"The Beginning and End of all Things".
Have you ever wondered why Shotokan karate involves so much bowing? I know I did when I first joined a dojo. The reason is really quite simple. It is all about courtesy and respect. Today of all the twenty precepts left to us by Master Gichin Funakoshi, my personal favourite is precept number one, to me it says it all. "Karate-do begins with courtesy and ends with rei". Now rei means a lot more than just bowing at the beginning and at the end of each kata. Rei also means having respect for yourself, as well as for others.
You see the art of Shotokan karate-do first came to life in Japan. A country where bowing is an integral part of everyday life. Everyone does it, everywhere, and often. In fact, to not bow properly whenever you meet, greet, thank, or have any interaction with another person for any reason whatsoever, would be considered extremely rude. This is especially true in the Japanese work place. Here how an employee bows depends on their rank, and their status within the corporation. The lower a person's rank within the company, the deeper and longer their bow to their superiors. On the other hand, the higher a person’s rank within the company the higher and shorter their bow is to their junior staff. Often in the case of a very senior executive their bow in return to the bow from someone of a much lower rank, could often be likened to a simple nod of the head.
Since a dojo is also a very structured environment, it is only natural that bowing based on rank is followed even in the smallest karate dojo. After all the ultimate aim of karate is to use courtesy and respect to build and enhance the character of the individual participant. So as a karate-ka always keep in the fore front of your mind that when you bow, you must do so with a pure thought, and a true heart. For without this underlying ideology of courtesy and respect, karate would be a very hollow thing indeed.
Remember: To bow well physically, you must first bow well in your mind.