The Truth About Bowing in the Martial Arts!
The two martial artists faced off to fight. They did their ritual bows, and one ran off screaming. “You belong to the School of the Flying Dragon Who Passes Gas in the Clouds!” The remaining Martial Artist sneered, and thanked the Gods he had at least learned the ritual bow of that esoteric school of Gung Fu.
Sounds like a movie, eh?
But it does bring up the question…what is with all this bowing stuff?
When this writer walked into his first martial arts school, and walked onto his first mat, he was told the secret of bowing.
‘You are paying respect to all the martial artists who have stepped on this mat before, to all who have made the martial arts what they are.’
Okay. I can have that. I always greeted my grandfather with joy, why not consider the martial arts a family, or at least community?
And I quickly bought into bowing when you enter or leave the building, which showed respect for the school, and bowing to your opponent to show respect to him.
Heck, it was simple, polite, and quicker and safer than a handshake. I liked it.
Then I found out that in Japan, if the degree of your bow was off by a fraction of an inch…you were guilty of immense social disgrace.
And I found out that in China, if you didn’t do your ritual bow, the one where you step into the deep back stance, twirl the hands through a covered fist into a sword and shield, then into a mystical hand shadow of a dragon flying, and then do a backflip, you would be dead meat to the ancients!
And all the other gung fu schools would laugh at you.
But, that wasn’t the worst!
What was worse was that if you didn’t clamp your feet together harder than a Prussian snap! If you didn’t shoot your fists downwards like lightening bolts. If you didn’t bow severely and to the proper degree at the waist…you could be docked for points while performing kata at a tournament!
I really had no idea that the ancients were so militaristic.
But do you see how far afield we have come in this matter of bowing?
When I was at the Kang Duk Won, back in the seventies, I figured out this thing called a Martial Arts bow.
You are communicating with another person(s).
Maybe they are dead, maybe they are about to clean your clock on the mat, but you are saying… “Hello.”
And, you know, that’s what I tell my students when they first walk into my dojo, when they first step on to my mat.
You are saying hello. ‘Hello’ to the school when you walk into the building, and ‘Thanks’ when you leave.
You are saying “Hello” to all the other students, past and future, when you step on to the mat, and maybe ‘See you later’ when you leave.
You are saying “Hello” to your opponent. And when he gets a good punch or kick in on you, or you on him, you both bow and agree that that was a good punch or kick. “Nicely done!”
And when you disengage from fighting with him you are saying, “thanks.”
But you are not engaging in militaristic ritual, or going to be graded by society or a judge for the degree of your bow, or even trying to do a backflip so high that you can pass gas in the clouds.
First Case History written in years. But you can find more Case Histories here.