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Old 09-25-2010, 01:33 AM   #1
torbjornsaw
 
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To bow or not to bow

Dear all,

I have a query that I'd be happy to hear your thoughts on. Recently I've had a lovely student come to the dojo to practice; very enthusiastic and keen, sincere and good natured. He is a Muslim and will not, because of his precepts and faith, bow to the ground either at the Kamiza or to another when we greet in the Japanese way(In our dojo when in seiza we bow all the way down to the mat to another when we finish the session as a thank you). He will nod a small bow in respect to another.
We have had great open talks about religion and spirituality and we really understand each other to a great part.

Would you allow his freedom to follow his creed and forgo the standard dojo bow and just get on with training or not? For me it's not just that simple. We speak about it and find that we discover more things as we look at the issue. Very interesting and not a quick solution. Of course I could easily overlook this one incident and just get on with training (which I might do) and not bother about his rules of conduct. But how far do we open up the Japanese tradition to allow a varied standard?
I have 30 students and as many as 15 nationalities and all faith groups. We have a great relationship and it's a wonderful dojo.
Now I like this guy, but since I like to view my Aikido to be part of a spiritual discipline (not that I impose it on students but if they are interested I will speak my mind) I like to speak with him about the dynamics of being a guest and conforming to the standard of the host. A self surrender to another way of being if you like. Most people find no trouble in doing this but because of certain rules of conduct we find ourselves in these situations.

But what has been the most joyful thing coming out of this query is our talks that leads deep into the reasons and meaning of religious and spiritual understanding.

There are also the more sterner applications of faith rules as not allowing men to train with women etc. How do we deal with that? Open a men's only class? A Muslim class? A Christian class?

What do you think?

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Old 09-25-2010, 02:42 AM   #2
WilliB
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Re: To bow or not to bow

Quote:
Bjorn Saw wrote: View Post
Dear all,

I have a query that I'd be happy to hear your thoughts on. Recently I've had a lovely student come to the dojo to practice; very enthusiastic and keen, sincere and good natured. He is a Muslim and will not, because of his precepts and faith, bow to the ground either at the Kamiza or to another when we greet in the Japanese way(In our dojo when in seiza we bow all the way down to the mat to another when we finish the session as a thank you). He will nod a small bow in respect to another.
We have had great open talks about religion and spirituality and we really understand each other to a great part.

Would you allow his freedom to follow his creed and forgo the standard dojo bow and just get on with training or not? For me it's not just that simple. We speak about it and find that we discover more things as we look at the issue. Very interesting and not a quick solution. Of course I could easily overlook this one incident and just get on with training (which I might do) and not bother about his rules of conduct. But how far do we open up the Japanese tradition to allow a varied standard?
I have 30 students and as many as 15 nationalities and all faith groups. We have a great relationship and it's a wonderful dojo.
Now I like this guy, but since I like to view my Aikido to be part of a spiritual discipline (not that I impose it on students but if they are interested I will speak my mind) I like to speak with him about the dynamics of being a guest and conforming to the standard of the host. A self surrender to another way of being if you like. Most people find no trouble in doing this but because of certain rules of conduct we find ourselves in these situations.

But what has been the most joyful thing coming out of this query is our talks that leads deep into the reasons and meaning of religious and spiritual understanding.

There are also the more sterner applications of faith rules as not allowing men to train with women etc. How do we deal with that? Open a men's only class? A Muslim class? A Christian class?

What do you think?
We have a had Moroccon, Turkish, and Tunesian visitors here, all muslims, and none of them had any problems bowing to either the shomen, the teacher, or to each other.

You can remind him that he is bowing to show respect, not to pray to any deity. If he still wants to make an issue out of it, I think you ask him to find another place.
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Old 09-25-2010, 03:15 AM   #3
torbjornsaw
 
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Re: To bow or not to bow

Thank you,

Yes I've had several other Muslim students that do not find it a problem. He does understand the reasons for our etiquette and its tradition of respect but his faith only allow a full bow during formal prayers.

