I know that practitioners of Japanese martial arts are called with a -ka ending (e.g. karate ka), but I wouldn't know how to denote a practitioner of Tai Chi Chuan or other Kung Fu styles. I recall asking a chinese friend who suggested that the term might have been Tai Chi Chuan su, but he wasn't even sure.

Do you know how to denote such a practitioner?

  • You might get better answers from chinese.se… Not that any answer here are bad at all! ☺ Oct 12, 2017 at 8:02
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    Frisco's answer is comprehensive accurate. The only thing I'd add is that Tai Chi practitioners often prefer the moniker "player" as in "Tai Chi player" to emphasize the non-combative nature of push hands practice (i.e. it's a combat art, but the goal of push hands is not to dominate the partner so much as improve one's technique while providing the same benefit to the partner.)
    – DukeZhou
    Nov 9, 2017 at 21:41
  • There is also a traditional distinction between "indoor" and "outdoor" students. (The former are disciples and taught the more esoteric aspects, as opposed to the more casual "outdoor students".) You can read a little bit about the tradition here. 入室弟子 (Yup Sut Dai Dzi) "Indoor Disciple"
    – DukeZhou
    Nov 9, 2017 at 21:45

5 Answers 5


It depends on context, skill and time spent training.

If they just start training they're a student 学生(xué'shēng), when they become an official disciple they'll be called 徒弟(tú'dì).

Then when they become an instructor/teacher they'll be called 老师(lǎo'shī).

When they take on disciples of their own they'll be 师父(shī'fu) and when their skill is widely recognized as a master they can be called 师傅(shī'fù) or 高手(gāo'shǒu).

  • 5
    Upvote for pointing out that the disciple's shī'fu and the "common folk"'s shī'fu both exist and are actually written with different ideograms!
    – phagio
    Oct 12, 2017 at 10:40

It is complicated in Chinese, and often depends on who is referring to whom, and what dialect is being used. In Japan, the term "-ka" is added (and in Korean "-in") to denote a "practitioner of". One equivalent in Chinese would be "jia", as in "Kung Fu-jia" or "Wushu-jia". The same character in Chinese for "jia" (家) is used in Japanese "ka", so I suspect this is the term you're looking for.

It could also be "xuesheng" which is used by itself and means "student".

What Does the Chinese Character 家 Mean?

On the Character "家"

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    Interesting. According to this answer, the Chinese for "practitioner of Tai Chi Chuan" would be "太极拳家", or "Tàijí quán jiā". I'm not sure this is the correct answer, but this is probably a good guess. Upvoting, but waiting for other comments / answers before closing. Thank you!
    – phagio
    Oct 8, 2017 at 11:59
  • "Chinese" - is that Mandarin or Kantonese here?
    – Fildor
    Oct 13, 2017 at 13:45
  • It is mandarin. It is also true that the term "jia" refers to a master or knowledgeable person. What is interesting to me is that in Japanese, anyone is a "-ka", while in Chinese, only a master is a "-jia" and yet, both languages use the same character. Now I have to find out if the same is true in Japanese - I always thought "-ka" was JUST a "practictioner of", and not "master".
    – Andrew Jay
    Oct 13, 2017 at 14:10
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    @wigwam - My judo sensei recently told us that "judoka" also used to described an advanced practitioner of judo or something to that effect (not necessarily a master, but at least someone that really knows his stuff). Somewhere down the line, the western world adopted the term for every practitioner and the Japanese grudgingly followed suit. I have no source for it other than his word, however.
    – Dungarth
    Nov 10, 2017 at 6:52

There are several good answers here. I'll only add that there are specific names practitoners call other practitioners depending on relationship.

Very commonly utilized are the terms:

  • Si Hing ( 師兄) Elder kung fu brother
  • Si Jie (師姐) Elder kung fu sister

because all schools have longer-term, more advanced students who help teach the newer students.

If one is lucky, one also gains exposure to:

  • Si Baak (師伯) Master’s elder kung fu brother/sister
  • Si Suk (師叔) Master’s younger kung fu brother/sister

Many kung fu films involve the disciple seeking out their kung fu uncle or aunt for additional teaching. This can be extraordinarily valuable in getting a fuller picture of the art, particularly in regard to a certain style through existing relationships. (As an example, the founder of Bagua taught each of his disciples different things, based on their aptitudes, inclinations and body types. This is not at all uncommon.)

You can find a full list of martial relationship terms here: http://www.moyyee.com/about/kung-fu-terminology/

Regarding "Sifu", when addressing one's own teacher, one uses that term independently, or "Sifu [Name]". When addressing a master from another school, one reverses it: "[Name] Sifu". It's also fairly common for non-students to call any master "sifu" to show respect for their skill and/or reputation. In the same way, one can call a student from a different school "Si Hing" or "Si Jeh" to acknowledge the greater experience of that student.

