What is gassho rei, and what is it for?

Have you ever watched a martial arts film where two little old Japanese masters need to fight to prove which is the best?

They enter the mats, bow, and get into a fighting stance.

Then they stare at each other.

Suddenly, just as you think nothing is going to happen, one of them bows to the other and walks off, defeated.

You won’t ever see that happen in Shorinji Kempo.

For several reasons, but the one I want to talk about here is the bowing.  We don’t bow to each other.  Instead, we use gassho rei.

What is this gassho rei thing then?

Stand upright and look the other person in the eye.

Press your hands together in front of you, about head height.  The tops of your fingers should be level with your eyes, and your fingers spread slightly.

Often, gassho rei is accompanied by words.  Before training, we say “onegaishimasu”, which is Japanese for “please” – as in, “please train with me”.

Afterwards, we say “arigato gozaimashita”, which is Japanese for “thank you very much”.

Don’t worry if you can’t figure out the pronunciation!  Come along and try it out a few times and you’ll soon get it right.

Ok, but what’s the point?

Bowing, especially in Japanese culture, is very rank-conscious.  That is to say, the deeper you bow, the more respect you are showing to the other person.  If a commoner met the emperor, the commoner would be grovelling on the floor while the emperor might, perhaps, nod his head a little.

Gassho rei is a gesture of mutual respect.

Everyone in the dojo is equal.  We all learn from each other – yes, even the sensei can learn from the newest beginner!  They may be learning different things (how to teach better rather than how to punch better, for example), but the opportunity for learning is still there.

That sounds pretty cool

If you want to learn a martial art where respect is given to all students regardless of rank, why not try Shorinji Kempo?

Beginners are always welcome, and your first session is free so there’s nothing to lose!

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