I had a Jewish student that could not bow to O Sensei's picture but had no problems to bow to my little Kamidana (the small wooden shrine on the wall), so I just moved O Sensei's picture a little to the side.

In Iwama O Sensei did not bow to his own picture or of that of another but he bowed to the Kamidana (Spirit altar). So I often say we bow in respect to the Spirit (or God if you prefer).

There are many differing understandings to what that refers to but I subscribe to a full spiritual understanding based on personal experience that is possible to convey to another of its significance and relatedness to normal human matters.

We bow and do not pray. We can pray in front of the kamidana but then we enter a new field of practice. Bowing is a practice in itself that I find worth doing regardless of beliefs.

I asked the man to explain his reasons to the students he bow to in order not to cause any undo confusion. It's a little strange if one person bows the whole way to the floor and the other only nods. I see Aikido to be a meeting point and as such we also meet in the bow to each other. With that in mind my students would honor his way and nod in a similar way to make a balanced greeting. But then his ways has overtaken the ways of the dojo and all alike would have to change their conduct his. And even then, maybe most of us liberal minded westerners wouldn't mind to comply without any concern; -Just let's us get on with training will you!

What to do?

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Old 09-25-2010, 06:31 AM   #4
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Re: To bow or not to bow

I think in this instance it has to be a majority rule. After all he has chose to come to the dojo. He surely should know what practicing martial arts entails; both practice and etiquette and by buying in this he is therefore commiting himself to dojo practices. If he is no comfortable with that then he may well have to find another place to practice.

We bow in a slightly more raised manner to what you describe and one ex karate guy still has his old habbit of bowing to the floor which is highlighted, more for the mirth really than to actually have a go at him but it is the same thing. Sensei states our dojo do not bow overly formalally so we don't. In iaido however we go through the full forehead to the ground bowing practice and we all accept this.

I think when you look at it, a majority of people practicing in the west would consider themselves Christian with Christian beliefs and a Christian God ( personally I am Athiest) and find no issue bowing to a foreign spirit or idolising a picture of the founder, it is just what we do and the way it is and this is tradition which cannot really be tampered with because of someone elses beliefs.

I think the pragmatic answer would be to like it or lump it
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Old 09-25-2010, 08:35 AM   #5
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Re: To bow or not to bow

This is a problem that has been raised before. I would imagine that many dojos have shared your problem, as I have. I have other students that are of the Muslim faith who have no issue with bowing.
I did have one visitor that was not so understanding. I did the explaining necessary, he was most adamant that he would bow to no man.. I told him there was no place in my dojo for him. I was threatened with being reported to various tree hugging organisations..I teach the way I was taught over fifty years ago, Like it or lump it.

Henry Ellis
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Old 09-25-2010, 08:58 AM   #6
Chris Li
 
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Re: To bow or not to bow

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Willi Brix wrote: View Post
We have a had Moroccon, Turkish, and Tunesian visitors here, all muslims, and none of them had any problems bowing to either the shomen, the teacher, or to each other.

You can remind him that he is bowing to show respect, not to pray to any deity. If he still wants to make an issue out of it, I think you ask him to find another place.
Islam, like any other religion, is hardly monolithic, so the fact that some Muslims have no problem with bowing isn't really relevant to the fact that other Muslims feel that it violates a principle of their faith.

If Aikido is a way to reconcile the world then it will have to adapt to other people and cultures, not kick them out when they refuse to comply with a physical ritual that really has nothing to do with Aikido practice.

Best,

Chris

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Old 09-25-2010, 09:50 AM   #7
WilliB
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Re: To bow or not to bow

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Christopher Li wrote: View Post
If Aikido is a way to reconcile the world then it will have to adapt to other people and cultures, not kick them out when they refuse to comply with a physical ritual that really has nothing to do with Aikido practice.
Chris
But if Aikido wants to adapt to everybody to suit their tastes, then what is it? If you are all things to everybody, you are nothing.

In case of the visitor in question, I am sure he can find plenty of sports where he does not have to bow to anything.
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Old 09-25-2010, 11:13 AM   #8
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Re: To bow or not to bow

Quote:
Christopher Li wrote: View Post
If Aikido is a way to reconcile the world then it will have to adapt to other people and cultures, not kick them out when they refuse to comply with a physical ritual that really has nothing to do with Aikido practice.

