Grandmaster (or Grand Master) and Master are titles used to describe or address some senior or experienced martial artists. Such titles may be, to some extent, aligned to the elderly martial arts master stock character in fiction. In Oriental martial arts, traditional titular systems vary between nations and arts, but terms such as "teacher" were more common than "master." The modern use came from Eastern to Western society in the 1950s with stories of martial feats seen in Asia.



 [hide*1 History


Asian martial arts traditionally use terms that are usually translated as "teacher"[1] and the use of "master" was a Western invention derived from 1950s United States war veterans returning home[1] with stories of the incredible martial feats of certain individuals and groups. Subsequently, they found their way into martial arts culture as marketing tactics to the extent that the titles are aligned to the 'elderly martial arts master' stock character. In Asian countries, such titles are more commonly reserved for religious leaders and saints.[1]

Modern use[edit]Edit

The use of 'master', 'grandmaster' etc. is decided within an individual art or organization. The use may be self assigned; for example having promoted a student to 'teacher' level, or may be assigned by a governing body in arts with a more formalised structure, and some do not use it at all, for historic reasons or to avoid the 'elderly master' stereotype. The modern use of Dan rankings and Black belt and Red belt in martial arts both derive from Judo where they were adopted by its founder Kanō Jigorō.[2]

Traditional systems[edit]Edit

There are many terms similar or equivalent to 'grandmaster' used by various martial arts traditions. Some of these terms derive from older systems, while others are relatively modern.


Japanese martial arts commonly use Sensei (先生) meaning "teacher" or literally translated, "born first"[1] or "one who has gone before".[3] A Sensei is a person who has knowledge and is willing to teach that knowledge to another. A Sensei assists students in ken shiki "the pursuit of knowledge".[3] Some organizations, such as the BujinkanKodokan (Judo), and Shodokan Aikido, use the termshihan for high-ranking or highly distinguished instructors. Sōke (宗家?), means "the head family [house]."[4] is sometimes used to refer to "founder of a style" because many modern sōke are the first generation headmasters of their art, but most correctly refers to the current head. A sōke is considered the ultimate authority within their art and has the authority to issue a menkyo kaiden certificate indicating that someone has mastered all aspects of the style.[5]


The actual Korean word for a student's master is suseung-nim. This term is only used by the student when speaking to the instructor. The student is hakseang.[6] (학생 HakSaeng 學生) Many Korean titles are often mistakenly translated as "grandmaster" (태사님 TaeSaNim 太師님). Sonseang-nim (선생님 SeonSaengNim 先生님) is a general term for a teacher of any subject as well as a respectful form of the word “you”. Martial arts instructors (in Korea 4th Dan and above) are called Sabom-nim (사범님 SaBeomNim 師範님). Since Black Belts of any level in the United States may teach martial arts, the title sabom-nim (사범님 SaBeomNim 師範님) is used by some when talking about American martial arts instructors that might not yet be 4th Dan.[6]

The term kwan jang-nim (KwanJangNim 舘長님 or 館長님) is used for the owner of a martial arts school. A chae yook kwan is a fitness center. A jang (장 Jang 長) is the general term for a head, chief or director. Nim (님 任) is a suffix of respect for a person. In the United States a black belt might not necessarily be a master but still might be the kwan jang-nim (관장님 KwanJangNim 舘長님 or 館長님) owner/operator of the school. The head or chief of several kwan jang (관장 KwanJang 舘長 or 館長) is the chong kwan jang (총관장 ChongKwanJang 總舘長 or 總館長). The hae jang-nim (회장님 HwoiJangNim 會長님) is the president or head of the association.[6]


Various dialects of the Chinese language use different terms.

"Sifu" is a common romanization, although the term and pronunciation are also used in other southern languages. In Mandarin Chinese, it is spelled "shifu" in pinyin. Using non-rhotic British English pronunciation, in Mandarin it would sound something similar to "sure foo". Using IPA, 'shi' is pronounced 'ʂɨ'. The 'i' is a short vowel. Many martial arts studios incorrectly pronounce this like "she foo". In Cantonese, it is said as "see foo" (almost like "sea food", without the "d" on the end). (師傅 or 師父; Pinyinshīfu, Standard pinyin: si1 fu6) a modern term for "teacher".

