It’s easy to wonder why martial artists bow. More than just tradition, the martial bow is a sign of mutual respect and humility still honored today.
To a new student just beginning their martial arts journey, it can first appear that they are constantly bowing.
Most schools expect their students to bow as they enter/exit the school, as they step on/off the training floor, at the start and end of each class, to their coach or instructor, and to their training partner.
But what is the significance of each bow?
In short, the bow is a way to practice showing respect and gratitude. Different styles will have different standards as to what the proper form of a bow looks like. At Invictus Martial Arts, students place their feet together and keep their hands at their side before they bend at the waist at a 45 degree angle. This is the most traditional form of a martial bow dating all the way back to 12th century Japan!
It is important to note that a bow at the neck or any bow from the waist that does not break the 45 degree plane does not carry the same meaning. While these less formal bows are not necessarily considered disrespectful, they simply serve as a form of acknowledgment rather than a display of respect or gratitude. For example, a bow at the neck or slow nod of the head most commonly means “hello” rather than “I respect you” or “I’m grateful for you”. That’s a pretty important distinction, isn’t it?!
It is common for some students to feel insecure or even embarrassed to bow at first because they are unfamiliar with the deep tradition and meaning behind the bow. Fortunately, there are several opportunities during each class to practice developing this important skill and the mindset that comes with it. Here’s a quick breakdown.
Bow To Show Respect
Bowing as you enter the academy and before stepping onto the training floor shows respect to your school, the style you train in, and your instructors. It’s also an acknowledgment of your intentions to give your best effort during your class. At the start of each class, instructors and students first bow to the flag out of respect for their country. Next, instructors and students bow to any spectators out of respect for their attention and support. Finally, instructors and students bow to each other as a sign of mutual respect and humility. During sparring or pad drills that require two students work together, partners will bow to each other as a way to signify they will train collaboratively with control and respect for each other’s wellbeing and development.
Bow To Show Gratitude
At the end of each partner drill, the two students that worked together bow to express gratitude for the learning and skill development they received from their partner. At the end of each training session the instructors bow first to the students expressing gratitude for their participation and dedication to their training. Students bow in return to express gratitude for the instruction and mentorship they received during their class. As students leave for the day, they bow at the front door with gratitude for their school and instructors.
It’s easy to see why martial artists bow once you understand their commitment to developing not only their martial arts skills but also their mindset.
Practicing respect and gratitude during each training sessions helps create an unbeatable mindset that will translate into more success and happiness in all areas of life. And who doesn’t want that?
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