There is a tradition at the majority of martial arts studios, dojos, and academies. Bowing either as you enter the training area or prior to stepping onto the mats and when you leave.
This is a tradition that is probably as old as time in social interaction outside of the gym as a sign of respect or deference.
I’m going to stick to it’s use in the practice of martial arts for this post.
The thing most obviously displayed by bowing is respect to the space and those in it. Respect for your coach/instructor, and fellow students/training partners. Respect for what the people who came before you paid for out for out of a purse that cannot be refilled. Respect for the people who came after you, because they are your responsibility and that you acknowledge that without them, the art you’ve come to love will die.
In a competitive context, we bow to judges and referees as a show of respect of the position that they’ve taken and that we respect them for taking it. We bow to our opponent to show that we appreciate them being there and respect the journey that they’ve been on that we likely don’t know anything about.
I feel like what this practice, and keeping in mind what we’re doing and why, leads you to having an elevated level of awareness of things outside of your personal bubble. It seems to get you into a habit of taking other people into consideration, at least a little more often. Having said that, not everyone deserves our consideration. It’ll be pretty obvious.
Bowing our way into and out of the training area can be representative of another intention that is less obvious than the ones previously discussed, but is every bit as important.
Leaving your “shit” at the door.
Part of the show of respect for the space and others in it is that we have to recognize that space as NOT the place for airing your dirty laundry or spreading the day’s “shit”. We all like and need to vent sometimes. I know. But if you asked, I’d be willing to bet that not one person on the mat would like to spend his or her time readying themselves for the coming rigorous training, the time during that training (when they’re trying to learn, or just breathe), or the cool down time immediately following that training listening to your “shit” of the day. Now, we are all generally good folks who want to help each other. Especially those that we’ve formed the tight bonds with that are born in hard training. I’m sure that if you said that you had something you needed to talk about to your coach or one of your training partners they’d drop what they’re doing and listen. BUT…there is a time for that, and the time centered right around, during, and right after class might not be it. Particularly if the day’s “shit” is the same day’s “shit” that we all have to deal with. “Ugh…let me tell you what my jerk boss said today…” is something that the folks who are seeking the therapy of the mats very likely just aren’t interested in. Want to grab a beer and some tacos after and talk about it? No problem. I welcome the opportunity to help my people. Want to complain about it being Tuesday and not Friday 5 minutes before class? Don’t.
The Power of Suggestion is real. Have enough respect for the space and the people in it to make sure not to suggest that we all shift our mentality into a negative state. This is a part of what makes our time on the mat intoxicating. The “shit” of the rest of the world is out there, not in here. When we bow on the way out, we’ll all be stepping back into that real world and you can whine all you want.
Sorry for the poor picture quality in the heading. It’s screen grab of a video taken with my phone in 2012ish. If you’re curious, I had just gotten my ass handed to me by the giant on the left. He still thanked me for competing, congratulated me on my effort, and said that he had to make some major adjustments to his game plan after my surprising previous match. That’s respect. I’ll take that over winning.