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Dress Code

Posted Mar 03 2008 4:10pm

Years ago I entered an "open" tournament. All the quasi karate styles were represented there: kung fu, kenpo, tae kwon do, you name it. I saw uniforms of every imaginable design on these competitors. Some wore hakama (garb originally worn by samurai) and a few were donning something similar to a Roman toga! Still another entrant wore just a T-shirt with his school logo embossed on it. I actually felt out of place with my plain white karate uniform.

The unadorned white gi (uniform) is generally regarded as part of martial arts tradition. Really, defining tradition here is an iffy undertaking given the fact that many systems of empty-handed combat were devised barely more than a century ago. And since the martial arts seem to be in a state of constant flux, what practitioners wear for training apparel has also been subjected to change. It was Judo's Jigoro Kano who introduced the white gi in 1907, but the idea didn't catch on with other styles until some time later. So the wearing of the gi is a relatively modern development in the martial arts. When Gichin Funakoshi demonstrated karate in Japan for the first time around 1920 he wore a judo gi and adopted judo's colored belt system in an effort to encourage Japanese participation.

Kano's original belt grades were just white and black. Later, brown was added to denote an intermediate level. The first school I trained in had white, yellow, green, brown and black belt levels, and for many years that's all there was. Eventually more were added, including orange, blue and purple. Now we also have camouflage belts, and before you know it we'll probably have mauve and chartreuse belts walking around.

Then there are the patches. Most schools require that you wear an organizational patch or one that symbolizes your style. I see nothing wrong with that, but as a rule of thumb less patches are better. Some of these new players, especially in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wear more emblems on their uniforms than you would find on most NASCAR stock cars. Longtime karateka
Charles Goodin recently wrote a brief article on uniform patches whereas he feels that all of them are tawdry and unnecessary. Some of his points are well taken, but I feel that one or two on your gi is fine.

I usually have three of four karate gis at my disposal, if for no other reason just so I have a clean one to wear to every class. Always arrive wearing a washed and unwrinkled uniform if you want to remain in good standing at your school. I actually saw an adult student get sent home once because his gi was absolutely filthy (and he stunk to high heaven). When you buy a new uniform, make sure you hem the pants length before you come to class so you don't trip over the excess material while you're working out. Your uniform is an expression of you, so take good care of it and wear it proudly!

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