Several of my senior students recently undertook the traditional Bai Shi ceremony to become ‘Indoor Students’. This means they are now ‘Men Ren’ or ‘ Gatekeepers’ of the Wu Style of Taiji Quan that I was inducted into by my Master, Li Li Qun. This makes them 6th Generation successors. This is counted from Quan You, the originator of the style, to Wu Jian Quan to Ma Yueh Liang, to Li Li Qun and then to me. In the absence of my Master I hope I’ve done the right thing. The greater Wu style family grows each time a successor is appointed, but as we all know that does not always mean that there is harmony in the bigger family.
Bai Shi is a traditional Chinese martial arts initiation which means to make obeisance to the knowledge that has been passed down and to the teacher as Master and guide. The Master, plus ‘Tu Di’ (indoor students) is a family made up of a head and elder and younger teaching brothers and so on. In some cases this may be quite large with two generations of successors still teaching. In my case my Master is gone as has his Master though I still have teaching ‘brothers’ in Shanghai.
The family that is created through the Bai Shi practice is important to maintain a credible heritage and to preserve the true and authentic teachings of the previous generations of Masters. Becoming an ‘Indoor Student’ brings with it quite a responsibility. Such a student must study and learn the full knowledge that their teacher has achieved and also endeavour to achieve a high standard of skill within the system. Since they are empowered to pass on that knowledge when the Master (Shi Fu) allows. This is hard to achieve and requires the kind of dedication that is difficult to maintain in a modern society.
The kind of student that qualifies for such a status is evidently one that has put in maximum effort over a lengthy period of time and has gained a good standard of skill. They will also be someone who is able to devote time and money to furthering the style and it’s exposure to ensure new students both for the benefit of the school and the master. Typically they might also have an ambition to take on the role of a teacher and therefore will need to be able to communicate their knowledge well. My Master also put great emphasis on the moral code that a student should abide by. Consequently their behaviour should be exemplary in both the civil and martial world.
The Bai Shi ceremony takes place in front of “older brothers” and Master and will entail making a verbal request to become an Indoor Student. This may be preceded by a more formal written request. The ceremony would typically take place in front of images of the predecessors, gods, protective deities etc and would normally entail bowing to them and then to the Master before handing the teacher a gift which traditionally could be clothes, shoes and money, generally in a red envelope known as Hong Bao ( red package). The whole event might end in a ‘family’ dinner or a humble tea pouring where each student offers the Master tea and then may also serve his new brothers and sisters. Obviously there are a million different ways and traditions involved in such a ceremony and they can be both highly formalised and highly informal. Luckily my Master was reasonably informal as have I been with my students. However it generally all amounts to the same thing: a contract between the Master and students to create a family to respect, study and promote the system, guard its authenticity, be morally upright and take it forward into the next generation. All this is normally encapsulated in the words that are on the Certificate that the Master gives to the student at Bai Shi.
Bai Shi should be a happy occasion and everyone should know what it means before undertaking it. Lucky for me I am blessed with some very special students who have earned their Bai Shi and understand their responsibilities. Congratulations to them and may there be many more!