Friday, May 24, 2013

Question Everything: What is a gi?

Originally posted on on 4/26/2013

Question Everything?
By Jaredd Wilson

“What is a gi?”

Jigoro Kano sensei in orignal keikogi
            If you’ve done martial arts for more than a week you probably think you know the answer to this question.  However the origin of this garment may surprise you.  For example, did you know that the word gi is actually a shortened form of the word keikogi?  Keikogi means something like “practice clothes.”  An alternate name is dogi.  Where –do refers to the way, as in aikido or judo.  There are two parts to the gi, the upper jacket part is called the uwagi, and the lower, pants part is called the shitabaki, which is Japanese for pants.  In many budo they insert the art’s name into the name of the clothing.  Aikidogi, kendogi, karategi, etc.  They are slightly different, in the weight and/or color of the cloth.  For example, judogi are generally heavier, as a way to stand up to the repeated lapel grabs. 
            In the olden days, before the 1900’s, martial artists would practice in everyday clothes.  There is the martial legends that state that the gi was originally developed from what was essentially underwear.  They started wearing the gi so as not to damage their real clothes.  Early gi definitely had shorter sleaves and pants legs, but I cannot confirm this origin.  Another probably more reliable story states the Kano Jigoro sensei  modified clothing worn by firefighters to create the idea of the gi.  Funikoshi then adopted a similar, but lighter weave clothing for use by karateka.  Ueshiba took a the judogi and adopted it for aikido, and so on.  All gi are then held closed using an obi, or belt.  Again going back to the originals, Kano sensei was the first to institute a colored belt system, and this was originally done to show levels for competition.  It was only after that that there was a colorful rainbow explosion of belts.
            Like most things of Japanese origin, there is a right way and a wrong way to care for them as well.  Most martial artist, especially the one’s I’ve seen tend to just crumple them into a gym bag at the end of class.  If you look at the picture, there is traditional folding pattern to the keikogi.  Your gi should be considered part of your equipment, and like all a warrior’s equipment, it should be cared for.  So it brings up the question “How well did you know your gi?”

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