People look at me weird every time I ask them to bow on and off the mat. I can see the question of “Are you crazy?” in their eyes. Then I explain why I do it.
The point is the promise of respect that accompanies the bow. As your instructor, I need to believe that you understand the gravity behind what you are learning when you step onto the mats. In a self defense or kenpo karate class, you are learning how to seriously injure someone. In a fitness class, you are learning how to prevent injuring yourself by making sure you are doing the exercises correctly. These are not small things and they need to be acknowledged.
When you bow on and off the mat, you not only acknowledge the gravity of what you are learning but you are accepting that your fellow students are putting their trust in you. They are trusting that you will stay in control. That you will not hurt them as you practice the different techniques. That you are committed to creating a safe learning environment for them. This also means that you are trusting them to do the same for you.
Bowing is not just a promise of respect towards others. You are not just handing all the power to everyone else. You are promising to respect your time as well.
Your time on the mat is respected when you put 110% of effort towards the workout, technique, or practice. You are giving yourself permission to forget your problems, worries, and the outside world while you are on the mat. Then you are accepting those things back as you bow off.
You bowing on and off the mat is for many reasons. I may be the one making you do it every time but every bow is a reminder of what the mat represents. A safe place for you to train, a safe place for you to improve, and a safe place to become better.