Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

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Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby chud on Tue Sep 01, 2009 8:04 pm

Which is correct when addressing a teacher: Laoshr or Sifu? Or are they both just different ways to say the same thing?
Sorry if this seems like a stupid question, but I had a little debate with someone over this today. Thanks.
Last edited by chud on Tue Sep 01, 2009 8:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby Andy_S on Tue Sep 01, 2009 8:38 pm

In CMA, my understanding is the laoshi is more commonly used in the North, sifu in the South. Laoshi is trickier to pronounce, though: More like lao-tze, compared to sheer-fu. (Chinese speakers feel free to correct this)

If the kungfu movie industry had been based in Beijing, not Hong Kong, for the last 50 years, the world would be familiar with the term laoshi.
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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby taiwandeutscher on Tue Sep 01, 2009 8:41 pm

Shifu is older, more traditional, meaning you have gone through an official acceptance ceremony with your teacher, became an indoor student, respecting your teacher like a father and accepting stricter rules and more responsibility.

Laoshi is anyone who teaches you anything.

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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby edededed on Tue Sep 01, 2009 8:45 pm

Laoshi ("Lao-shr"... southerners say "Lao-ss") = teacher (general title)
Shifu ("Shr-foo") = master (assuming a relationship created by the baishi ceremony); however, in the south, some people also use this as a general title "master" for taxi drivers, etc. (so you can call a bus driver "sifu" if you are in the right place)
Sifu ("Ss-fu"... sounds like "See-foo" in HK) = southern pronounciation of Shifu :D

Big difference between words - Shifu signifies a specific, special relationship, while Laoshi is a general term that can be used for any teacher.
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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby Chris McKinley on Tue Sep 01, 2009 8:48 pm

How about, "Hey Chucklehead....get your ass over here and teach me something! I'm not paying you for ambience!"
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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby chud on Tue Sep 01, 2009 9:14 pm

Chris McKinley wrote:How about, "Hey Chucklehead....get your ass over here and teach me something! I'm not paying you for ambience!"


Well, to his credit, my teacher doesn't care about any of this. He's a very humble guy and is fine with me calling him by his first name, or just saying "teacher".
But I had a debate with one of his senior students about this today, so that's why I'm asking.
When I told her that Sifu was the proper term since our teacher is a lineage disciple, she got annoyed with me and said, "well if you want to say teacher in chinese, it's Laoshr". I was going to tell her that there's no such thing as "saying it in CHINESE", it's either Mandarin, Cantonese, or whatever...but I didn't want to make a big deal of it in front of the rest of the class and our teacher (she is senior to me).
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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby edededed on Tue Sep 01, 2009 9:22 pm

Actually, it doesn't matter if he is a lineage disciple or not - "sifu" is used if YOU are a lineage disciple of his (who may be a lineage disciple of something or who may have created his style or whatever, it doesn't matter).

If you were a lineage disciple of your teacher, you could call him "sifu" - but I am not a lineage disciple of his, so I could not (I might call him "laoshi" instead).

It's very similar to your calling your dad, "dad," but most people calling him "mister" or "sir" or whatever instead.
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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby bailewen on Tue Sep 01, 2009 9:40 pm

While there's some merit to most of the opinions mentioned, when it gets right down to it it is 100% just the teacher's preference.

A couple notes on what has been said:

While there is a more traditional connotation for Shifu as compared to Laoshi, it's really got very little to do with discipleship or whatnot. Maybe in feudal China but not nowadays. It's extremely common in the south, I would hazard to say even standard to call any kung fu teacher "Sifu" regardless of the formality of the relationship. That is why most teachers in San Francisco expect to be addressed as "Sifu" even if you are just a regular student.

My own Shifu seems to make a fairly subjective judgement call on what's appropriate. Anyone who is a student of his calls him Shifu regardless of discipleship status but for non- students, it seems to just depend on how formal they like to be with their language. Laoshi is more of a modern convention for kung fu.

I'd also say that there abolutely is such a thing as Chinese. It's Mandarin. In China, nobody has generally ever heard the term Mandarin because it's redundant with "Chinese". So called "Mandarin" Chinese is the official language of China and all the other's are local dialects. It is mandated by Chinese law and spoken by all college or even high school educated Chinese. Cantonese, in contrast, is only spoken by maybe 2 or 3 percent of Chinese people in the world.

Lastly,
Laoshi is trickier to pronounce, though: More like lao-tze, compared to sheer-fu. (Chinese speakers feel free to correct this)

Yeah. I'll correct you on this part. I think you were right about the other part. If someone is pronouncing "laoshi" kind of like "lao-tze" that is a very typical southernish dialect. The "shi" in "laoshi" should be pronounced exactly the same as the "shi" in "shifu". The "i" represents what is called a "retroflex r" and is the troublesome sound for western speakers in both terms although you can always go for the southern pronunciation of "Shifu" which is just "see foo" and much easier.

