What is the meaning of Rei?

Why people exchange bow at the beginning of class at martial arts school?

Post by Kiki

Question about words used in martial arts schoolNow, I understood the meaning of “Sensei,” but still I have a question for you, Sensei. I saw instructors and students bow at the beginning of class after saying “Rei.” Why they bow each other? What is “Rei.”

Showing respect by bowing to each other

That is a good question. First, Rei is written in Japanese 礼.

礼(Rei) in martial arts is a sort of agreement among people practicing martial arts. The agreement could be:

  • Respect your sensei
  • The sensei treats his students with kindness
  • The sensei and students practice hard together to aim at improvement of 心技体(mind, technique, and body)

The purpose of practicing martial arts is to control your opponent or your enemy, yet you cannot achieve the goal without help from your master and your classmates. In other words, you cannot reach the ultimate goal of martial arts or improvement of your humanity when you ignore Rei. If you don’t respect Rei, training will be just a fighting but not martial arts (2006, Bittman).

Many people focus only on winning, but you should not forget the fact that you cannot win without help from people willing to teach you and be your opponent. Rei is a form of showing your appreciation and respect to people to make you improve your body and mind.

Bowing is one way to show the Rei at the beginning of class. In Japan, masters or teachers teach their students to make a 45-degree angle from the waist and look down toward your opponent’s feet. In old days in Japan, Bushi or samurai warriors carrying swords, and bowing meant showing trust to the person you meet because they were taking a risk of having their head cut off when they bow.  In many martial arts schools in the U.S., some instructors teach you to look at your opponent’s eyes when you bow, but it is thought as rude in Japan because it indicates you don’t trust your master and class mates.  Don’t forget, when you are in class, your goal is not to beat or attack your teacher or opponent. You are coming to class to improve your body and mind or “humanity.”

2006, Bittman, “The ‘Respectful Salutation’ (rei) in the Japanese Ways of the Martial Arts”.  http://dspace.lib.kanazawa-u.ac.jp/dspace/handle/2297/10812

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