Bowing in the Martial Arts

 

In truly God-centered martial art systems, scripture, not tradition, provides the validation for all aspects of the instruction. In an attempt to retain as much of the traditional oriental flavor as possible without compromising the scriptural perspective, all aspects of the traditional approach are held up to the scrutiny of scripture. To site one example – from a strictly traditional oriental perspective, “Bowing is a traditional and highly ceremonial manner of displaying a moment of respectful silence in memory of the many dedicated individuals who over the centuries have virtually devoted their lives to the very demanding intellectual, physical, and spiritual pursuits necessary in the attainment of mastery in the oriental fighting arts.” (taken from Budo Aikido – Kukyu Training Manual) Obviously, a devoutly spiritual martial artist would have a problem with this concept of paying homage to individuals no matter how dedicated they were to the martial arts.

How then could a Christian justify bowing in a martial arts setting? In Christian based martial arts systems, the student is cautioned that God clearly instructed Moses to record “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Ex. 20:3-5). That pretty well sums it up – bowing is taboo. But wait!!! What about Abraham, God’s man of faith? Genesis chapter 23 reveals that Abraham requested the cave of Machpelah, owned by Ephron, who dwelt among the children of Heth, as a burying place for his wife Sarah. In the process of obtaining the burying place, twice, Abraham “bowed before the people of the land” (Gen. 23:7,12). Although Moses’ Law was not etched in stone, so to speak, at the time Abraham bowed before the people of the land, to entertain the thought that Abraham bowed to pay homage to the people would a misnomer. Bowing was merely a custom in Abraham’s culture much like shaking hands is in our modern day culture.

Apparently, it all has to do with attitude. On the one hand, if in one’s mind, one is bowing as a sign of reverential homage, it would be in direct opposition with the clear teaching of Exodus 20. On the other hand, if in one’s mind, one is bowing in keeping with custom and no thought of reverential homage is being entertained, it would be more in keeping with the example of Abraham as recorded in Genesis 23 and therefore permissable.

Ceremonial bowing is performed:

when entering and exiting the training area.
at the beginning and the end of the training session.
at the beginning and the end of practice with a partner(s).
at the beginning and the end of sparring with a partner(s).
at the beginning and the end of communication with Sensei.
at the beginning and the end of testing for promotion.

bamboo divider

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