Thursday, July 29, 2010

You Start with Rei

Rei, or bow, is also known as the character of Etiquette in the 7 traits of Bushi. Represented by the 7 pleats in your hakama, the other 6 are:

a. Jin - Benevolence
b. Gi - Honor
c. Chi -  Wisdom
d. Shin - Sincerity
e. Chu - Loyalty
f. Koh - Piety

How you Rei will determine how your training proceeds. Do you bow by rote? Do you bow nonchalantly? Do you bend down and offer your neck? Or do you nod like a feudal lord?

In our school, part of the ki test is done during bowing. Resisting nage's bowing as he comes down and up and also pushing him sideways when he's down. The idea is, if bowing from center, the bow itself will be very steady. But add to that a bow of sincerity, imagine as if you're bowing to your most respected hero, and the bow becomes even stronger. This exercise teaches us not only how to bow physically well, but also mentally well. To bow from the heart.

In Aikido, the heart plays an important role. That is why we place a very important emphasis on cultivating Aiki no Kokoro. Without which your techniques are but empty husks.

Bowing with spirit will also command respect from your opponents. A lifeless bow begets an immediate attack. Whilst a forceful bow has a feel of challenge and violence. A bow that emits ki, but with a feeling of caring and attentiveness, will resonate with your opponents mind, heart and intention. Whilst it doesn't kindle fear or aggression, it elicits respect and attention.

When you have cultivated such a bow, you're less likely to think of unimportant things in class. You have shown proper respect to others, it would be hard for you to take it back and become disrespectful again. You enter a state of seriousness but without the rigid tension of a marching soldier. You are soft yet alert. You look and see but do not stare. You are poised but not posturing.

There has been many issues with regards to bowing. Culture and religion being the most oft brought up issues being discussed. Certainly in Islam, bowing looks similar to how we pray to God. Its been narrated of our Prophet Muhammad that we should not bow to anyone but God. I remember when I was a kid, some Ustad even described the angles that are allowable for someone to bow. However in our country, we even have sembah or (salutation) to kings and typically in Silat matches. Some of these sembah can be downright submissive. So I don't see how we can on one side go around with our sembah here and there and at the same time dismiss bowing as inappropriate.

I personally believe that physical bowing has no ramifications in our religion unless it really mirrors our prayers. To me the most important is the unseen rather than the seen. We see people bowing in prayer or Sujud and Roko', up down up down, yet what are they thinking when they're doing that. Are they actually submitting themselves to God? Similarly we have Aikido people bowing this way and that, some just do a bend the knees and touch the floor with one hand bow, sort of like a malformed curtsey. What are THEY thinking inside I wonder?

Lastly, if I or any other trained martial artist can tell how vulnerable someone is when they bow, can't God in his infinite wisdom differentiate between Rei and Submission? So... let us think for ourselves and follow our hearts. When we go to class, try to feel right, try to feel truth. Start with Rei and end with Rei.

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