Why do we bow in the martial arts?

Why do we bow in the martial arts?

Have you noticed in martial arts everyone bows? 🤔

When you started training, has anyone taken the time to explain to you why we bow?

A student who doesn’t understand why we bow is missing out on the component of their journey of self discovery and philosophy.

Bowing in the martial arts is a very simple act but one that is extremely important. It’s about paying respect. For example, bowing between Instructors and students shows the respect felt among themselves and towards each other. When you bow, you’re not bowing to that person, but respecting the knowledge and skill that person has acquired, and to the rank that they have attained.

Bowing also symbolizes humility. When you bow to a higher rank you are acknowledging they know more about martial arts than you. Being humble is a very important trait to have in every aspect of your life and every time you bow you should remind yourself to be modest and always think of others. It definitely helps keeping your ego in check.

As a new student you may be asking yourself, “When am I supposed to bow?”, “Is it the same in all martial arts?”

While the disciplines and practices of martial arts vary, you’ll notice some marital arts academies are more traditional than others. Simply put, some academies might be more laid back about common practices than others.

Here are examples of when you would bow and why:

To your Instructor – The most important person to bow to is your Instructor, for they are the one that will teach you everything you will ever learn about the martial arts. The bond between a student and their Instructor is one that will last a lifetime and is based on respect, trust and loyalty. This is rare and should be cherished.

When Training with your Partner – Some places just shake hands before training and others bow. Bowing indicates that you both are alert, ready and that you wish each other no harm. Each person learns something about themselves during training and the ending bow is thanking the other person for the learning.

At the Beginning/End of Each Class – Normally where students line up together in descending rank order and bow to their instructor and Grand Masters.

When Stepping On/Leaving the Mats – When stepping on the mats to begin your training, bowing symbolizes you clearing your mind and leaving your problems behind to fully immerse yourself in the positive learning environment. When you are done training for the day, you bow off the mats which symbolizes your gratitude for the knowledge received that lesson from your Instructor and opportunity to train with your teammates.


We hope this has given you greater clarity as the meaning behind this simple gesture of expression. The next time you’re at your martial arts academy, think about the context of the situation. Introspection and awareness are the hallmarks of great martial arts practitioners. Everyday is a journey towards self-improvement. Keep both your mind and body open to everything that goes on within your academy.

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