Back to the original question though, Laoshr or Sifu connote (not denote) different relationships but functionally they just represent the preferences of the speaker or of the teacher more than anything else.
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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby bailewen on Tue Sep 01, 2009 9:49 pm

p.s.

For whatever it's worth, my Chinese wife strongly insists that only "shifu" is appropriate and suggests that maybe the reason a lot of teachers are using "laoshi" these days is because they learned at big wushu schools or something. She things it's totally wierd to call a kung fu teacher "laoshi" but also says that these days "laoshi" is being used as a term of respect for just anyone who is older and more prestigious than you are.

Also, she's a northerner so I don't know how that works with the theory that northerner say laoshi and southerners say shifu.
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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby chud on Tue Sep 01, 2009 10:08 pm

Omar (bailewen) wrote:p.s.

For whatever it's worth, my Chinese wife strongly insists that only "shifu" is appropriate and suggests that maybe the reason a lot of teachers are using "laoshi" these days is because they learned at big wushu schools or something. She things it's totally wierd to call a kung fu teacher "laoshi" but also says that these days "laoshi" is being used as a term of respect for just anyone who is older and more prestigious than you are.

Also, she's a northerner so I don't know how that works with the theory that northerner say laoshi and southerners say shifu.


I tend to agree with your wife Omar. It also jibes with the whole "the wife is always right" thing, anyway, which keeps me out of trouble in my own home. ;D
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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby Ian on Tue Sep 01, 2009 10:28 pm

chud wrote:
Chris McKinley wrote:How about, "Hey Chucklehead....get your ass over here and teach me something! I'm not paying you for ambience!"


Well, to his credit, my teacher doesn't care about any of this. He's a very humble guy and is fine with me calling him by his first name, or just saying "teacher".
But I had a debate with one of his senior students about this today, so that's why I'm asking.
When I told her that Sifu was the proper term since our teacher is a lineage disciple, she got annoyed with me and said, "well if you want to say teacher in chinese, it's Laoshr". I was going to tell her that there's no such thing as "saying it in CHINESE", it's either Mandarin, Cantonese, or whatever...but I didn't want to make a big deal of it in front of the rest of the class and our teacher (she is senior to me).


Is she white? Sounds like it.
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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby Slim on Tue Sep 01, 2009 10:48 pm

I'd also say that there abolutely is such a thing as Chinese. It's Mandarin. In China, nobody has generally ever heard the term Mandarin because it's redundant with "Chinese". So called "Mandarin" Chinese is the official language of China and all the other's are local dialects. It is mandated by Chinese law and spoken by all college or even high school educated Chinese. Cantonese, in contrast, is only spoken by maybe 2 or 3 percent of Chinese people in the world.


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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby cdobe on Tue Sep 01, 2009 10:58 pm

source: www.aznhealth.com/column2/master.html
Martial Musings

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Who's Your Daddy?
Master vs. Sifu in Chinese Martial Arts

In a journey through the martial arts section of your local yellow pages, you will undoubtedly discover a long listing of instructors with the title of Master, and some with the even loftier title of Grandmaster. To the Western mind, which still has a residual tendency to exotify Asian cultures, the concept of Mastery might conjure up the image of unparalleled physical and mental prowess. Coupled with claims of martial "purity," "authenticity," and "tradition," this unquestioning acceptance of Mastery can lead to subtle and overt exploitation.
While I have no doubt that many of these instructors are highly capable and knowledgeable, their use of Master or Grandmaster actually strays from tradition. These titles are a purely Western construct, vestiges of 1950s WWII and Korean War veterans who brought back stories of incredible martial feats. Neither Chinese nor Japanese martial jargon uses of these terms, eschewing them in preference for the more modest Sifu and Sensei (1) – both just simple words for "teacher" (disclaimer: since I only know Chinese and Japanese, I cannot speak for other Asian languages). Master and Grandmaster are simply erroneous translations that found their way into martial arts culture when it was transplanted to America.

In the case of a Chinese martial arts instructor, the term Sifu (shi-fu) (2) is the combination of two characters: "teacher" and "father." From this terminology, we see that martial arts school, or kwoon (wu-guan) is viewed as an extended family unit with the Sifu at the center. The Sifu's teacher is the Sigung (shi-gong), or "teacher grandfather." The Sifu's wife is the Simu (shi-mu), or "teacher mother." Male students who began training before you, and are thus senior, are your Sihings (shi-xiong), or "teacher older brothers;" female seniors are your Sije (shi-jie), or "teacher older sisters." Students junior to you are your Sidai (shi-di) and Simei (shi-mei), or "teacher younger brother" and "teacher younger sister," respectively. Your Sifu's own Sihing are your Sibak (shi-bo), or "teacher older uncle"; his Sidai are you Sisuk (shi-shu), or "teacher younger uncle." His Sije and Simei are your Sigu (shi-gu), or "teacher aunts." There are extended relations such as cousins, great uncles, and so forth; however, these terms are not used as often.