Best,

Chris
I thought that yielding, showing respect for others, and humility, had something to do with aikido.
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Old 09-25-2010, 11:57 AM   #9
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Re: To bow or not to bow

I can only control my actions and beliefs, not those of others; until such time as someones actions (or absence of action, in this case) puts me or someone else at bodily risk, I care little what they do or do not do. I carry on with my training and following dojo etiquette to the best of my ability.

I might not like what they do or do not do, but in the end, it matters little, if at all, to my travelling my path.

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Old 09-25-2010, 12:13 PM   #10
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Re: To bow or not to bow

I've found that folks that are insistent on their way are soon on their way.

"In my opinion, the time of spreading aikido to the world is finished; now we have to focus on quality." Yamada Yoshimitsu

Ultracrepidarianism ... don't.
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Old 09-25-2010, 12:37 PM   #11
Brett Charvat
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Re: To bow or not to bow

"If Aikido is a way to reconcile the world then it will have to adapt to other people and cultures, not kick them out when they refuse to comply with a physical ritual that really has nothing to do with Aikido practice."

--That's interesting. I always thought of reiho as one of the more important lessons within Aikido practice.
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Old 09-25-2010, 01:05 PM   #12
Chris Li
 
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Re: To bow or not to bow

Quote:
Brett Charvat wrote: View Post
"If Aikido is a way to reconcile the world then it will have to adapt to other people and cultures, not kick them out when they refuse to comply with a physical ritual that really has nothing to do with Aikido practice."

--That's interesting. I always thought of reiho as one of the more important lessons within Aikido practice.
And reiho is confined to the specific physical act of bowing? There's plenty of reiho around the world that involves none of that.

I respect that the founder was born in Japan, but I wasn't, and I don't live there anymore.

Best,

Chris

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Old 09-25-2010, 01:09 PM   #13
Chris Li
 
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Re: To bow or not to bow

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Willi Brix wrote: View Post
But if Aikido wants to adapt to everybody to suit their tastes, then what is it? If you are all things to everybody, you are nothing.

In case of the visitor in question, I am sure he can find plenty of sports where he does not have to bow to anything.
So any change means complete change? That's a specious argument if I ever heard one.

There are any number of things that you would experience if you trained in the Founder's dojo that most people never experience now - but Aikido doesn't seem to have devolved all that far quite yet.

Best,

Chris

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Old 09-25-2010, 01:28 PM   #14
Chris Li
 
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Re: To bow or not to bow

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Graham Jenkins wrote: View Post
I thought that yielding, showing respect for others, and humility, had something to do with aikido.
And they're never going to learn about those things if they're kept out of the dojo...

Best,

Chris

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Old 09-25-2010, 01:44 PM   #15
Janet Rosen
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Re: To bow or not to bow

If I were running a dojo (which I never expect to do) I would probably not insist on the bow, but I also respect the decisions of dojochos to do so in their dojos.

To me personally, refusing to train w/ another member of the dojo on gender or any basis other than personal safety concerns is outside the pale, because it directly effects the other dojo members. But the bow need not do so. YMMV.

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Old 09-25-2010, 02:01 PM   #16
Brett Charvat
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Re: To bow or not to bow

"And reiho is confined to the specific physical act of bowing?"

--Did I say that? I view bowing to be an expression of reiho, yes. To say that I view reiho as only expressable through bowing seems more than a bit spurious.

"There's plenty of reiho around the world that involves none of that."

--Agreed, but I thought we were discussing a specific situation involving a specific aikidojo in which bowing was considered a part of their reiho. To refuse to do so in the context of that specific aikidojo, whatever the reason, is in my opinion poor manners.
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Old 09-25-2010, 03:51 PM   #17
Chris Li
 
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Re: To bow or not to bow

Quote:
Brett Charvat wrote: View Post
"And reiho is confined to the specific physical act of bowing?"

