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Sebae, Ritual Bow

Sebae, Ritual Bow

Bowing has been an important element of Korean culture. The type of bow varies depening on the formality of the occasion. The sebae is a very formal bow performed on very formal occasions - such as wedding days, funerals, and traditional holidays. It is also a vital part of in rituals honouring one's ancestors.

Although traditionally only men performed sebae as part of charye/jerye, the rituals honouring ancestors, both women and men make the formal bow at weddings, etc. Sebae involves going on down on both knees and bending toward the floor.  The number of bows performed depend on the occasion (often 3 times).

Following are instructions on how to perform sebae for men and women - there are differences depending on one's gender.

1. Place your left hand on top of your right hand. (For funerals, it's the opposite, right hand over left.)
2. Stand up straight with your hands resting in front of your stomach/abdomen (right below the navel).
3. Raise both hands to your chest.
4. Bend both knees to kneel.
5. Place both hands on the floor as you kneel.
6. Bend your upper body and bow your head - touching the bank of your hands.
7. Once your head touches the back of your left hand, stand up by raising your right knee first.
8. Raise both hands up to your chest once more before returning your hands to their natural position.

Women were traditionally expected to perform more respectful (deep) bows more often in their daily life than were men. Consequently, there is both a formal jeol (bow) for women and a simplified one. 
Formal bow (jeol) - for showing respect on special occasions such as weddings, etc.
1. Place your right hand on top on your left hand (For funerals, it's the opposite, left hand over right).
2. Raise both hands (in the correct position) up to your eye level. Your head should be slightly bowed and your eyes on your feet.
3. Sit down, cross-legged, with your hands still raised to eye level. (This takes practice - sometimes two other women help).
4. Bend your upper body about 45 degrees. Your arms will be about chest level and your head will be just above your hands.
5. Stay in this position for 2-5 seconds before getting up. You must maintain your hands in the original position - they must not separate.
6. Rise (gracefully - on your own or with help) from the cross-legged position until you are standing with your hands in front of your lower abdomen.
Simplified bow (jeol)
1. Place your right hand above your left hand.
2. Stand straight with your hands resting - in the correct position -in front of your lower abdomen (right below the navel).
3. Release your hands naturally as you bend your knees and sit.
4. Rest your hands in front of your knees, placing them at shoulder's width.
5. Then bow our head as you bend your upper body - your hands can be palm down on the floor.
6. Take your hands off the floor as your raise your upper body.
7. Resume standing with your hands in front of your lower body - again in the correct right over left position.

For pictures of each step, visit the KTO website

K4E Editor: Korea4Expats want to provide the most accurate and complete information possible, so if you notice an error or omission in the contents above, please contact us at info@korea4expats.com 

Photo: KTO Visit Korea

Last Updated on 2015-03-23

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