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Bowing ettiquette

by Garnet
(Atlanta, USA)

My Dojo has an 8-dan from Japan visiting for the next three months. How often should I bow to him during the course of class?


If he is engaged in conversation with other sensei, do verbally address them all then bow or do I let them converse undisturbed? Do I address a sensei the first time I see them for the day and then bow? Is it necessary to bow when walking in front of them? And finally is it good to follow "when in doubt bow"?

 From reading some of your posts as well as other Kendo resources, etiquette is held in high priority. As an American I have lived in 5 geographically different regions of the United States. The use of etiquette and formal address can be taken as refinement in most area, yet some places the same salutation could taken as a mockery of the elders position and their advance years.

Being half Asian I know the high esteem bestowed to elders is of great importance.

Your website is very useful and full of great information.

Answer: I am very glad to hear that you find this site useful. And thank you for your compliment.

Now when to bow.


  • Greetings: When you greet people for the first time you see them on the day, you say, good morning or how’s it going?, right? In Japan, we say, “good morning", “good afternoon”, or “how are you?” while bowing.


  • Also when a sensei goes home, you say good bye to him. You say good bye while bowing to him.

  • When you go up to him to talk to him, you probably say, “excuse me”. When you say that, you bow.


  • Now if he is sitting, you sit in seiza. Do not start talking to him, when you are standing. “Looking down” is bad.

    When you are done talking to him, you may say “thank you (arigato gozaimashita)” or “excuse me” with a bow.

  • When he walks in to the dōjō and you guys are already there warming up or chatting, make sure that you stop what you are doing and bow to him.


  • If the sensei is already at the dōjō and you come in after him, go up to him and greet him with a bow.


  • Do not cut in front of anyone, not only sensei, if you do not have to. If you can go around their back, then you should go around. If you cannot go around them, say “excuse me” while bowing.


  • “If he is engaged in conversation with other sensei, do verbally address them all then bow or do I let them converse undisturbed?”


  • I cannot have a clear image of this situation. Through my experience, we go up to him and bow to the shihan (the head instructor, usually the highest sensei), when we greet him for the first time of the day. But that was my dōjō’s custom so this may not apply to senseis from other dōjōs.

  •  When you say “Thank you”, you bow.



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