Why do People Bow in Martial Arts?

Why do People Bow in Martial Arts? (Explained)

Bowing in martial arts is a common sight, but where does it originally come from and what does it mean?

Bowing in martial arts shows respect towards your opponent or training partner. As you might know, a lot of martial arts are initially from Asian countries where bowing was and still is more common compared to western countries.

Let’s look deeper into the topic of bowing and other signs of respect in different martial arts.

What does bowing mean in martial arts?

In short, bowing in martial arts shows respect towards the person you are up against. It is a simple gesture that originates from the Asian countries where a lot of the martial arts are originally from.

Bowing in general is more common in Asian countries as well. As a general rule, the deeper the bow, the more respect you can show with it. In martial arts, it does not have to be that deep.

According to the gym policy and habits, it might vary from a small nod of the head to a full bow.

It is also important not to keep eye contact while bowing. A quick guide on how bowing is done in Taekwondo in a video below. (I am not the creator of this video)

Bowing might differ a lot between different martial arts. However, the video above might give you some direction on how the bowing is done in martial arts in general.

Gym policies might also affect how the bowing or showing respect towards your training partners is done.

How important is bowing in martial arts?

Bowing or other signs of respect have always been part of martial arts. It is an essential part of martial arts, keeping the fights more respectful.

Some might think bowing is just one stupid habit from the past. However, I’d like to think most people who practice martial arts like to honor their opponent and the origins of the martial arts by keeping on to those small habits.

Bowing is not essential to martial arts. There are a lot of western martial arts especially, where bowing is replaced with other signs of respect. That is mainly because bowing is not as common in western cultures.

Alternatives to bowing in western martial arts

Even though a lot of martial arts originated from Asian countries, such as China, Japan, and Korea, where bowing was or still is more common than in western countries, there are some martial arts that are from western countries as well.

However, one thing in common all martial arts have is respect towards your training partner. Even though bowing is not included in western martial arts so often, that might be replaced with a simple handshake, fist bump, or something between.

Personally, I really think respect is an important part of martial arts. Bowing or shaking hands before sparring is a great, fast and simple way to show respect towards your opponent.

Even in competitions, those things are in place and even more important. In boxing, that is touching gloves before the fight.

There have been some over-arrogant fighters around in MMA and boxing, who refuse to touch gloves or to show any kind of respect towards their opponents. That is their style and part of their persona.

However, try not to adapt that kind of disrespectful habit to your martial arts training. That really is not as cool as it might seem on the TV.

What do you say when bowing in martial arts?

Depending on the martial art, there might be some words included in the bowing. Sometimes the instructor says the words during bowing at the beginning of the training like in karate, for example.

A video example of bowing before and after a karate lesson is below.

If you watched the video, you could also see what is said during bowing at the beginning and at the end of the karate lesson.

Not all martial arts include words with their bowing.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, bowing has come to martial arts from Asian countries, where bowing has been or still is more common than in western countries.

The purpose of bowing is to show respect towards your opponent.

Bowing technique may vary a lot depending on the gym, instructor, and martial art in hand.

Some martial arts have alternative ways of showing respect towards their opponent. That might be a handshake, fist bump, or glove touch.

Hopefully this was helpful, have a wonderful day!

Other martial arts-related posts can be found here.

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