There are certain protocols which should be observed in Kung Fu whether in the school (gwoon) or upon meeting others. The first is how to address your instructor/ teacher/ fellow classmates.
Sijo Chan Heung.
The Founder of a system is usually referred to as the “Sijo” and is also known as the first Generation of that style or “Mun Pai”.
Sifu Lane Sifu Jeremy
“Sifu” is a term that is usually used to address the head of a school or teacher who has attained that rank. In bygone eras, especially in China, children were bought to a reputable and honourable “Sifu” not only to learn “Kung Fu” but also to be taught respect and good morals. In other words the Sifu was not only responsible for the persons physical well being but also his mental and character development. It was also up to the Sifu to teach the traditions and culture to his students to enable them to be good citizens and serve their communities and country. This is why the term, “Sifu”, is commonly referred to as a “fatherly figure”. This term in times gone by was only used by students or disciples who had participated in a “Bai Si” ceremony. In modern times it is used as a mark of respect to a teacher from another school or style. This term in modern context is also used in non martial arts circles to denote a person who has mastered a skill or craft. All students are often referred to as “To Dai”.
If your Sifu has a wife, she should be addressed as “Simu”, even if she does not practice martial arts. Your Sifu’s teacher should be addressed as “Sigung”. People who are the same generation as your Sifu e.g your Sifu’s kung fu brothers should be addressed as “Sisuk” or if he is older than your Sifu , “Sibak”. A person of the opposite gender from your Sifu’s generation should be addressed as “Sisum”, the equivalent of “Aunty”.
When you are in the Gwoon, older/senior kung fu brothers should be addressed as “Sihing”, older/senior kung fu sisters “Sijie”, younger classmates “Sidai” (males), younger kung fu sisters “Simoi”.
Note that these terms are using the Cantonese pronunciation!
Other formalities that should be observed upon meeting and greeting a person from an older generation is to shake hands with both hands. In times when you couldn’t discern who was friendly or foe, this was important as an unknown person who greeted you with one hand could easily have a concealed a knife hidden in his other hand behind his back. Also during the “Qing Dynasty” there were secret signs devised which would readily identify if one was friendly or otherwise. In Choy Lee Fut, the Founder Chan Heung, devised certain actions which immediately enabled fellow stylists “Hung Mourn” to be recognised even if you were from a different school. These “secret signs” were using sounds uttered orally when performing specific techniques. The aim of these secret signs would ensure that you were not in conflict with persons from the same “Mun Pai”(similar organisation). For example when executing a kick the sound “dek” was made, using a tiger claw, “wak”. Another sign when greeting a fellow martial artist was to use the left hand in form of a buddha palm and the right hand to from a panther fist. This sign was often used by the “Ming revolutionaries or resistance fighters” during the Qing Dynasty, as being a revolutionary was punishable by death, the most common of which was beheading.
Upon entering a school or Gwoon, one should always pay respect to the Founder and previous generations by bowing towards the altar, if there is one – usually there are photos of previous members from past generation instructors who are deceased. Or in some schools “sun pai” or spiritual tablets of the deceased are place on the altar.
Teachers /disciples of that school should pay respect by lighting incense, performing 3 bows at the altar and then placing the incense in the incense bowl. The incense should be placed vertically in one movement into the urn using one hand with the other hand placed on the wrist guiding the first hand. Never place incense one at a time into the urn. The incense should never be placed in the incense bowl or urn if it is extinguished, re-light the incense prior to performing the bows.
Prior to beginning a class, pay respect to the Founder, and then the teacher in charge of the class by saluting. This is especially relevant when you are late, await the teacher in charge of the class for permission before joining the class. If you are leaving the class always observe the above etiquette before removing oneself from “the floor”. This will also allow the teacher in charge to be aware of any potential problems that may arise after you leave the floor.
Traditionally, Kung Fu students are classified into three groups or circles. The outermost group of students are often referred to as “lay students”. These are often transient students who may come and go over a period of time. This group is commonly referred to as “Pu Tung Dai Ji”or “ordinary students”.
The second group/circle of followers are usually known as “Yup Mourn Dai Ji” This group of followers have a more serious attitude toward their training in wanting to learn more about the system and are usually invited to participate in the “Bai Si” ceremony. This group usually comprises most of the “family” members.
