- Yesterday after our children's Karate class, I was approached by one of the parents who expressed his concern about bowing as a form of worship. It was not the first time I have faced this matter. I decided to write about this "unknown" to many "issue". Although I talk about bowing quite often during our classes, I thought that little extra education of the public won't hurt.
Japanese/Okinawan Arts = Japanese/Okinawan Customs
...and now I will touch just a little bit on types and ways of bowing.
Bowing in the Dojo
"Karate begins and ends with "Rei".
There is a lot of "bowing" going on in the dojo. There is 立ち礼 Tachi rei - standing bow and then there is 座礼 Zarei - seated bow.
立礼 Ritsu rei or 立ち礼 Tachi rei Standing bow is generally practiced when entering the dojo or greeting the fellow members, this includes during training with partners or opponents.
会釈 Eshaku or 目礼 Mokurei (silent bow) is the informal bow about 15°. In civilian life, it can be just a nod. In the dojo, it is a 15°-20° bow maintaining eye contact. It is generally used when facing a training partner or an opponent. There should be a one second pause at the bottom.
Bows are distinguished principally by their depth. Deeper bows are more formal, more respectful. For example, bowing to a student with higher rank or seniority. Three breath method or, literally, bow three breaths. Breathe in while bending forward, exhale at the bottom, holding the position for a count of one and then inhale once more coming back up to the initial posture. The neck should be kept straight, in line with the back.
Bows differ slightly between the different styles of traditional Martial Arts, but the above guidelines are always kept.
It is important to remember that the first meaning of the word 礼 - Rei is “thanks”, “gratitude” or "politeness" therefore bowing must be practiced in a well controlled manner.
Aggressive bowing as being taught in commercial martial arts schools especially in United States is considered rude and disrespectful. Bowing in such way where students slap their hands on the side of the thighs, bow in uncontrolled manner yelling yes sir!! yes sir!!! is simply ridiculous and have no place in genuine Martial Arts. It is unfortunate that I also see "uneducated" bowing even in traditional schools. It should be the first "Red Flag" when choosing martial arts school, but that's another topic for later...
The way you bow reveals your depth of respect. Not bowing or overdoing it, for example, bowing too low or too long can also be considered disrespectful and hypocritical.
In any case, bowing in the dojo is not a way of worship, although it can be, but it is entirely up to the individual's heart, intention and desire.
Bowing, just like correctly tying your belt is the 101 of basics. Kind of the first impression of your Martial Arts skills. If you can't do these two properly.....well...I will leave this one for your own judgement.
I bow to you,