To Bow or Not to Bow? (That is the Question.)
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To Bow or Not to Bow? (That is the Question.)

By Sensei Don & Char Engelhardt, 3 Dan 1998 

***Note: This is the last article I will link to Totally Fit 4 Life. There is an application to health and fitness  you will see in italics within the text and at the end.

Between the training time with our Sensei and beginning our own school, we have faced the dilemma of whether or not to bow to instructors, each other, the room, and so on.But each time we reviewed the concept of courtesy bowing, it became apparent to us that a simple courtesy bow helps keep respect flowing for each other in the training hall. (In Hindu and Buddhist practices, bowing to each other is similar to saying "Namaste'", meaning there is an acknowledgement of the god in one another. Since we are not gods, this has presented a concern. There is only one God.  Since time of this writing, I have discovered that " Os" added to a bow means, "the god in me recognizes the god in you". It has been removed from Faith Fighters for Christ and replaced with "May God bless you!" )

A simple courtesy bow to each other or between instructor and student reinforces mutual respect similar to a salute in the military.We do not do zazen bowing, however. Zazen bowing, also known as prostrate bowing, is a practice of worship or veneration of someone or a statute.  The type of bow we are referring to is either with the hands at the side (while standing at attention), the two fist forward, or the warrior-scholar hand position. There may be others that we are not aware of. When arrogance creeps into a student's attitude, he or she has a very difficult time showing courtesy to an instructor and other students. By insisting on a mutual courtesy bow with someone having this problem, the arrogance dies down more readily.

Something we have seen with traditional non-Christian schools is that the bowing to the instructor first (also zazen bowing at line-up) breeds arrogance as students progress up the belt ranking system. This becomes reinforced by having lower belts cater to the higher belts and everyone scampering at the whim of the instructor or grandmaster. Such behavior in a Christian martial arts school is inappropriate.

The main issue we need to understand is whether we are worshipping, or venerating, the instructor, or are we simply showing respect for the level of his/her authority, expertise, and experience in the school. Since the instructor has been called to this professional ministry and makes the decision whether or not to promote students, there is no place for arrogance on the students’ part. He who wears the black belt, holds the rank of the student! Therefore, a simple courtesy bow is appropriate.

Respect for the instructor helps reduce challenges in this aggressive, physical sport and defense system. Female instructors in particular are more likely to be challenged physically and in regard to their authority by teen and adult male students (particularly upper belts) than the male instructors. It is important to keep formal courtesy procedures that we as Christians can live with. It is especially important, when there is more then one instructor, that the example is kept among the instructors for the students.

Looking into Scripture, we are told to worship only God who is holy, Creator of all things. We are not to worship idols or false gods (Deut. 5:9; Psalm 95:6; Isaiah 44:19; 45:23; Romans 14:11). The verses referring to things made with man’s hands is why we, ourselves, don’t bow to pictures, the training hall, or the ring at tournament. No instructor or grandmaster is deserving of reverence or worship, either. Only God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, is worthy of our worship. The respect we are referring to according to Webster’s definition is" to regard highly, to esteem; giving particular attention to, consideration; the quality or state of being esteemed, honor".1  We are to show proper respect to everyone (I Peter 2:17). We are to submit to those in authority over us (I Cor. 16:16 and I Thes. 5:12-13). Also, we are to esteem others better than ourselves, not doing anything out of selfishness or conceit (Phil. 2:3). There is to be respect shown to others and those in authority over us.

In martial arts, we feel that courtesy bowing is showing proper respect. Leaders are also to be respectable. Jesus said that leaders are to first to become servants. (See Mark 10:41-45 and John 13:1-17). Leaders are to be humble before God since God is the one who gives authority and power (Deut. 8:18-19 and Daniel 2:20-23). We, as instructors, are also spiritual leaders (yes, we are, whether we feel like it or not!). By having a servant’s heart and taking the lead to that which God has called us, we prepare others for future Christian leadership. Courtesy bowing will not become a problem for the leader who has this servant-leader attitude. By showing mutual respect and honor for each other with courtesy bowing, we set a tone of appropriate respect as long as we stay grounded in Christ, humbling ourselves before Him.


 ***Additional note: the palms together with fingers pointed to one's self such as in yoga is inappropriate as the fingers point back to self. It is an acknowledgement of god-hood in the individual.  You will not see it appear in PraiseMoves.Some Christians who practice yoga transliterate it to prayer to God, which is a big problem.  Although the Holy Spirit resides in us, our worship is to God, the Father, Maker of Heaven and Earth.The need for respect in martial arts is similar to the military rank recognition and submission to that authority.  It is not necessary in an exercise class.

1. Webster"s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, © 1976

Image from www.martialviews.com

copyrighted 1998 Donald Engelhardt and Charlaine Engelhardt. 2014, 2015 Charlaine Martin. All rights reserved.

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