When I first started in Chinese Kung Fu, I didn’t really understand the titles used for the teachers. Like many people, I only knew the Japanese title Sensei (teacher). This is where the Chinese and the Japanese titles start and end in their commonality. In Chinese, the equivalent to Sensei is Laoshi (老
Here is a list of the titles, their characters, and translations per my research thus far: (simplified character sets represented here)
- Shifu (pin yin spelling)/Shrfu (Wade Giles spelling)/Sifu (Cantonese): Teacher (class) Father (师
父) also Master Teacher (师 傅). These words sound identical but can carry with them different nuances. Master Teacher is more commonly used outside of the martial context (at least this is my understanding)
- Shimu/Sumu/Simou: Teacher (class) Mother (师
母). While in dictionaries this is translated as “honorific title for teachers wife”, I have in a rare scenario seen it used by a female teacher in place of Shifu. Per my research, most female teachers use the Shifu title despite the male gender meaning. Possibly the Master Teacher variant.
- Shiye/Suye/Sije: Teacher (class) Grandfather (师爷). This is used in one of two ways, either as the teacher of your teacher, thus the same person might be called Shifu by you and Shiye by your student. Or, as the head of a system, where only that individual uses that title. Most commonly, it is in the former… again, per my research.
- Shigong/Sugong/Sigung: Teacher (class) Grandfather (师公). This is used the same way as Shiye, as gong is another word for grandfather (maternal vs ye as paternal). Per my research this is often translated into English as “Honorable Master” and is used as the head of the system more often than Shiye might get used for that title.
- Shilao/Sulao/Silou: Teacher (class) Grandmother (师姥). Most often used as the wife of a Shiye or Shigong. Lao is a maternal grandmother title in typical Chinese conversation.
- Shizhang/Suzhang/Sizoeng: Teacher (class) Husband (师丈). This is used for a husband of a female teacher.
- Shibo/Subo/Sibak: Teacher (class) Uncle (师伯). This title is used for a class uncle. In typical Chinese conversation, Bo is used for your fathers elder brother. Unsure if this carries over into the class context or if it is universal for all uncles.
- Shixiang/Suxiang/Sihing: Teacher (class) Older Brother (师兄). This title would be used for a class brother who is your “elder”.
- Shijie/Sujie/Size: Teacher (class) Older Sister (师姐). This title would used for a class sister who is your “elder”.
- Shimei/Sumei/Simui: Teacher (class) Younger Sister (师妹). This title is used for a class sister who is your “younger”.
- Shidi/Sudi/Sidei: Teacher (class) Younger Brother (师弟). This title is used for a class brother who is your “younger”.
Also “elder” or “younger” is generally used based on when the people started, not always based on rank or skill. However, these titles can be adapted in each school for individual purposes, and often are, so you should learn how they are used in your school’s context.