Why Bowing Is Important
When you walk into a Dojo or Kwoon, before and after a lesson and before and after any kata, form and pairs work in a traditional system you will bow as a sign of respect. This simple sign of courtesy is a great reminder and marker of the varying types of mindset we have to engender and train at each stage of training.
Entering the training hall it separates you from the outside world and reminds you to clear all external worries, anxieties and distractions from your mind so that you can focus on the training ahead. In most systems you will bow to the shrine to imbue yourself with the spirits displayed or to the teacher as a sign of respect. On exit you will do the same bow in gratitude and to prepare you for the outside world in better frame of mind.
At the beginning of the lesson it’s in respect to both teacher and fellow students, all on the same path of self improvement and the simple courtesy is a reminder of that respect and that whatever takes place in the training, you will play attacker, defender, helper, student, teacher to best of your ability to enable deep learning and at the end return to the same respectful state.
At the beginning and end of a kata or form it’s a reminder and method of mental re-enforcement, drawing the spirit of the founder and every person that’s practiced the same form for the generations since to reinforce your mental focus and intensity. When I practice a Yang family form I imagine the entire Yang Family lineage rising to watch, encourage and help me perform. It gives me the responsibility or as Ma Lee Yang said in one of my sessions the ‘burden’ of ensuring that I shoulder that responsibility and do my best.
Then importantly for self defence, at the beginning of any pairs work, the bow delineates the difference between ‘friend’ and ‘attacker’ and ‘defender’, each person playing their part to the best of their ability. The attacker must attack with full meaning and intention as a street bully or mugger would do and the defender must defend with the required venom. From bow to bow the attacker must continue to attack whatever the defender does and the defender must defend whatever the attacker does. Without the bowing I found that both parties might train hard or enthusiastically but it was often sloppy and they didn’t fully throwing themselves into the part as there was no ‘start’ or ‘stop’ point.
The bowing reminds us to be emotionally intelligent, it contains the necessary respect and courtesy required to keep us civil but also draws that essential beginning and stop point in training where we can play the necessary role fully, understanding that each of us is only playing a part. I’m sure it can be done in a different way, but in my experience bowing for westerners is different in that it serves as an excellent marker point.
By Steve Rowe