“Bowing – Its Uses and Abuses,” by Nev Sagiba

As we all know, bowing is a Budo tradition.

We bow, we practice, we bow and then we go home. The bow is mutual and reciprocated. It is an open show of respect, a salutation akin to a military salute or a handshake, all which served the same purpose in ancient times.

We still shake hands. Most people will not misuse this, but those who do so, quickly reveal the nature of their intent and level of maturity.

Military salutes vary, but mean the same thing and are relegated to military organizations in today’s world.

The bow also is mostly used correctly. There will be people who will lend religious interpretations to the bow and who will object. That’s their entitlement, but no reasonable person will object to showing mutual respect in some way.

Basically, the Japanese bow, whilst containing many nuances and some variables, both sitting and standing, remains and is intended to be a sign of, and an open token of respect. Even when faked.

However, in medieval times and in cults, the bow only travelled in one direction. There is danger in this, as it has ceased to be a respect thing and become a cultish grovelling based on fear and domination, the context having been perverted entirely.

Bowing to statues has always been a vexation to the messengers of various faiths whilst they were alive. They understood well the dangers of misuse, but this did not stop many of their followers from propagating dubious practices after their death. Bowing to a higher human authority, began with cannibal kings and when unquestioningly retained in similar circumstances should be questioned.

It has recently come to my attention, that as a form of punishment, some cub scout organizations use enforced bowing and grovelling and the making of verbal supplication to some form of “oh great poobah..”, a regular practice. Their “leaders” excuse this practice by saying, “It has been a practice for over 50 years.”

I doubt this. Whilst it may be possible that a quasi legitimate form of “bowing-in” ceremony akin to Budo may have existed, the imposition of bowing to a “leader” to apologise and for purposes of dominance should be considered as a form of grooming in an unhealthy direction, that has crept in.

Let’s not pretend. The whole world knows about pedophile priests and scoutmasters. Especially, and too well by those whose lives they irreparably damaged. Yes, there may undoubtedly also exist those in these positions who are not predators, and who do not condone predators, but the bad ones tar them all. Get your house in order. No excuse is acceptable, or can be accepted. Your complacency reveals not only moral cowardice, and tacit compliance, but also assent.

This practice, whilst not affecting the slumber of drones, has given rise to concerns in the minds of thinking parents. In the face of other forms of domination, pedophilia and sex abuse, which was severally followed by certain individuals being charged and sent to jail and in some cases the organization fined large amounts of money by the courts, we should all question all practices in-loco-parentis and make sure that all legal, moral and child protection codes are fully in place and fully adhered to.

Your children should be your spies and feel comfortable about reporting any break from the high moral standards that a caring parent will exemplify at home, when it happens outside of immediate jurisdiction. That, of course, is assuming that your household in fact does espouse high moral standards.

The context of bowing should be questioned all the time. Even during, and in the course of a legitimate bow. Never bow too low unless it is you who are in charge of that bow.

Bowing, in any form, cannot be imposed and especially not by use of force or fear, upon children.

Bowing, if it is indeed to be an expression of mutual respect, must be a personal choice and be mutually reciprocated.

The intent in Budo being along the lines of: “I respect that you are human and fragile as am I, that we will consider the mutual safety of each other’s bodies and minds, and agree to practice this dangerous art safely, to not cause harm, to train with care and attention etc., etc.

As an expression of domination over others, bowing or anything else, needs to be eradicated and the proponents of misuse severely put on notice and abusive practices terminated and enforced by legislation.

Be vigilant and when bowing, bow as a choice and this with vigilance and respect foremost. Or never bow at all.

And NEVER let any son-of-a-bitch impose anything at all, that you, as a reasonable person and protector, would not agree, upon your children, or indeed any children.

Nev Sagiba


  1. Sometimes a bow is just a bow. Just like the great psychologist said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”. Obviously something very deep and personal going on here. Cussing and swear words are really not necessary in this forum, especially when women and small children may be reading and influenced by what and how you say.
    It is just a sign of eastern respect, the same as a handshake to the westerners.

  2. I tend to agree… Proper bowing is certainly important, and improper bowing is one of my pet peeves… But… I’m pretty sure I don’t see the connection between “cub scouts”, “bowing” and “pedophilia”… (perhaps I should be happy that I don’t) I also tire of the constant implication that the entire population of the Aikido community is clueless… Gross generalizations usually indicate limited experience… Less chatter… More practice…

  3. Nick lowry says:

    Seen plenty of places where they have beautiful bows and abysmal training ethics….personally I’m far more interested in the ethos ,in how they treat each other on and off the mat than how nicely they keep formal ettiqute …when bowing is misused and subverted the real mojo is lost…bowing should purify and unify not segregate or subjugate

  4. Nick lowry says:

    And In terms of dealing with predatory folks and practices I think cussing and swear words are completely appropriate.

  5. Jack Hosie says:

    I have sought to share my thoughts on this vital matter a few times before, and shall do so a again in this reply.

    The reigi saho, both conceal and yet reveal the secrets of budo, if one is willing to study it with heart mind and soul. The true value of the dojo etiquette, is there for all to discover, but most are in a rush to get onto the so called exciting bit, that of technique etc, and therefore miss the real and important points in which the bowing has to teach us.

    Many modern dojos and systems either give scant regard or dispense with dojo etiquette altogether, seeing it as anachronism, therefore of no value in a modern setting, this is where they err, through the lack of knowledge they fail to understanding, the significance of the bowing and its purpose.

    May the readers of this site, take the time and effort to study this foundational aspect of budo, and discover its importance, value and secrets.

  6. The bow is superior to the handshake insofar as microbes cannot be transmitted. The handshake can be seen as superior or inferior, in that equal pressure may symbolize equality, while most handshakes are not equivalent from one’s grip to the other’s. Handshakes permit physical contact, which may be important in that right. Less of a connection is felt through bowing. The military salute certainly has its place, though reserved for the military. I feel the salute is the best display of respect of these three methods, but it is not used when two are of equal or enlisted rank. The concept of bowing for a longer duration or more deeply toward any form of senpai or sensei, while perhaps equally between equals (age, status) seems ok. I would just have to get used to that, and being born and raised in Japan probably makes it much more familiar.

  7. In MMA…we touch gloves and then pound the crap out of each other…now that’s respect.

  8. Is that what you do when you cross paths?

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