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. Of the popular English transliterations, there are two different major forms of Romanization, from Hong Kong and Macau. Translation can also be tricky at times, with certain words having multiple meanings or implications by context and tone, not to mention Wing Tsun terminology is subject to a lot of Kung Fu specific terms, 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. Also, as the different lineages and branched evolved into their own interpretation of the system, they also developed their own proprietary terminology, translations, and transliterations. And even then, you have to factor in the minor discrepancies that you run across between British English and American English. 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. As I've often said, two of the main problems that practitioners from different lineages argue about are: one thing with 10 names than no one can agree on, and 10 things with the same name that no one can agree on. And let's not forget about words with multiple meanings, and words that are spelled differently but pronounced exactly the same (think: two, to, too / four, for, fore / there, they're, their). Cantonese is a tonal language, with 6 to 9 phonetic tones, and those tones are absent in the Romanization and when spoken English.
As I explained on the Lineage page, Bruce Lee was basically responsible for the first English Romanization of "Wing Chun", and also the term "Kung Fu" (Gung Fu/Gong Fu) being used as a blanket term to describe Chinese martial arts (Wushu). When Yip Man Romanized the name of the system into English, he chose to spell it "Ving Tsun" instead of "Wing Chun" purposely, because at the time of British occupation in Hong Kong, "WC" was the abbreviation for "water closet", which basically meant a toilet, and he didn't want his style associated with that or all of the negative implications that came along with it, i.e. having it mocked as "Tiolet Fist" by the British oppressors. When Leung Ting began teaching, he changed the English spelling of his school from Ving Tsun to Wing Tsun (the Cantonese characters remain the same) to separate himself from all of the other schools that were springing up from Yip Man's other students, and kept with Yip Man's non-WC ideology of the spelling of the name. Also, as there is phonetically no "V" sound in Cantonese, the "TS" in Tsun represents a harder/sharper sound than "CH", making "Wing Tsun" the most phonetically correct English spelling for proper pronunciation. However, regardless of the spelling, Wing Tsun, Wing Chun, and Ving Tsun are actually all the exact same word (詠春) in Cantonese, with the exact same pronunciation. Only the English transliteration differs.
Kung Fu, Gong Fu
Wing Tsun, Wing Chun, Ving Tsun
Taan Sao, Tan Sau, Taun Sau (Palm Up/Dispersing Hand)
Kuen, Kune (fist/punch)
Gaan Sao, Gan Sao, Gaun Sau, Garn Sau, Gang Sau (Splitting Hand)
Siu Nim Tao, Siu Lim Tao, Sil Lim Tao (Little Idea, Small Thought; the 1st form)
Chum Kiu, Cham Kiu, Chum Kil, Cham Kew (Seeking/Sinking the Bridge; the 2nd form)
Biu Tze, Biu Gee, Bil Jee, Biu Ji (Thrusting/Darting Fingers; the 3rd form)
Yip Man, Ip Man, Yip Maan, Yeep Mon (Name of the Grandmaster, Leung Ting and Bruce Lee's teacher)
Fook Sao, Fuk Sau (Bridging/Controlling/Covering/Subduing Arm)
Taan Da, Tan Dar (Simultaneous Taan Sao and strike)
Faak Sao, Faat Sao, Fak Sau, Fark Sau (Whisking Arm)
Baat Cham Dao, Bart Jam Do (Eight Slash Swords/Knives)
Kuo Sao, Gwoh Sao, Gor Sau (Cross Hands, Testing 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. While much of this is universal among the lineages, a chunk of this might be specific to the WT lineage. I have picked the brains of a lot of practitioners high up the food chain, including a handful of native Cantonese speaking practitioners from Hong Kong to come up with the most accurate terminology and translations, as well as all of the writings of Leung Ting himself. I've worked with the Cantonese speaking practitioners to come up with what I felt was the best possible Romanization for the transliteration into modern American English. Cantonese is a tonal language, and that tone is all but lost when spoken by an English speaker reading a transliteration. Saying a word in the wrong tone makes it a completely different word with a different meaning, and turns your sentence to gibberish. I also did my best to weed out mistranslations, incorrect transliterations, or erroneous words that were introduced by the EWTO or other lineages/organizations from around the world, as well as correlate different words with the same meaning. Also noteworthy, there are no sounds in the Cantonese language that coincide with the English letters "R" and "V". As well, there are also sounds in the Cantonese language that do not directly transliterate into English spelling. Please note that I do not speak Cantonese, so there are bound to be some errors here... This list isn't perfect, but you'll get the idea.
