faak Sao - Whisking hand

Gwat Sao - Wiping arm

Laan Sao - bar arm

Biu Sao - Thrusting/darting hand (also: Biu Tze Sao - Thrusting fingers hand)

Tee Sao - Raising/lifting arm

Tok Sao - Lifting hand

Lao Sao - Scooping arm

Chaan Sao - Spade hand

Chuen Sao - Threading hand

Kiu Sao - Bridge hand

Po Pie Cheung - Double palm

Tut Sao - freeing arm

Poon Sao - Rolling arms

Chi Sao - Sticky hands, clinging arms

Lat Sao - Free hand (sometimes used to mean sparring from no contact)

Gwoh Sao - Cross hands (generally used to mean sparring)

Luk Sao - Slinging/rolling arms, rolling with forward pressure

Nuk Sao - Free hand sparring

Da - Strike

Taan Da - Simultanious Taan Sao and strike

Lin Wan Kuen - Reciprocating/Chain punches

Faan Kuen - Whipping punch

Maan Geng Sao - Neck pulling hand

Saat Geng Sao - Throat cutting hand

Chaan Sao - Spade hand

Kuen - Fist/punch

Sao - Hand/arm

Jarn - Elbow

Cheung - Palm

Gerk - Foot/leg/kick

Bo - Step

Ma - Stance

Taolu - forms

Fajing - the release of explosive short range power

Qigong - Cultivating/generating energy

Dantien - 3 points (head, solar plexus/heart, and lower abdomen) used for structure and power distribution

Wu Sin - Vertical centerline

Gee Sin - Horizontal line separating the high and mid gates at the solar plexus

 

Yi Gee Kim Yeung Ma - Character "2" goat clamping stance. Also referred to as "IRAS" - Internal Rotation Adduction Stance.

Bai Jong - Ready/guard pre-fighting position

Mook Yan Jong - Wooden Dummy

Luk Dim Boon Kwan - 6 and a half Point Pole

Baat Cham Dao - Eight slash swords

 

Understanding "Kung Fu" and "Wushu" - Kung Fu, as it has become the blanket term for Chinese martial arts in the last 70 years or so, actually means "supreme skill achieved over time through hard work and dedication", so it is not necessarily exclusive to martial arts. A painter or a chef can be said to have Kung Fu once they have mastered their craft. The term Wushu actually literally means martial arts. Under the rule of the Qing Dynasty, martial arts were outlawed and the term Wushu developed into what today is seen as a choreographed competition of forms (taolu), almost like a no contact sport-dance, similar to choreography you would see in a Kung Fu movie. A lot of times these word are synonymous, yet again, it is important to know the difference and the true meaning. Wing Tsun Kung Fu is technically Wushu by definition.

 

Soft or hard styles? Internal versus external?

These are terms that are often thrown around without fully understanding what they mean. Internal is often used as an esoteric term to mystify something for marketing purposes. Now let me explain to you what all of that means... 

Soft vs. Hard - What classifies a system or style as soft or hard is how it deals with incoming force, either yielding or opposing. It has absolutely nothing to do with how the system is used to attack. This is basically a standard that martial arts worldwide are categorized with. Soft styles yield to incoming force, absorbing, redirecting, deflecting, reciprocating. Hard styles meet force with force in the form of static blocks and tend to clash with brute force.

Internal vs. External - This is sometimes used synonymously with the soft or hard definitions, although this is not always correct. Soft styles tend to be more on the internal side, as they rely on proper structure and well executed techniques, whereas external styles tend to rely more on brute force and physical strength to overpower their opponents. Most martial arts contain elements of both internal and external in that sense.

Internal is also sometimes used to describe martial arts that put a lot of focus into mental and spiritual discipline and development, relaxation, and advanced breathing techniques, promoting the internal growth of one's self and a "mind over body" mastery. External can be used to describe styles that focus primarily on combat or sport application, and focus more on the physical aspect, conditioning the body and athleticism. Sometimes this version of the hard or soft label has more to do with the training method and application platform than the actual style itself.

Most complete systems, regardless of classification, have elements of both soft and hard, and internal and external, to some degree. Wing Tsun as a system is primarily an internal soft style, although it does include some aspects of hard/external.  

 

Family terms and their correct usage

The following write up comes from our Wing Tsun Academy brothers. You can view their original page here.

SIFU OR SI-FU? SIHING OR SI-HING? WHAT IS DAI SI-FU?