Although there are uncountable schools (and famous rivalries) in the Chinese system, all practitoners are considered to be part of the jiānghú (江湖) or "gallant fraternity". It's important to understand these terms in the context of wuxia and of the Water Magin, one of the four great classical novels, in particular. (In the Water Margin, aka "Outlaws of the Marsh", the heroes are forced into outlawry, but are nevertheless virtuous. This idea was strongly reinforced by Li Jinglin ("Miracle Sword Lee") in the preface to The Major Methods of Wudang Sword, and is heavily emphasized in contemporary mythologization of martial heroes, most notably Wong Fei-Hung.

Essentially, all practitoners are part of one big family, and the familial nature of the terms referenced here is a reflection of that.

  • 2
    For informational purposes, the romanization of the relationships in this answer is for Cantonese, not Mandarin. Also, it's an excellent point that the relationship will normally dictate how you address another practitioner; this does not translate well culturally into English.
    – mattm
    Nov 9, 2017 at 22:27
  • @mattm thanks for making the point about Cantonese/Mandarin. (I wasn't too worried about dialect for this--there are so many! :)
    – DukeZhou
    Nov 9, 2017 at 22:31

Adding on to Wigwam's answer, other options are

  • 武者 (wǔ zhě)
  • 武人(wǔ rén)
  • 功夫者 (gōng fū zhě)
  • 功夫达人(gōng fū dá rén)

Although the last one translates to something like "Kung fu expert", I've heard it used as a respectful term for just practicioners of kung fu in general and it's probably the one I am most familiar with.

And for Tai Ji Quan specifically, I'd use

  • 太极拳手 (tài jì quán shǒu)

Since "拳击手" is the common name for "boxer".

I don't think there's a single proper term "kung fu/tai chi practitioner" but rather many for " -master" e.g. -大师 (dà shī),-高手 (gāo shōu)

  • The "太极拳手" option has a pronounce similar to the guess of my chinese friend, therefore I'm inclined to trust this one (and think that he used the same reasoning to get there). Also, I want to note here that there are many ways to address a Kung Fu teacher, the most famous being "sifu" (a teacher addressed by his disciple) and a more general "lao shi" (a teacher addressed by common practitioners, not disciples). What do you think of the "-jia" suffix suggested by Wigwam?
    – phagio
    Oct 11, 2017 at 14:21
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    "-jia" is correct :) I was just listing other options, some of which are used more commonly.
    – as4s4hetic
    Oct 13, 2017 at 5:26

By practitioner, I assume you mean someone who practices tài jì (taichi) regardless of skill level considerations.

As explained to me orally, and corroborated at least by the Wikipedia judoka description (which itself does not have a proper reference for this fact), the term judoka (柔道家) formerly referred to a practitioner with rank (3rd degree according to oral source, 4th degree according to Wikipedia), not a practitioner of any skill level. Thus, I think attempting to extrapolate jiā to a general practitioner is not a good idea.

Based on this interpretation of jiā, I would guess that 太极拳家 tài jì quán jiā has the same meaning as 太极门 tài jì mén, which is an inner door practitioner (disciple), not a practitioner of any skill level.

jiā is also used in 內家 nèi jiā, a term which comprises the internal martial arts.

A 学生 xuésheng student is usually used to describe someone who is insufficiently trained to be considered representative of the art, so also probably not what you are looking for.

I am not a native speaker of either Japanese or Chinese. I have found, however, that friends who are native speakers often do not know specialized martial arts vocabulary like nèi jiā.

  • Yes, the absence of specialized terms is something that even my instructor (who has been to China to practice with our grand master multiple times) told me. It was just too weird that there was no mean at all to address practitioners ;) Thank you for your contribution!
    – phagio
    Oct 12, 2017 at 10:39
  • I should have read your answer before writing my previous comment. While "-jia" (chinese) and "-ka" (japanese) are written with the same character, only Chinese more or less means "skilled" or "master". I'd wondered why in Japanese it didn't, or at least that is what I thought. So "-ka" does not now refer only to skilled? Or can anyone now be a "-ka"? Or is it still true that only the skilled are "-ka"?
    – Andrew Jay
    Oct 13, 2017 at 14:14
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    @Wigwam In modern English usage, judoka is used for any practitioner, regardless of skill level. This includes English language books written by native Japanese. I believe the same is true of karateka, aikidoka, etc. I am not sure of the usage in Japanese language.
    – mattm
    Oct 13, 2017 at 14:26
  • @mattm I can confirm for literature in German, too. Maybe that is a question for japanese SE?
    – Fildor
    Oct 13, 2017 at 14:55

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