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The Traditional Martial Art Teacher

Since most of my students call me Sifu, I am often asked;

What is a Sifu?

So many times have I been asked this question that I have a well prepared answer. (The following quote is from my website.)

“The word Sifu is written with the Chinese characters 師傅 and  師父. The character 師 means “teacher”, while the meaning of 傅 is “tutor” and the meaning of  父 is “father”. Sifu is a role model; his words and actions represent not only himself and his school, they represent his teacher, and his teacher’s teacher. He is not overbearing or feared by any man nor does he fear any man. His training and understanding brings a peace of mind which can be felt when you are in his presence. In the west most will think that they pay their Sifu for Kung Fu lessons with money and tribute; it is an investment. But the true investment is made by the Sifu in his student.”

But is that it? Are all martial art teachers considered a Sifu?

The criteria for being a martial art teacher is always changing. Generally speaking, a martial art teacher should be an expert of a specific style or method of boxing (unarmed combat), skilled in the use of a wide variety of modern and traditional weapons (specializing in at least one), and he should have (at least) general knowledge of healing, herbal medicine, and philosophy. With these skills and qualities, one could be described as a Sifu (in China), Sensei (in Japan), or Guru (in India).

The second most frequently asked question is;

What is the difference between traditional and modern martial art teachers?

The main difference between traditional martial art teachers and modern martial art teachers should not be measured in movement or combat efficiency. The main difference is that with traditional martial art teachers a large emphasis is placed on the development of character, humbleness, and non-aggressive behavior. Most modern martial art teachers only concentrate on the physical and many teach overly aggressive tactics that very often lead to legal problems for their students who “go too far” in a fight.

If we are to look at martial art schools from a personal development perspective, with self-defense ability as a side benefit, we can draw some basic conclusions concerning the differences. In most modern martial art schools students are taught to take a violent, aggressive approach to personal combat with little or no consideration of how that mindset will transfer into their normal daily lives. I will not get into any personal opinions of the type of character this develops. In contrast, traditional martial arts students are taught to remain calm in combat and to minimize any overly aggressive behavior.

In my core art of Wing Chun Kung Fu many teachers can be accused of teaching their students to be overly aggressive in close combat. They do not understand the deeper meaning behind Wing Chun’s Centerline Concept.

The Centerline Concept is based an imaginary line that runs straight down the center of the body. The theory of protecting one’s own centerline and attacking the opponent’s centerline is the core of most of Wing Chun’s fighting strategy — but it goes further than that. The Centerline Concept also represents the state of mind in which a Wing Chun man seeks to be undisturbed mentally and remaining focused (centered) during a fight, while at the same time forcing his opponent to lose control mentally and become “un-centered.” When the Kung Fu student learns this it will transfer into his everyday life. The results are obvious.

If your teacher or school falls into the category of only teaching fighting, it does not mean that they are bad teachers (or school.) What it means is that there is only a limited knowledge that can be transmitted through this method of teaching. And in the traditional sense these teachers cannot be called a Sifu, Sensei, or Guru. Furthermore as the student grows older the knowledge and skills attained through this method of teaching will eventually dwindle with age. Some will say that MMA and hybrid unarmed combat systems are the new era in martial arts. But I disagree. In this ever changing world, I believe the ways of wisdom, honor, and tradition will always prevail.

~ Taganashi

© Copyright Sifu Todd Taganashi 2017