Q: Why Do Martial Artists Bow All the Time?

A: Life is Rich … In the State of Appreciation

As you may know, bowing is common in the culture of an authentic martial arts practice.  Practitioners bow when they first enter the space of practice.  They bow to each other upon greeting and parting.  They bow to the flags, one representing their country of residence and the other representing the country of their art’s origin.  Students bow to their instructors and instructors, in turn bow back to their students.  They bow again upon stepping onto and then again upon exiting the official practice area (“dojang” for Korean arts, dojo for Japanese arts, etc.,.).  Then during practice, they bow again, to each new partner they engage with for part of class.  They seem to be bowing all the time!

So what’s with all the bowing?  On the surface, it would appear to be a simple mechanic of etiquette, – a gesture of respect – that seemingly occurs at every turn in a martial arts setting.  Sometimes, the gesture is misinterpreted – or even actually misused – as some sort of a power trip intended to create an atmosphere of servitude.  The true purpose however, runs deep and is powerfully effective in its original intent.  The true purpose of bowing is to facilitate appreciation – in the form of both 1) “dignified respect” and 2) “gratitude”.

The idea is to remind ourselves of all that is around us that is worthy of respect and for which we are fortunate – and therefore thankful – to be able to experience.  Through engaging the body and dedicating a moment for punctuation, the act of bowing helps the martial artist to “land” all of these moments of awareness.  In accumulating these many moments of appreciation, the martial artist experiences a profound sense of fulfillment and well-being and sense of connection to everything.  This sense of well-being is nurturing and strengthening and creates an inner stability and positive perspective that dwarfs the negativity in the world.

So how will your life be different if you practice appreciating throughout the day?  And while bowing is not part of our western culture, you may substitute whatever mechanic or gesture you are comfortable with.  A gentle nod, a knowing smile, a touch to the shoulder or an extra moment of eye-contact are just a few of the ways we can punctuate a moment of appreciation in our everyday lives.

It has been said by many leaders that we “become what we think about most of the time”.  What if we take that a step further – “we become what we experience most of the time”.  And we experience what we practice.  And we choose what we practice.  It’s all framing!  And we are the framers!  So look for — and then frame — all that is worthy of respect and gratitude.  BE appreciative and you’ll discover a world that is rich in resources and opportunity and all that is necessary to nourish the soul.  And in the process, you’ll discover the martial artist in you…