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Bowing In Karate

Stella Bow

Bowing In Karate

It was unusual for Sensei to line us up for class and do the warm up….

Seiza….”  We all knelt down.  “Kiritsu” We all stood up.  “Seiza….” We all knelt down again.  “Kiritsu” We all stood up again.

“Is this our warm up Sensei?” asked Bob cheekily…

“It wasn’t going to be, but I think the lesson plan has just changed” replied Sensei.  When you kneel down, don’t lean forwards, your head needs to go straight down with your eyes looking forwards…” As we all tried it, our heads were bobbing all over the place.

“It’s hard Sensei, makes my legs hurt…” Bob wailed..

“There’s pain from doing something wrong” answered Sensei “and ‘good’ training pain where you are doing it right, this is ‘good’ training pain and should be where you’re putting your bodyweight into the muscles to make them stronger and not into the joints at awkward angles….  Bad pain means you’re damaging yourself.  Keep practicing and build the strength you need!

Squat straight down and control the drop of your bodyweight  with the leg muscles and you should be able to immediately stand balanced to protect yourself, turn forty five degrees to the right and drop onto your left knee, ensure you can still stand if you need to, now drop in your right knee – don’t lean forwards!  Stay erect!….  that’s better, put your feet under and sit straight!”

Bob’s legs were shaking with the effort, “you wouldn’t think that kneeling down and standing up was so difficult!” he cried.

“It’s difficult to do skilfully,” replied Sensei, “you need exquisite control of your movements.  It’s something you can work on at home – and as Bob pointed out, all this is a good ‘warm up’ for you…  You tell a lot about a person’s training by watching their Dojo etiquette…

Is everyone in the seiza position?”  Sensei waited until everyone was kneeling down and sitting straight.  “Okay….. Sensei ni rei!  He ordered in an authoritative tone for everyone to perform the kneeling bow.

“Bob……” Sensei asked, “why are putting out one hand at a time?”

“Leaving one hand free until the last moment to draw my sword Sensei..”  replied Bob.

Sensei looked around humorously…. “And where’s your sword?”

“I don’t have one Sensei….”  Bob replied.

“Then don’t bow that way” replied Sensei.  “When you don’t have a sword you simply bring both hands forward at once to the front breakfall position.  This means that your opponent can’t smash your face on to the ground as you bow…”

“I never thought of that” said Bob.

“Very useful if you don’t have your sword with you” replied Sensei tongue in cheek.  “Keep your back straight – and your head, don’t look up!”  Sensei pushed Bob’s head down.

“But I thought you’re not supposed to take your eyes off the opponent ‘even when you bow’” said Bob in his best Bruce Lee voice imitation.

“Bruce Lee’s got a lot to answer for” replied Sensei, you use your metsuka, your peripheral vision to see all around you as you bow…

“Damn!  Why didn’t I think of that…… very clever these Japanese….” joked Bob…

“Indeed…..” said Sensei – “to stand up you now simply reverse the kneeling procedure, as if the head is being pulled upward by a rope.”

“I have to lean back and use the muscles really intensely for that” moaned Bob.

“Indeed…..” said Sensei again with that hint of a smile as Bob struggled up… “You’ll probably have to practice that quite a lot to get it right….”

“Thanks a lot”, said Bob.

“My pleasure” replied Sensei, “I’m here to help!”

“Now we have the standing bow….  Stand erect, head straight, bow from the hips to a 45 degree angle with the ‘heart’ (middle) finger of each hand running down the gall bladder meridian.  Hold the bow for 2 seconds and return.”

“This is a lot of effort just for ‘etiquette’” moaned Bob.

“It’s not just etiquette” reminded Sensei, “it’s training, if you want to judge a person, watch the way they stand, walk, talk, act, kneel down, bow and get ready, you can tell as much if not more about them than watching them fight.  Those that take care in everything they do are to be feared a lot more than the reckless, mindless fools that can be manipulated subliminally.

The Buddha was asked what the correct position for meditation was, he answered ‘standing, sitting walking and lying down’ – in other words, you need to be mindful all of the time.  Another answer of when to meditate or train is ‘when you have your mind with you’.  We should practice our Martial Arts all the time we have our mind with us and try to act skilfully all of the time.”

“So everything has to be considered as training and a ‘zen art” asked Bob.

“Now you get the idea” replied Sensei – If your mind is ‘present’ you are training. And that is zen.

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