The bow (Rei) when used in everyday Japanese life is a greeting, equivalent to a handshake. In karate the bow is a sign of respect. There are three types of bowing: standing, seated, and on one knee.


This bow is used: Upon entering or leaving the dojo training floor or warm-up room.

At the beginning and end of class.

Whenever you see a Black Belt or higher Dan.

Whenever you are facing a dojo training partner

To perform correctly the karateka must bend fully at the waist. A “headbow”, dropping ones chin instead of bending is unacceptable and is considered to be disrespectful. The deeper the bow the deeper the respect. This bow should be performed from a Kiotsuke positon. This bow is also used to greet a fellow karateka of higher rank outside of the dojo. There is a great misconception among karateka that a bow is only necessary, used or required in the dojo.  Not bowing to the deserving karateka outside the dojo states that the respect you have for this individual is limited to a location.  Not bowing outside the dojo signifies either that you do not understand the meaning of this protocol or are too insecure to fulfill thisrequirement.


This bow is used:

At beginning and the end of class.

The greeting-rite at the beginning of a lesson is normally led by the Sempai or the next highest Dan other than the instructor. The student with the highest rank stands in the front left corner (the most prestige’s position) and the student with the lowest rank stands in the rear right corner. All students stand in Musubi dachi.

Sempai (or most senior student) calls out the following:

  • “Seiretsu (Shugo}” means line up. Stand in Kaku, fists clenched ready position in Heiko dachi.
  • “Kiostuke” means stand at attention with open hands along the sides of your legs in Musubi dachi.
  • “Seiza” means sitting correctly Japanese style, on your insteps, with your palms on your upper legs. Place your left knee down first facing at a 45degree angle to your right then turn forward as you place your right knee down.
  • “Mokuso” means sit upright in a relaxed posture, holding your left hand with your right hand (palms up) in your lap (Tanden level) with both thumbs touching each other. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing.
  • “Shinzen ni (tai shite)” means turn to (face) the altar. The altar is normally represented by statues or pictures of important historical figures as well as the current head of the organization. If it is located at the rear of the dojo the class will turn right to face it. If it is located at the either side of the dojo the class will turn directly to the alter.
  • “Rei” means bow by placing your hands down on the ground diagonally with the tips of your forefingers and thumbs touching each other. The right hand is placed first then the left. When raising your body up to a sitting position the left hand comes up first then the right hand.
  • “Sensei ni (tai shite)” means turn to (greet) the sensei. If the instructor has another title other then sensei then that title should be used, Zokucho ni, Hanshi ni, Kyoshi ni or Renshi ni. If you are facing the rear of the  dojo the first command will be “Shomen ni”, face the front of the dojo. The class will then turn right until they are facing the front. If you are facing the alter at a side of the dojo turn back to your original front.
  • “Rei” bow.

The instructor calls out the following:

  • “Sempai ni (tai shite)” turn to the next highest rank other then the instructor such as “Renshi ni”. The class will turn to their left to greet  the senior who will turn right to acknowledge the class.
  • “Rei” bow. The class will then turn right and the senior left to face the front.
  • “Kiritsu” means to stand up. This command is given by the instructor. Place your right foot forward, stand, and then place it back into a Musubi dachi in Kiotsuke.

The karateka should never stand or sit down before the person on his left side (higher in rank) is standing or sitting.

The order that one sits, bows and then rises is as follows:

  • Left knee down first, then right.
  • Right hand down first, then left.
  • Left hand up first, then right.
  • Right leg up first, then left.

On One Knee

This bow is used:

After two or more karateka complete ground techniques.

Group line up

The karateka places the right knee down on the ground on a 45 degree angle.  The right hand is placed (palm down) against the lower right thigh with fingers pointing down to the knee. The left hand is placed (palm down) on the lower left thigh with  fingers pointing to the knee. Place your left palm to the ground between your legs  and bend down to bow as you maintain eye contact.

Bowing During Class

Whenever a higher ranking black belt enters the dojo floor everyone bows. However, if a class is in session it is the instructor’s floor and the command to bow should come from him.  If the black belt who enters the room is lower rank than the instructor, and then it is the instructor’s option whether or not to bow to the entering black belt.  If the black belt is a higher rank then the instructor he should wait for the instructor to stop the class and have the class bow to him.  This should be performed by the instructor immediately upon seeing the higher rank. Nobody in class should bow on their own without the instructor’s command.

If you are not a black belt and you walk in the dojo late, you do not enter the training floor.  You wait until the instructor notices you, bow to the instructor and  then  to the highest ranking black belt on the floor before entering.  If there are dojo formalities for tardiness, such as performing a required number of pushups, do them away from the group quietly, quickly, and with no disturbance to the class. Then line up in your proper place.