This familial view stems from Confucian thought, which played an integral role in the development of Chinese culture. Just as Confucian values extolled the virtues of respect for elders, parents, and teachers, we find clear lines of respect toward seniority and instructors within a Chinese martial family. However, the various titles do not imply a higher level of capability. Further, the linguistic names for relationships all use the term shi, or "teacher." I believe that this tell us that we can learn from any one in our martial family, regardless of their seniority with relation to ourselves.

Of course, there are teachers outside of your own martial family, whom we call Sifu . (Shi-fu). In this case, we use a different character and pronunciation for fu, which also means "teacher." It is a title of respect, from which the English term Master probably arose. Ironically, many professions use this Sifu, including taxi drivers, cooks, and the like. Some teachers, who are widely recognized for their ability within their own martial style and in the martial arts community, might posthumously be referred to as Josi (zong-shi), which literally means "ancestral teacher." Perhaps the term for Grandmaster stemmed from this term. Yet another similar concept is that of Sijo (shi-zong), which is Josi flipped backwards. It refers to the founder of a specific system. For example, Sijo Bruce Lee is considered to be the Sijo of Jeet Kune Do.

Traditionally, a student might have two different kinds of relationships with his Sifu. Regular students are called Siuto (xue-tu), which translates to "student." These are the various people who join the class; some stay for two classes, some stay forever. It does not really matter, just as long as they learn or at one time learned from the teacher. This relationship is based on Confucian respect: Once a teacher, always a teacher - Even if you get better than your own teacher! In fact, it reflects very well on your teacher if you surpass him. Traditionally, you can only have one Sifu, though nowadays, people are constantly switching and changing their instructors.

Another, deeper relation between Sifu and student is the Todai (tu-di), which is often translated as "disciple." After a formal Tea Ceremony, where everyone dresses up in their Sunday's best and the Todai kneels while serving his Sifu tea, he is virtually considered an adopted son. This requires a lot of dedication and responsibility. Traditionally, it meant jobs such as keeping the school clean, collecting tuitions, and other similar duties. Then and now, it creates a lot of room for abuse from an unscrupulous Sifu, who may often hold out the potential of learning secret or advanced technique - for a fee.

Because of these potential abuses, and also 50 years of rejecting traditional Confucian culture, modern mainland China embraces a martial culture similar to that of Japan. Instead of using familiar relationships, a teacher is simply called laoshi — which can be translated as "teacher" or "coach." Even so, regardless of whether your instructor is your Sifu or your Laoshi, the Chinese mind never views him as your Master. Such terms are reserved for religious leaders, saints, and the like.

NOTES
1. Sensei literally means "born first;" the same characters in Chinese read "xian-sheng" and simply mean "Mister."

2. Since workers from South China first brought Chinese martial arts to America, Cantonese terms were used. I therefore use Cantonese descriptions, with standard Mandarin Romanization in parenthesis.


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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby eastpaw on Tue Sep 01, 2009 11:00 pm

edededed wrote:Laoshi ("Lao-shr"... southerners say "Lao-ss") = teacher (general title)
Shifu ("Shr-foo") = master (assuming a relationship created by the baishi ceremony); however, in the south, some people also use this as a general title "master" for taxi drivers, etc. (so you can call a bus driver "sifu" if you are in the right place)
Sifu ("Ss-fu"... sounds like "See-foo" in HK) = southern pronounciation of Shifu :D

Big difference between words - Shifu signifies a specific, special relationship, while Laoshi is a general term that can be used for any teacher.


I'm here to complicate things further. ;)

Ed is right that "Shifu" can mean both "master" (as in disciple) and "expert/skilled one". However, while the pronunciation of the term is exactly the same in both cases, the words used are actually different.

师傅 is a polite form of address for someone recognised/assumed to have skill in something. You might therefore call a martial arts teacher 师傅 even if you have nothing whatsoever to do with him. In other words, it's pretty much interchangeable with Laoshi, except that a Laoshi is definitely a teacher while a 师傅 may not be.

师父 is literally "teacher-father" and is what you would call someone who has made a contract of formal discipleship with you. This contract is equivalent to adoption into the teacher's family in some places, though I believe the tradition is dying out even in China.
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Re: Quick language question: Laoshi vs. Sifu

Postby bailewen on Tue Sep 01, 2009 11:03 pm

You can say that Cantonese is it's own language. You just can't really say that is the language of China. You can say that about Mandarin. Remember we are talking about over 80 percent (my own estimate) vs. less than 3 percent of the population (from my studies in linguistics) here.

Linguistically speaking, Cantonese is part of a broader southern dialect while Mandarin is derived from a broader northern one. Essentially Chinese native languages can be divided into 3 categories, northern, southern and then a kind of off shoot of the southern branch that is different enough to be considered it's own category. Cantonese can simply not be placed in the same class as Mandarin though as it does not represent the entire south. It just just a tiny slice of the what southerners speak. Mandarin, in contrast, is understood by 100% of northerners and spoken (with varying levels of accents) by virtually all northerners and most all mainland southerners.

Even without government fiat, Mandarin would still be the lingua franca of China. That is why in Chinese it is called "The common tongue" aka "putong hua".
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