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Old 11-26-2003, 08:30 PM   #1
aikidoc
Dojo: Aikido of Midland
Location: Midland Texas
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Missing the Point

I know this topic has probably been beat to death in the various forums with respect to bowing. Tonight one of my students brought in a friend to see if he was interested in taking aikido. He did not want to train but sat in the viewing area and watched.

When the training was done (hour class), his friend asked him what he thought. His immediate response was it "wasn't his cup of tea". Out of curiosity, I asked him what part he did not like-expecting to hear something about falling (we practiced iriminage and kotegaeshi). Instead, he said he couldn't deal with bowing. I said bowing? He said "yes, bowing to a picture". We explained this was a sign of courtesy and respect but he felt is "wasn't his cup of tea".

Now, personally I found this to be a bizarre answer given what had taken place on the mat-learning to use center, extension, redirection of energy, etc. Was he reacting to a fundamentalist religious belief (lot in this area)? Is it American arrogance? Do we have problems with repecting other cultural beliefs? To take something that involved at most 4 seconds of an hour class and write off the whole art just seemed bizarre to me. The Japanese would likely have no problems with bowing. Yet, it comes up with us all the time. When I first moved to the area 3 years ago the owner said they did not do seated bows because people had problems with it-they did standing bows. I think he just has bad knees but he said it was because of a lot of fundamentalist beliefs in the area. My classes do seated bows.

I know this has been heavily discussed before, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why it is such a big issue. Perhaps our lack of respect for other cultural values is why we are often referred to as "ugly Americans" and why others tend to not respect us when we are in other countries.

Oh well. Just my ramblings.
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Old 11-26-2003, 09:51 PM   #2
fjcsuper
 
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Well, maybe he just cannot lose his high level of ego. I think this type of things are hard to instill in a person, or to make him understand it.

He said he wouldn't bow to a picture, do you think he would bow to a person?

It is inevitable.
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Old 11-26-2003, 10:37 PM   #3
BKimpel
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Fundamental religious beliefs? In what religion / belief system? I know devote Christians, Jews, and Muslims that practice Aikido and no of them have a problem with bowing. I personally have very strong Judaic beliefs, and I understand what it means to bow to O-sensei, to my sensei, and to my fellow Aikidoka.

Bowing is about courtesy (demonstrating that I will care for my partner), respect (for my seniors, they earned it) and gratitude (thanks for passing on your knowledge to me). In what belief system is that concept foreign? None that I would hold very high in esteem.

Not to get too much into religious beliefs, but I suspect I know what you are talking about. If people get caught up in the ‘graven image' passages of the bible, they need to reread it and understand it. Idol-worship (which I have heard as the ‘why we can't bow' argument once before) goes well beyond bowing or ‘appearing' to worship something. If your entire life revolves around something (like booze, or TV, or video games, or whatever), i.e. you are obsessed with those things, you are worshipping a ‘false God' make no mistake (because those ‘things' keep you from living a righteous life). If you bow as a sign of courtesy, respect and gratitude you are in no danger of worshipping them. It's about the minds' intent, and God knows your mind's intent (with or without seeing you bow).

Perhaps it would be different if your dojo intermingled Shinto rituals, but most dojos I know of only do that for special occasions (and even then it is a closed dojo session, not everyone kind of thing).

Enough about religion!

Nope, I'd chalk that up to today's attitude towards showing respect to anyone or anything. I mean it's downright hard for people to say ‘excuse me', or even ‘thank-you' to anyone. Common courtesy, respect and gratitude are pretty low now a day. And I wouldn't pigeon just the Americans John, I'm pretty sure we have our fair share of Canadian's that act the same.

Respect and gratitude used to be demanded in the dojo (or you just didn't train there), and because some have now made concessions (adjusting as you said, to the mob rule) it will only get worse. If someone can't bow to his/her partner earnestly, then they do not have the right attitude for any Budo.

It's also quite possible that the person was not really interested to begin with, and just used ‘whatever excuse' to say ‘No, I don't wanna'. In which case, no issue!

Bruce Kimpel
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Old 11-26-2003, 10:58 PM   #4
fvhale
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Dear John,

Is your experience in Midland, TX, in the Bible-Belt? If so, it is quite possible that the person who had trouble "bowing to a picture" honestly felt that it was idolatry, a serious sin. (For some, this sounds like a joke, but for many Christian fundamentalist folk, it is very serious.) One Scriptural basis for this opinion is: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them." (Exodus 20).

