Why You Should Always Bow To Your Sensei

July 15, 2021

Why You Should Always Bow To Your Sensei

Do you remember your very firstmartial arts class? Or perhaps that glorious feeling of tying your white belt around your waist for the first time?

For most of us, thinking about the first time we ever stepped foot into the dojo undoubtedly evokes some mixed feelings. From nostalgia and fascination to curiosity and maybe even a little bit of fear. After all, martial arts isn’t justany kind of activity.

In fact, when you really think about it, the world of martial arts is actually pretty unusual—especially from a newbie’s point of view. Think about it: foreign words, contortionist poses, and specific rituals… yeah, we’d say it’s pretty different from our traditional sports like football or soccer.

And to top it all off, there’s always a guy standing in the front of the class who everyone bows to and calls “Sensei.” We’re not in Kansas anymore.

While bowing to your Sensei shows respect, it can definitely look a little unfamiliar to those who don’t practice martial arts. But don’t worry—if you’re not exactly martial art savvy or were never a student atAmity Island Karate School and want to learn more, you’re in the right place.

Read on to discover why you should always bow to your Sensei.

First Things First: What the Heck Is a Sensei?

Simply put, Sensei - pronounced “sen-say”—is in its most basic sense a covers-all Japanese word for a teacher. This applies to all teachers from grade school level all the way up to university professors. It also includes training instructors at a martial arts school or akarate dojo.

That being said, the term “Sensei” is always used from the perspective of the trainee or student. A person would never call themselves “Sensei.” Instead, they would use the professional term for their occupation, such as “kyoushi” for a teacher.

Why? Because in Japanese, “Sensei” is a title foraddressing someone who is a master of their craft or has a specialized degree. Make sense?

Okay, good—moving along!

Why Do Students Bow to Their Sensei?


We know, kinda peculiar, right? Well, you’d probably think differently if you were born in Japan, which is where bowing is how people actually greet each other. Yup, it’s true: the bow is ahighly regarded greeting to show respect and is appreciated much more than a simple handshake.

So, is that why students bow to their Sensei, simply to show respect?

Yep, you got it!Bowing in martial arts is a very simple act but one that’s extremely important. It shows a high level of respect and that you care.

You see, when you bow, you’re not just simply bending over slightly to show that person the top of your head (and your bad hair day), but you’re respecting the knowledge and skill that person has gained and to the rank that they have attained.

Bowing is about heart and feeling—it’s about what is said without speaking. It’s all about paying respect.

But that’s not all: bowing to your Sensei also symbolizes humility. When you bow to your teacher, you’re acknowledging that they know much more about martial arts than you. Being humble is an extremely important trait to have in every aspect of your life, and every single time you bow, you should remind yourself to be modest and always think of others.

Simply put, it’s very good for keeping your ego in check!

What Do Students Say When They Bow?

Believe it or not, there are many phrases used frequently when practicing martial arts. However, Osu (pronounced Oss) probably has the most significance and the most diverse use of all the fascinating words.

It’s a sign of respect and is a combo of two words:

  • Oshi - which translates to push
  • Shinobu -which roughly means to endure or prevail

So, the meaning of the popular phrase would refer to something like pushing through. It means focus, determination, and patience. However, when using it in a martial arts setting, the literal meaning is reduced to mostly a symbolic level and is used as a sign of respect.

That’s why you’ll often find students bowing and saying Osu simultaneously, usually as they enter or leave the dojo. It’s their way of acknowledging and respectfully greeting their Sensei and the dojo itself.



So, why should you always bow to your Sensei, you ask?

Simply put, because it shows respect!

Bowing to your Sensei shows that you not only respect them but that you’re also acknowledging them for their hard work to be a master at their skill. It shows that you understand that you are a mere student, essentially seekingtheirguidance to help you craft your own skill so that one day you can maybe be a master, too.

And when that time comes, you’ll then earn the title “Sensei,” and students will bow to you, as well. Pretty cool, don’t you think?

It takes quite a bit of time, practice, and determination to become a sensei. So until then, why not stock up on a few awesome martial arts-inspired tees like the ones fromFamous In Real Life?

Whether you want to show your pride as a student ofJohnny Karate’s Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show, joinRex’s Kwon Do 8 Week Program, or you simply need a break from detailingMr. Myyagi’s Car, Famous In Real Life has just the tee for you.

Check us out today, and never forget to bow to your Sensei!


Japan | E Diplomat

Japanese Greeting Etiquette | Japan Guide

The Martial Arts | USHistory.org

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