Clothing in Aikido
Aikidogi (合気道着 ή 合気道衣) is the Japanese name for the uniform that is used in aikido training. Most aikidoka call it gi or dogi. It is usually made from bleached (or occasionally unbleached) cotton or sometimes cotton-poly blends.
Practically aikido is somewhere between judo and karate in the nature of its practice. It is very common to find both lightweight karategi and heavier judogi being used by aikidoka depending on preference. Both are more durable than typical Western clothing.
Aikidoka wear a kind of wide trousers that resemble a skirt. The hakama was originally worn by the samurais and the gi was used as underclothes.
The hakama were originally meant to protect a horseman’s legs. It is similar to a cowboy’s leather ‘chaps’. Leather was rare to find in Japan, so heavy cloth was used instead. After the samurai were degraded as a social class and became a kind of foot-soldiers, they persisted in wearing horseman’s garb because it set them apart and made them easily identifiable.
During that time, there were different styles of hakama. The type worn by today is called a joba hakama. Another one was kind of like a tube skirt and the third one was a very long version of the second. It was worn on visits to the Shogun or Emperor. The Hakama was about 3,5 to 4,5 meters long and was folded repeatedly and placed between the feet of the visitor. It was done so in order for the guest to walk only in shikko posture (“knee walking). Therefore it was almost impossible to hide a weapon or stand up quickly to attack.
The 7 folds in the hakama (5 in the front, 2 in the back) are said to have the following symbolic meaning:
1. Yuki = courage, valor, bravery
2. Jin = humanity, charity, benevolence
3. Gi = justice, righteousness, integrity
4. Rei = etiquette, courtesy, civility
5. Makoto = sincerity, honesty, reality
6. Chugi = loyalty, fidelity, devotion
7. Meiyo = honor, credit, glory; also reputation, dignity, prestige
In many schools, hakamas are worn only by black belts while in others everyone wears them. In some schools, women can start wearing it earlier than men due to issues of modesty since, as was mentioned above, the classic gi was used as underwear.
O Sensei was rather persistent that everyone must wear the hakama. He came, however from a different time, when hakama was official clothing.
Saito Sensei had said about the hakama in O Sensei‘s dojo in the old days:
“Most of the students were too poor to buy a hakama but it was required to wear one. If they couldn’t get one from an older relative, they would take the cover off an old futon, cut it, dye it, and give it to a seamstress to make into a hakama.
Since they had to use cheap dye, however, after awhile the colorful pattern of the futon would start to show through and the fluff from the futon would start to work its way out of the material.”
Shigenobu Okumura Sensei, “Aikido Today Magazine” #41:
“In postwar Japan many things were hard to get, including cloth. Because of the shortages, we trained without hakama. We tried to make hakama from air-raid blackout curtains but because the curtains had been hanging in the sun for years, theknees turned to dust as soon as we started doing suwariwaza. We were constantly patching these hakama. It was under those conditions that someone came up with a suggestion: “Why don’t we just say that it’s okay not to wear a hakama until you’re shodan?” This idea was put forward as a temporary policy to avoid expense. The idea behind accepting the suggestion had nothing to do with the hakama being a symbol for dan ranking.”