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Old 01-07-2009, 12:20 AM   #1
kalmen
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Why do we bow in Aikido?

I'm posting this thread because I need help with it, as it represents a dilemma for me, and I pose it in the most open minded way, and expect the same in the replies I see.

I recognize that the bow in Aikido is deep rooted, and I mostly believe it is a form of respect as expressed in the Japanese culture, as we bow to O Sensei, Sensei and our fellow Aikidoka.

What are the true origins of bowing in Japanese culture? What's its philosophy?

In other cultures, the bow is purely a form a worship, and respect is expressed in different forms, like kissing the hand or the forehead, as an example.

In my spiritual practice, the bow and the prostration is a form a total submission, to who I believe is God The Creator of all things, including humans, living or dead. This represents my core belief and identity.

In the Dojo, I bow to O Sensei and Sensei, because it is implied as a form of respect the way the Japanese see it.

But, every now and then a minor conflict surfaces as a few of my fellow Aikidokas don't bow, and they bring up the reasoning that I mentioned above and that it originated as a form of worship to the emperor, and my reasoning is that it is a form a respect as the Japanese see it and there is no harm in doing so.

So I do have inner resistance and would like help from others who understand Japanese culture.

Sometimes I wonder, if Aikido originated in a culture were the form of respect was to kiss the hand of forehead of your Sensei, would everyone worldwide be expected to do it? Would those who refuse be seen as disrespectful?

Anything thoughts would be helpful, this is not a debate, and I still bow to O Sensei and Sensei, but it would be a lot more helpful to know exactly what I'm doing and how important it is.
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Old 01-07-2009, 12:58 AM   #2
DevinHammer
 
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

Many of the things we say and do have origins that today would seem inappropriate, offensive, politically incorrect, or in conflict with our religions. Whatever it is, in the dojo or out, what matters is the meaning we give it now - not what it meant to a culture that no longer exists.

"Do, or do not. There is no 'try'."
-- Jedi Master Yoda
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Old 01-07-2009, 03:20 AM   #3
kalmen
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

Quote:
Devin Hammer wrote: View Post
Many of the things we say and do have origins that today would seem inappropriate, offensive, politically incorrect, or in conflict with our religions. Whatever it is, in the dojo or out, what matters is the meaning we give it now - not what it meant to a culture that no longer exists.
That is really well said. Thank you. I'm really interested in the discussions that will come up within this thread.
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Old 01-07-2009, 06:52 AM   #4
Bob Blackburn
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

Dave Lowry has an excellent two part article on bowing and includes a discussion on bowing vs religious beliefs. Long but worth the read.

http://koryu.com/library/dlowry16.html

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Old 01-07-2009, 10:03 AM   #5
Erick Mead
 
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

Quote:
Mohammad Ahmad wrote: View Post
I'm posting this thread because I need help with it, as it represents a dilemma for me, and I pose it in the most open minded way, and expect the same in the replies I see.

I recognize that the bow in Aikido is deep rooted, and I mostly believe it is a form of respect as expressed in the Japanese culture, as we bow to O Sensei, Sensei and our fellow Aikidoka.

What are the true origins of bowing in Japanese culture? What's its philosophy?
In Japan bowing is not a gesture of submission as such but acknowledgment of hierarchy initiated toward one owed an obligation (providing knowledge, economic situation, social position, etc.) one bows to those "seated above" (kamiza) oneself in thanks for their provision, and in return that is acknowledged by the superior. 礼 "rei" is not a command to submit to the object of the bow -- but means to express gratitude.

Bowing did not originate in the Emperor cult -- nor do the Japanese mean what we mean when the word kami or shin is over-loosely translated as "divine.""Divine" is underinclusive as compared to kami in Japanese and kami is overinclusive compared to "divine" in English. In Shinto, there is a strong hierarchy of all kami (the order is debated depending on who you talk to, but the Creator Kami constitute a different class all together. Some people, living or dead are seen as kami, but this is in the sense of "saint" as Christians (or even Shi'a) would use such terms. Most of the spiritual kami fit much more closely to our common image of angels or elemental forces (and djinn, also, perhaps, in your context) far better than the truly polytheist systems like the Greek and Egyptian "gods."

Quote:
Mohammad Ahmad wrote: View Post
In my spiritual practice, the bow and the prostration is a form a total submission, to who I believe is God The Creator of all things, including humans, living or dead. This represents my core belief and identity. .... In the Dojo, I bow to O Sensei and Sensei, because it is implied as a form of respect the way the Japanese see it. But, every now and then a minor conflict surfaces as a few of my fellow Aikidokas don't bow, and they bring up the reasoning that I mentioned above and that it originated as a form of worship to the emperor, and my reasoning is that it is a form a respect as the Japanese see it and there is no harm in doing so.
Your approach sounds proper.

