The short answer is YES.
It is part of the culture, tradition, and rules of the sport. Period.
It’s like a handshake.
Asian cultures have been doing this for thousands of years.
You are NOT submitting to a king, a master, or a false idol. You are NOT accepting any new religion or being blasphemous to your preferred religion.
You are simply showing respect and friendship to your training partners.
We have members of all faiths and lack thereof at The Judokai. We have Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and even a few heathens in our Yudanshakai. They all bow.
We do not make exceptions. Everyone is equal.
But wait, you ask, “Isn’t The Judokai known for having an informal atmosphere and modern interpretation of competition rules?”
The answer is YES again, but we still adhere to the basic formalities.
The bow in Japanese is “rei” and the Kodokan standard for proper Judo etiquette is that “Judo starts with a bow and ends with a bow” (“re ni hajimari, rei ni owaru”). The rei personifies Kano Shihan’s second tenet…Jita Kyoei. That is, mutual respect and benefit, the respect that each Judoka shows another. It is respect for your training partner and respect for any opponent, no matter what the level of skill. It demonstrates a Judoka’s appreciation and humility to another Judoka who is allowing them to have someone to practice with.
We do a standing bow before stepping onto the mat. We do another standing bow as we step off of the mat.
If you intend to compete in almost all asian martial arts, the competition rules require you to bow at the beginning and end of the match. We do a standing bow at the beginning and end of standing randori/sparring. We also shake hands at the end to show extra appreciation.
Daily “rolling” newaza practice, Kata demonstrations, and formal belt promotion events require kneeling bows. No, a fist bump is not enough. Again, an additional handshake is always welcome.
At The Judokai, we teach these formalities as part of the regular class instruction. A proper understanding of martial arts tradition is a good thing.
That is the way it ought to be.