The term Shifu is a combination of the characters "teacher" and "father" (師父) or a combination of the characters "teacher" and "mentor" (師傅). The traditional Chinese martial arts school, or kwoon (館, guǎn) is an extended family headed by the Shifu. The Shifu's teacher is the "師公 honorable master" or Shigong. Similarly the Shifu's wife is the Shimu "teacher mother" and the grandmaster's wife is known as: 師姥 shi lao; or 師婆 shi po. Male and female students who began training before you and are thus senior, are Shixing "teacher older brothers" and 師姑 shi gu "teacher's sisters". Women in traditional society did not have the same status as males (in spite what modern movies tell you). Students junior to you are your Shidi and Shimei. The pattern extends to uncles, aunts, cousins, great uncles, and so forth (see above for a complete list of relational terms).

A teacher might be referred to as '始祖 shi zu "founding teacher". e.g. Bruce Lee is the Shi zu "founder" of Jeet Kune Do.

A closer relationship is formed between the Shifu and the Todai "disciple" (徒弟, pinyin=túdì). After a formal Tea Ceremony, where everyone dresses up in their best attire, the Tudai kneels while serving his Shifu tea and becomes virtually an adopted son. The Todaiassists the Shifu in minor school duties such as housekeeping and tuition collection. Modern mainland Chinese sometimes also use the term laoshi (老師, lǎoshī) which also means teacher but implies a relationship more similar to that of Japan than the traditional family relationship.

This is the true highest rank of the Templar Order. You may be looking for the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitalier, the Grand Master of the Knights Teutonic, or the Assassin Brotherhood equivalent, the Mentor. The title of Grand Master is one of the highest ranks of the Templar Order. Originally it was the supreme head of the entire order, but evolution of the organization over the centuries led to this status being superseded by newly created authorities such as the Guardians and the General of the Cross. Since the establishment of major branches of the order, the title has designated the heads of the Rites of the order, each corresponding to a specific geographic region, where they serve as the highest authority.

Having previously borne a more public face, more Grand Masters of the Templar Order were better known than their Assassin counterparts. However, as the Templars slipped back into the shadows, the identities of their leaders eventually fell from the public consciousness. By the early 19th century, the Templars were no longer ruled by a single Grand Master or independant leaders but instead by a council of the Order's brightest members, the Inner Sanctum of the Templar Order. The Sanctum was in charge of creating a globalized plan for the Order and to ensure the cooperation of all the Rites and their leaders, while also preventing any corruption of the Templar ideals.

While still in charge of their respective and autonomous Rites, the Grand Masters were nevertheless accountable to the members of the Inner Sanctum and their inquisitor, the feared Black Cross. Furthermore, the Inner Sanctum was in charge of promoting the Grand Masters, keeping their numbers under strict command. While it was commonly assumed that all Templar leaders were drawn from the stock of Western nobility, due to the prominence of the front-organization that was the Knights Templar during the Middle Ages, the truth was that as the Order developed, diversified and relocated, many different people of various ethnic backgrounds and cultural heritages had assumed the mantle of Grand Master throughout the Templars' longevity.

Middle Ages Edit

One of the first known Grand Masters was a Frenchman named Hugues de Payens. In 1128, he and his colleague Bernard de Clairvaux co-authored the document known as the Latin Rule, which dictated the behaviors of the Order's Knights. It was applied the following year and soon spread throughout the Order.

After two years without a Grand Master following Gerard de Ridefort's death, Robert de Sablé entered the Templar Order and reigned as their Grand Master during 1191. During his reign, he sought the Pieces of Eden, particularly the Apple of Eden. After having lost the Apple, he launched an attack on the Levantine Assassins' stronghold of Masyaf. Later on, during the Battle of Arsuf, he was killed by his rival, Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad.

After the death of Robert, Armand Bouchart took on the mantle of Grand Master as he and the Templars retreated to Cyprus. However, Altaïr pursued him and the two fought in the Templar Archive, after the Assassin foiled the Grand Master's plans, resulting in Altaïr's victory and the Templars losing another leader.

During the early 14th century, the French King Philip le Bel was unknowingly influenced by the Assassins, and conspired against the Templars. As a result, they were branded heretics and hundreds of them were arrested, with the last official Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, understanding that the Order would not survive as a public organization. With this, he allowed himself to be burned at the stake, saving the lives of his brethren and making his enemies believe that the Templars were finished, though in reality, the Order continued to exist – underground. This aside, before his death, Molay sent nine of his most trusted men out into the world to continue his work.

