Monday, September 10, 2012


I have always thought of traditions sort of like a bee hive.  They have a purpose in our world and produce something that is sweet to the taste and pleasing to the stomach.  There are many in our world that seek after it, use it and even cultivate it.  Traditions are fine if you just leave them where they are.  The minute you decide you are going to tamper with them is the minute you get swarmed with angry bees!

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If we look at almost any activity or custom we will probably be able to trace it to a practice that has become a tradition over the centuries of recorded history.  In American culture, we have grown up and lived with the fact that our great country is a melting pot of all races and cultures, although in the post modern era that we live in it appears to be more like a salad bowl recently.  This melting pot had a language that has hundreds of borrowed words and, as the nature of language is, it is even in and of itself constantly changing!  Enter into the equation of American culture and change the thought for what we take for granted comes from somewhere and was added not all together for the right reasons.

  • Are foreign cultures any different?
  • Is a Simple bow a form of worship? (martial arts or otherwise)

A story was once shared by a missionary to the Philippine Islands.  He was asked to give a Bible to a man in a large city on another island.  The woman told the missionary that this man was very important and people would bow to him.  The missionary went to see him, and did not bow but used the Western custom of a hand shake and explained his purpose and gift (The bible).  The missionary explained to us that bowing was considered to be a sign and acknowledgment of the “god” within each person.  This point could be argued effectively for the sake of Christianities superiority to other religions however; is it wise to go against common courtesy of the society we live in unless there is a serious reason for going against it?  For example, if it was expressly forbidden in the Bible then it should not be performed.  We think nothing of a performer bowing on stage, or the acknowledgment of participants of a parade.  The simple bows of respect in Karate denote nothing less than mutual respect and not an acknowledgment of the “god” within a person.  Bowing is a tradition that is kept alive in the martial arts just as it is in the Orient.   Some traditions may have more than one meaning or source, but to say that a tradition is bad or evil just because of a connotation to one aspect of another culture is a shallow argument. 


  1. Cultural customs and symbols have "shared" meanings within a culture. They lose much in translation. Even within a culture, especially something as broad as "east", "west", or "American" there is varied interpretation. In social and more substantive situations, it seems some extra investment of time and effort in understanding would be in order. Flexibility in social situations also seems wise unless it is something egregious. To my (American) mind, I think my interpretation of my intentions is what matters. When I bowed before older Koreans, nobody's inner "god" ever entered my mind. I was being polite. On the other hand, I learned to be bemused when Koreans were constantly asking how old I was - to figure out who bows to who.

  2. Can't argue that. I spent a year in Korea and was shocked when I viewed a map that had swastikas on it. I only then found out that the West was uncomfortable with it because of WW II.
    In Europe, the "personal space" of Americans is several feet, and I hated talking to Germans sometimes. I also never understood their personal hygiene views. I have known some that hated this part of the culture. I even have an old friend from work that is living in England and she admits that American mannerisms can be misinterpreted as well.