martial arts formal bowing

Karatedo begins and ends with courtesy.

Karatedo wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru

Karatedo begins and ends with courtesy.


How do you show your courtesy and respect in your culture?

In Japanese culture, they bow. They bow a lot actually. Bowing is an ancient practice and is a sign of mutual respect and trust. Bowing in the martial arts is not showing of subservience, as it is in Western culture (i.e. bowing to royalty).

Even if you are not in Japan, being in the dōjō there many Japanese traditions, customs and rituals that are followed today. Historically they had (still have?) meanings but somewhere between then and now, we have lost the meanings and even outside of the  dōjō in modern Japanese society, some of these may not be performed any more.

Whenever or wherever you train karate, judo kung fu, kendo, jiu jitsu or any martial art, you are expected to follow certain etiquette and manners. The rules may vary from place to place , however these etiquette and manners are basically to “show respect”.

When you enter the dōjō , remember that the other people who are there too came for the same reasons as you, so you must show respect to them, to the teachers who are present and to their teachers as well.

The bow is one of the first things you learn to do in Shorinjiryu Karate.


Usually the entrance to the dōjō  (training area) is placed directly opposite to the shomen (place of honour) at the front of the dōjō . Depending on the Shorinjryu school or club, the shomen  would have a picture of our founder and the current chief instructor, flag of your country, calligraphy, and in some dōjō  a religious symbol like a crucifix or

 a Kamiza (a little shinto religious altar with flowers).
When you enter at the beginning of class you are in a position to bow. We bow before we enter the training room to the people inside the dōjō  that you will be training with. If there is nobody is inside, you must still bow. But you are not bowing to an empty dōjō , you are bowing to the spirit of those who may be away right now or who will soon be coming to the dōjō.
We bow before we step onto the mats, as part of the opening ceremony  we bow to the Shomen (place of honour), we bow to the Sensei (instructor), we bow to one another, we bow when we start to practice a kata by ourselves or to each other for a kumite or practice drill.
At the end of class, as part of the closing ceremony we bow to the Sensei and to the Shomen and one another, and again as we leave the mats and as we leave the training room.

Even outside the dōjō , when meeting a fellow student we would bow when we say hello or goodbye. If you meet your teacher or other instructor in a public place outside the dōjō you would bow.
It seems we spend a lot of time bowing, and the reason for it is because it is a symbol of respect and trust.
We were told we bow to show respect to our God, our country, our founder, our Sensei, to our training partners, and everyone who has come before.
Karate is a contact sport and our partners need to responsible for each other for each other’s safety and well being. Partners need each other to   learn and to progress.  Partners must demonstrate respect, a proper mindset, and a proper attitude when training. Bowing is your way of expressing your respect to others. After the exercise we bow thanking each other for not violating the trust and respect.
Bowing is also a form of meditation of sorts, you must have presence in bowing, you must be present in the time, in the moment. If it is done in sincerity, it is correct. If it is done absent-mindedly, it is incorrect. It is a good thing even if you have to rush to the bathroom to bow sincerely because it trains you in the right attitude and to keep your composure even in case of an emergency.



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I teach Shihan Shigeru Ishino's Shorinjiryu Genbukan Karate in Kingston Ontario Canada since 1983. Shihan Ishino was an original student of Kaiso Masayoshi Kori Hisataka in Tokyo Japan, who came to Canada in 1969 to assist with the Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karate dojos in Montreal Quebec Canada.

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