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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 1999 12:56 am 
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Joined: Sun Dec 27, 1998 6:01 am
Posts: 21
Location: Corinth,ME,USA
It is quite interesting that the most recent post on bowing should come up at this time.

I was talking to my instructor today, and a very interesting problem has come up for him as a teacher, and we were wondering if anyone has any input on the subject.

As most of you know, I am a student of traditonal Goju-ryu karate do. I will do my best to make a long, complex story a bit shorter. Essentially, my teacher's Goju instructor for a period of about 15 years, got very sick (eventually passing away). During this time, Kobayashi Hiroyasu Sensei took my teacher on as a student. Our dojo then became a member of the Nippon Seibukan, or the All Japan Budo Federation. With the changes in the organization, and my Sensei's position and status, there were many changes in regards to etiquette and the running of our dojo that needed to be made.

This is the bare bones background of the story.

He has been running 2 dojo through this process. One of them has been changing as he has asked, and the other, which contained students who have been with my sensei and his late teacher for over 10 years, has been more resistant. My sensei was very understanding, and did his best to give them the time they needed to adjust to the changes he had been making a little at a time.

Things had been running relatively smoothly until he implemented the bowing to the shinza. In the class are 2 fundamentalist Christians, who have problems with this action on grounds of the commandment that says not to worship idols. The feel this way, despite the fact that he has explained to them that worship is not the intent here, and to do so would be considered totally inappropriate.

I was wondering if any of you as instructors have run up against the same or similiar circumstances, and how have you dealt with them, still maintaining the tradition? We truly appreciate any input and comments anyone may have on this subject.

As far as the students go, I think I will suggest that they read some of the last post, as I think perhaps it would be good for them to think about.

Thank you for your time,

Jessica


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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 1999 1:30 am 
Hello Jessica,

How long have those students been practicing before they decided against bowng?

Only a guess at what I would do because it hasn't happened yet, so... If I had a student who refused to bow because of religious reasons then I don't care; so what. Dealing with his peers may be another matter, and going before a black belt test board may be another issue still [liberal usage of the word 'may'].

However, if that person attempted to impose his beliefs on others, i.e. told other students not to bow or not to bow to him, than I would most definitely become involved.

A person's religious beliefs are his/her own business up to a point, and that 'point' is subjective.

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Allen at [email]uechi@ici.net">uechi@ici.net</A> on <A HREF="http://www.uechi-ryu.org[/email]


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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 1999 1:38 am 
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Joined: Sun Dec 27, 1998 6:01 am
Posts: 21
Location: Corinth,ME,USA
Sensei Moulton,

They've been practicing for maybe about 12-14 years now. They have not had a problem bowing into class before or even to each other, but for some reason--according to them, a conflict with the commandment about bowing to idols--they feel it is against their religion to bow to the picture at the front. Thank you for your input, and I will pass it on to my sensei.

Jessica


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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 1999 6:35 am 
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Joined: Mon Sep 21, 1998 6:01 am
Posts: 18
Location: Flagstaff, AZ
Hey Folks -

Here is my take on a sensitive subject. Not to degrade the importance of personal religious beliefs, but I liken it to other customs within the dojo. For example, I never require that students practice in bare feet. That is their own choice, resulting from the consequences of their own actions. I do however have rules. People will remove all jewelry and shoes, wear a clean ghi, and show respect for fellow students before being allowed to work with partners or spar. People generally come to their own conclusion about the shoes, and the issue thus becomes a non-issue. Similarly, I will never press issues concerning religion within the dojo. A variety of students is a must in any dojo, and I will not allow any "screening" of this type to take place. If bowing to pictures invloved some transgression unnaccetpable to certain parties, then they may discuss with me alternative ways to show respect, as is appropriate. The fact that they have to come to me is generally enough to keep the insincere from making "statements", while allowing proper cultural adjustments to be made.

Teachers learn from students, just as students learn from teachers. The same two-way street applies to the dojo as a whole. As long as an atmosphere of respect and learning is maintained, cultural modifications are not only acceptable, but appropriate. Let those who are unconfortable with aspects of the dojo discuss and find viable alternatives, and I believe that no degradation of the general atmosphere will occur.

