Martial Arts

Martial Arts Bowing Hand Positions

Bowing has always been a symbol of respect in martial arts, but you probably noticed that not all styles do it the same. For this edition of Hammer Fist Mondays we are going to talk about the different hand positions used for bowing in different martial arts.

Martial Arts Bowing Hand Positions

Rei Bow

How To Do The Standing Rei Bow

  1. Start in a what’s referred to as good posture in posture psychology.
  2. Slide your left heel to your right heel, with the toes slightly apart from each other. At the same time place your hands straight on your outer thighs, fingers straight and together.
  3. From you waist bend forward for about 30 degrees, eyes looking at the floor. Important make sure that while you are bending forward your legs and torso are staying straight beginners have a tendency to ark there back.
  4. Reverse the bend.

Bruce Lee’s Bow Ideology

There is a popular debate on bowing in general that I would like to give my thoughts on before we continue with this article, as I believe it will add value to this topic. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, should one bow with his eyes facing downwards or should one keep his eyes on his target. This conflict was risen after the movie Enter The Dragon by Bruce Lee, where Bruce Lee tells his apprentice that he should never leave his eyes from his opponent.

I disagree with this idea and here’s why,

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The main argument against my ideology is that you do not know if your opponent is honorable, and he/she might strike you while you are looking down. Let’s be realistic here, let’s take the scenarios where I’m going to be fighting.

At The Dojo – As I discussed in my previous article about the discipline in martial arts, a proper dojo emphasises on discipline and respect. Looking at someone in his eyes instead of down emphasises that you do not trust that person, that is a very unhealthy dojo and if you feel that you can’t trust your colleagues to fight fairly why are you even there, why are you even bowing ? there is no purpose in the bow. I bow to the people that I respect if I don’t respect you I’m not going to be bowing to you.
In The Streets – I don’t know about you, but there is no way I’m going to bow to someone trying to engage me in a street fight.
So do you agree with my views on this subject feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comment section, with that out of the way let’s continue the article.

What Martial Arts Use The Rei Bow

  1. Karate – Rei
  2. Taekwondo – Kyung Nae
  3. Judo – Rei
  4. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – Rei
  5. Hapkido – Rei
  6. Almost all martial arts originating from Japan

Etiquettes Of Standing Bows

In certain situations standing bows like the rei bow, wai bow, wushu baoquan li bow, etc slightly change depending on the situation. One of these situations is when the person you are bowing to is at a higher belt level or a lower belt level. If the person is at a higher belt level you are expected to bow lower than him/her, if it’s the other way round you’re at a higher belt level he\she is expected to bow lower than you.

The reasoning for this is not to inflate the advanced students ego but as a way for lower belts to show respect to their superiors, as ‘normally’ advanced students are more knowledgeable on the art style and therefore are more likely to be helping you grow than the other way round.

Seiza Bow

An interesting fact about the seiza stance is that prior to the invention of the modern chair, the asian culture used to sit like this. This bow is used in the beginning and at the end of the class to show respect for that martial art style, respect for the sensei and respect for your fellow colleagues. Practically all the traditional martial arts use this bow, but the modern one’s have not all abandoned this bow especially those styles coming from asian cultures.

How To Do The Seiza Bow

  1. Start in a what’s referred to as a good posture in posture psychology.
  2. Gracefully Drop on your left knee, back straight.
  3. Drop your right knee on the ground as well, still on your toes, with you hands on your lap.
  4. Males should have their legs slightly open, while females should have them closed.
  5. Push your toes back so that your shins are now touching the ground.
  6. (Visualize making a triangle with the gap of of both your hands).
  7. Gracefully slide your left hand to the ground .
  8. Gracefully slide your right hand to the ground to form a triangle.
  9. Bend forward, with your forehead on the ‘triangle’.
  10. Un-bend back to your previous position.
  11. Reverse Step 8. Gracefully slide your right hand to the ground to form a triangle.
  12. Reverse Step 7. Gracefully slide your left hand to the ground.
  13. Raise your right Knee to get in the position we were at in Step 2.
  14. Gracefully stand up in stance.

Seiza Bow Etiquette

When you start doing the seiza for the first time you will most probably feel a discomfort, as we westerners are not used to sitting like this. If it gets to a point where the pain is unbearable switch to the lotus position, the reasoning behind this is that in asian cultures the feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body.

Having your feet facing someone looking in your direction is considered a huge disrespect in asian cultures, therefore using the lotus position until you get used to the seiza can be a good substitute to not offended your sensei. If you are having trouble with the seiza I would suggest you to practice it at least once every day, eventually you will get used to it.

