It is common for people to ask about the practice of bowing in aikido. In
particular, many people are concerned that bowing may have some religious
significance. It does not. In Western culture, it is considered proper to
shake hands when greeting someone for the first time, to say "please"
when making a request, and to say "thank you" to express gratitude.
In Japanese culture, bowing (at least partly) may fulfill all these functions.
Incorporating this particular aspect of Japanese culture into our aikido
practice serves several purposes:
It inculcates a familiarity with an important aspect of Japanese culture
practitioners. This is especially important for anyone who may wish, at
some time, to travel to Japan to practice aikido. There is also a case to
be made for simply broadening one's cultural horizons.
Bowing may be an expression of respect. As such, it expresses open-mindedness
and a willingness to learn from one's teachers and fellow students.
Bowing to a partner may serve to remind you that your partneris a person
-- not a practice dummy. Always train within the limits of your partner's
The initial bow, which signifies the beginning of formal practice, is much
like a "ready, begin uttered at the beginning of an examination. So
long as class is in session, you should behave in accordance with certain
standards of deportment. Aikido class should be somewhat like a world unto
itself. While in this "world," your attention should be focussed
on the practice of aikido. Bowing out is like signaling a return to the
When bowing either to the instructor at the beginning of practice or to
one's partner at the beginning of a technique it is considered proper to
say "ONEGAI SHIMASU" (lit. "I request a favor") and
when bowing either to the instructor at the end of class or to one's partner
at the end of a technique it is considered proper to say "DOMO ARIGATO
GOZAIMASHITA" ("thank you").