It probably would not be appropriately sensitive to treat this too harshly. Throughout the world the pendulum has swung all over the place from actually using figurative art for idolatry on the one hand to rampant iconoclasm on the other. Remember the story of "The Golden Calf" from Exodus?

From about 700-900 A.D. there were great schisms and presecutions in Christendom related to "iconoclasm." Even today, the Eastern (Roman Empire) Christians shun sculpture and statues (3-D art) in favor of icons (2-D art). 3-D is just too close to idolatry for some! During some periods of the 8th century, even 2-D icons were considered idolatry in the Eastern Church. This debate was a factor of the mutual excommunication between Roman and Eastern churches that took place in 1054 and remains today, 950 years later.

Also some Islamic communities frowns on figurative art as deceptive and/or idolatrous. This gave impetus to their great traditions of geometric decorative arts. (Recall that recently the Taliban were destroying Buddhist art...) Even Plato felt that figurative are was a deception and a distraction from reality!

I know fundamentalist Christian folks in Texas that feel that even images of Jesus are dangerous, idolatrous objects. So I can understand why they might have trouble with a tradition of bowing to a picture of O-Sensei. You can find many simple evangelical churches with absolutely no art present in their churches.

I have also spent a lot of time involed with Chinese Christian communities, and the whole area of interaction between Chinese cultural traditions of ancestral revernce (not worship, please!) and certain Christian disciplines is very difficult and significant.

I don't intend to say one way is right or wrong, but there can be very significant religious issues related to this topic. How do you teach aikido and take care of the religious feelings of the community you are in? Do we just write them off? Do we adapt our practice to make them welcome? Is the photo of O-Sensei a "non-negotiable?" in Texas?

Peace to you,

Frank
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Old 11-26-2003, 11:13 PM   #5
Chris Raywood
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Dear Riggs Sensei:

I believe that this may be one of the many times in life where there is no clear cut explanation for why a person acts or speaks the way they do. His statement is obviously vague, and he refused to expand upon it to make himself understood.

Perhaps he was speaking the truth, and does not like to bow to an image. Maybe there was something in the demonstration or the art he didn't care for, but he was afraid to admit to you. Maybe his father or another berated him as a child, and he simply cannot express himself. Maybe someday he will learn that it is his "cup of tea", and come back to your dojo to train.

Who knows.

With best regards,

Chris
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Old 11-27-2003, 02:32 AM   #6
Jeff Tibbetts
Dojo: Cedar River Aikikai
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As far as bowing to a picture... I know some people have told me that they just thought it was corny. Sometimes we have to remember that a lot of other people find what we do anachronistic and/or just plain strange. It doesn't always have to be a religious thing. In this case, it sounds like it could be, but I can imagine that anyone bowing to a picture in any setting may be corny to some people. Would you find it odd if someone studying architecture bowed to a picture of Frank Lloyd Wright? Okay, it's a totally different culture... just a lame example. I think you all get my point. I think it's a valuable part of class, but it has meaning to people who do Aikido.

If the Nightingale doesn't sing-
wait
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Old 11-27-2003, 04:19 AM   #7
johanlook
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I forgot which forum I read the thread about Osensei worship, but I can definitely see how a visitor could see Aikido as a cult. With the this martial art is the best, this style is the best, I'm the best, o sensei is the best etc, - it can come across as a bit weird.
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Old 11-27-2003, 04:53 AM   #8
Jim ashby
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If this person truly believes that bowing before an image of a person who actually existed will cause problems with his/her imaginary friend, they may not be mentally stable enough to teach.

Vir Obesus Stola Saeptus
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Old 11-27-2003, 05:22 AM   #9
Michael Karmon
Dojo: Aikido Jerusalem
Location: Jerusalem Israel
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Quote:
Bruce Kimpel (BKimpel) wrote:
Fundamental religious beliefs? In what religion / belief system? I know devote Christians, Jews, and Muslims that practice Aikido and no of them have a problem with bowing. I personally have very strong Judaic beliefs, and I understand what it means to bow to O-sensei, to my sensei, and to my fellow Aikidoka.
Hi Bruce, at the Jerusalem dojo some quarter of the Yudansha and several Kyu's are devoted observing Jews. They solved what might be potentially the grave sin of "idol worshiping" by staying in upright seiza during the beginning of class ceremony while other do bow towards O-Sensei's picture.
Quote:
Bruce Kimpel (BKimpel) wrote:
It's also quite possible that the person was not really interested to begin with, and just used ‘whatever excuse' to say ‘No, I don't wanna'. In which case, no issue!
This sounds like the right explanation. From what I know of Judeism and Islam there is a way around those potential issues. The guy was too emabresed to say "no thank you" right-out.

