In QiGong, Internal Martial Arts and Medicine, I have called 3 people “Sifu”.
The word is very meaningful, and has more to do with love and respect than simply lineage and rank.
“SIFU” or “SHIFU” technically means “elder teacher” or “father-teacher”. It implies a mutual relationship, like an Uncle to his Nephew.
In 2016, there are TONS of people who insist on being called “SIFU”. However, only a handful of people can have this kind of relationship with you.
“Laoshr” or “Laoxi”, which means “Good Teacher” describes the relationship you have with your instructor in most cases. Your Laoshr is a good instructor, but he or she doesn’t become your “SIFU” until a mutual bond is established, and you take more interest than simply attaining wisdom and information from your teacher.
When my son was born, I began to understand better what this kind of commitment is really about. It’s EASY to impress the people you know MORE than with complicated words, and colorful metaphors. It’s MUCH harder to be consistent, and ready to help when your “sons” call on you for their needs.
Being “SIFU” is a responsibility beyond writing books, teaching classes and grading tests. Its a determination on some level to impart YOUR GENUINE EXPERIENCE in someone who is open and appreciative of your KungFu (time and effort).
I have informally taken on some students as their “SIFU”. Sometimes, I misjudge them. If my level of commitment to them is equal to theirs, we will always come to an understanding. If I misjudge them, and assume their KungFu (time and effort) is genuine, when it is NOT, we will always end up misunderstanding each other.
Being “SIFU” is about patience, compassion (corrective action), and consistency.
It’s no lightweight thing!
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