TO BOW OR NOT TO BOW?
Questions have been raised by students and parents of students on the issue of bowing in martial arts. More specifically, some have been concerned that the act of bowing may have some religious significance and would thereby violate their personal beliefs, particularly those of us who consider ourselves Christians.
As a Pastor, when I encounter problems, I turn to the Bible as my authority and allow it to speak. I would begin by looking at the Ten Commandments, specifically the Second Commandment. Exodus 20:4 & 5 reads, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image..... you shall not bow down to them nor serve them....." The word used for "serve" can also be translated "worship." Bowing represents a cultural norm that is an expression of worship. Therefore, it is apparent that "bowing" is, in fact, an act of worship IN THIS CASE.
In Daniel 3, we find the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who refused to bow down before a false God that the King had set up. It is clear from their own words in verse 18 that to bow before this false god indicated "worship." Daniel 3:18 "...Let it be known you, O King, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."
In the book of Acts, the Apostle Peter was summoned by a Roman Soldier named Cornelius. "As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet (bowed) and worshipped him. But Peter lifted him up saying, 'Stand up; I myself am also a man.'" Acts 10:25 & 26. If Cornelius were making a show of respect, he would not have been corrected by Peter.
These few verses represent just a fraction of the verses that identify bowing as worship. HOWEVER, Scripture also clearly identifies bowing as having another meaning, the most common of which is a show of respect toward another person.
Consider the Patriarch, Abraham, who was given a burial ground for his wife by the Hittites. What was his response to this gift? Genesis 23:7 "Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites." This was a "cultural" act by Abraham, one that showed his respect and gratitude toward the generosity of the Hittites. Bowing was a part of the culture of both the Old and New Testament Era, much the same as it is today in many Eastern cultures. Scripture encourages us to give honor to those that it is due (I Peter 2:17, Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:7).
Also look at the example of David, the "man after God's own heart." When David was before King Saul. I Samuel 24:8 "Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, 'My lord the King!' When Saul looked behind, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground." David is fulfilling God's expectation to "Honor the King" I Peter 2:17b. This can in no way be interpreted as worship, but as merely giving the respect one would give toward someone of such high esteem.
(For further study of cases where bowing was an act of respect and NOT worship, consider Genesis 42:6, 43:26 & 28, 48:12, Exodus 18:7, Luke 23:5, I Kings 1:16, 23, 52, 18:7, 2 Kings 4:37, Ruth 2:10, 1 Samuel 28:14, 2 Samuel 9:8. These are just a few examples from Scripture.)
Understanding that bowing has different meanings according to the Bible, the question now is "What does the bowing in the martial arts represent? Does it imply any religious significance that would compromise mine or my child's beliefs as a Christian? Aren't the martial arts tied to religion?" In the case of this Dojo, the answer is an emphatic "NO!" It is said that Karate begins and ends with RESPECT. The bowing that is involved is merely an incorporation of a cultural norm from the Okinawan culture. The bow is a show of respect that carries no religious significance in this Dojo. However, parents and students must be careful to inquire from the Instructor if they were to move to another Karate school. If I encountered a Teacher who identified bowing as having some type of religious significance, I would consider that a violation of my beliefs and could not train with that teacher.
One should also consider the argument that bowing was also once a part of English culture and carried the same meaning of respect and not of worship. The act of bowing is not exclusive to Eastern culture. One could even consider our own culture. In square dancing, the man is to "bow" to his partner showing respect to her (YE-HAW).
When I served as a short term missionary to Japan, we were taught how to relate to the culture in order to teach them about Christ. Included in this was being taught the significance of bowing. When I encountered someone who was older or of some importance, I was to give a deeper bow. This show of respect could be compared in our own culture to greeting another man with a handshake and addressing him as "sir".
Therefore, it is the conclusion of this Pastor and karate student that the act of bowing is quite acceptable and in no way would compromise the beliefs of a Christian. I also believe that it is good for students to raise such questions and would especially encourage doing so since another Instructor at another school may, in fact, consider bowing or other aspects of his particular system to have some religious significance to either an Eastern religion or New Age teaching. However, students and parents should feel at ease in this Dojo because it had been clearly taught by the Instructors of this Dojo that no religious significance lies in the act of bowing.
"Render therefore to all their due...customs to whom customs...honor to
whom honor." Romans 13:7
Written by Pastor Kyle Brown
Nidan/ Ryukyu Hon Kenpo
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