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The Judo Bowing Ritual:

Judo starts and ends with a Bow. That is the custom and Kodokan standard for Judo all over the world. But why do Judokas (Judo athletes) have to bow? It is a ubiquitous question asked amongst upcoming Judokas and one that commonly runs through the minds of spectators. It is important to remember that there is no religious background to the Judo bow or the Judo sport in general. The sport originates from Samurai tradition, and it's no surprise that Japanese customs would influence the core fabrics of the sport. Jigoro Kano, the founder of the game, was once quoted saying ‘‘…Bowing is an expression of gratitude and respect. In effect you are thanking your opponent for giving you the opportunity to improve your technique,'' this highlights some of the core foundations of Judo, the underlying theme of respect and high regard for one's self, and more importantly one's opponent. 

There are various rituals in Judo, but none more prominent than the bow. Judokas bow numerously on different times and occasions throughout. A Judoka will bow when entering and leaving the Dojo (practice hall). In addition, the students will bow to their Sensei (teacher) at the beginning of a training session and after the session is done. Bowing to one's Sensei is a show of gratitude and appreciation for their teaching. Interestingly, classes, including their sensei, will bow in the direction of the area of the Dojo that holds valuable objects of respect, for example, the Shomen; The front wall of the Dojo; Sho means "true, " and men means "face." In traditional Dojos, the Shomen contains valuable objects such as the Kamiza (a mini Shinto shrine) and the Dojo's Hata (club's flag). Before practicing, students will bow to each other to show respect; they will bow once again to give thanks for the workout. In international competitive Judo bouts, Judokas will bow at the beginning and the end of the fight to display the respect they have toward each other as opponents, the institution and the rules of Judo.

Bowing is essentially a posture that displays a Judokas humility. Judokas in training will frequently bow in a week. This practice ensures that over the years bowing becomes an integral part of a Judokas norm, attitude, and perspective on others. Bowing allows Judo to mold students to become excellent people both on and off the mat.

Types of Bowing:

In Judo there are generally two types of ways to bow:

The first way to bow is the Ritsu-rei (standing bow). A Judoka will perform this from a standing posture, they simply face their opponent or Sensei on the heels of both their feet and bend thirty degrees or so forward.


Figure 1: Visual illustration of the Ritsu-rei bow.

The second way is the Zarei (Seated bow) performed from a seated position. A Judoka will move into a kneeling posture on the mat. Resting on their hips, they sit and spread their knees with hands placed on their thighs with a straight back straight. The Judoka then puts both hands on the floor, with elbows protruding out and bows the upper body forward. Female Judokas will perform Zarei with both knees together.


Figure 2: Visual illustration of the Zarei bow. 

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