Colonial eraEdit Edit

By the 18th century, the title of Grand Master had been slightly altered, becoming a rank that the leaders of the orders had depending on their region. During the time of colonial expansion by the major European empires, the Cuban governor Laureano de Torres y Ayala assumed the role of Grand Master of the Caribbean Templars. Operating out of Havana, he sought the fabled Observatory in order to spy upon and thus bend the leaders of the European colonial empires to Templar will, ensuring peace through order. Torres was ultimately assassinated by the pirate-turned-Assassin Edward Kenway.

In Britain, the Grand Master of the British Rite was Reginald Birch, an Englishman who used the pretext of business to cover his affiliations. He was responsible for the growth of Templar influence in the British colonies, sending over Haytham Kenway to lead them. Upon his arrival in the colonies, Haytham gathered his co-conspirators, who had been recruited and located by Birch, and became Grand Master of the Colonial Rite.

During the French and Indian War, part of the wider Seven Years' War, the Colonial Rite grew in power, acquiring such influence that they soon posed a serious threat to the Colonial Assassins under Achilles Davenport. At the time, the Assassins were more preoccupied with investigating Pieces of Eden and largely ignored the organization's new leadership, an error that proved fatal.

Shortly after founding the Colonial branch, Haytham led the rite in an assault against the Assassins. Aided by the Assassin turncoat Shay Cormac and lead on the field by Haytham himself, the Templars removed key figures in the Order, greatly reducing the Assassin's presence. This cumulated in an attack on the Davenport Homestead in 1763, where the remaining Assassins were killed and Achilles was exiled on the condition that he never revive the Brotherhood, thus effectively exterminating the Colonial Order.

Near the end of the 18th century, the title of Grand Master had been bestowed upon Charles Lee, following the death of Haytham during the siege of Fort George by Haytham's son, the Assassin Connor. Charles, being the only conspirator left from Haytham's rule, attempted to flee back to England by ship after his initial plan to kill Connor failed. He was unsuccessful though, and Connor assassinated him inside a tavern.

In Europe, François de la Serre had risen to the position of Grand Master of the Parisian Rite. However, he was ultimately deposed in a coup d'etat orchestrated by François-Thomas Germain, who usurped the position of Grand Master following de la Serre's death.

By 1868, the British Rite was controlled by Crawford Starrick, who expanded the Templars' reach to every major corner of industrialized society, from the highest official to the lowest criminal. He was opposed by the few remaining Assassins in London, namely Henry Green and the Frye twins.[12]

Modern timesEdit Edit

By the 20th century, the "Founders" created Abstergo Industries in 1937, which from that point on served as the front for the Templar Order. Though its highest-ranking employees all held some form of leadership in the Templar Order,[13] there were multiple Grand Masters who still maintained control over their operations. As of 2014, there are three known Grand Masters operating respectively in Cuba, Mexico and the United States.

Grand Master (Latin: Magister generalis; German: Hochmeister) is a title of the supreme head of various orders, including chivalric orders such as military orders and dynastic orders of knighthood.

A sovereign monarch often holds the title of Grand Master of the highest honorary dynastic orders of knighthood, or may confer or entrust it upon another person including a prince of the royal family, regularly the heir to the throne, who in other orders may hold another high rank/title.

The term "Sovereign" is generally used in place of "Grand Master" for the supreme head of various orders in Britain and other Commonwealth nations. In the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the Grand Master is styled "Sovereign", e.g. Sovereign Grand Master, due to its status as an internationally independent sovereign entity.

The title also occurs in modern civil fraternal orders such as the Freemasons, the Odd Fellows, and various other fraternities. Additionally, numerous modern self-styled orders attempt to imitate habits of the former bodies.

HistoryEdit Edit

Medieval eraEdit Edit

In medieval military orders such as the Knights Templar or the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, the Grand Master was the formal and executive head of a military and feudal hierarchy, which can be considered a "state within the state", especially in the crusader context lato sensu, notably aimed at the Holy Land or pagan territories in Eastern Europe, as well as the reconquista in the Iberian peninsula.

If an order is granted statehood and thus widely considered sovereign, the Grand Master is also its Head of State. If within the Holy Roman Empire, a Reichsfürst and Head of Government, and thus a true territorial Prince of the church, as was the case with the Teutonic Knights and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Modern eraEdit Edit

Except the modern continuation of the organisations of medieval foundation, the title of Grand Master has been used by the heads of Grand Lodges of Freemasons since 1717, and by Odd Fellows since the 18th century.<p>

The title of Grand Master is also used by various other fraternities, including academic ones associated with universities. The national leader of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity goes by the title "Worthy Grand Master".The heads of local chapters use the title of "Grand Master".

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