Reishiki – Bowing Etiquette:
It should firstly be understood that bowing is a way of greeting or showing respect within the martial arts. Westerners shake hands and Eskimo's rub noses. These rituals have formed over time and have no other connotation than what is going to be described here.
Over years in training I've come across many dojos and have noticed people mumbling words and phrases (Domo Arigato homabatamabamen? what?) and stumble through etiquette, formal practices or ceremonies and do not know either what they are doing or saying (in Japanese). In truth, most have never been explained what etiquette has to do with their safety or standards in their dojo.
Many martial artists are unaware of Reishiki, Reigi-saho, and the proper etiquette of their dojo or martial art. As a starting point, to explain Reishiki we must recognize that many Eastern religions are not true forms of worship. Many Eastern religions are philosophical systems coping with everyday occurrences. Some of these philosophical systems include practices that condition the body and mind to prepare a warrior for battle. Over time, practitioners began to honor the founders of these philosophies, turning them into deities and their philosophies and philosophies of the systems into doctrine. Historical examples include: Lao Tsu, Bautama (Buhidharma), or Confucius, as the originators of Taoism, Buddhism or Confucianism.
Etiquette in the dojo is not to place students beneath another or to place instructors on a level higher closer to gods; it is not a mystery in the Martial Arts or part of the secret you will find out of when you reach a certain rank. Reigi-saho, or etiquette, is to organize the dojo into a functional society demonstrating discipline, dedication, respect, common sense, and most of all, manners.
Reishiki comes from two Japanese words. The first is "rei" defined as: bow, salutation, salute, courtesy, propriety, ceremony, thanks, and appreciation. The second part of the term is "shiki" defined as: ceremony, rite or function. Combine into the term "Reishiki" can translate as: ceremonial manners, bowing ceremony, or etiquette.
Some might consider this type of consideration to another human being as being conservatively old fashioned; however, we could say that the end goal of rei is rooted into all forms of Budo because any Martial Art without Reishiki is just fighting. Reishiki is the bowing ceremony that open and close class. This is where deshi (students) line up according to their particular rank and pay their respect and thanks for what they are about to learn or have learned. A highly structured class in any Budo, that includes karate do, begins on time with the senior student or instructor calling the beginning of class by ordering everyone to line up.
To end class the senior student or instructor will call everyone to line up. (Soremade - Class is now finished).
Yes it is a lot of bowing; however, this should just about sum it up for any traditional dojo, including Iaido, Kendo and Judo. Note that this ceremony is not to be considered religious in nature, but is an important part of the Reishiki which is focused etiquette and is essential to Budo (Way of the Warrior).
Reishiki is important to the creation of a formal and traditional atmosphere in the dojo. In traditional karate do, one of the first concepts that we are taught is that of Reishiki (or at least it should be). I do not think many students would last long who greets their instructor with "Yo Sensei" or "Yo, my main-man Sensei." As we begin our training, the concepts of Reishiki are taught to us as much of the art is, through observing those who have come before us. Watching our seniors in training and in their general actions and interactions in the dojo is an outstanding way to learn, provided that the seniors have been observant over the years. There are many occasions in the day to day operations of a dojo that require some form of ceremony. Some of the more common times are: Beginning and the end of classes Seminar by Guest Instructor Mudansha/Yudansha (student/black belt) Shinsa (Audition for Rank) Annual / Special Training sessions. I do not know of anyone who actually takes class time in a dojo to teach the concepts of Reishiki, and I have yet to find a book on the subject. It should also be noted that there is a marked difference between "Dojo Reishiki" and that used in and to the general public. There are also noted differences between Japanese and Okinawa forms of Reishiki. The student should stop and bow when entering or leaving a dojo and should bow once to Shomen and again if dan ranks are present. Dan ranks should bow once to the Shomen and again if the Sensei is present. I cannot stress how important it is to follow the proper protocol regarding etiquette and rank in the dojo or how important it is to bow before and after (in and out of) each exercise whether formal or informal. Etiquette is an integral part of Budo and without it we would be practicing nothing more than violence. The more training a person receives the calmer, dignified and humble the Karate do practitioner should become. The beginner must practice etiquette in order to make him/herself a better person.