Unlike many other popular martial arts, Wing Chun is not a based on a military system. Most Wing Chun schools do not follow a military-styled hierarchy based on rank, but rather a family hierarchy based on relationship. While some Wing Chun schools use the belt or sash ranking popularized by the Japanese and Korean martial arts, others do not. Some schools will begin training sessions by having students line up by rank, and others bring students together in an all-inclusive circle. Regardless of modern class format, all Wing Chun schools place special emphasis on the style’s lineage, and adopt titles based on family relationships.
For example, an instructor is addressed using the Cantonese term Sifu, which has a deeper meaning than simply “teacher.” Sifu also implies a relationship much like “father,” and a Sifu is expected to care for their students much like a father cares for his children. Similarly, a student is expected to show respect and loyalty to their Sifu, similar to a child’s bond to a parent, and not just a simple business arrangement of a teacher who is being paid for lessons.
Students also refer to each other using family terms, such as Si Hing or “Older Brother” and Si Dei or “Younger Brother.” Older and younger do not represent age in this case, but rather the length of time studying Wing Chun. For example, a 25-year-old student may still be Si Hing or Older Brother to a 40-year-old student who has just started training. A few Wing Chun titles that you may hear within a school are listed below:
Sifu: Instructor of School
Si Mo: Sifu’s wife, Kung Fu mother
Si Hing: Older kung fu brother
Si Dei: Younger kung fu brother
Si Je: Older kung fu sister
Si Mui: Younger kung fu sister
Si Gung: Sifu’s Instructor
Si Bak: Elder king fu brother of Sifu
The family relationship is also emphasized in the Kung Fu lineage. Similar to a family tree, a Kung Fu lineage traces a “line of transmission” from generation to generation. A traditional Wing Chun system will provide a lineage that traces the history from the current instructor all the way back to Wing Chun’s legendary founder, Yim Wing Chun. The Wing Chun Concepts course is based on the very popular Ip Man lineage as taught by his students and grand-students who came to the United States.
Note that even within the Ip Man family of Wing Chun, there are significant differences in the forms, drills, curriculum and progression. In part, this is because Ip Man continued to evolve and optimize his Wing Chun, so students at different times in Ip Man’s life may have learned things differently. Ip Man also encouraged students to make Wing Chun their own, and these students often modified techniques and training elements to best express their own vision and understanding. Today we have a general consensus on the core features of Wing Chun, however, individual schools will still vary in terms of both content and curriculum. The course work presented here is intended to represent a common ground approach to Wing Chun, but note that you will likely see differences as you visit different Wing Chun schools.
NEXT: About Sifu Jiu Wan
Sifu Jiu Wan was more than Ip Man’s student; he was Ip Man’s Kung Fu Brother. In the next section we’ll meet Sifu Jiu Wan and learn about his Wing Chun training.