The Practice of Bowing
In traditional martial arts there are times when it is proper to bow to an instructor, another student, or even a place. There are several reasons for this practice.
First, bowing shows respect and courtesy for the person you are bowing to. If you are a student bowing to a higher rank, it shows that you recognize that person as someone who has something worthwhile to teach you. If you are bowing to another student of similar rank, it shows that you respect them as a partner and will be careful and considerate with them. If you are bowing to a lower rank, it is a reminder that you were once at that level and that all serious students, no matter what rank, should be treated with respect.
Second, bowing to your partner serves as a mental and physical pause. It is a reminder that the other person is actually a training partner and not an enemy or a punching bag. Try to remember your limitations and the limitations of your partner when you bow. This is a safety measure.
Third, bowing also shows respect for the place in which you train. This gives you a chance to put other thoughts aside allowing you to concentrate on your training. This is also a very important safety measure.
When to bow:
When entering or leaving the training area
When entering or leaving the mat area
At the beginning and end of class
At the beginning and end of each exercise
Whenever you change partners
How it is done:
There are two ways to bow: formally and informally.
A formal bow is done when entering or leaving the dojo or when the entire class is bowing to the instructor(s). To bow formally, place both feet together at the call to attention (kiotsuke). Your hands then slide from your upper legs down to your knees. At the same time, bend at your hips while keeping the back straight, the shoulders back, and your head up. Always look at who you are bowing to.
An informal bow is done during class time when there is not time for a formal bow. In these situations, body posture is the same, but the legs may be apart and the hands slide from the hips down or the hands gently slap the hips.
Number One Rule of Etiquette: When in doubt, bow. You will never be criticized for being to polite.