The term grandmaster is an English one. These appear to denote the founder of a system or the highest practitioner of the style, such as Grandmaster Wong Jack Man, Grandmaster Joseph Greenstein, and Grandmaster Paul Eng. claiming to be the head of their styles or their equal

The nomenclature of the English language evolves with time, and is subject to Western protocols; not Chinese; these include things that are based on merit and /or popularity.

The same thing happened in Karate with black belts that used to mean something; they do not now. Many modern day Westerners who claim to practice Traditional Chinese Martial Arts use belts also.

I studied with the grandmaster Okano of Nippon Kenko Juko Shotokan's system, that only had five level of Black Belt. Okano is a 5th Degree Black Belt that is more highly revered than others with 10 degrees of Black Belts. These styles have offered Grandmaster honorary degrees in their styles of 10th Degree Black Belt, which he has refused.

In China was told that the Grandmaster is the top of the tree, and has been elected to be in that position for his outstanding ability. He is the best person to fit the role of leader of that particular style. So there can only be one Grandmaster, who is the head of that specific style. You can't be the Grandmaster of Yang style in Birmingham or Manchester , there is only one Grandmaster who we all look up to. Sometimes we call out Master "Shi Fu" and his Master should then be "Shi Gong" (like Father and grandfather)

If you decide to call yourself Grandmaster you are saying that this is my system and I am the head of this system. So if I called myself a Grandmaster my system could no longer be Chen Style Tai Chi as there is already a Grandmaster for that. I would have to invent a name for my new system.

When you become a Master you must have a detailed knowledge of the system, forms, weapons pushing hands etc. Then you must have a large number of students and wide reaching influence.

If you teach classes every day and week end workshops and have been training with top level Masters for around 20 years, might call yourself a Master. Anyone calling themselves a Master in Traditonal Martial Arts should be ready for the expected challenges of their skill and fighting ability.

The Gray Sash is used by some Traditonal Systems and is much more meainingful; it qualifies you as a serious student after 10-30 years in a field that should be a way of life.


A master craftsman or master tradesman (sometimes called only master or grandmaster, German: Meister) was a member of a guild. In the European guild system, only masters and journeymen were allowed to be members of the guild.

An aspiring master would have to pass through the career chain from apprentice to journeyman before he could be elected to become a master craftsman. He would then have to produce a sum of money and a masterpiece before he could actually join the guild. If the masterpiece was not accepted by the masters, he was not allowed to join the guild, possibly remaining a journeyman for the rest of his life.

Originally, holders of the academic degree of "Master of Arts" were also considered, in the Medieval universities, as master craftsmen in their own academic field.

Above from Wikipedia


Some martial artists that cannot attain a high level of skill in a style give up, and instead start a new style and myopically decree themselves a grand master.

'I must point out here that the true reason Bruce (who was my student when he lived in Culver City and I was chief instructor of martial arts at Loyola University) started Jeet Kune Do was because he was unable to achieve instructor rank in ANY form of martial he went out and took bits and pieces and created his own.

I also have the first article he ever wrote for publication (for me when I was associate editor at Black Belt magazine). It was so poor we sent it back, an act that angered him to no end at that time. But once he moved here to get into movies and TV he realized he had no power ..... speed but no results. That's what he wanted from me.
There is an internal side to the martial arts....esp. the Chinese arts which later were streamlined by the Japanese who lost the sense of internal until ch'an came to Japan as zen and they saw it as the perfect paradox of internal skill and killing.......but it is not what most are being taught today. It all changed in the mid 60s when people outside the Asian communities began to learn about martial arts....then came the prostitution, phony rankings, made-up school names and everything else that makes true MA so difficult to find these days.’

By Dr. William Upton-Knittle (Dr. William Upton-Knittle, senior coordinator of the UCLA Office of Summer Sessions Advertising and Marketing, was invited by government officials of the People's Republic of China to help plan fund-raising for a project known as the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Victory Memorial.)

Most of the TCIMA schools do not have any ranking system at all, except one. They gave a gray sash after 10-20 years to signify a serious and committed student.

Students lived martial arts, in and out of school, being in it for the long haul. The fruits of training were the energies and consciousnesses that they enabled. There was no need for a status driven, hierchial based belt system.

I did not have any knowledge of gong fu schools using belts in the 1960s and 70s, it was not till after the publicity and money of karate hit, that some schools adopted the belt system, many using the same color of karate belts for sashes.

The best of these schools, did not have mirrors either, one would look inside to the internal for improvement. If no progress was made, the student was not taught anything new, until he got it. Many of today's commercial martial farts schools would go broke like this.

Most of the better fighters; are not the ones with the fancy uniforms.

Rather than being in an exclusive neighborhood, some of the best martial arts schools are in bad neighborhoods. One has to be a good martial artist to attend. When one comes out of a school, such as this, hustlers stay away.

There are many times when a master will come into a school, and pretend to be a student. There are others who will minimize their skill, so that no one at their newly attended school, is afraid of them. If no one is afraid of them, they will be taught everything.

This is not to say that belts are not effective commercially or for children. One must decide on their priorities.

Value can be placed on the ability to do a move, or use a new energy, rather than a superficial status difference.

One can look at the apparent, the hidden, what is hidden in the apparent, the hidden in the apparent and the apparent of the hidden. This goes for moves, their energies, and the relationship between the moves. A belt system sets up a caste system based on superficials, with no common standard between schools or systems.

Some of the karate school’s green/blue belts would prevail in sparring over 75% of the area’s black belts. Another school I attended, the yellow belts would outdo 80% of the area’s black belts in a fight.

In issuing a belt, a school is putting a value system into a material, colored cloth. In issuing a check, a bank places a value system into colored paper.

When there is no enforceable martial standard for belts, value is only determined by the issuer. To another school, a belt may be no more than a bad check. A school sets up its own value system in adopting a belt system, beyond awards; many unaware of its long range, subtle and unintended consequences.

To be able to read a person based on what is in their eyes and how they stand, for some, is more important than a uniform, color or a trophy.

A peacock struts his colors, an assassin hides them.

Grandmothers can claim he grandmaster title now, since the grandmaster flash on automatically substituted the term grandmaster for grandmother.

Now that it is more profitable to teach kung fu, you will see teachers pontificate themselves through their students hyping them as a grandmaster, when their sifu is the true Grandmaster of their style, even while their Sifu is still alive; which is very disrespectful in Traditional Chinese Martial Arts. This denigrates the term grandmaster and implies that the student is at the same ability of their Sifu. When the student has distinguished themselves independently with martial feats, matches with world famous fighters or in a war campaign, this might new title is well deserved as it is with Grandmaster Paul Eng, a former student of Grandmaster Wong Jack Man. Unfortunately their are other students of Grandmaster Wong Jack Man who are deceitfully having themselves promoted as a grandmasters without merit

A dancer of kung fu sets, a historian of kung fu, or a personal friend of a Grandmaster that does not make you a Grandmaster.

Sifu means your "teacher-father"; Grandmaster has meant forbearer, founder or the leading proponent of a system: not a parrot or girl friend!

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