Karate students wear a traditional outfit that dates back hundreds of years, known as the Gi.
Pronounced as “Ghee,” Gichin Funakoshi, a founder of modern karate, introduced the uniform. The Gi was inspired by the Judo uniform, keikogi, made from a heavier material suitable for grappling. Some say Funakoshi integrated the karate Gi to give the martial art a more formal appearance. Others say it was common Okinawan peasant clothing and organically became associated with karate. Today, the Gi has been widely adopted as the standard outfit worn by students and instructors in the various schools of karate.
Why Do Karate Students Still Wear a Gi?
Along with maintaining the tradition, the Gi remains a practical type of clothing that carries philosophical implications. These are reasons why wearing the Gi is important to the practice of karate.
- Sense of Place: Wearing the Gi indicates that students have stepped outside their everyday lives. Adorning the traditional karate uniform signals a change from common pressures and decisions. Wearing the Gi means you are part of a community committed to values.
- Mutual Respect: When a karate student is in the Dojo, there are notable differences between community members’ uniforms. The color of the belt each person wears indicates their knowledge and skill level. Karate practitioners typically show appropriate respect to those who possess greater knowledge and provide support for students with lower-ranking belts.
- Sign of Commitment: Proudly wearing the Gi shows that a student is fully committed to the learning process and their Dojo. It is a symbolic gesture similar to other organizations with unique uniforms.
It’s also important to point out that the Gi is suitable for karate movements and exercise. It is lightweight, loose-fitting, and practical to wear.
Understanding How the Karate Gi Functions
There are three distinct components to the Gi, the jacket, pants, and belt. Each is identified by a specific Japanese name, and students are expected to keep the uniform meticulously clean. This is a breakdown of each element and the terminology used to describe the sub-parts.
The jacket is designed with enough material to overlap across the mid-section. It has a V-shaped neck and should be loose enough to allow free movement. These are the parts of the Kimono in Japanese.
- Sode: Sleeve
- Sodeguchi: Sleeve cuff
- Waki: Armpit covering
- Migoro: The Bodice
The lower part of the Karate Gi is also loose-fitting enough to make kicks and agile movements. The pants typically have a drawstring or elastic waistband. These are the names of the Zubon’s parts.
- Uesuto: The waist area
- Mata: Groin area
- Himo: Strings
- Hiza: Knee covering
- Suso: Trouser cuff
The karate belt may be the most iconic aspect of the overall Gi. That’s because it identifies how far along each student is in their martial arts journey through color and markings. The Obi must be tight enough to help keep the lower portion of the Kimono in place. It also helps support the Zubon, to some degree. Learning to tie the Obi symbolizes the ongoing life lessons people gain through the practice of karate.
How to Tie the Karate Belt
Learning to tie the Obi will require a little practice and, perhaps, patience. Your karate instructors will likely walk you through the following steps, which you can repeat at home.
- Fold the belt precisely in half.
- Evenly match the end together.
- Make sure the Obi is smooth lengthwise.
- Put the center of the belt in front of your navel.
- Unfold it and wrap the two ends around your mid-section, making an X in the rear.
- Check to ensure the belt is evenly distributed by checking the loose ends.
- Cross the ends over each other in front of your mid-section.
- Fold one end under the center of the belt and pull the two ends taut.
- Make an X with the ends to form a knot and pull tight.
If the two ends are not hanging evenly in front of you, try again. Tying the Obi with perfection takes time, effort, and repetition.