Why do we Bow in Lotus Self-Defense Classes?




The bow is perhaps one of the most misunderstood traditions in martial arts.  Many people may think of it as a religious affiliation or as a sign of a master-slave type relationship between an instructor and his or her student.  This interpretation is false.  Instead, the bow is done to show humility and is used to express a lack of arrogance.  In addition, it serves as a sign of mutual respect between teachers and students and between practitioners and opponents.  If you were to compare the Asian bow to a Western tradition, it would most closely represent the handshake.  In Lotus Self-Defense, the bow can be done from a standing position or a kneeling position.  Unless specifically noted otherwise, all the bows described below are performed from a standing position.

When do we bow in Lotus Self-Defense?

Now that you know why Lotus Self-Defense practitioners bow, let's look at when the bow is appropriate.  You should bow when you enter the dojo.  At that time, you are clearing your mind of daily problems and events, and "emptying your cup" so that you are concentrating on Lotus Self-Defense and able to absorb the martial arts material you are about to learn.  Just as you bow when you enter the dojo, you should bow when you leave the dojo.  This signifies that your training on the mat has finished. 

Lotus Self-Defense classes are started by bowing toward the front of the dojo.  We bow toward the front of the dojo because that is where our instructor is and where the founder's picture is.  We bow to Ajarn Precha Mahachanavong's picture to display respect and gratitude to him for his hard work in creating Lotus Self-Defense.  Our appreciation toward him is also shown by our practicing and spreading Lotus Self-Defense.  We bow to our instructor to show our respect and gratitude for his teachings, and to signify the full attention of practicing.  Alertness is emphasized in martial arts training because of the inherit danger of learning and practicing combat.  Therefore, the bow is important because it signifies that we are concentrated on the task and training ahead.

Bowing should be done between two people prior and immediately after sparring.  Sparring partners often shake hands too.  The bowing that occurs here indicates to each other that the practitioners are alert and ready.  The bow after the sparring match shows gratitude to the other person.  Each person learns something about himself, his opponent, and combat through a sparring match.  The ending bow is thanking the other person for the learning.

Lotus Self-Defense has 100 self-defense techniques.  Prior and immediately following the execution of each techniques should include a bow between the person executing the technique and the person receiving the technique.  Similar to the bowing prior to sparring, bowing while performing self-defense techniques indicates to each other that the  practitioners are alert and ready.  Bowing after the self-defense technique is completed is done to show that the technique is finished and also to thank the other person for the learning.

Lotus Self-Defense students return to their respective order according to belt rank at the end of class.  From the kneeling position, Lotus Self-Defense students take off their belts and place them in front of themselves.  A kneeling bow is performed to display respect for each other and gratitude for a good workout and lesson.

Written by Tucker Axum III