In Chinese culture, there are two meanings and us ages for the term “shīfù” (Mandarin) or “sifu” (Cantonese). Both terms are phonetically identical and share the same first character, shī (師) which means “skillful person” or “expert.” Experts of a skilled trade are commonly referred to as shīfù (師傅) as a sign of respect. Fù (傅) means “tutor” and therefore shīfù (師傅) can be translated to “teacher,” or even “master.” The term corresponds with túdì (徒弟) or “apprentice.” Both terms allude to the apprenticeship training involved to eventually become an expert in the trade.
Within the Chinese martial arts community, a teacher will occasionally accept a student as a disciple. The teacher is referred to as shīfù where fù is written with a different character (父), which means “father.” Shīfù (師父) means “master-father” while the student becomes a disciple, or dìzǐ (弟子). Dì (弟) means “younger brother” and zǐ (子) means “son.” The usage of shīfù and dìzǐ implies a deeper, familial relationship that connotes the martial lineage. Disciples will refer to each other as older and younger martial siblings, and in some schools, female teachers may also be called shīfù by their students.
It is rare for a teacher to accept a disciple so when it occurs, the act is taken seriously. Formal events in Chinese culture are filled with customs and protocols. They are comprised of many steps; each with their own meanings and implications. There may be numerous ways a discipleship ceremony or bàishī (拜師) can take place. Dr. Yang directs his to include three kneels and nine kowtows, a tea ceremony, an optional gift exchange, and finally the acceptance, where students are formally welcomed into the martial “family.”
The ceremony begins with three sets of kneels with three kowtows. Kneeling before another person is a sign of respect. To then lower and touch one’s forehead to the floor is a kowtow and symbolizes a deeper respect. The action is repeated three times because the number three is an auspicious number in Chinese culture.
The student will take three steps forward, kneel, and kowtow three times. This symbolizes their desire to be admitted as a disciple. They will then take three steps backwards, kneel, and kowtow three more times to demonstrate their humility. Afterwards, the student will advance three steps again, kneel, and kowtow a final three times. This demonstrates persistence and reiterates their wish to be accepted. They will then offer tea to the master to show their appreciation and admiration. In Chinese culture, offering tea is another sign of respect. Finally, if the master accepts the student, they will help them to their feet as a disciple.
On August 11, 2021 at the YMAA Retreat Center, Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming formally accepted Mr. Daniel Chadud of Santiago, Chile as his 20th disciple. Mr. Chadud began his internal arts training in 1998 and joined YMAA in 2004. Since then, he became the first Latin American to obtain YMAA Instructor rankings in Taijiquan and Qigong and began leading YMAA affiliated schools in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela as the regional director.
“My last two decades with Dr. Yang have been a privilege and a blessing. Not only did he openly share his knowledge and wisdom, but he also showed kindness and compassion through his friendship and sense of family as well.
He has been my teacher and my father at the same time; which is why this ceremony has substantial meaning for me. I am grateful for his trust in me and accept this discipleship with a commitment and responsibility to him and his legacy.
Thank you so much dear Shifu, for everything you have generously shared with the YMAA community. We will continue working hard to develop and spread the traditional Chinese martial and healing arts.”
Congratulations to Daniel and Dr. Yang!
You can view footage from Daniel’s discipleship ceremony here!