Written by Rachel

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Chinese custom

In Chinese culture is has always been customary to bow at certain times. Most martial arts classes require some degree of bowing.
Japanese schools use the kowtow (head knocking) quite a lot whereas Chinese schools reserve this for special occasions.
In a tai chi class, a polite bow can help to encourage an environment of respect and mutual consideration.


Bowing to the founder of the school is a show of respect. It is akin to going to somebody's house for a meal/party and finding the host to say "Hello" and thanking them for inviting you.
You are not being asked to humble yourself. The custom is about being friendly and polite.

Favour is given to the left hand of gentleness
Rather than the right hand of force.

(Lao Tzu)

The tai chi bow/salute

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold your right fist palm down in front of your sternum. Place your left hand on top. Bend to a
30 bow, with your eyes to the ground.
Pause, then straighten-up. The right hand symbolises yang/power/combat. The left hand indicates yin/restraint/compassion.

Tai chi - entering the hall

Do not bow to the room. Reserve your bow for people. Bowing to the hall is a Japanese custom, not Chinese.
e.g. imagine that you enter the hall wearing a coat and carrying a bag?
The correct method would be to place your bag on the ground upon entering the training hall. Not on a chair first. Bow to Sifu Waller.
This is asking permission to enter.
When Sifu Waller returns your bow, pick up your bag, take off your coat etc.

If Sifu is busy or holding something

What is if Sifu Waller has a glass of water in his hand? How exactly is he supposed to return your bow?
Show some common sense.
The correct method would be to wait until Sifu Waller has put down whatever he is holding (or has finished his conversation/teaching). Be patient. Wait politely.

Qigong & tai chi - 7:00 PM

Our class officially begins at 7:00 PM.
At 7:00 PM, the whole class forms a circle and bows to the
instructor. This process is led by a student:

  1. Make a fist with your right hand and cover with your left

  2. Bow & say "Good evening Rachel"

  3. Rachel will return the bow

Partner work

When commencing any kind of partner work, begin by bowing to your practice partner. This confirms that they are ready.
Bowing before partner work serves to focus the mind, settle the emotions and encourage more productive training.
It reminds students that they are training a martial art and that messing about or talking can lead to injury. When the drill is over, bow again and say thank you.

Group work

For group partner work, the group bow to the person in the centre - to confirm readiness. The student in the centre then bows back, acknowledging this.
At the end, the centre student bows to the group, signifying conclusion of the drill. The group bow back, indicating compliance.

Tai chi -
end of class

To end the class,  the whole class forms a circle and bows to the
instructor. This process is led by a student:

  1. Make a fist with your right hand and cover with your left

  2. Bow & say "Thank you, Sifu"

  3. Sifu Waller will return the bow

End of class

Do not approach Sifu Waller or Rachel to ask questions after the bow. The lesson has ended and you should leave.

If you're going to bow, then bow sincerely.

(Lao Tzu) 

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 1 November 1996