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Martial arts etiquettes: The Salute

Etiquettes have long been an integral part of Chinese culture. The Chinese civilisation was built on manners and orderly behaviour. Bowing was a way to show respect to others. In pre-modern China, there were various types of bowing that existed. These may be between people of different social classes and there were different ways to bow to different people and in different circumstances. In martial art communities, the importance of bowing and showing respect is no less important. I recently had a conversation with one of my students, who was asking about how to do the martial arts salute and the culture behind it. So, I decided to write a blog on the topic.

Whenever you see a martial arts tournament or match, participants must always bow to the other and then to the judging panel. This is not only good manners, but it also shows respect to your opponent, the judges and the competition. You see this in Japanese and Korean martial arts. In Thailand, they do the Wai, there they bow and press their hands together.

In Chinese martial arts, we have the martial salute. This is done with the left palm open, over a right fist and then there is a gentle bow of a few degrees. This salute is now only used as a greeting in martial art communities, such as in public demonstrations, festivals or in competitions. These days, we rarely salute or bow in class as it is a more informal setting. In a Chinese dojo, it is more common to just nod your head slightly forward and call out the name and title of someone like Shifu or Shixiong (teacher and senior). This is the expected way to acknowledge others and show respect. This is also the way at home and not acknowledging your elders is a sign of disrespect.

So what does the martial salute mean? There two meanings that I am familiar with and both are valid. On one hand there is the Sun and Moon meaning, where the left open palm is the sun, meaning yang and the closed fist is the moon, meaning yin. There is therefore balance between the two. The other meaning is that the open left palm represents Wude (martial ethics and morality), strength and wisdom. Whilst the closed right fist represents represents your art. Together, it means showing respect and honouring others. There are no distinctions regarding the salute in different styles. Gongfu schools in general wouldn't have a totally different way of saluting from Taiji schools. With the Chinese salute, there are a few variations. Regardless of whichever meaning you have been taught, they all mean respect*. Not showing respect either tells people you have no proper upbringing or that your shifu hasn't taught you appropriate manners. Whilst we generally don't bow and salute as often as people did in the past. However, showing respect is still important and should part of your training. At the end of the day, your training doesn't lie.

With the coronavirus and social distancing in mind, perhaps it isn't such a bad thing to do the Chinese salute more often.

* There are salutes with a weapon too, but that I'll leave for another day.

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