The bow in Japanese culture has many meanings. It is used when greeting and parting from one another and is also used as a sign of respect. It is also used as an acknowledgement, when offering assistance, and also for apologies. How the bow is delivered determines the level of respect. Done incorrectly it is actually a sign of disrespect in Japanese culture. Not returning or acknowledging a bow is similar to refusing a handshake in American culture. Bowing represents humility. The lower the bow and the longer the duration of the bow, the more you honor and respect the other party. Bowing to the karate dojo and to the floor before crossing shows respect to the art of karate as well as to all karate masters and teachers before us that made our training possible.
A correct bow would have the following characteristics:
1. The bow is done with heels together and feet pointed outward at a 45-degree angle in a "V" shape (musubi dachi stance).
2. Hands are held open at the side of the body for men, and on the front of the thighs for women with the hands touching or slightly overlapping.
3. The neck is kept straight in line with the spine and the body is bent at the hips. The depth of the bow should be about 30 degrees. The lower the bow, the deeper the sign of respect.
4. The longer the duration of the bow, also the greater the degree of respect. For example, when bowing to the Master, the bow should always be lower than that of the Master and for a longer duration than the bow delivered in return by the Master to show a greater degree of respect.
5. The eyes should not make contact with the other person's eyes yet should not face downward towards the ground. A 45-degree down angle is the martial artist way to lower the vision field yet high enough to be able to maintain field awareness of your opponent.
Common mistakes include the following:
1. A bow in which only the head is lowered at the neck, no bending at the hips
2. Duration of the bow is too short (less than 1 second)
3. Depth of the bow is too shallow (should be at least 30 degrees)
4. Feet are not together at the heels
5. Arms are not kept at the side or in front but dangle from the body as the bow is delivered.
6. The lower body is not facing the direction of the bow and you bend at the hips. (as if you were bowing as you were walking off the floor at the same time)
7. Not stopping to bow but rather bowing while still walking.
Proper Sitting Position (seiza)
1. The class starts with all students standing in the ready position. Fists clenched in front (Tate hand position) and shoulder width stance (hachiji dachi).
2. Left arm down block using both arms (gedan barai) is performed the same time that the student drops to the left knee.
3. The student then sits with both feet underneath them with one foot on top of the other. Knees are flared out. For men, the appropriate distance between knees when sitting is the width of 3 fists placed end to end (approximately a 60 degree angle). For women, the distance between the knees is one fist distance.
4. Hands are placed open face down on top of the thighs.
5. Back and neck are straight, shoulders are back and not hunched over. Chin is slightly down.
6. If one cannot sit on the knees, then sitting upgright on the knees with the thighs straight up is acceptable.
Proper Bowing When Sitting
1. From the sitting position (seiza), place your left hand open in front and to the right of your left knee on the floor, palm down, followed immediately by the right hand in front and to the left of the right knee.
2. Bow with the forehead coming down to the floor where the hands are placed. Eyes should remain open with the eyes 45 degree downward yet still able to see forward without looking up. It is important to maintain your visual field even when bowing. When you do the bow, your buttocks should stay in contact with the legs you are sitting on, do not raise your rear end into the air. To do so is considered impolite.
3. Stay with the head down until the senior student calls out "yame" which mean stop. The bow to the floor should be for at least 2-3 seconds.
4. After the bow, return to the full upright sitting position.