Before briefly explaining the the structure of a Kung Fu family, it must be mentioned that the Chinese culture with its tradition and customs is very different from the western culture. Due to the cultural differences many traditional practices and concepts within Kung Fuare usually either misunderstood or misinterpreted by many westerners. For example one of the most commonly misunderstood factor is how to address the members of a Kung Fu family. Like many other Asian countries, Chinese have a strict discipline on how to address people. According to the Chinese culture, calling ones elders by their first name is regarded very disrespectful. This also applies to the traditional Kung Fu schools. For example, if a student starts calling his teacher/sifu by his first name he/she is not only being very rude and disrespectful to the teacher but also not showing any respect towards the style, its ancestors and tradition. So the proper way to address the elders/seniors within a Kung Fu family is to use the appropriate titles which are shown above. For example the proper title for ones gung fu teacher would be Sifu. When referring or calling a senior member of the family such as the teacher or the grandmaster, one can use the family name or the full name followed by the appropriate title. For example Lam Cho sigung or Wong sifu. However, in the west the title is usually put before the name due to the structural differences in languages.
The Chinese(Cantonese) term/title Sifu is used to address a master/teacher. This title like all the others listed above is not only explicit to Kung Fu but the whole Chinese community. The title sifu, for example can be used to address a skilled cook/chef or a poet. Sifu is more like a father figure, a mentor, a skilled person who is respected and admired within a community. A student must show upmost respect towards his/her sifu at all times. Your sifu will remain as your sifu doesn’t matter how advance you may become.The titles Si-Mo (wife) and Sing-San(husband) are used to address your sifu’s wife or husband respectively. I will write about the Master and Student/Disciple relationship as a separate subject in the near future.
The title Sijo is used to address the founder of a system. For example in Hung Gar, Hung Hei Goon is credited as the founder of the system. In general the founder of the style (sijo) would be classified as the first generation of the particular style.
The title Sigung is used to address ones Grandmaster. For example in Hung Gar, our Granmaster is Lam Cho (sigung). In general or in a simpler term Sigung or the grandmaster is the person who taught your sifu. The grandmaster’s(sigung’s) master(sifu) would be known as Si-tai-gung or the Great Grandmaster. In Hung Gar our Si-tai-gung would be/is Lam Sai Wing. Following in this order, each generation before would be known as Si-tai-tai-gung and Si-tai-tai-tai-gung and so on. For example our Great great granmaster or Si-tai-tai-tai-gung would be Wong Fei Hung.
Si-bak is the title used to address your older Kung Fu uncle who is also your sifu’s senior Kung Fu brother. In the same manner, Si-sook is the title used to address your younger Kung Fu uncle who is also your sifu’s younger gung fu brother.
The Kung Fu family members of the same generation would address each other as Si-hing (older brother), Si-di (younger brother). The female members Si-je (older sister) and Si-Mui (younger sister). It is important to bare in mind that the seniority between the younger and older class mates within a Kung Fu family is usually marked by the date one joins the school, not by age, superiority of skill or neither by ones physical appearances. Another important point to mention here is that as I stated above these tiles are not exclusive to the Kung Fu community. The distinction between the titels used or the formality within a gung fu family depends on your sifu. The list of titles/terms used above is by no means complete.