Master - Disciple System

17.04.2014 12:00

When a prospective student steps into a traditional 功夫 Gōngfū school and chooses to train there, that student decides the state of his/her future forever. 一曰為師 終身為父 Yīyuē wéi shī zhōngshēn wéi fù (Teacher for a day, a father forever). The basis of understanding begins with the first steps. The 弟子 dìzǐ (student) begins a journey into the training of the system by way of the methodology and theoretical understanding of the 師父 Shīfù (master). It is here that the student does 拜人為師 Bàirén wéishī (to acknowledge as one's teacher). Traditionally, "a 弟子 dìzǐ does not ask questions for the first 3 years of training." (A quote by 國際師宗陳國偉 Guójì Shīzōng Chén Guówěi/International Grandmaster Chan Kowk Wai) It is during this time that the 師父 Shīfù teaches the student and analyzes the progress through training and comportment.

If the student succeeds in performing the basics of the system well, understands the cultural underpinnings of the system, and shows proper comportment, then the stage is set for higher learning and acceptance of the student by the 師父 Shīfù. It is here that the 弟子 dìzǐ is accepted as a 徒弟 túdì (disciple in training). Sometimes there is an acceptance ceremony to celebrate this moment. Some schools have an acceptance ceremony only after completion of all coursework for the system. The acceptance ceremony is called the 拜師 Bàishī (to formally become apprentice to a master). Our system does the acceptance ceremony only after completion of the system and the 師父 Shīfù publicly declares the student a 門徒 Méntú (disciple apprentice). At this final stage, everything that is the system is taught. There are higher expectations placed on the disciple as the disciple is now perceived as a representation of the school in every sense. 就是為師難, 為徒也不易! 能成為師徒一場, 真的是要有很深的緣份! Jiùshì wéi shī nán, wèi tú yě bùyì! Néng chéngwéi shītú yīchǎng, zhēn de shì yàoyǒu hěnshēn de yuánfèn! (It is difficult to be a master, to be a disciple is not so easy! To become a master's disciple is true destiny!)

When a disciple is chosen, he/she understands that there are 3 laws above all others: 師父 Shīfù, System (武藝 Wǔyì), and School (館 Guǎn); in that exact order. Why not the school first? Because without the teacher there could be no school. Why not the system first? How would the student know the system if not for knowing the master? The master is the primary source of everything, the system is his means of communicating the knowledge, the school is the place of training.

For every school, there is only one master. There can be a limitless number of instructors, but only one master. For that very reason, it is always important to address that master by his/her title. Anything short of that is considered an insult.


The master places great care in trusting that the disciple will do the right thing at all times. The master chooses the disciple based upon what he/she feels is correct, then allows the student to sink or swim (to do what is correct or to do otherwise. It is the student's choice to make. Not all are equal and not everyone can be a disciple.). There is an expression that best typifies this: 師傅領進門, 修行在個人 Shīfu lǐng jìn mén, xiū xíng zài gè rén (The teacher opens the door, you enter by yourself). A student should offer help wherever, whenever, and however possible. Any behaviour or speech to the contrary is considered reprehensible. 差之毫厘謬之千里 Zhāzhī háolí, miùzhī qiānlǐ (Err by a hair, wrong by 500 kilometers). 一失足成千古恨 Yīshīzúchéngqiāngǔhèn (One wrong step causes a thousand hatreds).

The Altar

- a visual representation and reminder of the 師徒制 Shītúzhì (Master - Disciple System), comportment, and genealogy of the traditional school

At the center of our school's altar is the 牌位 Páiwèi (Memorial Tablet). To the left of the 牌位 Páiwèi are the photos of the 蔡李佛門 Càilǐfómén ancestors of our system: starting from the far left, 甄耀超 Zhēn Yàochāo (陳國偉 Chan Kowk Wai's teacher), then his father and teacher 甄炎初 Zhēn Yánchū. The 牌位 Páiwèi is next. Next is the photo of 顧汝章 Gù Rǔzhāng, then the photo of his disciple 嚴尚武 Yán Shàngwǔ (陳國偉 Chan Kowk Wai's teacher).

The 牌位 Páiwèi (Memorial Tablet)

The very first line, above all others and having by far the most importance: 表師世萬 Wàn shì shī biǎo [read form right to left] The master is forever the standard-bearer. (Literally: 10,000 lifetimes master model).

The center of the 牌位 Páiwèi is the dedicational to the school's founding and people of great renown. 2 characters below the top line explain how the student should view the system: to the left is 奉 Fèng and to the right is 供 Gòng. 奉 Fèng (Reverence) refers to how the student should be thankful for the hard work of all who trained before him/her and how that reverence should be given to the teacher, system, and, school. 供 Gòng (Propagation) refers to always spreading goodwill and the good news of the teacher, system, and school wherever and whenever possible.

The characters to the far right: Jiāo Wén Jiāo Wǔ Néng Yìng Shì (Teach culture, education, and martial arts to be able to deal with what life offers.)

In traditional writing, the writing is from right to left. The line of writing to the far left is the closer; it is meant to remain forever in the mind and soul of all adherents of the system: Yǒu Fāng Yǒu Fǎ Shì Zhēn Chuán
There is a method to doing things correctly: it is the authentic tradition handed down (i.e.: from teacher to student).

The 師徒制 Shītúzhì is a lifelong relationship. At the height of accomplishment, it is every 師父 Shīfù's wish to have the disciple surpass his/her level of understanding and skill: 青出於藍而勝於藍 qīng chū yú lán ér shèng yú lán/the student becomes superior to the master (lit. green is born of blue, but beats blue). This would require 拳打千遍身打自然 quándá qiānbiàn shēndá zìrán/train a thousand times to develop natural skill. If one's teacher is as knowledgeable and as skilled as mine, then surpassing is no an easy feat.

Author: 竇萬春 Dòu Wànchūn