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, one is a generic term for someone of great skill and experience, a master of their craft or a teacher (sifu - 師傅), while the other (Si-Fu - 師父) is a familial term that carries the double meaning of "master" and "father", and 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 by others 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 and does not reflect the Hong Kong side of Wing Tsun.
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 Si-Fu'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 used for Grandmaster/lineage head of a particular lineage, or for an elder ancestor of your lineage/branch. In some dialects, Si-Jo would mean Kung Fu elder, and Jo-Si would mean eldest/founder.
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
Tung Moon - Fellow student, practitioner of the same style
To-Dai - Student/Disciple
To-Suen - Grandstudent
Kwoon - School, training hall, gymnasium
Siu Nim Tao - Little Idea, 1st form
Chum Kiu - Seeking the Bridge, 2nd form
Biu Tze - Thrusting Fingers, 3rd form
Mook Yan Jong - Wooden Dummy
Luk Dim Boon Kwan - 6 and a Half Point Pole
Baat Cham Dao - Eight Slash Swords/Knives
Maan Sao - Asking/Seeking Hand. There are multiple "hands" with this name in the system. Some lineages refer to the Maan Sao used in the Bai Jong guard position as Chong/Jong Sao - Ready Hand.
Wu Sao - Protecting/Guarding Hand
Taan Sao - Palm up/dispersing Hand
Bong Sao - Wing Arm
Fook Sao - Bridge On/Controlling/Subduing/"to cover" Arm. Taming Arm. Note: Fook, like Maan, is more of a concept and a function than a position, and there are multiple variations of this technique within the system.
Paak Sao - Slapping Hand
Gaan Sao - Splitting/Cultivating Arm
Jut Sao - Shocking/Jerking Arm
Jum Sao - Sinking Arm
Gum Sao - Pressing/Pinning Hand
Laap Sao - Pulling/Seizing Hand
Huen Sao - Circling Hand (external rotation). "Hyun Sao"
Kwan Sao - 1. Rotating Hand (internal rotation), 2. Rotating Arms (the rotation to the Bong/Taan position; this (Bong/Taan) position is often mislabeled as Kwan Sao, but the name is actually describing the action taken to get to this position. The Bong/Taan position without the internal rotation of the arms is not a Kwan Sao.)
Faak Sao - (Faat Sao) Whisking Hand
Gwat Sao - Wiping Arm
Laan Sao - Bar Arm
Kao Sao - Circling Arm
Tai Sao - (Tee/Tie Sao) Raising/Lifting Arm
Tok Sao - Lifting Hand
Lao Sao - Scooping Arm
Dai Cheung - Low Palm
Ong Cheung - Reverse Palm
Tut Sao - Freeing/Releasing Hand
Chuen Sao - Threading Hand
Jin Ma - Square/Battle Stance
Seung Ma/Bo - Advancing Stance/Step
Taan Gerk - Dispersing Leg/Kick
Bong Gerk - Wing Leg/Kick
Maan Gerk - Seeking Leg/Kick
Biu Gerk - Thrusting Kick
Kiu Sao - Bridge hand
Juen Ma - Turning/Shifting Stance
Biu Ma - Thrusting Stance
Jor Ma - Left Stance
Yau Ma - Right Stance
Kow Bak - Linking Shoulder
Juen Bok - Turning/Shifting Shoulder
Jark Sun Ma - Sideling Stance (Juk Sun Ma)
Dui Kok Ma - Diagonal Stance
Chuen Kiu - Threading Bridge Arm(s), or Piercing Arms
Shang Da Ngan Sao - Double Eye Thrusting Hands
Ching Sun Maan Sao - Forward Seeking Arm
Noi Moon Fook Sao - Inside Gate Subduing Arm
Ching Sun Fook Sao - Frontal Subduing Arm
Dai Bong Sao - Low Wing Arm
Noi Bong Sao - Inside Wing Arm
Ko Taan Sao - High Palm Up/Dispersing Arm
Kom Sao - Grappling Hand
Jip Sao - Receiving/Catching Arm
Jao Sao - Running Hands
Wun Sao - Changing Hands
Cheong Kiu - Long Bridge
Kwan Fa Sao - Winding Flowers Hands
Wang Chang Gerk - (Wang Taang Guek) Side Thrusting Kick
Ching Sun Gerk - Forward Straight/Thrusting Kick
Che Chang Gerk - Slanted Thrusting Kick
Biu Sao - Thrusting/darting hand (also: Biu Tze Sao - Thrusting fingers hand)
Saam By Tze - Triple Swinging Fingers. Also, Saam Yiu Sao - Triple Wagging Hand
