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Rei – A Bow Of Respect

By Terry Bryan

The Japanese word for bowing is called "rei" and is the method of greeting one another throughout Asia. Many Americans are confused about when, where and how to bow in and around the dojo, but seem to pick it up pretty quickly. I guess it's like the military, when in doubt – bow.

I once read a story about respect and the message by analogy was that the rice stalk that carried the most grain bent the lowest. I find that in the martial arts, there seems to be a similar truth. It has been my experience that the most senior and respected teachers are the most humble and respectful beings around. They understand that respect is not something one can demand, but is earned by showing respect to others. The very act of taking time to recognize another and showing that you recognize them and appreciate their being is an act in humility all in itself.

There is a natural law that I call the law of the farm. This law specifies that in order to get, you must first give. In order to get respect from others, you must first give respect. On a farm you plant seed in the spring, work the crop during the summer, and harvest in the fall. You can't skip the first part and expect results in the fall, nor can you rush this process by pulling on the stalk during the summer. There are those that sit in front of a stove and think that once it heats up, then they will add wood to the fire. That process just doesn't work, and yet everyday, products are sold and bought that promise instant gratification with no effort needed.

Even in the martial arts world, there are those who promise instant security, a six-month black belt, or deadly abilities in only a few lessons. Anyone who understands natural laws, must realize that quality martial arts takes many years, a lot of hard work and dedication to a good organization and teacher. Every time you bow in the dojo, you should understand that you have identified this process and are earning your proficiency the old fashion way – through hard work, discipline and respect.

Many senior teachers have realized that simply teaching fighting tactics or strategies, without including the philosophical and spiritual attributes of respect, humility and self-discipline, is doing nothing more than creating street-fighters. In classical martial arts, the training of the entire person, mentally, spiritually and physically, is the goal of the teacher. One of the major first steps towards becoming a great warrior is learning how to bow properly.


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About the Author:

Terry Bryan is the former General Secretary for the USA-NKF (National Karate Federation), the official governing body for the sport of karate with the US Olympic Committee. He currently is the Executive Director for the American Black Belt Academy, a 501c3 non-profit organization located in Colorado Springs.


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Rei, etiquette and the martial arts, martial arts etiquette, humility, respect, law of the farm, respect, self-discipline


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