Of course, when in Rome, do as the Romans do to the max extent possible - simple courtesy, as in all things.

Boundaries and standard patterns are of huge importance in all things. Neither, however, should ever be inflexible...

Hope this helps in some way. Gambatte!!

Chris Long


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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 1999 2:59 pm 
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Posts: 875
Well said Chris-san.

We have had this situation a few times in our dojo - and each situation has been a bit different. We are in somewhat of the bible belt - and a couple of the more fundamentalist Christian students have had a problem with bowing to the shomen, in conflict with the "idols" issue, even when it was explained that worship is not the intent. We also have a muslim student who feels the same way. Each situation has been different - and we have always explained that courtesy and respect are the primary concern here, and as long as the student can maintain that, a ceremonial bow does not have to be performed by the individuals who feel uncomfortable with it. They are given the option of excusing themselves before the bow takes place, or simply standing in the back of the room. We have had both options exercised. In another case, the student kneels with the rest of the class, and just does not perform the bow. In only one case that I know of in 15 years, and a very sad one, the student and her mother had to withdraw from the class because of religious conflict perceived at home, even with our explanations, (very similar to ones expressed in this and the other religious issue thread.) The reason it was sad was because the student involved was one of those students who took to karate like "a duck to water" so to speak, and was experiencing many personal benefits from the training...

Whenever we have a new student, we try to give them a brief introduction to customs of the dojo (shoes outside, standing bow to the shomen upon entering the dojo, a bow of greeting to the sensei, etc. and the reasons behind the actions) and this is the time that any hesitations about the bow usually come up, if they do at all. The percentage of concerns about bowing in the overall enrollment is very small, but, as every new student is important, their concerns are as important to us as well.

Changing an established dojo's traditions would seem to be a bit more difficult however; perhaps some concessions can be made to allow some personal choice as to participation in custom and ritual, as long as courtesy and respect are maintained.

Peace,
Lori


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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 1999 10:38 pm 
Jessica,

To my way of thinking they would have thought about this 12-14 years ago unless they just got a new religion. Just a thought.

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Allen at [email]uechi@ici.net">uechi@ici.net</A> on <A HREF="http://www.uechi-ryu.org[/email]


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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Thu Feb 18, 1999 3:41 am 
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Joined: Thu Mar 11, 1999 6:01 am
Posts: 17202
Location: Richmond, VA --- Louisville, KY
I've really enjoyed the posts so far.

I've missed you, Jessica. Good to hear from you again. Remember that they have computers in West Virginia schools. And remember to keep school from getting in the way of your education!

As for the bow....I've been through a lot of this. I've taught several thousand in a University setting, and I came across this religious issue on many occasions.

Personally I USUALLY practice the "when in Rome" rule, and I tried very hard to teach all my UVa students to be flexible so they could adapt when they flew the coup and went to another location. Chris is a good example of this....in more ways than I care to go into right now. Let's just say that he has learned the ninja lesson of blending in the crowd as well as any. Because of his respect for others' ways, he will have much available to him.

But...I also have given the whole bow to the shomen issue a lot of thought. On the one hand, I can think like a Japanese and have no problem with the concept of showing respect for the spirit of my elders. But on the other hand, I feel it is just as necessary to think like a fundamentalist Christian and understand their view of the bow. I had many years to think about this and discuss the issue with many students. And I had many years to think about what was ESSENTIAL in the dojo and what was merely "atmosphere".

And I, after all, was a former Catholic altar boy. I can still recite the prayers at the foot of the altar in Latin. Ad deum qui letificat.... And then the pope did away with it. Why?? Why keep it? What did it add? Why not allow the mass to be celebrated in the native language? People in America weren't, after all, in Rome. Same with the people in France. So out with the Latin, in with the English and French and Spanish and, and...

So...I got rid of the pictures. I got rid of the formality of having the big cheese up front and the big fish in the first row and the minnows in the second and.... Instead, I start every class in a circle. There is no position of authority in a circle, and EVERY position is a position of RESPONSIBILITY. When in Virginia.... I've never lost a fundamentalist since I adopted this practice. It isn't about worship, it's about respect - MUTUAL respect. It's about responsibility - SHARED responsibility. It's about coming to learn, NOT coming to be spoon fed. It's about developing the self, NOT about giving of the self to a higher authority.

