Kungfu and Qigong Family Terminology


What's in a name?

Family terminology in Chinese is an extremely complex affair. Terms vary depending upon maternal or paternal origin, older or younger, as well as both combined. So, the term ‘uncle’ depends on whether it’s mom’s older or younger brother, or dad’s. When I was learning Chinese, I learned at least four different ways to say ‘uncle’. It’s the same with aunts, grandparents, great aunts and uncles, etc. Just to make it more interesting, the terms can vary by region. Suffice it to say I never learned all of the family terms.


This practice is the same in a traditional kungfu or qigong school. There are specific terms for how you address your teachers, and your senior and junior students, which all depend on gender, when the student first learned from the teacher, and where their teacher is in the hierarchy of the school. Shaolin Wahnam is a deeply traditional school. That means we benefit from true and authentic Shaolin Arts. It also means we address each other using this traditional terminology. Though this takes a bit of getting used to, it is also a sign of respect both for one’s teacher and one’s classmates, and fosters a culture of values in line with Shaolin morals and traditions.


While the list below is very simplified, it is enough to give you a basic understanding of how to address your classmates. The titles below are in the Cantonese dialect and the same terms all exist in Mandarin Chinese. A more comprehensive discussion of this topic can be found on the Shaolin Wahnam discussion forum, on this page. I hope you enjoy this little sampling!


  • Sifu (your teacher from whom you first learned)

  • Sigung (your teacher’s teacher)

  • Siheng- Older brother (a male senior student, who has been training longer or first learned from a teacher senior to your sifu)

  • Sijie- Older sister (a female senior student, who has been training longer or first learned from a teacher senior to your sifu)

  • Sidai- Younger brother (a male junior student, who started training after you or first learned from a teacher junior to your sifu)

  • Simui- Younger sister (a female junior student, who started training after you or first learned from a teacher junior to your sifu)

  • Sipak- Uncle (a male student senior to your sifu)

  • Siguma- Aunt (a female student senior to your sifu)

  • Sisook- Uncle (a male student junior to your sifu)

  • Sigujie- Aunt (a female student junior to your sifu)

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