Eat, Sleep, Exercise and watch out for cars
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Old 11-27-2003, 07:13 AM   #10
deepsoup
Dojo: Sheffield Shodokan Dojo
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For some (not all, but some) Muslims, the meaning, or intent involved in bowing (to Shomen/Kamiza or to each other) is irrelevant. Some Muslims (and their imams) interpret a certain bit of the Koran to say that it is clearly forbidden to bow (be it a kneeling rei or a simple nod of the head) for any other purpose than the worship of God.

Many years ago I practised judo with a gentleman for whom this was the case. He was a wonderful training partner, good humoured, generous and sincere, it would have been a terrible shame if he'd been forced to choose between quitting judo and bowing, because the way he saw it, he'd have had no choice but to leave.

I saw him at tournaments once or twice - his practice there was to make sure the referees all knew in advance. Before each bout of shiai, he'd find out who his opponent was to be, seek that person out, intoduce himself, shake hands and explain why he wouldn't be bowing to them, and that he meant no disrespect by it. As far as I know none of his opponents ever objected.
Quote:
James Ashby (Jim ashby) wrote:
If this person truly believes that bowing before an image of a person who actually existed will cause problems with his/her imaginary friend, they may not be mentally stable enough to teach.
Harsh.

Fair, but harsh.

(With apologies to whoever's post I'm plagiarising this from - I can't remember who wrote it or where...)

There are three kinds of self-delusion a gentleman can have that I prefer not to challenge in the interests of good relations:

1. His religion is not in fact the load of superstitious old nonsense I can quite plainly see it is.

2. His wife is beautiful.

3. His kids are smart.

Sean

x
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Old 11-27-2003, 08:38 AM   #11
aikidoc
Dojo: Aikido of Midland
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I do not want to turn this into a religious discussion but customs from cultures do sometimes seem bizarre to others. I don't know if it is religious or not but it used to be forbidden to wear cloth of 2 different types.

I guess my initial shock was the total lack of awareness or understanding of anything else that took place on the mat-all blurred by the use of a tradition albeit from a different culture.

I do realize, although I have difficulty understanding sometimes, religious beliefs sometimes preclude people from doing things which might be fun if it did not have guilt attached. I guess I just resist Americanizing the art-taking out all of the cultural/ritualistic elements since I feel they are part of what martial arts is all about: teaching respect, courtesy, discipline, etc.

It could very well be this young man did not have any religious issues-I did not ask and only threw them out as one explanation I have seen. Perhaps we should not shake hands either-which to me is a very similar type of courtesy.

Great comments by the way.
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Old 11-27-2003, 08:48 AM   #12
Michael Karmon
Dojo: Aikido Jerusalem
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Quote:
John Riggs wrote:
I do not want to turn this into a religious discussion but customs from cultures do sometimes seem bizarre to others. I don't know if it is religious or not but it used to be forbidden to wear cloth of 2 different types.

.
Hi John,

The point is that it is very importand to be open minded to the fact that what seems natural and obviouse to us may seem strange and sometimes offensive to other.

I am told that patting another person on the shoulder or back is a seriouse offence in some parts of the orient whereas in our dojo a good hard pat on the shoulder is a sign for appreciation and friendship and is very common behaiviour

by the way, it is forbbiden for Jews to wear cloth of 2 different types.

Eat, Sleep, Exercise and watch out for cars
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Old 11-27-2003, 09:07 AM   #13
fvhale
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I would like to add my support to Michael Karmon's point: "It is very important to be open minded to the fact that what seems natural and obviouse to us may seem strange and sometimes offensive to other."

Having spent many years involved in inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogues, I remember innumerable cases of "a courtesy" to one group being "an offense" to another. That is the world we live in, our cosmic mat.

But perhaps for us it is not "missing the point," but at a certain level the very point of aikido. Not saying "my way is right/reasonable and your way is wrong/silly." But learning to harmonize with and respect each other at a much deeper level than outward gestures, learning to build on what we have in common, whether ki or other aspects of humanity; learning how to blend with each other to produce peace and love rather than clashing with each other to produce pain and death. Maybe this is the point of aikido.
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Old 11-27-2003, 01:03 PM   #14
aikidoc
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Sorry about the two cloth comment-did not know it was a religious thing.

