What is a Disciple?
Within Chinese culture, any traditional skill may be passed down from master to disciple, whether it be martial arts, scholarly arts, painting, cooking, even the art of being a barber or an executioner. Becoming a disciple forges a unique bond between you and the long line of ancestors who forged your tradition before you. It is a very special relationship between master and disciple, full of ritual and meaning. You become family. However, like so aspects of Chinese culture, it is woefully misunderstood by outsiders.
Traditionally, Chinese disciplines do not have a "black" belt system of hierarchy. The belt (or dan) tradition comes primarily from Japan. Like the Chinese system, dan traditions also extends beyond martial arts to other disciplines like tea ceremony or the game of Go. In contrast, the Chinese system is more familial, than militaristic. The term we use for master, Sifu, also implies "father". In the same fashion, other titles translate literally into "elder brother", "younger sister", "uncle", and so on. This system is not exclusive to martial arts. These same terms might be used in any community, from fellow workers in the same company to organized crime triads. It is important to note that a term like "big brother" (Sihing in Cantonese) can have two meanings. It could mean either a member who joined the community before you or a member who is physically older than you. This distinction depends upon the preference of the Sifu.
Chinese people hold teachers in very high regard. A Chinese student will always hold a special loyalty for any previous teacher, even if they only studied with them once. Accordingly, there are some particular observances of respect unique to the pedagogical context. To begin, every student submits unquestionably to their teacher. They must be willing to "empty their cup" of any previous misconceptions and accept the new teachings no matter how disruptive they may be to their personal world view. This is just one reason why it is important to begin with a good teacher. Submission is often represented symbolically by the simple ceremony of "bowing to the teacher". Almost every student begins with this basic teacher-student relationship, the "general public" class. These students are called Moon Sang or "in the door". In the martial arts, most teachers have many students, especially now in modern times. Over 3 decades, Sifu Wing Lam has taught thousands of students. All of those students would be "in the door".
Discipleship is a more intimate relationship, akin to marriage. Two people make bonding vows that will unite them into family forever. Unlike marriage, a Sifu can have many disciples. When a Sifu has hundreds of disciples (and some grand masters have thousands) it is a demonstration of pure political power. Generally, disciples have only one master. Practically speaking, it is difficult to honor all of the tremendous obligations that comes with discipleship for more than one Sifu. Furthermore, in days of old, a Sifu would not want to reveal his back room secrets to a disciple of another Sifu. However in the last century, many people have become disciples of multiple masters.
When the student is satisfied with the teacher's skill and character, they may decide to make a deeper commitment and become a disciple. Formally called Yup Sut Dai Gee (in the back room, skill "son"), this term originates from the architecture of old Kung Fu schools. In old schools, the teacher would commonly teach all of the "in the door" students together in a big hall or courtyard. More intimate instruction for disciples would take place in a private back room. Here, Yup Sut Dai Gee receive special tutelage material from their Sifu, where finer points would be clarified and "secrets" would be revealed. The Yup Sut Dai Gee would represent the Sifu in the public eye, so they were often taught some secret skills. It would be these students that would carry on the school after the Sifu was gone, so they must commit to learning all of the knowledge their Sifu has to offer.
It may surprise you to find that a Sifu does not even have to know the student before accepting him or her as a disciple. Sometimes an intermediary can speak for someone the master does not even know. Just like in arranged marriage, an "arranged" discipleship is not uncommon in the East. Such an arrangement may have political overtones, such as alliance between two factions, or it may simply be a good match in the eyes of an industrious intermediary. Many great masters were made disciples because they were given to their Sifu as orphans. This assured that the Sifu would care for the orphan like their own child. While many westerners reject the idea of arranged marriage, many easterners frown equally on the western practice serial marriage (divorcing and remarrying several times). Not surprisingly, many masters are reluctant to take Western disciples because of a perceived lack of the cultural foundation to adhere to such a commitment. Serial discipleship just does not work.
As a Disciple of New Life Kung Fu you are given the title of Moon-to (Specially selected students with a responsibility for carrying on the style - hand- picked students who meet certain criteria)
A Moon-to gets to assist the Sifu with important decisions for the Kwoon along with instructing Moon-yan and attending belt testing. It is your responsibility as a Moon-to to stay ahead of all Moon-yan.
Sihing: Senior Kung Fu brother (i.e. one who started before you no matter how old they are)
Si Jie: Senior Kung Fu Sister (i.e. one who started before you no matter how old they are)
Sidai: Junior Kung Fu brother (i.e. one who started after you no matter how old they are)
Simui: Junior Kung Fu sister (i.e. one who started after you no matter how old they are)
Moon-to: Disciples - specially selected students with a responsibility for carrying on the style - hand- picked students who meet certain criteria.
Moon-yan: Students, followers