Shifu (simplified Chinese: 师傅 or 师父; traditional Chinese: 師傅 or 師父; pinyin: shīfu), or sifu in Cantonese is a title for and role of a skillful person or a master. The character 師/师 means “skilled person” or “teacher”, while the meaning of 傅 is “tutor” and the meaning of 父 is “father”. 傅 and 父 are both pronounced “fu” with the same tones in Cantonese and Mandarin.
A Sifu is not only your teacher, but also your father – you respect your Sifu as you would respect your father. Sifu is often translated as “master” – of their craft. In my opinion, it would be a very rare for a Sifu in martial arts to claim to have mastered their art. Take Wing Chun Kung Fu for example: I have been training since 1999 in this art, teaching since 2005 – and in no way am I a master of this art. My own teacher Sifu Dana Wong started his Wing Chun journey back when he was a teenager, and would also humbly never claim to be a master of Wing Chun – because you never stop learning.
To master something is to “learn it completely”. I’ll try to explain it in a different way; a student can learn the different movement, forms, patterns, self defense techniques, weapons etc, however this doesn’t take into account all the variations that are possible. For example, the Wing Chun form, Sil Lim Tao; the first form learned as a student, and the most important. How many Wing Chun practitioners have done this form thousands of times to – after years – find something new in it. Another application. How many students have shown their teachers another application? How many have done the Sil Lim Tao with butterfly swords instead? Or used it as breathing practice, or taken 30 mintues to do the form once….
To say one has mastered Wing Chun could be seen arrogant – however – that’s not what I believe the title Sifu means in this scenario. In my opinion, being confident in your ability to pass on the art in an organised and practical way, being able to work with the variables of student’s skill levels, learning styles and speeds, physical challenges – all while keeping the student’s attention in a way that has them want to come back… this by itself is an art.
Anyone who can run classes long term, teach, see progression, have students come back, while continuously being curious about their own training, has my respect. To me, I call you Sifu.