Greetings are omnipresent and part of our everyday life. In martial arts, however, a single “hi” is not enough, because like so many other things, many things in martial arts are charged with deep meaning.

This introduction is not intended to mean that we prohibit or deny our students the "Hi". But it should also show at the same time how important the greeting in martial arts alone is. From various hand gestures to ceremonial bows, you have certainly seen greetings that would be assigned to the exotic "Far Eastern martial arts". In fact, these greetings are an integral part of many martial arts, especially Asian martial arts.

The greeting is, above all, a sign of mutual respect. Greetings not only at the start of training, but also at every partner exercise and after completion of training. The progress of different students can be very different individually, but all students cannot manage the progress on their own. A student needs a teacher, mentor or master who shows and teaches them new knowledge. The student also needs a training partner with whom one can practice and deepen what they have learned. Both the master and the training partner are therefore an important part of a student's individual development. The greeting should not only symbolize gratitude for the support, but also consolidate the respectful dealings with one another.

A sign of respect

However, this gesture is not limited to the training partner or your own master. The gratitude and respect are cross-generational and extend to the grand master and great grand master, because without these "ancestors" the pupil would not have the opportunity to learn the martial art from his master at all. That is why we greet in the direction of the former masters.

Are these the most important greetings? Not quite yet. Because an integral part of every Chinese martial arts school is Guangong, the patron saint of all martial artists. Guangong is greeted in addition to the "ancestors". You wish for a successful and injury-free training under his supervision.

The typical greeting in Chinese martial arts is with the right fist on the left palm. This hand gesture did not come about purely by accident. And this is where the most frequently asked question comes from new students: "What exactly does the greeting mean?"

The story of its origin and its meaning are diverse and are interpreted differently depending on the school. Below we try to highlight the most well-known meanings.

A sign of the revolution

The last Qing Empire came to an end in 1911. However, the Qing dynasty was a Manchu dynasty in which Han Chinese were strongly oppressed. The revolutionaries therefore had the goal of overthrowing the Qing Dynasty and restoring the Ming Dynasty 反清 復明. So that revolutionaries could recognize each other, a special greeting was introduced, which is even supposed to symbolize the character Ming 明. The fist stands for the character of the sun and the open hand for the character of the moon, which together form the sign of the Ming.

A big martial arts family

Another explanation for the greeting is an old martial arts saying: 五湖四海 皆 兄弟 - All of the five lakes and four seas are brothers . The five lakes and four seas are partly geographical and partly symbolic places that used to enclose ancient China. This metaphor is often used in proverbs to describe the greater area of China. This saying can be translated in such a way that we are all one big martial arts family and should not fight with each other.

The five virtues im Gruß

Die asiatischen Kampfkünste versprechen neben der körperlichen Fitness und Kampftechniken auch noch eine starke moralische Komponente. Für genau diese Komponente kommt oft der Begriff Wude 武德 (die Kampfkunst-Tugenden) ins Spiel. Denn durch die Kampfkunst soll ein Schüler nicht nur seinen Körper, sondern auch seinen Geist und moralischen Kompass stärken. Diese Tugenden werden in fünf Tugenden der Handlung und die fünf Tugenden des Geistes unterschieden:

Tugenden der Handlung:

  • Humility 谦虚
  • Respekt 尊敬
  • Rechtschaffenheit 正義
  • Trust 信用
  • Loyalty 忠诚

Tugenden des Geistes:

  • Will 
  • Perseverance 
  • Endurance 毅力
  • Patience 恒心
  • Courage 勇敢

A fight-greeting?

Occasionally the greeting is distorted or misinterpreted. Some interpret it as a "battle salute" and believe that the salute is seen as a challenge to a master. Of course we do not share this interpretation and cannot understand how it came about. A correct greeting is apparently understood to mean the everyday “greeting”, in which one hand completely embraces the other.

Connections to the cantonese opera?

Earlier stories show that a distinction was made in the Hung Kuen style between Hung Kuen on land and Hung Kuen on water 水上 洪拳. In times of Shaolin persecution, many masters fled the mainland and went underground on ships. The submerged masters pretended to be actors and opera singers, wandered from port to port to perform opera pieces and escape the persecution at the same time. These ships later became known as Hong Syun 紅 船, red boats. The Hung 紅 (red) used here only sounds the same as the Hung from Hung Kuen / Hung Kyun, but uses a different character. One can only speculate whether the color choice of the ships was a coincidence or was charged with more importance.

These masters are said to have brought influences from martial arts into the Cantonese opera, which is not surprising with the martial arts-related choreographies. In order to further distinguish exactly this "Hung Kuen on the water" from the mainland version, the greeting was carried out in reverse. Therefore, in Cantonese opera, you place your open right hand on your left fist.

If you are on vacation in Guangzhou, you should definitely stop by the Cantonese Opera Museum. There are many other interesting connections between martial arts and opera presented, a visit is worthwhile!

What do we say and teach?

As you can see, the meaning of the greeting can be interpreted differently. For some it is a historical relic, for others an encrypted lesson. In our school the meaning that was already taught in my grandfather's day is continued. Here you combine an important lesson with Chinese culture.

The open palm stands for the following hierarchy: the thumb stands for the sky , the index finger for the earth , the middle finger for the Chinese emperor , the ring finger for your own master and the little finger for your own parents . Here it is important to understand the meanings of the individual roles in the context of Chinese culture. Heaven plays an immensely important role in Chinese culture because it is the counterpart to Earth. The sky is always represented as a circle and the earth as a square. These two terms or elements are deeply rooted in Chinese culture and are used again and again in old palaces, turtles (round back and square belly armor), coins (round coin with square hole in the middle) and symbols. Next up is the Chinese emperor who, above all, was the highest authority among men. Now we come to the most interesting part, our own master and the parents. Because the student admission by a master was the highest honor that a student could experience.

Through this admission, also called Baai Si ceremony, the student was now accepted into the family of the master and thus got a kind of second family. However, this stood hierarchically above the own family and is intended to symbolize the determination with which a student follows the path of martial art. The thumb of the open palm is bent. Since you are never on an equal footing with the sky, the bent thumb stands for your own modesty.


Both the open palm and the clenched fist have their own meaning. The open palm stands for the open heart of the student, the clenched fist for the strength and perseverance. They symbolically depict scholars and fighters. The open hand symbolizes the scholar and the fist the fighter. These two aspects are united in the martial art, it is not only about “fighting”, but about gaining deeper wisdom through the martial art.

So you quickly notice that you can already find a lot of meaning in something inconspicuous like the greeting/salute. The greeting is one of the basic building blocks for a healthy training atmosphere and a reflected development and training of the student. It is all the more important to be aware of the meaning of each greeting and to keep your own way in martial arts in mind.

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