Most sports have an outfit or a uniform that athletes wear when they are participating, and the same goes for karate. In karate, the uniform is worn to put all karatekas (practitioners of karate) on an even playing field. It brings with it the concept that everyone is the same, with the only distinguishing feature being the karate belt, which separates skill level.
What is the karate outfit called and what is its history? Let’s break it down.
What is the Karate Suit Called?
What are karate uniforms called? The official karate outfit name is the karategi, or gi (pronounced gee). You may also read that the full name of the gi is either the keikogi or the dogi. Which means cloth of practice and the cloth of the way respectively. However, in modern-day, we refer to the karate uniform as karategi, and a judo uniform as judogi, etc.
The origin of the gi is steeped in Japanese history and is worn with much respect. The gi is made from breathable and lightweight cotton, making it easy for karatekas to move around.
The gi is usually white in color, although you may sometimes see blue and black as well.
Parts of the Karate GI
While the karategi may look like a one-piece, it is in fact made up of a jacket (UWAGI), pants (zubon), and a belt (obi). Some karatekas wear something very lightweight under the jacket, but most do not wear anything.
Parts of the UWAGI
The uwagi resembles a short robe and is worn with the left side crossed over the right, then fastened with the obi. We say it resembles a robe because it’s very free-flowing and oversized, because it is meant to be loose so the karateka can move freely.
The karate outfit name isn’t all you have to learn because there are also terms for the different parts of the uwagi. First, there is the sode, which is the sleeve, then the sodeguchi, which are the sleeve cuffs, the waki, the area that covers the armpit of the karateka, and the migoro, which is the largest torso section. Lastly, there is the eru, which is the jacket lapels.
Parts of the Zubon
The zubon are the karate pants, or trousers that have an elasticized waist for comfort. But you may find ones with the traditional drawstring design. It should be floor-length and is also wide-legged and loose for ease of movement. The different parts of the zubon include the uesuto, which is the waist section of the zubon either elasticized or fastened with a drawstring.
The mata is the area of the zubon around the groin area, the himo are the drawstrings that tighten up the pants (if you have them), the hiza is the patch above the knee, the sune is the area that covers the shins, and lastly, you have the cuffs, which are called suso.
The obi, or the belt, is what fastens the jacket of the karate gi closed. It is a very important piece of the uniform because it differentiates skill level. White, is the most basic beginner because the color symbolizes purity and new beginnings. After years of practice, karatekas can make it to the black belt, which is the ultimate achievement in karate.
There are about 8 belt levels in total and each one can take anywhere from a few months to over a year.
How to Maintain Your Karate Gi
White is a color that dirties easily, but karatekas should take the utmost care of their uniform as a show of respect to the karate tradition. Luckily, karate is an indoor sport so the most you will get on it may be some dust and dirt from the dojo mats.
The way you present yourself shows inner discipline and how much you value the sport. Karate training is more than the movements and techniques, it’s also about inner growth. We have some tips for keeping your gi karate spic and span.
Always Clean Your Gi Immediately
As with anything white, you don’t want dirt and grime to set into the fabric because it will be very difficult to get out. We would suggest washing your gi after every practice. If necessary, keep a few gis on rotation so you always have something clean to wear to class.
Washing your gi right after class is beneficial for another reason – the odor. Sometimes karate training can get very hectic and fast-paced, and this equals sweating. You do not want the pungent sweat odors to set in because they can also be very difficult to get rid of.
We also suggest taking the gi out of the wash right away when the load is done because leaving it bunched up can cause the moisture to build up and create a musty odor.
Dry it Completely Before Wearing
The other tip we have is to dry your gi completely and as soon as possible after the wash. We suggest letting the gi air dry in a place where there is some sunlight as it can kill bacteria. You can also toss it in the dryer, but make sure to set the machine on the low setting to avoid shrinking your gi.
Don’t Forget about the Belt
Remember that the karategi consists of three pieces, so don’t forget to wash your belt! If you have a white belt, then it’s perfectly okay to wash it together with the rest of your uniform. However, karate practitioners all want to advance past the beginning stage to the subsequent colors.
Once your belt has a color, you need to wash it separately to avoid the color bleeding into the gi. The last thing you want is to be a red belt and come to karate practice with a pink gi.
Unlike the uwagi and the zubon, the obi is less likely to absorb sweat and retain odor. We don’t suggest washing your belt too much for this reason because it could lead to fading as well. Remember, you want to always look presentable.
What to Avoid When Washing Your Gi
There are a few other tips to avoid when you’re washing your uniform.
- Avoid Washing your Gi with Colored Clothing
You may have removed your belt, but washing the rest of your gi with colored clothing may still lead to color fading and bleeding.
- Wash in Cold Water
Washing your gi in cold water reduces the chances of shrinking and color fading overall.
- No Bleach – Unless you Know How
Bleach can actually leave yellow splotches on white clothing if it’s not used correctly. If you use too much, it could leave the fabric very stiff and uncomfortable and decrease the lifespan of the material.
How to Properly Store Your Karate Gi
Not only should your gi be properly washed after every practice. But you should also store it correctly to maintain its crisp and clean appearance and to prevent wrinkles.
How to Fold Your Gi
- Lay your uwagi out on a flat surface with the front side facing up. Set it down in an open arm position with the left and right side of the jacket laying on top of each other.
- Next, take one sleeve at a time and fold it neatly across the torso one on top of each other
- Then fold a quarter of either side of the torso into the center
- The last step is to take the cuff of the jacket (about a quarter) and fold it up twice over the sleeves.
The steps to fold the zubon are very simple:
- Lay your zubon flat on the floor
- Fold the zubon in half taking one pant leg and folding it onto the other
- Fold it in half from the top down, then do it once again so it’s a perfect square
When it’s done, place the uwagi on top of the zubon, and roll up your belt to place it in the center and you’re done!
Karate is an art, but so is maintaining and taking care of your gi, a symbol of Japanese tradition. There are various names for the gi, but it is commonly referred to as the karategi. The uniform consists of white pants (zubon) and a white jacket (uwagi) that is fastened with a belt that changes color as the karateka advances in level and perfects his or her skills in the martial art.