Kyung-Yea: The Bow of Acknowledgment
The Standing Bow
Bowing to each other is the most visible manifestation of martial arts etiquette. It is also the most misunderstood practice observed by “Western” students. The only exposure people in our culture have to the act of bowing is with some type of worship. Many see bowing as an admission of subservience or inferiority. So, the Western mind typically reacts to the idea of bowing with negative feelings.
In the East a bow is not a sign of subservience at all. It is used as a greeting, or it is used like the Western handshake or salute.
There are two types of bows that are practiced in Korean Martial Arts. The first is the standing bow. It is performed from an ‘attention’ posture by bending forward at the waist approximately 45 degrees and looking down as a sign of respect and trust. This bow is not held for any length of time. One should simply bow forward and then recover to ‘attention’ posture. Occasionally, situations arise where a Western handshake accompanies the standing bow. The handshake can be done either in conjunction with the bow or afterwards. Regardless of the timing of the handshake, proper etiquette is to always exchange a ‘two-handed’ handshake. This is performed by grasping the hand of the person you are embracing with both of your hands, or by placing the left hand (open and palm down) underneath and behind your right elbow.
The Kneeling Bow
The second type is the kneeling bow. It is the most formal type of bow and is done at the beginning and end of each class, testing, promotion ceremony, demonstration, or seminar. All students should stop what they are doing and join in any time a formal bow is being performed. If you are injured, or not in uniform, a standing bow is appropriate.
The formal kneeling bow is performed beginning from an ‘attention’ posture. At the command “jung-swa” the left knee is placed where the left foot was while standing – this is followed by placing the right knee similarly where the right foot was – except that the right knee should be placed slightly wider so that a gap of one to two fist widths is created between the knees. The body may then be rested upon the heels. This is followed by moving the loose lengths of the belt to a position outside of the thighs. The hands are then placed, relaxed, on the inside of the thigh, close to the groin area.
At the command “kyung-yea,” the bow is completed by first placing the left hand, followed by the right hand on the floor in front of you, so the hands (touching) form a triangle.
When you bow, lower your forehead to the triangle created by the hands. This bow is typically held for 1-2 seconds. Recover to the original kneeling posture with the torso first rising to a position where the arms are nearly straight but still touching the floor – next, return the hands, left hand first, to their respective positions on the thigh near the belt knot. Standing from this position is accomplished by first rising up onto the knee’s and then placing the left foot where the left knee was touching the floor, followed by standing and drawing the right foot into position where the right knee was.
About the Author: Stephanie Ma is a 3rd Degree Black Belt in the Korean self-defense art of Hapkido and a 2nd Dan in Traditional Taekwondo. She is a professional sports and fitness model and full-time Nursing student. She is the World Martial Arts Congress Language, Culture, and Leadership Development teacher.