Since Shifu Jason’s recent level 11 grading, he has taken on the title Shi Gong which loosely translates to teacher’s teacher. Traditionally, the Shi Gong is the most senior elder and protector and lineage holder of the art. He is responsible for maintaining the purity of the art and the continued transmission from one lineage holder to another.
“Sifu” is a common romanization, although the term and pronunciation are also used in other southern languages. In Mandarin Chinese, it is spelled “shifu” in pinyin. Using non-rhotic British English pronunciation, in Mandarin it would sound something similar to “sure foo”. Many martial arts studios incorrectly pronounce this like “she foo”.
The term Shifu is a combination of the characters “teacher” and “father” (師父) or a combination of the characters “teacher” and “mentor” (師傅). The traditional Chinese martial arts school, or 館, (guǎn) is an extended family headed by the Shifu. The Shifu’s teacher is the “師公 honorable master” or Shi Gong. Similarly the Shifu’s wife is the Shimu “teacher mother” and the grandmaster’s wife is known as: 師姥 Shi Lao.
Confucianism influenced traditional northern Chinese martial arts lineages such as Shaolin, and seniority was decided by a generational system. Here teachers could have a number of students each qualified to teach and pass on the next generation. The most junior member of one generation was senior to the most senior member of the next. In this Confucian philosophy ‘Master’ and Grandmaster were not lofty titles or recognition of seemingly otherworldly abilities, but simply a relational term.