The Japanese word for showing respect is “rei” and the bow is the method of greeting one another and showing respect throughout Asia. Many Americans are confused about when, where and how to bow in and around the dojo but seem to pick it up pretty quickly. I guess it’s like the military, when in doubt – salute. In traditional martial arts, when in doubt – bow.
I once read a story that covered respect and humility. The premise was that the rice stalk that carried the most grain bent the lowest. I find that in the martial arts, there seems to be a similar truth. It has been my experience that the most senior and respected teachers are the most humble and respectful individuals around. They understand that respect is not something one can demand but can only be earned by showing respect to others. The very act of taking time to recognize another and showing that you recognize them and appreciate their existence is an act of humility all in itself.
There is a natural law that I call the law of the farm. This law specifies that in order to get, you must first give. In order to get respect from others, you must first give respect. On a farm you plant seed in the spring, work the crop during the summer, and harvest in the fall. You can’t skip the first part and expect results in the fall, nor can you rush this process by pulling on the stalk during the summer. There are those that sit in front of a stove and think that once it heats up, then they will add wood to the fire. That process just doesn’t work, and yet every day, products are sold and bought that promise instant gratification with no effort needed.
Even in the martial arts world, there are those that promise instant skill, rank and security. They sell a six-month black belt or deadly abilities in only a few lessons. Anyone that understands natural laws must realize that quality martial arts take many years to develop and grow. This incorporates lots of hard work plus dedication to a good organization and teacher. Every time you bow in at the dojo, you should understand that you have identified this process and are earning your proficiency the old-fashioned way – through hard work, discipline and respect.
Many senior teachers have come to understand that simply teaching fighting techniques, tactics or strategies, without including the philosophical and spiritual attributes of respect, humility and self-discipline is doing nothing more than creating street fighters and thugs.
In classical martial arts, the training of the entire person, mentally, spiritually and physically is the goal of the teacher. One of the major first steps towards becoming a great warrior is learning how to demonstrate respect and to bow properly.
— In the way, JWA