I am constantly asked by my black belts, “Why do we do that?” The “that” they are referring to might be the constantly changing time we, as a class, sit before we bow every class. It might be the fact that we are folding paper into fish and not kicking or it might be that we are staring at a wall for prolonged periods of time. Lets take a look at the first example concerning the bowing in process before class.
Note: The next paragraph describes a very abridged version of how a Shin Ho Kwan Class is opened.
In Shin Ho Kwan we bow into class by lining up in a straight line. Unlike a lot of Taekwondo Schools, everyone lines up in the same line. The instructor stands in front of the line and faces the students. Once everyone is lined up correctly, everyone sits after the instructor sits. Then there is a period of sitting that takes place. The length of this period is up to the instructor.
This period of sitting is what I receive a lot of questions concerning. You see, the length always changes and it never seems to follow a pattern. So why does it change and why do we do it at all?
A large number of martial art schools have their students sit for a minute or two before classes start, as a form of meditative practice. Unfortunately, for a large number of these students there will be little to no benefit from this practice and therefore the practice is a waste of time for them. So why do we and so many other schools continue to have everyone sit before class? This might sound selfish, but for the benefit of the instructor.
As humans, our brains function on 4 general levels (in Shin Ho Kwan we call these levels, realms). In modern times these levels have been classified by using an Electroencephalograph (EEG). The EEG monitors brain waves and each of the four levels displays a different “wave” on the EEG. Make no mistake, the ancient cultures knew of the existence of these same exact levels, even before anyone even knew that brain waves existed. Below is a list of the four brain waves that correspond to the four general functional levels:
Shin Ho Kwan Name: The Realm of Men
Characteristics: Minimal body control, mental power, physical ability and awareness.
Shin Ho Kwan Name: The Realm of Warriors
Characteristics: Good body control, heightened mental power, heightened physical ability and good awareness.
Shin Ho Kwan Name: The Realm of the Masters
Characteristics: Excellent body control, insightful mental power, excellent awareness.
Shin Ho Kwan Name: The Realm of the Spirits
Characteristics: Control of automatic body functions.
When most people go about their daily lives they live/function in beta waves. The Apache called this realm, “The land of the living dead.” When an individual is in this realm, their mental and physical abilities are at their lowest possible level. Their awareness of their surroundings is extremely low and their ability to control their bodies is diminished. When our brain waves slow down some, we enter the “Realm of Warriors”, in other words: alpha waves. This is what athletes refer to as “being in the zone.” Everything is heightened: mental power, physical ability, awareness and body control. We have better reflexes, we can memorize things faster, we have better coordination/balance, we perceive time passage slower, etc. This is where a martial artist wants to be when practicing, if not all the time.
Just like anything that is practiced over and over again, the time required to execute the technique or in this case to switch brain waves from beta to alpha gets shorter and shorter. A beginner might require 15 – 20 minutes of performing a meditative practice to make the switch. However, most instructors that have been practicing martial arts for most of their lives can usually make this switch on command, or very quickly. So the pause before bowing is for the instructor to make this switch. That is what determines the length of the pause.
The other two “why” questions mentioned at the beginning of this post are also related to brain waves. Both doing origami and doing seated meditation will cause the brain to switch into alpha waves if performed for a sufficient length of time. And remember, the more times your brain makes the switch, the faster it will make it.
Therefore, the next time you think to yourself, “Why do we do that?” Ask yourself this, “Is it to change brain waves?”
Something to think about…