Frank, I agree with your point. However, I sometimes think too much is placed on things that have little meaning. Perhaps a more Buddhist approach of examining such issues might lead people to question the "reality" of such things in the bigger picture. The harmless, in my opinion, act of bowing to show someone respect-is just that and nothing more. Like I tell my students when I'm teaching a technique. I spend most of my class time trying to take away things that are not important for their movement-i.e., the adding of movement (or meaning) to things I show. I try to be more of a reductionist-i.e., simplify the movements to what is absolutely the core and not add extras-whether they be body, hand or foot movements or in the case of bowing a religious or worship connotation. This is getting more down to the "reality" of the technique or situation and not adding things that are not there.

I know a lot of this is based on how, when and where someone is brought up. Historical traditions and cultural values all have lessons and are an important element of personal growth. However, sometimes things need to be examined when they have no basis in reality and tossed out. Although I'm trying not to make this religious, an example would be that if I bowed to someone even if it was against my beliefs, the reality is that it probably would not change much-I doubt such an act would end up sending me to hell -of course I wouldn't find out until I died.
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Old 11-27-2003, 04:40 PM   #15
Don_Modesto
Dojo: Messores Sensei (Largo, Fl.)
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Re: Missing the Point

Quote:
John Riggs wrote:
....he couldn't deal with bowing....Is it American arrogance? Do we have problems with repecting other cultural beliefs?
A relevant question had the incident occured in Japan. But couldn't we turn the question around: Why don't the Japanese respect our cultural beliefs and drop the bowing abroad?

Personally I like bowing, but I would be quite content if we dropped it and shook hands instead....and bowing to pictures?!

Huh!

(Too many times while living in Jp did I see Jpn corner innocent foreigners whom they had known all of 15 seconds and begin harping at them about how important it is to act as Romans when in Rome. How much do we see this with Jpn teachers here?)

Don J. Modesto
St. Petersburg, Florida
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http://www.theaikidodojo.com/
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Old 11-27-2003, 05:35 PM   #16
Bushi
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You have to put your self in the shoes of the japanese; to them, bowing is the equivilent of a hand shake. Just because your'e bowing to something, doesnt mean youre worshiping it. You worship from youre heart. For example: say you're singing in church; just because youre singing, doesnt mean youre worshiping, you have to put your heart into it, and mean what youre singing in order to be truely worshiping.

Well... that's my (christian) perspective on it anyway.
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Old 11-28-2003, 05:12 AM   #17
happysod
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Mallory, "You have to put your self in the shoes of the japanese; to them, bowing is the equivilent of a hand shake" - not quite true, social/business status etc. can all be conferred by depth of bow. If it really is just a handshake, there wouldn't have been a major discussion over how low lift operators should bow to their "guests". Perhaps this is changing, but I think most of the time when bowing non-japanese are using their free "gaijin" pass so the intent is acknowledged and their lack of understanding of the subtleties is politely ignored.

As for bowing to a picture, never understood this one and never have done it. I can cope with bowing to a person, but a picture does get my goat.
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Old 11-28-2003, 12:36 PM   #18
Bronson
 
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Quote:
Ian Hurst (happysod) wrote:
As for bowing to a picture, never understood this one and never have done it. I can cope with bowing to a person, but a picture does get my goat.
Hmm, I guess I never considered it bowing to the actual picture I always thought of it as showing respect to the memory of the person in the picture. Bowing more to the memory of their efforts and accomplishments that allow us to practice this art than to the image of the person itself.

YMMV

Bronson

"A pacifist is not really a pacifist if he is unable to make a choice between violence and non-violence. A true pacifist is able to kill or maim in the blink of an eye, but at the moment of impending destruction of the enemy he chooses non-violence."
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Old 11-28-2003, 01:07 PM   #19
Michael Klieman
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A confilict between bowing and religion is somtimes a crucial aspect of why people are uncomfortable with bowing but I think that sometimes there are also some cultural attitudes that are different between Japan and western cultures (including the US). Some of this has been touched on in others' posts, but I thought I would clarify it a little more.

In Japan, bowing is a complex social activity which communicates many things including the social standing of each of the participants and the amount of respect that the bower has towards the bowee (heh, new word). All this is lost on many of us westerners. Even if we have spent some time in Japan, it is often difficult to really understand the dynamic that occurs between Japanese people, symbolized by a bow, since that dynamic is foreign to us.