The third and innermost circle are usually comprised of loyal and faithful and dedicated long term disciples who promise to promote and continue on with the family traditions and teachings. These are commonly referred to as Inner Chamber Disciples or “Yup Sut Dai Ji”. Most of these disciples have been followers for more than 10 years and have access to the highest levels of training and knowledge about the system.
“Bai Sun” – paying Homage to the Ancestors
In most cultures whether ancient or modern , there is always a method or ritual dedicated to paying respect to the ancestors/spirts or “God(s)” In Christian societies this ritual may be in the form of the “token”consumption of the “biscuit” and the drinking of the “wine” at Church on Sunday.
This is especially important in the Chinese culture and the way this is done is by the placing incense as well as “offerings” of food and drink in the form of tea and “wine” at an altar. Many traditional Schools or Gwoons usually have a “Sun Toi” or “spiritual altar” located at the front of the school where an incense bowl/urn is placed. Also you may find placed above the “altar” pictures or photos of people who may have contributed to the “style” or school and have now “departed” from our world. Again in “older” schools if there are no photos or portraits of these people, you may find “spiritual tablets with the names of the person written upon them.
In traditional “Kung Fu” schools, apart from the ancestors altar, you will also find an altar dedicated to “Gwan Gung” or “Gwan Dai”, who is known in Chinese culture as being a “Hero” as well as an honourable and righteous person. Gwan Gung’s altar is always located in a position that is “higher” than all other altars as he is also recognised as being the patron “saint” in “Kung Fu” folklore.
Prior to the commencement of class, first one must pay respect to “Gwan Gung” and then pay respect to the “Sijo” or Founder of the style and previous ancestors. This is usually done by the “lighting” of incense sticks “kowtowing” or bowing three times at each altar and then placing the incense into the bowl or urn provided. The process I have described above. Offerings placed on the altar may consist of fruit usually apples, oranges placed on a plate.
On “special” occasions such as the Founders birthday, the altar may be decorated in a special way. This may consist of draping a red coloured table cloth over the altar and then placing the offerings upon the table. Offerings may be in the form of poultry, fish, pork and buns and even bowls of fruit. Also placed on the altar are three cups for tea and three cups for wine, three chopsticks and 2 large red wax coloured joss sticks.
Some altars may even have “olden type” Chinese coins placed upon the table to bring prosperity to both the “spirits” as well the living. It is also important that the bottle of wine and the teapot that used for the “offerings” is not placed on the altar.
It is also important in Chinese culture that if you are using poultry and fish as an offering, the chicken must be whole i.e. it must still retain its head, feet and be placed “belly “down with the head facing towards the ancestors. The fish must also be placed with the head facing the rear of the altar. If fruit is used as an offering it is important that there are no multiples of 4 as this is considered “bad luck” in Chinese culture. Another important “offering” is in the form of “symbolic money”. This is usually consists of brown and gold coloured paper.
Each school’s ceremony may differ according to regional and geographical influences. Formal ceremonies may even include members from the Chinese Masonic societies performing rituals and citing special incantations for that ceremony. For example when performing the “Hoi Kong”or awakening or blessing of a new lion, there are protocols in place which must be observed. A school must NEVER use a lion to demonstrate if it has not been officially “awakened or blessed” as this is considered bad luck. A lion must be infused with the energy and spirit of the school prior to its first outing in public. Even at a “hoi kong” ceremony, it is important that after the awakening of the lion, it must first pay homage top the altar of “Gwan Gung” before returning to pay homage to the Founder.
As far as the act of performing the actual movements of the Bai Sun, this may differ again according to the school or ceremony. On the occasion of the Founders birthday, it is not uncommon for the participant to bow down while “sitting” on their knees. As they “prostrate” themselves forward in performing the bows, the hands are placed down with the back of the hands on the floor and the open palms facing upwards toward the heavens. The significance of this act is to offer respect/recognition to the heaven and the earth.
Even the way the incense sticks are held have significance. For example when paying respect to the “spirits” at an altar, the “normal” way is to hold the incense vertically with 2 hands and bring them to the centre of your forehead before bowing.
In certain Kung Fu circles, i.e when performed by Inner Chamber disciples, the incense sticks are placed horizontally between the 2 thumbs and index fingers with the 2 palms held in what is commonly known as a “Buddha palm” position.