Bai Shi in Seattle.

April 21, 2009

This is something that stands very highly with me and my Kung Fu family – the traditional Bai Shi ceremony.

And like in the following  article I found , you’re just a mere student if you don’t go through this handed down custom.

Regardless whether you believe it or not, mere students don’t get the full arts. This was and is still the way for most schools here in Asia.

Chas Fisher, my senior student in Seattle, conducted one such ceremony recently and in the pic you’ll see Chas and Phil Switzer, his Wing Chun senior, taking the head chair.

But because Chas is teaching both Wing Chun and Fuzhou Crane, the same ceremony will have to be performed again – this time with my Sihing and me taking the head chair.

Ooops before I forget, Peter – Welcome to the family.


Let us consider the cultural context out of which Bai Shi came. Firstly, every society sooner or later becomes hierarchical; with the influence of Confucianism and its concept of filial piety – i.e. respect for one’s elders, Chinese society proved particularly prone to this. Secondly, there is the long and sometimes uneasy relationship which Chinese martial arts have had with Chinese religion and philosophy; this has led to the adoption of certain ritualistic, meditative and philosophical elements into martial arts practice. The use of the character Bai emphasizes this.

So what is Bai Shi ? In the context of Chinese martial arts it is a ceremony with ritual elements conducted by a master in which one or more students “Enter the Door” and become disciples.

After the conditions of Bai Shi have been read or told to the students, they agree to accept them and the ceremony begins. Normally this would be at the master’s home or studio where there would be a portrait of the founder of the style. Usually, but not always there is a fee paid by the student traditionally in a red packet as red is a propitious colour and it is considered indelicate to display money openly. The master then places an offering of fruit in front of the portrait of the founder and lights a ritual number of incense sticks which he gives to the student who then kneels down before a portrait of the founder of the style and gives the koutou (literally knocks the head) three times to show his respect to the founder’s memory. The student then faces the master and again gives the koutou. The incense is then placed in an incense burner in front of the founder’s portrait. The ceremony is over; the student has entered the door.

So what firstly are the implications of the ceremony? The student by undergoing Bai Shi has made a commitment to the school, to the founder, to his kung fu brothers and sisters as well as to his master. The master recognizes this commitment by allowing the student to enter the door and in turn makes a commitment to give the student the true transmission of the art and to start to give him inside the door training such as Nei Kung. The student can now be referred to as Men Ren, literally “door person” and is no longer a mere student.

025-1Peter’s Bai Si ceremony.


033Chas (seated left), Phil (seated right) and 3 of Chas’ senior students.

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