There's a profound misunderstanding in western Wing Tsun (a.k.a. Wing Chun, Wing Tjun and others) regarding the meaning of, how to write and how to use the different names and titles, such as Sifu, Si-Hing, Dai Si-Fu etc. The reason for this is maybe that details have been "lost in translation", the lack of interest to learn or maybe it's just poor knowledge and understanding of the traditions of Kung Fu, Chinese culture and/or the Cantonese language. I say Cantonese and not Mandarin because modern Wing Tsun has its origin in Hong Kong making Cantonese the "official" language of Wing Tsun. Why this is relevant is because Cantonese and Mandarin are two different dialects making the pronunciation of the words different. In Mandarin and Mainland China you also write some of the words differently because they have the simplified Chinese characters whereas in Hong Kong you only have the traditional characters. Example:

Cantonese – Wing Tsun 詠春 – Sifu 師傅 – Wu Sau 護手
Mandarin – Yong Chun 咏春 – Shifu 师傅 – Hu Shou 护手
Do you see the difference? With that said I want to point out that the text below will only deal with Cantonese pronunciations and the traditional Chinese characters. Please note that this is not only relevant to Wing Tsun but applies to all styles of Kung Fu.

The first thing to consider is this: When you dedicate yourself to a Chinese martial art and to a particular instructor, you become part of a "Kung Fu family". This idea about family is the basis for how all the different names are used and thought about.

So, to help make things more clear, here's some answers to common questions and confusions:

Sifu or Si-Fu?

There are two words for "Master" in Chinese: 師傅 and 師父. Although they're pronounced identically (sifu) and has a similar meaning, they're different. The first word (師傅) bears only the meaning of "master" and is used to express general respect for rank, experience and ability. The second word (師父) carries the double meaning of "master" and "father", and thus also refers to the family ties in a teacher-student relationship. If you write 師傅 in Latin letters it would spell Sifu and 師父 would spell Si-Fu. This is to make a clear distinction between the two words when not using Chinese characters.

Sifu is a title that can be used by anyone when addressing a person who is a master of Kung Fu, including to address yourself. Si-Fu is a "family word" and its use is relative depending on who is talking to who and what relationship / which family tie exist. Keep this in mind and it will be easy to apply the two terms correctly.

Some examples of how the two words are used:
Si-Fu is a relational word and is used only by a student to his master (or also as an "outsider" to describe a teacher-student relationship, such as "his Si-Fu is …"). Your own master, then, is Si-Fu. All other masters who are not your own are Sifu. A master refers to himself as Sifu. For a Sifu that is not yours but that are "related" to you (for instance a member of your school/organization), you must take into account the family ties. This person you don't say Sifu to, but will instead more properly be referred to as Si-Hing ("big brother", Si Baat ("uncle"), Si-Gung ("grand father") etc. However, it would never be considered "wrong" to call someone Sifu if that person is a Sifu.

A women who is a master is also called Sifu. And if she is your master you say Si-Fu to her (i.e. no distinction is done between male and female).

If you change your school/organization and get adopted as a student under another master this person will come to be your Si-Fu. BUT, please note that you will continue to call your former master Si-Fu as well. Everyone with a master title who has been your teacher is, and remains Si-Fu to you, no matter what (more on this below).

You are not automatically Sifu just because you are a teacher / instructor. You are granted this title. It’s a certificate on your skill and understanding of Wing Tsun – that you have achieved the level of "Master". It is something that is earned through many years of diligent training.

NOTE! It is better not to use the different titles than using them wrong. So if you are unsure of which title is correct, just call the person only by their name.

Sihing or Si-Hing?

Si-Hing is written 師兄 in Chinese and means "older kung fu brother" (or just "big brother") and refers to a senior male classmate. In this case senior means someone who started to train before you. NOTE! It's WHEN you started to train that decides (date and year), not level, skill or how long you’ve been training for. If someone is a higher level than you and has technically been training for a longer period of time because you took a break in you training, but you started to train BEFORE him, then you are his Si-Hing. Just remember this: your big brother is someone who is older than you. Whatever his level, skill or actual time trained, he is always your big brother if he started to train earlier than you did. The equivalent for a senior female classmate (i.e. "big sister") is Si-Jie 師姐. And the opposite of Si-Hing, i.e. "little brother" is Si-Dai 師弟. Little sister is Si-Mui 師妹.

Si-Hing is, just like Si-Fu, a "family word". You write Si-Fu to distinguish it from Sifu. You write Si-Hing to be consistent and show that the word is associated with Si-Fu. The rule when writing family words in Kung Fu with Latin letters is that you always use a hyphen (Si- ). So if you're gonna call someone your "big brother" you always say Si-Hing, never Sihing!