--Did I say that? I view bowing to be an expression of reiho, yes. To say that I view reiho as only expressable through bowing seems more than a bit spurious.

"There's plenty of reiho around the world that involves none of that."

--Agreed, but I thought we were discussing a specific situation involving a specific aikidojo in which bowing was considered a part of their reiho. To refuse to do so in the context of that specific aikidojo, whatever the reason, is in my opinion poor manners.
Well, they'll never learn better manners (if they are better) if you turn them away. Just how important is bowing in relation to the opportunity to teach one more person Aikido?

Maybe 20 years ago I had a student who was an Orthodox Jew and wouldn't bow. I didn't care one way or the other, but we had a seminar with another instructor (Japanese, and a long time student of the Founder) so I checked with them first to make sure that there wouldn't be any problems. The instructor just looked at me like I was stupid even for considering that it might be a problem.

Really, in the grand scheme of things, is whether or not somebody bows really that important?

Best,

Chris

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Old 09-25-2010, 05:37 PM   #18
Brett Charvat
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Re: To bow or not to bow

"Well, they'll never learn better manners (if they are better) if you turn them away."

--Sure they will; they just won't learn it in the context of aikido at my dojo. And I'm not turning them away; they are turning them away through refusal to practice as the rest of us do.

"Really, in the grand scheme of things, is whether or not somebody bows really that important?"

--I guess not to some folks, and that's their business. But for me it seems to be an indication that the person in question only wants to take advantage of aikido by picking and choosing what parts of it they will do. I have trouble with that mentality. If someone really, truly wants to study aikido with me, they are welcome to come and abide by the rules of the dojo. If they do not wish to abide by the rules of the dojo, they are welcome to do something else with their time.

Of course, my opinion has probably been reinforced by my small amount of training in a koryu art. Refusing to bow there would be what might be referred to as a serious problem.
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Old 09-25-2010, 06:05 PM   #19
Chris Li
 
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Re: To bow or not to bow

Quote:
Brett Charvat wrote: View Post
"Well, they'll never learn better manners (if they are better) if you turn them away."

--Sure they will; they just won't learn it in the context of aikido at my dojo. And I'm not turning them away; they are turning them away through refusal to practice as the rest of us do.

"Really, in the grand scheme of things, is whether or not somebody bows really that important?"

--I guess not to some folks, and that's their business. But for me it seems to be an indication that the person in question only wants to take advantage of aikido by picking and choosing what parts of it they will do. I have trouble with that mentality. If someone really, truly wants to study aikido with me, they are welcome to come and abide by the rules of the dojo. If they do not wish to abide by the rules of the dojo, they are welcome to do something else with their time.

Of course, my opinion has probably been reinforced by my small amount of training in a koryu art. Refusing to bow there would be what might be referred to as a serious problem.
I've trained in two different koryu arts - but they aren't Aikido and the customs and purposes are different.

Best,

Chris

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Old 09-25-2010, 06:07 PM   #20
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Re: To bow or not to bow

I 100% agree with Janet. In our dojo, if a student does not want to bow it is no big deal. If they refused to train with others because of gender, religion, race we not want them as a student. The issue on the bowing is how are they as far as respect and sincerity otherwise. If they are respectful of the teacher, students, dojo and art otherwise, then the bowing thing is just a belief that has no impact on the rest of us.
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Old 09-25-2010, 06:23 PM   #21
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Re: To bow or not to bow

Thank you for all the replies. I want to add a response from a friend of mine living in Florida:

"You have a sort of post modern liberation theology in a world that is mostly literal in religious interpretation. However, you are taking a literal stance on this bowing issue in aikido etiquette. I can see why this is such a problem for you. I can only give you my own anecdote and hope it helps.

Now I'm an American rational agnostic/integral novice doing a Japanese art. I bow and claps hands every other day before class along side a Chinese Jamaican American that is a Muslim. She does not bow but she claps hands and is always more than respectful and far more committed to aikido than I am at the moment. She shows up for every class no matter what and that says a lot more to me than one thousand bows. My point is is that consistency and commitment hold far more weight in shedding ego than performing a social norm that exists thousands of miles away.

