Bowing before a fighting match is a Japanese Martial Arts tradition. China is the origin started this practice. This practice can be seen in any fighting art, in Asia, not just in Japan. Western chivalry carries same spirits and overlaps the principles. Basic principle in bowing to one’s enemy before fighting is to show respect to his enemy.
There were some Samurai Leaders who did not respect their enemies in Japanese history. One Local Lord who almost unified Japan in 16th Century was one of them. He destroyed and changed Japanese Ancient Regime. In this sense, he is noteworthy figure in Japanese history. His approach, however, to his enemy, was with hatred and destruction. He attacked a temple, killed all priest, and burned down the temple. He did the same to Ninja village. According to the history, he drunk Japanese Sake with a cup made by his enemy leader’s skull. He was like Earl Dracula, the Japanese Version.
On the other hand, there were some others who gave full respect to their enemies. A Local Lord in the backside of Japan repeated fierce fights against his enemy over a mountain area territory in early 16th Century. He respected his enemy so much that he had sent salt and saved his enemy and his country, when his enemy suffered from lack of salt because of stopped supply.
Why did a Samurai need to respect his Enemy? Why they had bowed, before they fought for their lives? By bowing and showing respect to his opponent, they were sending wordless message to his enemy. Their messages were like the followings:
I respect you as a Samurai. I promise you that I will fight you under rules of Samurai fighting. I promise that I do not do anything disgraceful to win. If I win and you lose your life, I will not disgrace your body, soul, and family. I will respect them as I respect you.
In other words, the one fighting under Samurai spirit must be philosophical, spiritual, ideological, and strong in giving this message. They must be fighting for the reason they believe to be right, to the extent that he can kill or die. This concept defines the base for Samurai fighting spirit. They fought just for righteousness. They did not fight for any disgraceful reason.
An interesting fact is that Samurai, who respected their enemies, and fought under righteousness and justice in their history, had rewarded with somehow happy ending. On the other hand, ones, who did not respect their enemies, who fought for their own aims and greed, had tragic results. Betrayal of his own subject killed this Japanese version of Earl Dracula before he unified Japan. The family of Samurai, who sent salt to his enemy, survived long and chaotic period.