Reigi can be translated as “courtesy” or “etiquette”.
O’Sensei was a religious person who brought his religious practice into his aikido practice. The two seem to have been the same for him. Today many dojo follow his religious example of clapping as they bow in. In our dojo we do not because for us it is not a religious matter but a matter of courtesy. In our dojo we do a simple bow, no claps. We first bow to the shomen. Then I turn to face the group and we bow to each other.
We bow to show our respect and appreciation to our practice, our dojo, and our training partners. The bow also signifies an agreement that we will push each other during training but not abuse each other.
Our shomen features several articles which are meaningful to us. We bow to the image of the Founder as a sign of gratitude for the wonderful tool of aikido he has left us to improve ourselves. It is a very specific picture of the Founder that also reminds us that aikido is physical practice, not just philosophical. There is a plant to represent the natural world or a life element. The sword signifies strength of character. The rock represents a solid foundation. The zafu (meditation pillow) represents the state of Zen which we seek to attain in every moment.
Again, I want to emphasize there is not religious connotation in our Rei or bowing to the shomen. It is just a simple act of respect.