I can still sit in a formal class and do the shomen routine. But in my dojo, our own sincere brand of spiritual deference prevails. And what do I do if a muckety muck visits my dojo? I bow the class in MY way - explaining what I do and why - and then I have the visiting dignitary bow the class out THEIR way.

I haven't given you any solutions, Jessica. All I'm trying to do is make you think about what people are trying to accomplish with ceremony. Whatever you do, it should be felt from the heart, or not done at all.

Bill


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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Thu Feb 18, 1999 9:37 pm 
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Joined: Sat Nov 28, 1998 6:01 am
Posts: 2437
Location: MARSHFIELD, MA. USA
Anthony san et al:

My dojo is very small. However I suppose I would just miss the little bowing in and bowing ceremony anyway.


Whenever anybody asks, I say it's just a formality which is intended to focus one's attention on the workout and is a "mark" beginning and ending the workout which they should use as a tool to exclude outside worries during that time.

I note that when I go informal, it just doesn't feel completely right.

This is an entirely subjective and personal feeling and it's probably just a matter of what I am used to.

The best approach I have had has been that to using the bow as a 'cue' to mark a 'space of your own' for your workout.

If you don't need that---well I guess that's fine.

JOHN

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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Thu Feb 18, 1999 9:47 pm 
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Posts: 2437
Location: MARSHFIELD, MA. USA
PS:

Occassionally at a closing I will run into a religous (normally couple) who are not "allowed" to take an oath. As a Notary that is what one takes (an oath that the doc. is true and correct and is their free act and deed. The Registers of deeds won't take a document unnotarized. Usually then I seems simplest to change the "Jurat" to read then came so an so and stated (as opposed to made oath) that the foregoing was their free act and deed.

That's acceptable.

It's been so long that I would feel funny not bowing and strange to leave my shoes on.
In a Japanese style dojo.

Just a part of the "discipline". Uniformity in some meaningless aspect nonetheless adds to the discipline in and learned from the class. Can one do without it? Absolutely! But it might be just a little incremental bit harder.

JOHNT

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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Thu Feb 18, 1999 10:57 pm 
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Location: Richmond, VA --- Louisville, KY
John

I think everyone is in agreement that ceremony, ritual, protocol, rules, respect, and appreciation are important. HOW you conduct or demonstrate that is the only issue. And I think all are in agreement that whatever it is you do, ideally it should have meaning and sincerity behind the act(s).

Bill


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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Fri Feb 19, 1999 1:01 am 
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Posts: 2437
Location: MARSHFIELD, MA. USA
Bill Sensei:

Naturally you seem correct. I was just trying to note that sometimes without that little mental slamming of the door to the outside world, it is sometimes tough for me to run a workout.

In Tai Chi I/we do not "bow" or take off our shoes--and that still goes fine, the only difference being that I am not running the workout. I suppose mini ceremonial is just an "aid" to the instructors at bottom, like "counts" and such.

I will amend that. When Master Heung is in, he will semi informally bow the class (usually a seminar for me) in.

I have never had students who objected-so I was just offering possible explanations to those with larger classes who might run into objections a bit more frequently.

Thanks

JOHN T

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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Fri Feb 19, 1999 10:26 pm 
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Posts: 2437
Location: MARSHFIELD, MA. USA
I am nervous about being in agreement with so many people.

Anthony: Bowing in Japan, as I am sure you have been told, is like a handshake. If somebody refused to shake your hand, how would you feel?

There may be some aspects of Shinto or other eastern religions in the ritual as practiced in Japan. We should be perfectly aware that these particular religious overtones to the rituals are accepted as such in "West".

Kung fu and Tai Chi classes are not so regimented, but they retain a "shrine" of sorts at the front of the "Kwoon" and do bow in and out, if somewhat less formally than we do. Furhter the shrine is specifically noted by the Sifu as not intended to be part of any religious instruction and neither my Sensei nor Sifu pretend to teach religion and have often so stated.