All people of the Book have the same problem you mention -- but it is distinguished, at least in the Church, by two different forms of observance, -- dulia -- which is veneration or offering of great respect owed toward the very worthy or holy person, situation or object, a learned person, a saint, the Virgin Mary, a place of spiritual signficance or an image of holiness, etc., -- all contrasted starkly to latria -- (the root seen in "ido-latry") which is true worship, owed to God alone.

Muslims, as I understand it, offer veneration -- dulia -- to all prophets, especially their own prophet, but also to Jesus, as a prophet (indeed, a somewhat unique prophet, at that), whereas we Christians offer Him true worship latria, because of our respective differences on the issue of the Incarnation and Personality of the Godhead. But the nature of the distinction of the observance that is proper is the same between us, the boundary is different, is all.

Genesis tells us that on the sixth day "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. .. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done." Thus, did God prescribe veneration toward every thing He had made -- merely because it was all, and each every bit of it, very good.

It is very good for people who differ in faith, but have found a road to travel together, to have places such as this to easily discuss those differences and how they may be mutually respected.

AikiWeb is therefore kami.

合氣ウェブ に礼 !

AikiWeb ni rei!

Cordially,

Erick Mead
一隻狗可久里馬房但他也不是馬的.
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Old 01-07-2009, 10:44 AM   #6
ramenboy
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

hi mohammad,

in the philippines, we touch the hands of our 'elder' to our forehead. i know the bowing thing is foreign to many in the west, so i try to distill it into its simplest form

bowing in the east is a form of greeting and respect:

in the east we bow

in the west we shake hands

all over the world, dogs sniff butts.

i try not make too much out of it.

Quote:
Mohammad Ahmad wrote: View Post
...Sometimes I wonder, if Aikido originated in a culture were the form of respect was to kiss the hand of forehead of your Sensei, would everyone worldwide be expected to do it?...
great point

my feeling is if its a japanese art, then japanese etiquette is followed. that's why we wear dogi and hakama in practice, and that's why all the techniques we learn are in japanese.

Last edited by ramenboy : 01-07-2009 at 10:48 AM.
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Old 01-07-2009, 11:35 AM   #7
Charles Hill
Dojo: Numazu Aikikai/Aikikai Honbu Dojo
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

Hi,

Japanese history and culture from its very beginning has been based on warfare and violence. Lowering my head before another is very much opening myself to possible attack. When I lower my head farther than the person I am bowing to, one way to look at it is that I am "submitting" to that person's "superiority." When my partner and I both lower our heads equally all the way to the ground, I believe that we are indicating to each other our mutual vulnerability and that we are choosing to work together from that place of openness.

I have been taught that when we bow to O'Sensei, he is bowing back with his forehead all the way down, indicating that he is giving us all he has. We bow all the way, indicating that we will give all we have.

Charles
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Old 01-07-2009, 02:17 PM   #8
kalmen
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

My sincere thanks to Devin Hammer, Bob Blackburn, Erick Mead, Jerome Cervantes, Charles Hill...

Not only have your answers helped me, as they fortify intuitive conclusions that come to me, but they will help many as I share this thread with all those who ask the same questions.

I know for sure, that many of my colleagues will find your words insightful and valuable.

For that, I am grateful.

I hope this post continues to expand.

As you may wonder what more could one add? We humans are fascinating beings and each one of us perceive things differently based on their own frame of reference, and I hope this thread, with its diversity, reaches as many preferences as possible. Thanks to all of you.
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Old 01-07-2009, 09:22 PM   #9
Don
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

If someone wishes not to bow to the Kamiza in a dojo for religious beliefs then they should not nor should they ever feel compelled to. If the sensei has a problem with it go find another dojo. If another student has a problem with it, ignore them. It's that simple,
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Old 01-08-2009, 09:09 AM   #10
lifeafter2am
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

Quote:
Don McConnell wrote: View Post
If someone wishes not to bow to the Kamiza in a dojo for religious beliefs then they should not nor should they ever feel compelled to. If the sensei has a problem with it go find another dojo. If another student has a problem with it, ignore them. It's that simple,
While I agree with this on the principle that one should not be forced to do something that they don't want do, I just can't really agree with this because of the value that I think it has in true martial arts. It is nothing more than a sign of respect, one of the pillars of MANY (if not all) of the martial arts. To me, it also shows a level of humility and humbleness, two other things that one should always have in the first place, but also that definitely need to be present in the martial arts.

