Bowing in the martial arts is a very simple act but one that is extremely important. Many students often bow just because they are told they have to and don’t understand the crucial meaning behind it. Bowing between Instructors and students shows the respect felt among themselves and towards each other. It also shows you care. When you bow, you are not bowing to that person, but respecting the knowledge and skill that person has acquired, and to the rank that they have attained. Bowing is about heart and feeling and it’s about what is said without speaking. It is about paying respect.
Bowing also symbolises humility. When you bow to a higher grade you are acknowledging they know more about martial arts than you. Being humble is a very important trait to have in every aspect of your life and every time you bow you should remind yourself to be modest and always think of others. It is very good for keeping your ego in check.
How to bow: Always ensure your feet are together with no gaps. Your hands are by your side and you bow 45 degrees from the waist with your eyes lowered.
When to bow and why:
TO YOUR INSTRUCTOR: The most important person to bow to is your Instructor, for they are the one that will teach you everything you will ever learn about the martial arts. For this you will be forever in their debt. This you can never repay but hopefully one day pass onto others. You should bow when you first meet your Instructor and also when you say goodbye and also if they help you in any way. The bond between a student and their Instructor is one that will last a lifetime and is based on respect, trust and loyalty. This is rare and should be cherished.
WHEN ENTERING THE DOJANG: Bowing when entering the dojang has several meanings to think about. Firstly it symbolises clearing your mind and leaving all your problems at the door. It allows you to have “you” time where you can concentrate solely on your martial art. This is fantastic for stress release and to get the most out of your training. When you bow you should also “empty your cup.” This means you go into the lesson as a black canvas and ready to learn whatever is taught that day. Students who arrive at lessons already thinking they know it all will develop big egos and this is against everything the martial arts promote. Importantly you are bowing to what the room represents as an avenue to learn and grow and an environment of positive change.
WHEN YOU LEAVE THE DOJANG: This signifies that your training has finished. Also that you are grateful for the knowledge received that lesson from your Instructor.
AT THE START/END OF THE LESSON: The highest grade should always command the whole class to bow to the Instructor as a sign of respect and gratitude at the start and the end of the lesson.
WHEN TRAINING WITH A PARTNER: Partners should always shake hands as well after training. Bowing indicates that the practitioners are alert and ready and also that they wish no harm to their partner. Bowing after training together shows gratitude to the other person. Each person learns something about themselves during training and the ending bow is thanking the other person for the learning.
Why bowing is so important.
When one doesn’t understand why you bow, they are not doing wrong, but missing out on a journey of self discovery and philosophy
So the next time you bow, think about the context of the situation. Who are you bowing to? Why? What purpose does it serve? Within that context, how can you be the best student you can possibly be? How can you use your time most effectively? It is these thoughts that are the mark of a true martial artist. Introspection and awareness are the hallmarks of great practitioners. Strive to be the best you can be. It involves opening your eyes, as well as your mind to everything that goes on within the dojang, not just the physical.