When the Si Dai Becomes the Si Hing…

1 01 2016

Should we change? The philosophy, that is. On one hand, we might consider our Si Hing, to always be our Si Hing. On the other hand, shouldn’t we recognize when our Junior classmate has surpassed us?

Put strictly into family terms, your older brother will always be your older brother. Even if your older brother drops out of high school and you continue on to college, he is still your older brother. You may graduate from college, go to law school, become an attorney–and he is still your older brother. You go to him for advice, he chastizes you on your neglectful ways, your womanizing, perhaps your drinking, your arrogance–and you take it, despite that you make more money, you have more status, you are more educated… But he is your older brother, you love and respect him, and deep down you know he is right.

But what about this:  You and your older brother both are hired at the same company. He is your supervisor, but you are in school and finish. You then are promoted to a supervisor, and years later, you become his manager. At home, he is older brother, but for at least 8 hours a day–YOU are the man. Awkward situation.

In the martial arts school, especially in Chinese systems where we do not use belts or such ranks–it’s a little stickier. One may elect to keep training and bypass rank promotions, while others pursue rank. Not much different than education or rank in the military, I suppose–but similarily, you may find that one day a once-junior will become senior to you or vice versa. In some cases, there is the thin line of what ranks you actually possess or what titles to use. This is a very real dilemma in the Chinese arts, because the ranks are not as cut-and-dry as in belt-granting traditions like Karate. Our relationships are much more personal. We actually refer to our classmates as “brothers” and “sisters”, and unlike many systems where Black belt is granted in 3 years and new instructors move out shortly after to open schools–the Kung Fu family remains together sometimes for decades. When I run into an old boxing gym mate from 20 years ago, whether I was better than he or not, I can great him as easily as saying, “Jose! How are you, fool?” Not so for us Kung Fu guys–I have a Jow Ga classmate named Jose, and I can only fix my mouth to call him “Si Hing”, although I have outranked him since I was perhaps 15 or 16 years old.

Through social media, I have reconnected with some old Jow Ga brothers from decades ago who were simply “Si Hing” in 1986, but a year later in 1987 I had learned the final form on our curriculum and was given permission to teach a few years later. I was then “Sifu”, and have been for over twenty years. Upon reconnecting, I never hesitated to address any of my old Si Hing as “Si Hing”. However, on occasion, one will forget that I am a full instructor of Jow Ga–and he quit as a beginner–and want to chastize or correct me on Jow Ga matters…

Um, I don’t think so.

And so, we arrive at the point of this article. When our schools were built, our traditions and customs were established, the notion that we would “reconnect” with old si hings may not have been significant enough to create a standard operating procedure. I have never been told how to communicate with any Si Hing I may one day have conflict with, as I’m sure most of you reading this blog haven’t either. I have not done much traveling and interacting with many other Kung fu schools outside of a competitive nature, so perhaps there is already a tradition in place. But for the purpose of furthering a system, building stronger Kung Fu families–it may be a good idea for Kung Fu leaders to establish protocols and traditions to govern how we conduct ourselves among each other, within this family, within this system.

Every system, lineage and geographical branch of a Kung Fu family has it’s “leader” or seniors. But leadership has to be more than simply the oldest guy or the first to join. Quite often, the senior is not the most qualified, he is not the best skilled, he may not be the most knowledgeable, he may not be the most respected… He may not even be a “he”–“He” might even be a she. Every school has it’s Dai Si Hing, but have you ever heard of a school with a Dai Si Je? Our late masters and grandmasters were just that–martial arts masters. They taught us to fight, taught us to use weapons and defend ourselves, they even taught us how to teach students. Yet I would dare to say that most of our Masters were not great leaders and did not necessarily prepare us to ensuring the preservation of the permanence of our styles and schools. This is why the average Golden Era of any Kung Fu system only lasts the duration of our master’s lives, and when they are gone–little can be done to keep them together. We become as fragmented as siblings after dividing up Mom and Dad’s inheritance. One way to help preserve a style is by clearly defining who is senior in a system, defining who is qualified to lead, agreeing to back and follow those who have been chosen to lead, and basing our decisions on logic and not emotion, knowledge and ability–not amiability.

Seniors, you must want the system and the branch to outlive you. This means every member of every single branch of your tree must be respected, advised, and shown the way to success. We do not kiss someone’s foot because they walked through the door before you did. You are not a “leader” of your system simply because you are older, or wrote the most articles, or speak the best Mandarin, or know the most forms. At the same time, protocols must be put into place so that future generations understand the hierarchy of a Kung Fu family. This will enable those who are leading the Kung Fu style to pushing forward the system toward greatness for future generations. We do more than simply “preserve” the name; we make this system bigger, stronger, more respected, and closer knit as one unit than ever before.

Even if that means you have to follow the advice of one whom you once saw struggling to learn his basics. Respect your school, your style and your Sifu enough to know when someone has worked hard enough to be at the head of the pack. We want our system to live longer than we do, and therefore some traditions may have to be altered, eliminated, or created and instituted to make sure it happens.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

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