Having an explanation of what it means, and what it signifies is showing that you are opening your mind, and are trying to learn the customs and origins of something (as the OP is doing); and I commend people for doing so when they don't know about something. And again (I sound like a broken record), an open mind is also something that is needed to learn, especially Aikido. I can not count the number of times I have read people saying to throw out your expectations of Aikido and just train.

To add a little context to my ideas, there was a Christian Aikido dojo in one of the little towns I used to live in, and they, with all their proverbs and things up on the walls, still bowed to show to their respect. A friend of mine trained at this dojo and asked the sensei why they did this (as he, himself was a fairly devout Christian). He told my friend (and of course I am paraphrasing here) that it was simply a sign of deep respect, and that god would take no offense to showing that kind of respect for other people. He also said that in accepting Aikido into your life, you were accepting another culture, and in doing so one should try to be as accommodating to it as possible, as it was not just a martial art, but a way of living life; one that was in tune with god's way.

Now, I am not a Christian, but this sensei's words really moved me. I never got to meet the guy, but I wish I had; I think we could have had some good discussions!

"The mind is everything. What you think you become." - Siddhattha Gotama Buddha
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Old 01-10-2009, 02:19 AM   #11
kalmen
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

Thanks Don and Andrew,

Your insights are both valuable.

Don: I guess we are in an age of freedom and multiculturalism where people should mutually respect one another (that includes religious towards others, which is sometimes ignored), and being forced into something would spoil the fun. In Aikido, respect is essential, and if that is understood and well communicated, I guess it would work if it conflicts with ones belief to bow.

Andrew: Its funny, I was having the same discussion with my Sensei, who has no issues with Aikidokas not bowing, and I was telling him that I thought God was greater than all of this and if it is mutual respect it should be fine.

Each reply in this thread has added value to my collection of thoughts and ideas, especially when explaining the philosophy and adapting cultures, and it also brought to my attention that this philosophy cannot be forced, it has to be embraced.
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Old 01-10-2009, 01:12 PM   #12
odudog
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

The bowing is to show respect. It is also to show hierarchy. If you were to see two Japanese people out in public, you would know which person has the higher status for that person did not bow as low as the other person. It is also a show of trust by the lower status person for his/her neck is being more exposed and he/she can't see what the higher status person is doing. It is also a personal space issue. Japanese {more so the old days} tend not to be too touchy feely and the bow is a way of showing respect, gratitude, and status yet maintain your own space. Also good for personal hygene.
I think the Muslims must touch their forehead to the ground when they bow to show their submission, however, in the Japanese bow you never touch your forehead to the ground. It might be close to show deep regret, but it will still never touch the ground.
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Old 01-11-2009, 12:48 PM   #13
kalmen
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

You have made an excellent point. That is exactly what I do... Thanks Mike.

Quote:
Mike Braxton wrote: View Post
I think the Muslims must touch their forehead to the ground when they bow to show their submission, however, in the Japanese bow you never touch your forehead to the ground. It might be close to show deep regret, but it will still never touch the ground.
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Old 01-13-2009, 03:24 PM   #14
George Fowler
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

This is my first post on this forum. I have been practicing Aikido for about three years in Dallas, Tx.

When I first started, I was told that when you bow in at the beginning of class you are cleansing yourself of all the thoughts and troubles of the outside world in order to train single-mindedly. As well as opening or "tilting" the receptacle of your mind/body/spirt to more readily accept transmission of input from the teacher.

I was also made aware that certain traditional aspects of our study are derived from traditional Japanese religious practices (such as the single hand claps, flowers by the shomen, etc.) While I am sure we do many things in the dojo without knowing the exact meaning or implication, I believe the same could be said about everyday life in America. Examples include Christmas trees, neck ties and the notion of a popularly elected president.

George
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Old 01-13-2009, 06:32 PM   #15
lbb
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

I bow because if I don't bow right, I'm gonna get to do extra jumbo ukemi
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Old 01-14-2009, 11:03 AM   #16
kalmen
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

This forum has helped me a lot, and so I hope you will find a lot of benefit from it.

True that we do many things without giving it a second thought, and most times, it really isn't an issue, especially if everyone is having a good time.

But people are different, and its funny how me raising this topic can sound totally irrelevant to someone else, and I respect that too.

Quote:
George Fowler wrote: View Post

While I am sure we do many things in the dojo without knowing the exact meaning or implication, I believe the same could be said about everyday life in America. Examples include Christmas trees, neck ties and the notion of a popularly elected president.

George
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Old 01-14-2009, 11:06 AM   #17
kalmen
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Re: Why do we bow in Aikido?

LOL! My Sensei is better than your Sensei

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I bow because if I don't bow right, I'm gonna get to do extra jumbo ukemi
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