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Shaking Hands

In America, we greet each other by shaking hands. It is a sign of respect.

Instructors from Japan or Okinawa might or might not feel comfortable shaking hands. There, it is more typical to show respect by exchanging bows. If the instructor has been to America many times, he will probably shake hands. But if he has not, there might be an awkward moment when it is unclear whether you should bow or shake hands.

If you are going to show respect by bowing, it is important to learn the proper way to bow. The junior initiates the bow and bows lower than the senior. The junior remains in the bow position until after the senior has begun to rise. The junior should look down, about towards the senior's knees. It is not appropriate to look into the senior's eyes during the bow.

Any breach of the protocol applicable to bowing could be perceived as disrespect. It is therefore important to learn to bow correctly. Ask your Sensei to teach you the protocol applicable in your dojo.

Sometimes I will have one of my students act as a visiting senior instructor and have the entire class take turns bowing to him. The "senior" will stand at the head of the class, for example, and the class will form a circle. The circle will rotate, giving each student a chance to pass in front of the "senior" and bow.

Visiting instructors may meet a large number of students. Each time they shake hands, there is a risk of germs and diseases. I have heard that some politicians who shake hands frequently, use sanitizing liquids to reduce the risks of germs.


Charles C. Goodin