I ask because it is commonly regarded as having the exact sense of Sensei, of Master, or Teacher, but these don't convey the full meaning. Sensei, for instance, shares the same characters as the Chinese xiānshēng 先生, which is distinct from the two sets of characters used for Shifu, 师父 and 师傅.

Wikipedia gives the facts, I'm looking for the context, to better understand the Chinese tradition, and how it is expressed in the contemporary generations.

  • What are the meanings and connotations of the term Shifu? What is implied?

Chinese martial arts were not really taught to westerners in the US prior to the late 1960's, so this may be the first generation in the west fully separate from the old country.

  • Are contemporary Chinese martial arts teachers using different terms based on the different dynamics in contemporary and western culture?

For instance, in a modern wushu context, a teacher may be a coach to generations wushu competitors, but only Shifu to a small number of students. Wu Bin is famous example—his status comes as a coach specifically, not a shifu of a lineage per se. (He is the Chinese equivalent of Bill Belichick:)


2 Answers 2


A Shifu is technically a Master in something. It is not only applied to Martial Arts either. When someone masters an art, trade or skill, they can be considered a Shifu. That is, they have achieved the highest form of a certain skill.

Being a Shifu generally also means you have enough knowledge to teach others in the art, trade or skill. However, not every Shifu is a teacher or coach.

To be a Coach and a Shifu, you do need to be able to actually teach the art, skill or trade you mastered. And teaching is a skill in and of itself.


The first hanzi/character for ShiFu Shi/"师" has the meaning of someone who is a teacher or adviser like a teacher you address in school which in Chinese is LaoShi/老师 or "old teacher." The "Fu" in "ShiFu" seems to have two different possible meanings depending on which hanzi/character you interpret the word to have.

The first "Fu"(父) has the meaning of "father." Ergo, ShiFu has sort of a meaning of "teacher dad" if you go with the first interpretation and to some a ShiFu is like a father figure or almost like extended family. With that said, people will use the term "ShiFu" in Chinese culture to refer to people they've just met who are skilled in something like say a really skilled taxi driver, so it doesn't always carry a close familial feeling to it. The father connotation is just a bit more customary in Asian culture as a form of respect like how some may refer to a close male friend of a parent of yours as an "uncle" as a respectful title even if said person isn't your biological uncle in some families or like how "Uncle Sam" isn't exactly your actual biological uncle if you're an American citizen. :P

The other "Fu" (傅) also has a meaning of teacher or assistant which is just an example of a Chinese word made up of two characters that have redundant meanings.

TL;DR The best translation of ShiFu into English would be probably "teacher," but with a strong implication of great respect or even endearment for the teacher in question.

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