The term "kung-fu" has been applied to the Chinese Martial Arts for centuries, and means "hard work", a fitting description of the rigors involved in the learning and practice of the Chinese Martial Arts! A student of kung-fu is expected to practice the art diligently and faithfully, enduring many tiring and sometimes painful hours of training. This, combined with the higher moral character and mental discipline expected of the student, give the student a highly rigorous and demanding path to follow. No wonder the term "kung-fu" was chosen! Other terms exist for the Chinese Martial Arts, among them "ch'uan shu" (fist art), "wu shu" (martial art), and "kuo shu" (national art), yet none of these names has received as widespread use and popularity as "kung-fu."
Kung-fu is not only a form of healthful exercise and highly effective system of self-defense, but also a benefit to the practitioner's mental and spiritual well-being. A person's body cannot act without the mind, and the mind must be directed by a calm spirit. The practice of true kung-fu requires that the teachings become integral to the way of life of the practitioner, influencing every aspect of life. kung-fu blends mind, spirit, and body together, enabling the harmonious action between the elements of a person's life.
Chinese philosophy consistently stresses the importance of harmony within the natural order, as is perhaps best symbolized by the ancient Chinese symbol of yin and yang. Neither side of the symbol is larger or more important to the other both sides must be in perfect balance, or the whole is affected. This is the same with the practitioner of kung-fu. The true mastery of kung-fu may only be achieved when all elements of a person's life are in balance.
The harmony that must exist within an individual practitioner of kung-fu is also extended to harmony within the kung-fu school, and within society. Within the school, students are taught respect for each other, their instructors, and for the society in which they live. All students lend a hand in the care of each other and of the school itself. In this way, a kung-fu school acts as a family. In fact, in the Chinese tradition, members of the school are referred to as "brother" and "sister". The master in this sense is the "father" of the school, and thus receives much more respect than an ordinary teacher.
The master of a kung-fu school is known to the students as "Sifu." The Sifu is a highly learned and versatile person who has knowledge not only of self-defense, but may possess knowledge in many other areas as well, such as medicine, philosophy, or Chinese culture and literature. Not only a teacher of martial arts, the Sifu is also responsible for providing guidance and acting as a prime example to students. A common saying in kung-fu is that the student "starts in a dark room while the master stands in the sunlight." The saying exhibits how important the Sifu is in developing not only the student's kung-fu skills, but also attitude and philosophy as well.