Monday, 19 July 2010

Gi Musings.

A comment from the lovely SueC on my previous post has had me thinking about my gi the last few days.

This is what Sue had to say:

"For me, the putting on of the gi is symbolic in that it separates the dojo from the outside world. For that reason I would never wear my gi outside the dojo (I always change when I get there). When I put on my gi I forget what is happening in the outside world and focus my mind on the training to come. I think you lose this sense of 'different place' if you travel to and from the dojo in your gi. What do you think?"

I’ve waxed lyrics on my other blog a couple of times about wondering what on earth possessed me to have three quarters of our family take up a hobby that requires the wearing of white suits that are made of 100% cotton, can only be washed on a cool wash and are an absolute b*tch to iron – and I still think this on a regular basis.

Nevertheless, other than a laundry nightmare of epic proportions what does my Gi do for me? I should probably start by reiterating that I never, ever saw myself as a martial artist. It’s not something I was really interested in as a kid. I once took a judo class (which was pretty much break fall 101 – who knew that would come in handy, eh? Then there were 2 Aikido classes with my brother (for lack of anything better to do those evenings).That was pretty much the extent of it though. No one was more surprise than me when I took my first class at Isami Ryu and completely loved it.

I started classes in November but didn’t get my gi until Christmas so for those first couple of classes I didn’t really feel like a real karateka. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that at some point someone was going to point my way and say “hey, you there, yes, you, with the look of abject terror…who let you in here? Sling your hook this instant you big faker!”. Once I’d gotten my gi and started to wear it to training I felt much more the part. It really helped me get myself in the karate mindset. I guess if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s a duck – or in this case if it dresses like a karateka and rei’s like a karateka….well, you know what I mean.

Those first few scary weeks when you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing, looking the part at least helps with the “fake it till you make it”. My gi gave (and gives) me a sense of identity as a karate student. When I put it on, it’s all about the karate, and that’s all. Of course, ultimately feeling like I’d arrived as a karateka had nothing to do with my gi and everything to do with the day Shihan picked me out to demonstrate a control on. I figured he’d decided I wasn’t a newbie any more and was fair game to be picked on for demos – which really made me feel like I belonged.

Back to Sue’s question anyway. Wearing your gi outside the dojo. Hmmmmm. I had to think about this one. For the most part I don’t wear my gi outside the dojo. I usually change when I get there, but I have to be honest and say it’s not for the reasons Sue has mentioned.

Our usual itinerary for Sunday classes is to take the kids to the ILs, where we stay for an hour or so to visit, then Kendo and I head off to class for two hours. Then when class is over we head back to the ILs to collect the kids and then home. Sometimes though we stop at places on the way back from class….. this is where the not wearing the gi comes in.

Now, I’m not usually terribly fashion conscious. I’m not a designer type of person, I don’t have flash clothes. I pretty much a jeans and T-shirt kind of a girl. BUT…. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to wear a gi in public (even just the trousers) without looking completely ridiculous! I mean, come on….no one in their right mind would wear those things voluntarily in the outside world. I look like a complete loon in my gi. It’s possibly the least attractive outfit I’ve ever owned, and in the dojo, I could care less about that – it’s practical, it’s steeped in the tradition of my choice of martial art, it does exactly what it’s supposed to. I still look ridiculous in mine.

I have been known to wear my trousers to and from class if I’m only going there and nowhere else (like on the Monday class when I’m taking Grace (and Grace always wears her gi to and from class) but for the most part I don’t. Because I’m too vain to be seen in the thing in public. There. I said it. I’m horrible shallow. Shoot me now! LOL :P

So, in the dojo my gi make me feel like a karateka. It give me a sense of all the karate history that has gone before. It’s practical. It’s functional. It serves a purpose. I stand by all those things.

It’s also completely fugly. I stand by that too.

Do they really have to be white though? What were the karate masters thinking? Even brushed and mopped the floor of our dojo is minty! White? It’s just asking for trouble.

I do have another gi confession though while we’re on the subject. I have to admit, when it comes to folding my gi, I’m a little fanatical – to the point of OCDness. I little while ago I discovered this:

Which was a great tool for me. Especially as I have three gis to deal with at home and folding them this way means I don't have to iron them! Genius! I always fold my gi this way now.

Enough about gis anyway. I had class last night. This arse is so sore I could barely make it up the stairs to my office at work! I really thought my calves, quads and hamstrings were going to be in for it today, but no. They got off lightly. My gluts have born the brunt of it. I'll be diplomatic about the class and say Shihan was...... thorough. There's a good word. Squats and front kicks, lunges and round kicks, lunges and back kicks, sumo squats and side kicks. Thank God my fitness level is where it is now and not where it was 2 years ago or I'd have been flagging about 10 minutes in!

Once we'd finished on our legs our arms got a good work out too with some heavy punching drills. Nothing quite as satisfying as really getting to wail on a pad I find. On the serious side though Shihan had us really work on our body mechanics, on getting really good hip rotation and generating real power with pulling your off hand back and I really felt like I made some good strong punches. Not much else to say on that, except maybe this:

Knuckle skin? Pah! Knuckle skin is for wimps! Who needs it? Right?

(Kind of wishing I still had mine right about now!).

ETA: I just realised it looks kind of weird that only my middle knuckles are skinned. I should probably add that I was wearing gloves with gel cushioning on the main knuckles. Like these. Unfortunately, that's no good for the rest of your hand. Note to self: wear your full fingered bag mitts next time, you numpty

Another class tonight (dedicated, or a glutton for punishment? Who knows? Yo decide!).



  1. Hi Marie, thanks for the mention on your blog! In our dojo there are only about 4 adults who change when they get there, everybody else comes ready changed in their gi. There are lots of reasons why you shouldn't travel in a gi apart from looking ridiculous! You may as well be wearing a neon sign saying 'I'm a martial artist come and get me, see what I'm made of', so serious security issue and not a good self-defence policy for someone learning self-defence!Not too mention it can get dirty, particularly if its raining - I often see student's with mud splashes up to the back of their pants.

    You get to hit the pad with gloves on? That sounds a bit soft for a Northern girl.LOL. We have to hit it with bare fists. The only time we wear gloves is when we are sparring. No head guards, no body guards, no shin guards, just gloves.

    By the way I'm really enjoying reading your thoughts about karate. I would never have imagined myself as a karateka 3 years ago either - nor would anyone else!

  2. Enjoyed your blog. One of the first thing my Sensei taught me was how to fold my gi (although it was more rolled than folded)and tie my belt in lesson one. It's a shame that so many new school don't wear the full gi as I think you lose some of that "differentness" that SueC is talking about.

  3. Well I broadly agree with Sue on not wearing a gi (dobohk in Korean) outside of training. I also feel people would stare and as Sue mentions would attract unwanted attention to myself. I cringe when I see others turn up in their dobohk...

    Unlike Sue I'm not really into hitting stuff bare fisted. I know, I know...I'm just not sure of the value of conditioning my body for an event that I want to avoid! Even if a fight does occur I'm not sure how useful fist conditioning really would be, but hey...that's another debate.

    Regarding gi washing and folding: I wash on a cool cycle them hang on hangers immediately. I almost never need to iron my dobohk which, I find, damages the fibres anyway. I like your obsessive gi folding... :-) I think you should try iaido. This would certainly give you plenty of folding, knotting and tying opportunities...!


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Maira Gall