On the other hand, some westerners (including Americans) tend to think that bowing to a person, especially the low bow that we do before class, means that the bower is expressing his/her inferiority. We have heard stories of the kow-tow, where subjects bow to emperors and such, demostrating their complete inferiority to the emperor. Of course other types of bowing occurs in western society, but none of them are so ritualized as what we do before class. This sometimes leads to a misunderstanding of what peoples' intentions are when they perform a bow.

Perhaps if you tell visitors who are uncomfortable with bowing that it is a non-religious activity, which is just meant as a sign of respect to the founder of Aikido. Or tell them what I think of when I bow to O'Sensei's picture: I thank him personally for having had the insight to create such a beautiful art, and for teaching it so that I could learn it. In this way, I don't consider it bowing to a picture at all, but bowing to the memory of O'Sensei and being grateful to those who have gone before and played a part in my training.

Now if a person's religion gives them a specific meaning to bowing (such as the examples of the Muslim Judoka or the Aikidoka in Jerusalem), then that is a totally different thing and should be respected. If the reasons for not bowing are just cultural misunderstandings, then I think they should be clarified at least. Then the visitor can make up his/her own mind.

Wow, that turned out really long

just my (long) opinion,

Michael
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Old 11-28-2003, 01:45 PM   #20
aikidoc
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I too do not view the bowing as if I'm only bowing to a picture but rather showing my respect and appreciation to someone for developing an art I truly enjoy. Since he is deceased, it is impossible for me to express my appreciation formally. Instead, I have to express it symbolically.
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Old 11-28-2003, 06:37 PM   #21
Michael Hackett
Dojo: Kenshinkan Dojo (Aikido of North County) Vista, CA
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Oh, well. It seems to me that the gentleman in question missed out on what perhaps could have become a lifetime of enjoyment. Whether it was based on strong religious beliefs, bad knees, or the same American aversion to bowing that I used to suffer, he left the dojo and probably won't return. Based on the concern expressed and his other postings, I'm guessing that Riggs Sensei would have found an accomodation for any sincerely held beliefs.

Michael

Michael
"Leave the gun. Bring the cannoli."
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Old 11-28-2003, 07:52 PM   #22
Lan Powers
Dojo: Aikido of Midland, Midland TX
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My friend is not the most stable of men.

Hoping to find a source of stability for a somewhat "loosely based in reality" friend, I invited him to class. Hey, we are very good friends, who share many interests and enthusiasms.

I should have expected that the regimented, formalized, study would be too structured for his tastes.

It is sort of typical that the first thing that struck him is the issue of bowing to a picture. He obviously was unaware of the symbolism of respect to the memory of the founder. He felt it was religous in feel to him. (He is an atheist)

My fault in a way for not preparing him for the bowing I guess, but it seems like if not this issue, then the next to come up.

Aikido is simply not for everyone.

Frankly, I am just embarased that it was an issue for Sensei Riggs to deal with.

I have found a great love for my life, pity he hasn't.

Lan

Play nice, practice hard, but remember, this is a MARTIAL art!
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Old 11-28-2003, 11:06 PM   #23
aikidoc
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I have dealt with such issues before and I realize aikido is not for everyone. It was just such a strange reaction it made me pause for thought. I did not feel it was an issue but rather an interesting reaction for someone to take such a small piece of the whole picture and make a judgement on that basis.

There have been some great comments.
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Old 11-28-2003, 11:56 PM   #24
Kelly Allen
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I have been in three dojos. Two that I have trained in and one that I was merely an observer. The one that I observed, the bowing seemed to have gotten over used to the point that it did seem subservient to the Sensei that was running the class. After every technique the entire class got on their knees to bow to each other and to the sensei, who, not only didn't get on his knees, but sometimes didn't bow back.

I have no problem bowing. I do it all the time in class, but what I saw in that dojo certainly would have turned me off of Aikido if it was the first time I observed it.
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Old 11-29-2003, 02:17 AM   #25
Michael Karmon
Dojo: Aikido Jerusalem
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Quote:
Ian Hurst (happysod) wrote:
Mallory, "You have to put your self in the shoes of the japanese; to them, bowing is the equivilent of a hand shake" - not quite true, social/business status etc. can all be conferred by depth of bow. If it really is just a handshake, there wouldn't have been a major discussion over how low lift operators should bow to their "guests.
Ian, handshakes are also a way of showing ones mutual status. Aggreed, it is not as introcat and sofisticated as the Japaneses bowing system but questions like who offers who the hand shake, one or two hands shake, angle of hands, power or shake and the extention are all part of the 'pecking order'

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