About Rei – Part 1: Mabuni Kenei
The article below written by Mabuni Kenei sensei, son of the founder of Shitō-ryū Mabuni Kenwa sensei, is part one of a series of two articles relating to Rei.
Rei can mean “to bow” as in “Shomen ni rei – Bow to the front”, but also translate as gratitude, etiquette and proprieties as in “Shurei mon”, the Gate of proprieties at the entrance of Shuri Castle.
Part two is an article written by Nakamoto Masahiro sensei, intangible cultural asset holder for Okinawa karate and kobudō as designated by the Okinawa Prefecture. (Coming soon)
(Photo courtesy from Mr. Sam Moledzki, President, Karate-do Shito-Kai Canada)
JKF Central Qualification Examiner
In all martial arts, sports, and in daily life, one of the most important things is “Rei.”
It is the same in karatedō. It is the most important matter, the first thing to be learned. Rei is not simply a formal lowering of the head, but a method of first correcting one’s heart when facing someone, and then correcting one’s posture to give a bow.
As for Rei, there is no problem for us Japanese people, but I was made to think about it by some foreigners.
At a dōjō in Central and South America, all the seniors and students lined up to perform Rei at the beginning of the lesson. As all of them were sitting upright in “Seiza”, they prepared to bow on the command “Rei”. So far, it was very good but the essential aspect of “Rei” was wrong. All kept their hands on their knees and just knocked lightly their heads down. As all the students were enthusiastic and praiseworthy, I couldn’t understand what happened so I asked the seniors. I thus found out that the Japanese teacher who had been teaching before was so doing when being bowed to by the students. I think that if both the teacher and the learners had corrected their minds first, they would never have done this kind of bowing. (1)
Another episode that happened in a city. It was decided to hold a karate demonstration with the students of a university in this area. The venue, the gymnasium was soon overcrowded with the crowd that had come early. The space where we would perform was narrow, and the audience was only about two meters away from us. In the front row, women were sitting in chairs. If we sat in Seiza and “bow” toward the front as usual, it would inevitably be a respectful salute to the ladies. Somehow it didn’t seem correct. At that moment, I decided to stand in the front and executed a mutual bow with the students.
In the case of bowing, as a custom, I thought it should not be done as a formality. If needed, the method should be considered depending on the place.
In the demonstration of karatedō kata, there are also some movements that express Rei. These moves are aimed at warning against pride, and when performing in front of a large crowd, as our masters and seniors look upon our performances, we ask for their future guidance. The lessons of karate are “Karate ni sente nashi – There is no first attack in karate” and “Kunshi no ken – A gentleman’s fist”. These saying mean to train the fists and feet silently, to never hurt people and always treat people with a gentleman’s attitude. In this way, the true purpose of karate is to cultivate a noble character and attitude by respecting etiquette.
Published in the Karate Shinbun Issue 93
Publisher: Karate Shinbun Corporation
Date: March 20, 1977
(1) the proper way to execute Rei when kneeling:
From seiza (kneeling) with your hands on your thighs, facing the front of the dōjō, place first your left palm and then the right palm on the floor in front of you and then keeping your neck in alignment with your back bow. After a short pause, and after the instructor has completed his/her bow, raise again to the seiza position, retracting first your right hand and then your left placing them on your thighs.