About Rei - Bowing
What is Rei ?
It is said that rei is the alpha and omega of all martial arts. Rei means "appreciation and respect". It also refers to the manner in which these are expressed.
Why is there Rei in Aikido ?
Aikido is more than a sport: it teaches a way of life. As such it commands our appreciation and respect. In the Aikido environment, this appreciation and respect are expressed towards O-Sensei (the Founder of Aikido), the dojo (the place of study of the Way), the Sensei (the instructors), fellow practitioners and one's weapons or training tools. Eventually, one's understanding of rei expands beyond the Aikido environment and permeates the world at large. While in the latter one's expression of rei is highly personal, its expression in the former is as follows:
Rei in the Dojo
Prior to entering the dojo, remove any head covering you may be wearing, and perform ritsurei (standing rei) towards the Kamiza (shrine). This is done by facing towards the Kamiza and bowing by bending the torso to a 30-45 degree angle while holding the arms at the sides of the body. Also perform ritsurei upon leaving the dojo.
Rei on the Mat
Upon stepping onto the mat, perform zarei (kneeling rei) by sitting down in seiza (sitting on the heels with the back straight) and bowing to the Kamiza for about 3 seconds. This bow is performed by bending the torso down to a horizontal position while lowering both hands onto the mat in front of the knees. Your back must remain straight and the position must be very stable. This bow is also required whenever you leave the mat area temporarily or definitively. In either case, please obtain authorization from the Sensei to leave the mat before the end of the practice period.
Rei to O-Sensei
The spirit of the founder is always present in the dojo through his legacy. That is why we express our gratitude and respect with a kneeling bow to the Kamiza at the beginning and end of each class. If you are late, bow on your own to O-Sensei before joining the class.
Rei to the Sensei
At the beginning and at the end of a class, immediately after bowing to O-Sensei, the Sensei and the practitioners bow to each other. When one bows to the Sensei at the beginning of the class, it is polite to say "one gaeshi masu" ("please do me a favour and practice with me") while at the end of the class it is polite to say "domo arigato gozaimashita" ("thank you very much"). During the class, perform a kneeling bow to the Sensei whenever s/he gives you personal attention, and say "Thank you". Note also that during a class the instructor is addressed as "Sensei" and not by his or her personal name.
Rei to Partners
Your partner is a mirror of yourself. Ignoring his or her individuality and self-esteem is counter to the spirit of Aikido. Your partner is not someone you compete against, but a person with whom you train and improve. Helping your partner is helping yourself.
At the beginning and end of each technique, practitioners express rei by bowing to each other in seiza to eliminate all trace of aggressiveness. Normally one changes partner for each technique.
Rei to Weapons
Aikido training sometimes involves the use of weapons: the bokken (a wooden sword), the jo (a 3 to 4 feet long wooden staff), and the tanto (a wooden knife). When used properly, these weapons become an extension of yourself and are tools to help improve your practice. As such, they deserve respect, and are bowed to before and after their use as follows: while standing, hold the weapon with both hands at eye level the blade toward you with the tip to your left (except for the jo which has neither) and bow to the Kamiza. Never throw a weapon, or step on or over it.
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