You aren't crazy for wanting your dojo to be about spiritual discipline along side learning a martial art. But it seems that if you apply such strict rules you may run the risk of making your aikido tent smaller than it could be.

According to O Sensei: Daily training in the Art of Peace allows your inner divinity to shine brighter and brighter. Do not concern yourself with the right and wrong of others. Do not be calculating or act unnaturally. Keep your mind set on the Art of Peace, and do not criticize other teachers or traditions. The Art of Peace never restrains, restricts, or shackles anything. It embraces all and purifies everything."

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Old 09-25-2010, 06:33 PM   #22
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Re: To bow or not to bow

Quote:
Graham Jenkins wrote: View Post
I thought that yielding, showing respect for others, and humility, had something to do with aikido.
Right! So, let's all insist that the other person yield and show respect and humility first, and if they don't, we'll screech that they're not showing the spirit of aikido!
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Old 09-25-2010, 07:26 PM   #23
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Re: To bow or not to bow

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Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
Right! So, let's all insist that the other person yield and show respect and humility first, and if they don't, we'll screech that they're not showing the spirit of aikido!
I not only concur with Mary's position but would like add my observations. It seems that the very religious people seem to have no problem demanding that others respect all aspects of their observations of their religious traditions, while being so resistant to allowing people from other traditions to do the same.

The Aikido dojo is a place where a Japanese tradition is being practiced and observed. Part of that tradition is some bowing. Respect for that tradition on my part means that I bow when appropriate. It is the free choice a person to train or not train in an Aikido dojo. If that person exercises that free choice, then that person should also be responsible for carrying out the traditions that are entailed in that training. If a person makes the decision not to engage in training in a respectful manner of a Japanese martial art, then they can look for a dojo other than mine to train in. If I can show that degree of respect for traditions and actions of a culture other than mine, than I do not see why I should allow other people to do less than that.

Marc Abrams
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Old 09-25-2010, 09:01 PM   #24
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Re: To bow or not to bow

Quote:
Marc Abrams wrote: View Post
I not only concur with Mary's position but would like add my observations. It seems that the very religious people seem to have no problem demanding that others respect all aspects of their observations of their religious traditions, while being so resistant to allowing people from other traditions to do the same.

The Aikido dojo is a place where a Japanese tradition is being practiced and observed. Part of that tradition is some bowing. Respect for that tradition on my part means that I bow when appropriate. It is the free choice a person to train or not train in an Aikido dojo. If that person exercises that free choice, then that person should also be responsible for carrying out the traditions that are entailed in that training. If a person makes the decision not to engage in training in a respectful manner of a Japanese martial art, then they can look for a dojo other than mine to train in. If I can show that degree of respect for traditions and actions of a culture other than mine, than I do not see why I should allow other people to do less than that.

Marc Abrams
I think you are spot on. One more aspect to this: One of the things that holds Aikido together is a common set of rules, including Japanese etiquette. That is why I can visit dojos all over the world and fit in. If you make an exception for this guy, he will have to re-explain his position everywhere he goes, and in particular in Japan it will be really awkward. So, is he promising to only have your dojo adapt to his rule, or do you want to have his future problems reflect on you? Consider that too.
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Old 09-25-2010, 09:59 PM   #25
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Re: To bow or not to bow

Quote:
Willi Brix wrote: View Post
I think you are spot on. One more aspect to this: One of the things that holds Aikido together is a common set of rules, including Japanese etiquette. That is why I can visit dojos all over the world and fit in. If you make an exception for this guy, he will have to re-explain his position everywhere he goes, and in particular in Japan it will be really awkward. So, is he promising to only have your dojo adapt to his rule, or do you want to have his future problems reflect on you? Consider that too.
Well, he's not demanding that anybody else adapt to his rule and stop bowing, just asking if it would be alright for him to do so. If he needs to explain it, than he needs to explain it - it's not that big a deal. I lived and trained in Japan for a number of years (more than 10), and nowhere that I trained Aikido would have any particular problem with someone not bowing.

Best,

Chris

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