View Full Version : Gassho Rei vs Bowing

20th December 2002, 13:24
Why is it we Gassho Rei rather than bow?

I always hear this question a lot from either someone who is very familar with other Japanese martial arts and traditions or from those who watch too much TV.

From many Shorinji sources (web, books, articles), I had thought that bowing was viewed as being submissive gesture but a Japanese kenshi in my dojo took exception to this Western view and felt it was as much a sign of respect and equality.

Simply saying that Gassho Rei draws from the Zen Buddhist tradition of conveying respect and equality does not in my mind answer the question and could lead one to think that bowing in itself does not convey the same thing.

Anyone care to enlighten me?

21st December 2002, 02:15
The Shorinji Kempo tradition of gassho rei is the same as the western tradition of shaking hands; it is to show that you carry no weapon and, by extension, therefore come in peace. In medieval Europe, knights would not just briefly clasp each others' hands in the ritualistic handshake we use today; they would hold each others' hands throughout their conversation to ensure that the other couldn't draw his sword first. Gassho rei is the same. To place both palms together, you can't be holding anything.
BTW, tell your Japanese friends that they are wrong about bowing; it is intended to be submissive. That is why the kohai is expected to bow deeper and longer than the senpai. (This is true in all walks of life; I'M not merely referring to MA. At work, when a meeting is called, everyone is expected to bow long and deeply to the conference chairman, who bobs his head perfunctorily in response.)

Thomas Fontaine
21st December 2002, 16:41

This is an interesting topic. I'm not a Japanese native but I did live, train and work in Shizuoka for a few years and I remember clearly how quickly I absorbed and internalized bowing etiquette. My job was at a prefectural government office so I was exposed to many of the nuances of greeting a variety of officials and superiors. As many expats discover, you realize the whole process has become part of you when you find yourself bowing on the telephone.

I would have to agree with Tony Kehoe insofar as the depth and duration of the bow is indicative of a social hierarchy. Certainly there is an element of respect but the degree of respect - at least as far as that respect is physically demonstrated by bowing - is not the same for all people in all situations.

I have also heard that Gassho rei is more egalitarian. I appreciate this notion - though I do not and never have had any problem demonstrating my respect through bowing either. I find it interesting, though, that it is fairly common in Shorinji Kempo for a class (when lined up and facing an instructor) to hold gassho rei until after the instructor has dropped his/her hands. This seems to be pretty much the same as holding a bow until after one's sempai or boss as straightened up. Of course, there are other subtleties of bowing (depth, etc.) which are not involved.

I don't often have time to post so I rambled on a bit with this one!
Happy holidays!

Thomas Fontaine
Toronto Branch

Jeremy Williams
22nd December 2002, 11:21
Recently, the SK instructors here have been emphasising that the Gassho rei is actually a posture indicating readiness for combat: your eyes are focused on your partner, and you should be able to drop comfortably and easily into any of the standard kamaes from there. As such, it should be assumed with the appropriate concentration of purpose, rather than perfunctorily as a mere ritualised gesture of greeting or parting. The relaxation should come only after assuming kesshu gamae, and even then some level of positive attention should always be maintained. HTH.

Jeremy Williams