Saat Geng Sao - Throat cutting hand (Shat Geng Sao)
Chaan Sao - (Chang Sao) Spade hand
Kup Jarn - Over the top elbow. Opposite of Yik Kup Jarn - Reverse
Kwai Jarn - Diagonal Kneeling Elbow. Opposite of Yik Kwai Jarn - Reverse
Pai Jarn - Hacking Elbow. Opposite of Yik Pai Jarn - Reverse
Hau Jarn - Backward Elbow
Ding Jarn - Ramming/Butting Elbow. Also, Jark Sun Ding Jarn - Sideward Butting Elbow, and Hau Ding Jarn - Backward Butting Elbow
Jik Jarn - Vertical Elbow (12-6)
Chau Chong Jarn - Upward Elbow
Sheung Har Gaan Sao - High/Low Gaan Sao. Also, Gow Chin Gaan Sao - Scissor Gaan Sao
Jark Sun Maan Sao - Sideward Seeking Arm. Also, Dong Sao - Swinging Arm
Huen Got Sao - Circle Cutting Hand
Huen Fook Sao - Big Circle Subduing Arm
Bok Da - Shoulder Strike
Dai Wan Wui Sao - Extensive Winding Arms. Also, Dai Chi Lun Sao - Big Wheeling Arms
Huen Bo - Circle Step
Kao Bo - Plucking Step
Maang Geng Sao - Neck pulling hand
Po Pie Cheung - Double palm
Dai Cheung - Low Palm
Chai Sut Gerk - Low/Downward Stamping Kick
Jeet Gerk - Intercepting Kick
Sup Gee Gerk - Crossing Kick, Shuttle-Cock Kick. (Rear leg stop-kick)
Lin Wan Gerk - Chain Kicks
Mui Fa Jong Bo - Plum Blossom Dummy/Pattern Steps
Bik Bo - Breaching/Inserting Step
Poon Sao - Rolling/Winding arms
Chi Sao - Sticky hands, clinging arms
Chi Gerk - Sticky Legs
Lat Sao - (Lut Sao) Free hand, sometimes used to mean freestyle sparring from no contact.
Kuo Sao - Cross hands, testing hands (generally used to mean controlled sparring). Also Romanized as Gwoh Sao, Gor Sao, Gwo Sao.
Nuk Sao - Free hand sparring/fighting practice, like Lat Sao.
Luk Sao - Slinging/rolling arms, rolling with forward pressure. Interchangeable (same meaning) with Poon Sao.
Lin Wan Kuen - Reciprocating/Chain punches
Faan Kuen - (Fung Kuen) Whipping punch
Feng An Kuen - Phoenix Eye Fist
Lui Kuen - Thunder Punch
Chung Kuen - Thrusting Punch
Sheung Kuen - Double Punch
Tung Tsui - Stabbing Punch
Chau Chong Kuen - Upward/Lifting Punch (uppercut)
Au Chong Kuen - Hook Punch
Jeet Kuen - Intercepting Fist
Keong Tze Kuen - Ginger Fist
Da - Strike Example: Taan Da - Simultaneous Taan Sao and strike, compound movement of both arms.
Kuen - Fist/punch
Choi - (Chui/Tsui) Punch. Interchangeable with Kuen.
Sao - Hand/arm
Jarn/Jaang - Elbow
Cheung - Palm
Gerk - (Gurk, Guek) Foot/leg/kick
Bo - Step
Ma - Stance, Horse
Taolu - Form, Set
Tao Kuen - Boxing/fighting form (To Kuen)
Jong/Chong - Post/Stake (Dummy), Posture (Position), Pattern
Fat - Techniques
Ma Bo - Footwork (Stance Step)
Noi Moon - Inside Gate/Area
Oi Moon - Outside Gate/Area
Chin - Front
Hau - Back
Jor - Left
Dai - Low
Ko - High
Dan - Single
Shang - Double
Noi - Inside
Oi - Outside
Juen - Turn
Seung - Advance
Boon - Half
Gow Cha - Crossed (Gow Cha Taan Sao; crossed double Taan Sao)
Tong - Hall
Pai - System, clan
Fajin(g) - the release of explosive short range power, going forward, generated through proper structure and relaxation.
Qigong - Cultivating/generating energy, specifically through relaxation, meditation, advanced breathing techniques, and proper body structure.
Dantien - 3 points (head, solar plexus/heart, and lower abdomen) used for structure and power distribution
Yau Lik - Elastic/Rebounding Force
Shi Lik - Give Up Force
Se Lik - Unloading Force
Je Lik - Borrow Force
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
Saam Pai Fut - "Praying Thrice to Buddha" section of Siu Nim Tao, often practiced to develop internal skill and breathing.
San Sik - Separate Form/Drill
Dit Da Jow - Fall & Strike Liniment
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 as a gimmick 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 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?
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