Take a Bow

A Japanese man bowing in prayer at the Kamakur...

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I was wondering if people actually knew or understood why there are so many rituals and specific practices of etiquette in the martial arts. So, I thought today I might present my viewpoint on this topic.

Martial arts to me means building respect into your daily life. It is achieved by learning and following the often strict, ritual courtesy and etiquette that all students are told to follow when they are training in their martial arts school. Regardless of rank all must follow the prescribed guidelines for bowing, training, wearing of your uniform, speaking to senior students, entering the school, coming and going from the practice floor, leaving the school, and more.

The purpose of these rituals is not to force your respect for others but rather to develop a sincere and strong respect for yourself. If you do not respect yourself how can you respect others? When you respect yourself you can and will develop respect for others.

For example, take the action of “Bowing.” There are many that believe that they do not have to bow to another fellow student or person. That bowing is silly. That bowing has no meaning. That it is beneath them. But, this is not the correct way of thinking.

When you enter your martial arts school your mind should begin preparation for the training that is to follow. This initial bow allows you to focus your mind on what is ahead – your training for that day. It is like a key that unlocks your mind so that you are ready to receive the knowledge that will be transmitted that day. In reality you are showing respect for yourself and acknowledging that you want and are willing to learn.

During a martial arts class the act of bowing lets your seniors and fellow students know that you are paying attention and acknowledging the information or practice that they are conveying to you. It is respect for the mutual interaction that takes you along your journey in the martial arts.

At the end of class bowing is in essence showing your thanks and gratitude for your school – a place where you can come and learn, for your teachers – that they are there and willing to teach you and consider you as family, and for your fellow students – as they are the ones that assist you in your learning by practicing with you.

So when you come to class, during class and after….take a bow.


Grand Master John W. Rankin

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  • Darlene Mcpherson

    Excellent point of view.  Very succinct explanation of a complex principle.