I have attended only a few Aikido classes and they (an offshoot of New England Aikikai) are very rigourous in the opening and closing ceremony.

This last is for information only.

As to bowing to another while sparring, the western equivalent is to shake hands and touch gloves.

Custom is sometimes stronger than law.

I will read your post again to be sure that I am on point.

I believe that most Japanese and Chinese visitors understand that shaking hands is a western 'ritual' and originally out politeness and now, perhaps because many in the East have assimilated this custom, it may way be considered impolite not to bow AND shake hands.

Any comments on this last by travelers to the Wast welcome please,

Oh, as a point of trivia, there are usual feathers in a "shrine" at a "Kwoon" I read that when they were "pointed outward" it meant that it was "fighting" school and would take on all comers, when pointed inward, it was not a fighting school. Any thoughts comments or input?

JOHNT



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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Sat Feb 20, 1999 12:52 am 
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Posts: 21
Location: Corinth,ME,USA
Mr. Thurston,

"I believe that most Japanese and Chinese visitors understand that shaking hands is
a western 'ritual' and originally out politeness and now, perhaps because many in the East have assimilated this custom, it may way be considered impolite not to bow AND shake hands."

I think that this is a good point. Right now, I am attending a university, where there are about 25% Japanese students--not to mention a number of Chinese and Taiwanese students. However, where I am majoring in Japanese, I have been encouraged by my professors to learn more about the culture from my Japanese friends.

Due to my prior knowledge of the culture I had attained through my martial arts training, the professors took time with me, and made sure I knew how to behave appropriately in an office setting. Bowing is a very big part of this, both from the boss to the worker, or the teacher to the student--similar to in the dojo. However, due to my interest, I have also been given opportunities to participate in interculural activities--between Japanese and Americans. Although my experience is still limited, I have found that at such functions, it seems to be customary to first bow, and then a hand shake may follow, depending on the circumstances. In some cases, it seems that that Japanese expect that if the American has a good understanding of the culture that the bow is sufficient, but a handshake may also be extended, not purely as ritual, but more of a willingness to build a bridge between the two culures.

I think that the majority of Japanese probably have no problem at all with shaking hands (no religious issues anyway), but when it comes to a choice, the bow is still the main preference (for obvious reasons), although that may be changing for the younger generation, as many things are. You mentioned the point of assimilation, and I think that is especially evident in the younger generation.

So, bowing is still an extremely important part of Japanese culure, the back bone of etiquette. It's where everything from simple greetings to business gatherings start and end. And I think that many Japanese feel (especially the older generation) that if an American--or any other culture--wishes to attain a thourough understanding of the Japanese culture, he must understand the bow--not only inside the dojo, but also inside Japan.

Jessica


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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Sat Feb 20, 1999 1:28 am 
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I just posted something related to Jessica's last message on Lori's forum. If you get a chance, drop and and check it out.

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GEM


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 Post subject: Bowing in the Dojo
PostPosted: Sat Feb 20, 1999 7:07 pm 
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Location: MARSHFIELD, MA. USA
JD: The imagery in the very first page of "Genesis" conflicts with itself, however poetically, and "The Epic of Gilgamesh" (or Babylon mythology seems to have placed some images therein (AND THE SPIRIT OF GOD MOVED OVER THE FACE OF THE WATER) the rest of my classical education has begun to fade. It was not truly "classical" as I was not required to study (Attic?) Greek.

Anthony:

Flexiblity in this area would seem to be best. When Americans first visited China they declined to perform the ritual "Kowtow" since their most recent historical experience had shed them of an unpopular king and aristocracy and, for a time, refusing to bow to any man was part of OUR revolutionary zeal. This, I understand, caused certain problems.

I think what I was trying to suggest was there are ways to view "the ceremonial" that would not conflict with ANTHONY AS HE IS, which is a pretty good "is" from all reports.

Jessica:

Your input about the partial assimilation on soem level of shaking hands in Japan or by Japanese is interesting. Thank you.

In medieval Italy, the gentry, I believe, customarily bowed and shaking hands may have been reserved for closer relations, or the custom may have originated or been imported later. Maybe someone else knows.


JOHNT


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