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Addressing the instructor

Respect is the first consideration in a martial arts class. Traditionally, it is demonstrated through formality: bowing to the instructor and other students.
In a karate class the instructor is addressed as 'sensei'. In a Chinese martial arts class it is 'sifu'. The formality may not be present in a tai chi class, but the respect should remain.


The term 'sifu' is similar in some ways to the Japanese title 'sensei'. A sensei is a black belt exponent of at least 3rd dan (sandan). Sensei teaches the class.
Sifu is pronounced 'seefoo' in Cantonese and 'shihfu' in Mandarin. It means teacher/father (relative to skill level).  

Showing respect

You can show respect to your teacher without bowing. Good manners are all you need.
You can show respect to other students by ensuring their wellbeing during partner work and helping them out (not tutoring) if they are less experienced than you.

Being respected

Everybody deserves respect. Not because they have done something or because they are 'someone' - even a stranger should be respected. The Art of War teaches you to respect your enemies.
In a tai chi school, your attendance and perseverance will gain you greater respect.


There are many ways to show disrespect but not paying fees, bullying and arguing are the worst. Martial arts classes seldom tolerate bad behaviour. This is why we have a code of conduct.
You must also show self-respect by being clean and looking after yourself properly.


Even though your teacher may be called 'Dave' rather than 'sensei' do not mistake the informality to mean parity. In terms of knowledge and skill you are not equals.
Your teacher has designed a syllabus which contains information you cannot understand until you have completed it. They spend considerable time and effort guiding, assisting you.
Their patience, care and understanding is shown in the way that they
teach you.


Junior students lack the necessary experience to comment on the inner workings of the syllabus.
With patience, what seems to be lacking in the syllabus will be addressed as the student progresses through the material.
With rare exceptions, less advanced students do not contribute to the knowledge of the class. They add nothing significant to the teacher's own knowledge.
An expert looks at progress in terms of decades. They can physically 'do' the tai chi and can discuss complex aspects of the syllabus with the teacher on a more equal footing.
Their insights are informed and considered, with a strong foundation in both principle and practice.

Living in cultures with a Buddhist tradition, like Nepal, Laos, Thailand and Japan, provided me with a compelling insight into the fact that any religious undertaking, once institutionalized, would result in predominantly empty forms, superstitions, dogmas, and rituals, away from the living essence of truth.

(Michael Krohnen)


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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023