Why Bow In Judo?
A bow of the head is worth a shake of the hand. Some people seem to believe that the act of bowing in Judo has some…. religious significance. It does not.
The origins of bowing go back to the samurai days. When two warriors met they would bow their heads to show the back of their neck, demonstrating that they trusted the other not to cut off their head. This is a Japanese version of a western handshake, which signifies that the sword hand, i.e. the right hand, is empty.
Nowadays, it is simply a salutation, incorporating this particular aspect of Japanese culture. In Judo terms it has several practical purposes:
It inculcates familiarity with an important aspect of Japanese culture. Bowing is an expression of respect. As such it indicates an open-minded attitude and a willingness to learn from one’s teachers and fellow students.
Bowing to a partner may serve to remind you that your partner is a person, not a practice dummy. The initial bow, which signifies the beginning of formal practice, or even competition, is much like a ‘ready to begin’ sign for our training partner.
Judoka should behave in accordance with certain standards of deportment. Judo classes should be somewhat like a world unto itself. Bowing after a practice or lesson is recognition of appreciation as to what has just occurred. It is a ‘thank you.’
Bowing to a training partner in Judo should be seen as a form of acknowledgement that the other person has played in your training.
Without a training partner nobody can train at Judo. Mutual Welfare and benefit was one of the cornerstones of Dr Jigoro Kano’s invention of Kodokan Judo. A bow should, therefore, be performed with genuine feeling and not be replaced by a vague nod of the head.
A bow is still part of Japanese tradition. Although the handshake is increasingly becoming the norm across the world, the bow remains the correct form of acknowledgment in Japanese martial arts.
It is interesting to know that, like bowing, which came from the days of the warrior in Japan, the western handshake also derives from the days of the knights. Should two sword-wearing soldiers or knights meet, they didn’t actually shake hands, but whilst in conversation, continue to hold each other’s right hand in order that they were not able to reach for their sword, which would be worn on the left side of the waist. (Not so trusting as the Japanese, obviously!)
Like bowing, the handshake has now come to signify a greeting, a form of demonstrating respect and a willingness to be friendly.
When understood correctly, then, at the beginning or the end of a contest or training session, it is not necessary to shake hands since, by bowing correctly, rather than merely nodding the head, you have executed the Japanese equivalent of the hand shake.
From original article in Judoka, March/April 2006 JRC Editor Dave Hammond, firstname.lastname@example.org