So why not just use the lotus position and bow from there?

Well the main benefit in modern times to use the seiza instead of the lotus position is that it increases flexibility, If you are not able to sit comfortably in the seiza you are incredibly stiff.

Wai Bow

This bow originated from Thailand it’s got the same principals that the rei bow has but it’s executed a bit is differently, more neck bending, less back bending and different hand positions.

How To Do The Standing Wai Bow

  1. Start in a what’s referred to as good posture in posture psychology.
  2. Put both palms together fingers closed on top of your chest with your elbows touching the side of your torso.
  3. Slightly bend your head forward.
  4. Unbend your head to its normal position.
  5. Place your hands in a casual normal position

What Martial Arts Use The Wai Bow

  1. Muay Thai‎ – Wai
  2. Krabi–krabong – Wai
  3. Muay boran – Wai
  4. Lerdrit – Wai
  5. Silat Pattani – Wai

Wai Bow Etiquette

Like the rei bow, the wai bow has slight alterations depending on the person you are bowing to.

  1. If you are bowing to someone with a really high status like a monk, you are expected to bend your head till your thumbs touch your forehead.
  2. If your bowing to someone you look up to such as your sensei or parents you are expected to bend your head till your thumbs touch your nose.
  3. If you are bowing to someone older than you, you are expected to bend your head till your thumb touches your chin.
  4. If your bowing to someone equal to you, younger than you or has less social authority than you, you are expected to bend your head slightly.

Wushu Baoquan Li Bow

This bow originated from china, though not all chinese martial arts use this bow, it’s somewhat slight hand position alterations. The Wushu Baoquan Li bow also known as kung fu bow is accepted in all international martial arts competitions. Some say it’s not a bow it’s a salute but does it really matter? The purpose of this gesture is to show that your respect the other person which is exactly the same purpose as a bow.

How To Do The Standing Wushu Baoquan Li Bow

  1. Start in a what’s referred to as good posture in posture psychology.
  2. Open your left hand, fingers together all pointing out.
  3. Close right hand as if it were a fist.
  4. Make both hands together, both forearms should be in line with each other.
  5. Place both your hands in a casual position.

What Martial Arts Use The Kung Fu Bow

  1. Kung Fu – Kung Fu Bow/Salute
  2. Wushu – Wushu Baoquan Li
  3. Wing Chun – Kung Fu Bow/Salute
  4. Tai-Chi – Wushu Baoquan Li

Fist Bump

I consider the fist bump as a ‘modern bow’ before you guys start flipping out I’ll explain why.

The fist bump represents the same thing a traditional bow does, you fist bump someone to show him that you respect him and looking forward to sparr. Beides MMA and boxing which is their main gesture to show sportsmanship, I’ve seen this being used in traditional martial arts dojo’s after a bow as well.

The reason I added the fist bump in this list is that MMA and boxing are both very popular martial arts that have definitely influenced the martial arts scene. Therefore I believe it has earned it’s rights to be considered with this list.

How to Fist Bump In martial arts

  1. Get close to your opponent and lightly push out your hand for him/her to punch it back.
  2. Get back in position

Fist Bump Etiquette

  1. If you put out your hand and the other person doesn’t fist bump you pull your hand back. Some people just don’t like the fist bump it could be for any reason and you should respect that opinion.
  2. Make it clear that you are going to fist bump if you do not know the opponent especially. Your opponent might think you started to attack and attack you back while you are unprepared.
  3. Never do a fake fist bump, that’s the dirtiest most disrespectful tactic you can do. For those that don’t know what this is it’s the act of pretending to go for a fist bump or something similar and when the other guy goes to fist bump you, you attack him with his guard down.


There are a lot more bows in martial arts but these are the most popular ones. I will write another article about less known bows and bows for when one is handling weapons in the future, I hope you enjoyed reading this article and don’t forget to subscribe to not miss out on new content.

Sources :
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 Martial Arts Bowing Hand Positions
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 Martial Arts Bowing Hand Positions
Different Bowing Hand Positions In Martial Arts, There Meaning, Why I don't agree with Bruce Lee, Etiquette, Step by Step Explanation.
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Martial Arts Nerd
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2 thoughts on “Martial Arts Bowing Hand Positions

  1. I was looking for info and guidance on bowing to a sensei when I found this page. Thank you for putting together such a clear, informative and enjoyable guide. I now realise that it is the “Wai bow” particularly that I was looking for and your page has provided me with all the info and guidance I needed. The Thai girl in the Wai Bow video is a delight. Thank you /\

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