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師祖

As in heads of martial schools, or masters of martial schools. I suppose "founder" can do, but it doesn't sound right. "Elders" is taken by another word, and "master" only seems to work for a specific master, so I don't think that's right either.

  • Assuming students in martial school are in charge of their masters 师父, and 师祖 is some one in higher rank than 师父 (normally they are 师父的师父) who are in charge of 师父. I think Grand Master could be one way to translate it – user1228520 Apr 22 '15 at 2:44
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    @ThomasHsieh Yeah, 师父的师父 could also be 师爷. But when using the words, especially in a setting where relationship could be complex, for example, Master A is Master B's master, Master B is student C's Master and Master D's master, Master D is student E's master. Relatively and strictly speaking every body refers A differently. But it is common to just call A Grand Master. Like a mother calls her child's grand ma grand ma as well. And I think 始祖 could also be 师父的师父的师父...的师父 unless distinction is needed by adding things like 太师祖, 祖师祖 etc. – user1228520 Apr 22 '15 at 3:21
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    I'd say it is a really complicated issue. There are more words like "小姨”, "二姨姥", etc. I mean there is no systematic way of translating these words in general as I know. – FortCpp Apr 22 '15 at 3:39
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    @FortCpp I guess he is just looking for a general term? I mean a lot of words are generalized when translated to English, e.g. 堂(表)兄(弟/姊/妹) all translates to cousin. – Thomas Hsieh Apr 22 '15 at 14:34
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    "Founder" is "祖師" or "祖師爺" – Henry HO Apr 22 '15 at 23:38
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If you're going to go with a romanization of the English such as "sifu" you should probably go with standard Pinyin (i.e. Shizu), rather than some other lesser-used romanization system like Wade-Giles or Yale. Perhaps "Grand Masters" of "Founding Masters" might work well in English. The term seems to be plural (although I have no context) so make sure you use the plural form.

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    The Japanese "Sensei" (先生) is normally just romanized into English this way. I'm not sure how "sifu" came up, but Shifu is already established in English as the pinyin for 师傅. Better to use Shizu. – Colin McLarty Jun 10 '15 at 15:04
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    "sifu" is the Cantonese romanization of "shifu". Having so many dialects for roughly the same writing system makes it hard to decide which is most valid in what situation. However, currently, based on the differential in population size and the type of Chinese taught to foreigners, I'd say that the Mandarin Pinyin should be used most often (if not always). I can't tel you how frustrating it is to pick up an English-language book that still uses the Wade-Giles romanizations, because they aren't truly phonetic and I find difficulty, or at least an inconvenience, in making the conversion. – ZhangMeihua Jun 10 '15 at 16:09
  • Oh! You don't have to tell me it is frustrating! I have great respect for what Thomas Wade and Herbert Giles did in their time. But Hanyu pinyin is incomparably better. – Colin McLarty Jun 10 '15 at 16:53
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In English, I don't think they really worship the founder as we do. I would recommend two ways to show the seniority and hierarchy of 师祖. 1. Mask his name. Like Voldemort, everyone calls him "the one who cannot be named". You can figure out A shorter version 2.use his name to name some important things. Say Newton's law

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It feels like you are talking more about 掌门 or 掌门人 when you are referring to the master of a school of martial arts which is something more like "Head" (as in headmaster), leader or even chief。 Of course this is more of a translation in the context of a martial art sects/schools but can also be informally interpreted as someone who is in charge of an organization (such as CEO or government leader).

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