Kung Fu Class Positions and Rankings Martial Arts 10 JAN 2009

Tie Hou QuanIn Western society, people place a lot of emphasis on goals and achievements. This is a foreign concept to many Eastern societies, something often reflected in their martial arts. When many of these arts were introduced into the Western world, various levels of grading had to be introduced so as to capture the interest of the Western practitioners. For instance Karate now has a complex system consisting of many levels of different colour belts. These belts are often handed out on the basis of the number of years practiced and so often carry very little significance. Their purpose is to be a quantifiable display of effort put into one’s training.

Kung Fu does not really supply this. Instead, Kung Fu has only four vague levels of skill, ranging from the beginner to the grandmaster. Although you can grade to ‘officially’ reach a level, often it is more of a personal journey as you devote your life to the art and gain experience in it. There are no distinctions between a senior and junior student, apart from their level of skill. Sashes and different colour uniforms may be worn, simply to identify to the trainer at what level of experience a certain student is. Obviously, these will depend on the trainer at hand and differ from school to school.

Importance of Rank during Training

Rank is important in Gong Fu and respect must be paid where it is due. It should be accepted that your senior is always correct and you should not question their words. If a Sifu is addressing you then you should pay the utmost heed to their words. Do not interrupt your teacher and do not let him know that you have heard what he is saying before. He has seen fit to give you some of his valuable time to explain something to you and you must be thankful for that. When training, always allow your seniors to move ahead of you. If manual work needs to be done, then you are responsible for it – not your senior and most definitely not your teacher. It is important to remember that the distinction between the teacher and the student exists and this student-teacher relationship should not be broken, even if you are on very friendly terms with him/her.

Gong Fu Rankings

The Kung Fu class position/ranking system is based on a family model. The following lists the ranks, from novice to master.

1. Junior Rank:
– Shi xiong (Shihing): Male classmate who joined before you
– Shi jie (Sijie): Female classmate who joined before you

2. Senior Rank:
– Shi di (Sidai): Male classmate who joined after you
– Shi mei (Simui): Female classmate who joined after you

3. Master Rank:
– Shi fu (Sifu): Your teacher

4. Grandmaster Rank:
– Shi zu (Sigung): Grandmaster. Your teacher’s teacher
– Shi zu (Sijo): Teacher of Sigung. Sometimes founder of a system.

(Note: Two further positions also exist. These are Sisuk – Teacher’s Sidai, and Sibak – Teacher’s Sihing)

About Craig Lotter

South African software architect and developer at Touchwork. Husband to a cupcake baker and father to two little girls. I don't have time for myself any more.