Since Si-Hing is a relational word it's used only by a junior student to his fellow senior classmate within the same "family". This means that a person who isn't "related" to you, you never call Si-Hing. You cannot either, technically speaking, call yourself Si-Hing. It is not a title. However, it is correct for an outsider to describe a big-brother-relationship such as "his Si-Hing is …".

BUT, again consider the family ties! A member of your school who started to train before you need not necessarily be your Si-Hing. This person may be your Si-Fu's Si-Hing and should therefore be referred to as Si-Baat ( "older uncle"), your Si-Fus Si-Dai and is to be referred to as Si-Suk ("younger uncle") or Si-Fu's Si-Fu and is to be referred to as Si-Gung ("grandfather"), and so on.

What is Dai Si-Fu?

Dai Si-Fu 大師父 is yet another word in Kung Fu associated with much misunderstanding. The traditional Chinese word "Dai" basically means "big" but have different meanings depending on the different words you combine it with.

Dai Si-Fu is often used incorrectly to mean "Grandmaster" or "my master's master". But it's not about the grade, rank or level. The term is used to refer to your first Si-Fu. That is, the master who was your first teacher and introduced you to Wing Tsun. If you change your Si-Fu, you will thus say Dai Si-Fu to your first master and Si-Fu to your new one. It doesn’t matter if your first Si-Fu is primary level and your second is 10th level. The person who first taught you is your Dai Si-Fu once you've changed and starts to train under a new master.

Dai Si-Fu is thus a relational word. It is not a title! You cannot call yourself Dai Si-Fu. The term is used by a student to his first master after he / she has changed and started training for another master. If you change your Si-Fu several times you will formally call your first master Dai Si-Fu, your second Yee Si-Fu and your third Sam Si-Fu. But this is really only relevant if all your previous Si-Fus simultaneously are in the same room together. In "everyday life" you don't usually say this, but instead just use Si-Fu to previous masters that have taught you.

There is another term spelled Dai Sifu which is written 大師傅 in Chinese. This term is not so common today among the Chinese. It was more common in older times when different styles of Kung Fu would have gatherings (or even parties) and many different Sifus would come together. At these meetings there could be an old and extra experienced Sifu that had been teaching Kung Fu for a long time. The other Sifus would call such a person a Dai Sifu (or Lo Sifu 老師傅) out of respect. The term Dai Sifu / Lo Sifu means "a very experienced Sifu". This term or title would usually be given to the Sifu in the room who’s been teaching the longest out of everyone present. Please note that you can't really call yourself Dai Sifu. The term is spoken to you by someone else as a sign of respect.

What does "family" mean in Kung Fu?

When using the terms "be related to" and "part of the same family" this refers to everyone with the same "ancestor", Si-Jo 師祖 within a certain style of Kung Fu (Wing Tsun/Wing Chun 詠春 is one style of Kung Fu, another is White Crane 白鶴, a third is Hung Gar 洪家, a fourth is Tai Chi 太極 etc).

Yip Man is the forefather of one branch of Wing Tsun (others who are "officially" considered to be forefathers/branches of Wing Tsun are for example Yiu Kai and Yuen Kai San). Everyone who has Yip Man as their Si-Jo is thus related to each other and belong to the same family. This means that the words described above technically transcends your school or organization. Therefore you would call a student at a completely different school who started training before you Si-Hing as well if he belongs to the same branch (Yip Man in the case of Wing Tsun Academy).

BUT, like we say above, it is always better NOT to use the different terms than using them wrong. In the old days, the various family ties were much easier to keep track of because the number of practitioners of a particular style were far fewer, and the practice of a style usually more limited to a relatively small geographic region. Today the situation is considerably more complex. There are millions of practitioners of Wing Tsun and thousands of Sifus in more than 60 different countries. As a result it can be very difficult to keep track of all the correct relations. The recommendation is therefore to firstly use the different family words for classmates and members of your own school/organization. For others, just call them by their name, or Sifu if they have a master title.

Also note the difference when talking about "branch" and "lineage". Yip Man is, as I write above, the ancestor for a branch of Wing Tsun. Four well-known and particularly outstanding students of Yip Man was, among others, Leung Sheung, Wong Shun Leung, William Cheung and Leung Ting. These eventually became Si-Fu in their own schools and it is here that we begin to talk about lineages. Today's generation of students in these lineages are part of the same family – the Yip Man branch of Wing Tsun.

Author: Peter Söderbaum
Source: Sifu Tam Yiu Ming

 

 

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