Bai Si ceremony, or Bai Shi ceremony (depends if you are a fan of Cantonese Chinese or Putonghua) is usually translated as a bow to teacher or a disciple acceptance ceremony.
It is a huge step, and I decided to take it in Autumn 2017.
It was actually my idea. I came to Hong Kong to live in 2015, after studying hung kuen kung fu for some 8 years in Czech. I have already tasted the difference of the knowledge here in Asia and in Europe, and I wanted more. I wanted to learn deeper and I wanted all the details I could get. So I made this crazy life change and relocated here - but that is a different story. That time, I already had had few private classes with Wong sifu, so I knew exactly to who I am coming to. I asked to be his students after few months of training with him, and he said: “It is not important if you call me sifu or not. Important is, if it is from hear to hear.” Yep, I made a good choice. Few short years after, I wanted to make it official. Not only studying under Wong sifu, but also it was a statement of my whole journey.
So I asked my sifu, Wong Chung Man, if I could bai si to him. So far, no one did in our lineage. So it was a bit tricky. Because, actually, does anyone remember how to do this stuff?
In Hong Kong, some schools and some styles still keep the tradition of bai si alive, but mostly it is disappearing. Which doesn’t mean that the relationships that one makes by entering a kung fu school in Hong Kong are now looser or more “sporty”.
Anyway, we set the date. It was another’s master birthday party, which meant that many schools and sifus will be there too. And what is more! This guy remembered how to do a bai si. Which was important, because many others already forgot.
It was held in London restaurant, which is despite its name a very typical, two-floors Chinese restaurant. Few hundreds of guests were present. I spent one week learning by heart how to say something like “I am honored to be your student and I promise I will…”, but when the time came and I had to knee on the ground in front of my sifu, he did not hear me. Everything seemed blured. Sifu said something very long in Cantonese, from which somebody translated maybe one sentence to me. He said he is happy, and seemed touched. I handed him a cup of tea, the main symbol of the whole ceremony. It felt very intense, kneeling in front of somebody else. After the tea, I gave him a red pocket with money inside. Then everyone started to congratulate him for getting a new daughter and I was just confused. Looking back, I would be happy if somebody could tell me beforehand what will happen and what I should do. But that’s usually not how it works here.
For most of the guest also, it was the first time in their lives they saw a bai si.
Since then, things have changed quite obviously. Sifu really treats me like a daughter. When I came back from Thailand in 2018 with hurt ribs and could not afford the daily Chinese medicine I needed, he paid the bill.The community of kung fu masters also treat me very differently. It feels I have leveled up in their eyes.
But it is not only about how fancy you suddenly feel. The bai si ceremony is a discipleship promise, and it goes both ways. The student promises loyalty to the teacher or even spreading the art in the world, which I did, and the teacher can now never renounce the student. This relationship can never be broken and there is no chance somebody else may teach you the same style, if you decide to leave your teacher. Thus, you can not leave, in fact. In the eyes of Chinese, you are a legitimate member of the sifu’s family. It is a very serious thing and I know people that avoid doing a bai si. They run away when somebody comes up with “Maybe you should bai si?”. I understand that very well, but I am still happy with my choice. Bai si gives a huge responsibility and a heavy burden, but it is also probably the only time when you can actually chose your family!
I have been practicing martial arts since 1999. It became the reason for moving to Hong Kong and it guided many of my life decisions. I am addicted to hung kuen kung fu and MMA. Further blog posts are sharing of an enthusiast.
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