Video on Why We Wear White in the Dojo

The karate gi has a longer (and shorter) history than most people realize. We trace the famous angry white pajamas to their origins, explore the logic and history behind the use of white fabric, and the modern stylings of keiko-gi, and cover it in 10 minutes flat. Sort of.

May contain some opinions around hideous modern gi. Featuring: Japanese firefighters, Florence Nightingale, 5 famous Sensei, Wimbledon, Cobra Kai and the Battle of Okinawa. PS: The cards don’t pop up if you watch this on a TV, so you can watch our gi-cleaning guide here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1qJ0… As for the weird floating arrow, and the random text card – I can’t fix those without losing this video. Forgive me, I’m learning as I go.

I have started making videos based on my blog posts, and learning a great deal in the progress.

I enjoy the extra research, choosing pictures and going down rabbit holes of knowledge as I go. The one above was particularly time-consuming, but I am proud of the end result, even if it is a bit glitchy.

Read the original article here: Why We Wear White. Please give the video a like and/or comment, and hit subscribe for new videos every Friday.

How to look after your gi

They say the suit maketh the man, and while that’s a bit narrow, it is helpful to paraphrase it as the gi maketh the warrior. A clean gi (or do-gi) is a sign of respect, not only for oneself but towards one’s dojo and fellow training partners. To arrive in a dirty, untidy gi is to show a lack of self-respect, and is especially egregious in Japan.

This year I invested in several high-quality gi, as befitting my journey towards becoming an instructor. After all, I spend upwards of twenty hours a week in my gi, and that’s excluding gashuku and other training seminars. If I am sitting on a grading panel (even in just an observational capacity), it still behooves me to look the part. Having a few good suits to switch between extends the lifespan of each one, and the old ones still have their place for outdoor training. I would never take a Shureido out on the mountains, after all.

To whit, I’ve created an infographic that has some basic and easy care tips for a gi. In the spirit of martial cooperation, it is yours to download and share amongst all members of your dojo. Feel free to print it out and staple it to every gi your dojo sells, or to put in your next dojo newsletter. If you put it on your website, please just link back to me, that’s all. And if you print it, please don’t crop out my website name.

I hope this will help students (and parents of young students) in all styles keep their gi in great condition. If you have any suggestions, corrections or stories to share, please do!

the-correct-care-of-a-do-gi

Returning to the Dojo

Looking for translated copies of this? Please jump to the bottom! 

It seems inevitable for many students – after years of dedicated training (or even just months), the training begins to slow down. Sometimes, it just stops suddenly, and there’s a conspicuous gap where a senior used to be. A pocket of quiet where a boisterous teen used to stand and idly nudge the punching bag while listening to instructions.

No student slips away unnoticed.

There are a thousand demands on our time, many beyond our control. Money must be earned, marks attained, sports teams made. Families require an investment of quality time, and for many teenagers, just getting to the dojo relies on parental availability and willingness. Sometimes, it’s as simple as an injury that dragged on and suddenly, it’s two months off the mat.

One missed class can easily become three. Three classes becomes a month. Then six. Then a year. And then there’s a day when you open your cupboard and there is your gi, hanging up and gathering dust. Waiting. (And silently judging you.)

“But what will Sensei think?” the student wonders, before slowly closing the door. “I can’t go back after so long.”

Oh, but you can. You can always come back. 99% of the time, your Sensei will be utterly delighted to see you return. All that matters is that you make the decision to put your gi on and get to the dojo. Oh, sure, there might be excuses, like…

But I’m so unfit!
So few people are genuinely fit anyway. If fitness was a precondition for martial arts, very few of us would get to start. Fitness comes back much faster than you think, and honestly? It’s not that important.   

What if my friends aren’t there anymore?
Then you’ll make new ones. A dojo is always in flux, so you’ll meet new people and make new dojo family. I’ve been in so many dojos, both because of moving and being a deshi, I know that you’ll soon find a good training partner and your own groove.

I never told Sensei why I left
Look, very few instructors are soft and fluffy and wear dreamcatchers. But your Sensei is human (very much so) and probably isn’t holding a grudge. (Disclaimer: I can’t speak for all instructors.) Just come back (bearing chocolate helps) and say sorry, and ask to train again. It sucks to ask, but it is also pretty hurtful when students disappear and text messages, calls and emails go unanswered.

I can’t remember it all anymore
You are not starting at the bottom – everything you learned is somewhere in your head. It just needs a gentle reminder and some dusting off, and things will start to flow back again.

A wise man named James Clear gives some great physics-related advice on how to stay committed to something. The whole post is well worth reading, but I simply wish to use this rule:

 

Losing momentum is the cause of so many failed hobbies, talents, dreams and projects. In trying to get any major goal accomplished, we forget that it is made of a thousand little steps. A black belt is only the sum of hundreds of classes, not a special talent. You don’t have to do amazing feats: you just have to go to class every week. Every class you can, except when you really, really can’t.

