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Challenging the Masters part 10: Why do you bow?

Updated: May 4

Oh man,

I can feel the tension building! Folks are going to have their underpants in a knot over this. I know, because I have already been yelled at for my earlier postings. But since I have way more guts than common sense, I am back on my mission. I feel like I need to end this 10 part series with a bang. So load up the old shotgun folks, we are going for a ride.

Now, the one thing about martial arts that almost everyone is familiar with, is the bowing to your instructor, or bowing as you enter and leave a school. There have been raging debates over this for a long time, so I am going to go ahead and tell you why bowing is a good idea.

Bowing shows respect. Respect to your teachers, respect to the school, and respect to the pioneers that created the arts that we so fervently practice. It is NOT a show of inferiority to your instructors. Anyone who DEMANDS that you bow to them needs to check their ego issues, because they have them. If you notice, your teacher bows to you in return. That is a MUTUAL show of respect. Now, tradition calls that you bow slightly lower to someone of higher rank, but that is not such a big deal. In America, we are taught to "respect your elders." So that idea is not so novel at all, is it? When you bow to your teacher, you are acknowledging that you are all brothers and sisters on the same path. You are saying to each other with every bow," yes I am glad to be here with you. Yes, I love the training. And no, I will NOT try to hurt or injure you while we train." A sincere bow says all of these things. So don't be afraid to bow. It is not to show that you are subservient. It is to show that you have nothing but decent intentions while you train.

Now, I am going to tell you why we should not bow. Bowing is an Asian tradition. And while some traditions do have their merit, this may not be one of them. Americans shake hands. And while it may not have the same meaning as bowing, it seems to work for us. And remember, America is not just one ethnicity. There are literally dozens of nationalities and ethnic backgrounds that live here. There is not a single unifying ideal prevalent in America. Some Americans don't mind the idea of bowing at all. Some may find it embarassing or demeaning. When you run your classes, it is generally NOT a good idea to force or push a tradition or idea upon your students. It would be a shame to lose a student, or students over something as simple as a misunderstanding about bowing. IN the scheme of things, there are much more important issues to discuss.

For what it is worth, here are my 2 cents. I suggest that you just explain to your students why you bow, or why you don't. That way you can circumvent all of the nonsense before it even happens. But if you do bow, make it sincere and do it like you mean it.

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