An old saying states, "Karate begins and ends with manners"
Often new students wonder why we bow in Taekwondo class. Many are concerned that bowing may have some religious significance—it does not. While it may be used in religious settings, it is not a religious gesture. In Korea, and other Eastern cultures, the bow is used in business or social situations that have no relationship to religion. It is said that Joe Lewis, karate champion and founder of contact karate, when asked why he did not bow, said that since he did not bow to his own mother, why should he bow to anyone else. In Western culture, we shake hands to greet someone, to congratulate someone, and to express gratitude. Using Mr. Lewis' logic, since he does not shake hands with his mother when he meets her, he must also not shake hands with anyone else. In Eastern culture, bowing expresses the same functions as handshakes and other physical greetings. An old saying states, "Grain droops as it ripens." Only a few hundred years ago, in European society, a courtly bow was a considered a form of greeting.
A saying in the military is "When in doubt, salute." This also seems to be the case in some Taekwondo, and other martial art, schools where students bow, or are required to bow, about every time they take a step. This seems strange since in martial art schools located in oriental countries bowing is not used very often. Also, just as in Western countries where not much thought is given to the art of handshaking in today's busy world, in Eastern countries, there is not much thought given to the art of bowing.
A handshake is not just a shaking of hand; it conveys information. There are different types of handshakes depending on the situation and relationship between the two people, such as the simple handshake used as a courtesy upon greeting or saying farewell; the tow-handed consoling handshake used with the grieving; the firm, curt handshake used to seal a deal; the brisk, animated handshake used to congratulate; and many more. The bow is used in the same manner. There are different types of bows, such as the cursory bow (a bow of about 5 degrees) used in the same manner as Westerns use a nod of the head, the shallow bow (a bow of about 15 degrees) similar to the handshake, the ordinary bow (a bow of about 30 degrees) as a sign of respect, the polite bow (a bow of about 45 degrees) used to convey deep respect or gratitude, or an apology; and the ceremonial bow (a bow of about 90 degrees) that is reserved for ceremonial or religious purposes.
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