If you have a virus, stay out the dojo. If you have an exam tomorrow, then study. Big family thing? Even Chojun Miyagi believed that family comes first. But tired? Busy? But not so busy that you can watch two episodes of Game of Thrones?

Get your gi on and get thee to a dojo! 

UPDATE: Wow! Over 33,000 hits and shares! Thank you to the global karate community for sharing this! I would love to hear from you, so please do leave a comment and share your stories.

UPDATE 2: I am overwhelmed by the wide support for this article, and the patience so many have shown in translating it! If you would like to share and support these amazing martial artists, their work is below:

In German: http://sakurayama-dojo.de/time-to-make-a-comeback/

In Spanish: https://bushidojo.wordpress.com/2018/10/23/es-hora-de-volver-al-dojo-tras-un-paron/ and https://truegakusei.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/hora-de-volver-al-dojo-extraido-de-otro-blog/

In Hebrew: Returning to the Dojo Hebrew translation by Guy Goldsmith (downloadable pdf)

My Stance on UFC, MMA and Bloodsport

(No, I won’t apologise for that awful martial arts pun.)

I recently posted an article about the cost of the current MMA fight structure on the fighters. In brief, the article discusses how fights are not ended early enough in UFC bouts to prevent long-term fighter damage. It makes an incredibly compelling argument for increased responsibility on behalf of the support teams for each fighter. I shared it because I absolutely agree that it is turning into a bloodsport and bringing shame on martial arts as a whole. But perhaps I should make my response to it a bit clearer.

I know some MMA guys, just as I know competitive traditional martial artists who fight in tournaments under the karate banner. I myself have done the 100 Randori twice – 100 fights in one night, without a break. I know the siren song of the fight, of the joy of a well-fought spar, and the fear of going up against someone bigger and stronger and faster. Please believe me, I know how good it feels to fight.

But this is my main problem with EFC, UFC et al: its not about the fight so much as the blood.

The point of martial arts (in the traditional sense) is not to pick fights. It seems counter-intuitive, but its about the discipline and the knowledge. It’s about avoiding fighting, but knowing what to expect if it happens. It’s almost like buying a baseball bat to defend yourself – it’s for sport, but it can be used to hurt someone. Martial arts is a tool, and yes it can be a weapon, but most of us use it as a tool to improve ourselves. In my case, it’s for the discipline, the clarity of mind, the self-control, the strength of body and personal growth. I’ve written more here, but suffice to say, I don’t use my martial arts to go beat the crap out of people. That’s not even remotely the point of it. I’m sure that for the majority of MMA people, these things also hold true and I respect their journey as martial artists.

But then you get UFC, hosting big fights in Vegas and New York and all over the world.  These are huge drawcards, with a global federation behind them, with established guidelines and experts. The fighters earn pretty good money (some of them millions per fight), but they also look like this after fights:

photos-of-ufc-fighters-before-and-after-fights-show-how-gruesome-mma-can-be

 

There’s a remarkable collection of before and after shots of MMA fights here. It is incredibly graphic, be warned.

In tournament karate, competitors have to wear gumguards, shinguards, gloves and now headgear is becoming increasingly prominent. When I started doing martial arts, I thought those guys were being babies, but now I absolutely see the necessity of protective gear. The rules are incredibly strict about excessive force, because we would like to see people training until they are old. According this fascinating study on MMA careers, the average MMA career lasts a mere nine years. And until they get to the big leagues, these guys are fighting small fights with the same amount of injury for very little money.

I am all for the idea of testing yourself. I absolutely think that we should all do something difficult and scary and tough, whether it’s ultra-marathons or the 100 Randori or climbing Everest. But I also think that this kind of bloodsport (and essentially it is) needs to stop. I’m not calling for the end of MMA. Whatever my feelings are about it as a martial art, I would never call for the end of something that gives a lot of practitioners their bliss. But what I am calling for is a much, much stricter rein on fight conditions. If the guy’s eye is swollen shut, then stop the fight. But the fights make a lot of money just in ticket sales and they generate huge viewership on pay-per-view and cable television in the USA. Maybe we should be blaming the audiences, who will howl if a fight is stopped early. It is the same question we should be asking about rugby, boxing and American football: the cost of these sports is the player’s health and lives. There are frightening stats for these sports about concussion and trauma.  The worst part is, these adult players start getting injured for no pay at school level, and the damage is just accumulated.

As long as people are willing to watch and pay, however, we will be seeing more MMA fights with fighters being forced to stay in the ring past their quitting time. We will keep seeing young boys getting concussed at school rugby level because they all hope to don the Springbok jersey, even if only for a few years until their bodies give out.

Ultimately, the question we should be asking is: are we morally comfortable with watching people get hurt for our amusement? Personally, I don’t think we should be endorsing what’s happening in the UFC right now. It’s bad for the sport, it’s bad for martial arts and most of all, it’s bad for the fighters.