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Bowley Kenpo Karate » Philosophy » Why do we bow when getting on the mat?

Why do we bow when getting on the mat?

Each time any student or instructor goes on or off the mat they bow their head. I’ve seen it done at every martial arts school, and it’s done whether you’re getting on the mat to work or just crossing to the other side. The head bow is a tradition across schools and styles.

Future generation of Kenpoists

Future generation of Kenpoists

But why do we bow our heads?

Well, let’s start with what it’s not. It has nothing to do with any kind of Eastern martial arts mysticism. It’s also not about showing subservience to any kind of karate master. These common myths seem more based in tv-land.

The real reason we bow our heads is as a sign of respect. Respect to the practitioners who came before us and left their blood, sweat, and hard work on the mat. Their dedication made it possible for us to do Kenpo today. They defined and refined the art we practice while also training the trainers ensuring the knowledge is passed on. We’re also showing respect to the future generations coming after us keeping the art alive and flourishing. The future leaders and champions will be better due to the work we do on the mat now. We bow to show respect to the elder practitioners, the future artists, and the process of one becoming the other.

Story time.

On the recent leg of my Kenpo journey, I’ve been able to train with a Kenpoist buddy once every couple of months. He’ll tell you he’s not the most coordinated, and he has to drill the techniques many times before he’s comfortable with them. But he’s a helluva fighter. Every time he steps on the mat, he leaves it all out there. Every. Time. His dedication, tenacity, and enthusiasm is contagious. He makes everyone on the mat better. And he’s the kind of martial artist I think about when I bow getting on the mat. It’s that kind of spirit I want to leave behind on the mat for those that follow.

Is every person going to understand and appreciate the magnitude of this respect? Almost certainly not. But that’s ok too. A few will. The humility will resonate with them. And they’ll likely be the next generation of instructors.  They’ll be the people you’ll want to work with. Because they’ll make everyone around them better in karate and in life.

Sam Bowley
McKinney, TX

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