What is a Karate uniform called?

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Man in karate uniform

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For those of us who have never practiced Karate, we probably assume that the Karate uniform is also called a Gi. That would actually be incorrect, because the Karate Gi has a completely different name than a Judo/BJJ Gi.

Complete with names for each piece of the Karate Gi that have different meanings. Let’s dive and answer what a Karate uniform is called.

Going over how a Karate uniform was developed, what it symbolizes, and how it’s different from other training uniforms.  

What is a Karate uniform called? The Karate uniform is called a “karategi” of “dogi” for short. It was based off of the original Gi created by Judo founder Jigoro Kano and then adopted by Gichin Funakoshi. The karategi/dogi then became the official uniform of Karate.

How were Gis developed?

Before we get into how the Karate uniform was created, we have to go back a little further. Detailing how a Gi was first developed and why?

The original training uniform was called a “keikogi” and it was created by Judo founder Jigoro Kano. Martial arts historians speculate that Kano created the keikogi based off of heavy hemp jackets worn by Japanese firemen.

Kano saw that these heavy hemp jackets were perfect for Judo and training and developing a variation for Judo. After Kano created the Gi, other martial artists would be inspired to make their own versions for their martial art.

How was the Karate uniform developed?

After Jigoro Kano created the original k it would inspire his friend and training partner Gichin Funakoshi. The founder of Shotokan Karate and considered by many as one of the founding fathers of modern Karate.

Funakoshi saw that his friend Kano’s training uniform would be perfect to use for the martial art he was developing. The keikogi or dogi as it would be called within Karate would become the official training uniform of the martial art.

Grandmaster Funakoshi would even keep wearing the traditional Judoka keikogi after the Karate k was created.

Why did Funakoshi adopt keikogi into Karate?

Gichin Funakoshi adopted the Gi uniform into Karate for two different reasons. The obvious reason is for the durability and functionality of the clothing, but there was another important reason.

Before Karate adopted the Gi into its martial art, Karate would be practiced in normal street clothes in Okinawa. During this time, there was heavy social tension between Okinawans and those from mainland Japan.

Mainlanders saw Karate as uncivilized and akin to samurai culture. To make Karate more marketable, Funakoshi saw that an official uniform needed to be established for the martial art.

By adding an official training uniform, Karate would look more formal and become more marketable to introduce to mainland Japan.

Karate makes alterations to the keikogi

While the original keikogi was perfect for the art of Judo, it wasn’t the best choice for use with Karate. The original keikogi was specifically designed for grappling within Judo and was really heavy and range of motion was limited.  

This posed a problem for Karate practitioners as they needed a uniform that didn’t restrict their movement. That is how the alterations began to be made to create the Karate uniform as we know it today.

Less material began to be used to make the jacket and pants to make them lighter for Karate practitioners. The sleeves were also cut a bit shorter past the elbow to allow full range for practicing hand strikes.

After making alterations, the “karategi” was created and has been the official uniform for Karate for the last century.

What does a Karate uniform consist of?

The Karate uniform or karategi consists of 3 separate pieces of clothing. Their are:

  • Uwagi: The upper robe/kimono part of the karategi.
  • Shitabaki/Zubon: The Karate pants.
  • Obi: The Karate belt used to close the Uwagi.

The deeper meaning behind the Karate uniform

In Japanese, the word keikogi is actually two different words combined. Keiko translates to practice and Gi directly translates to clothes or clothing.

Also the do in Karate-Do translates to the way. That means that you can call a Karate uniform either the cloth of the way or the cloth of practice. 

Types of Karate Uniforms

Since there are different styles of Karate practiced, that also means that there are different types of Karate uniforms worn. Here are some of the types of Karate uniforms worn by karatekas.

The Japanese Cut

The Japanese cut style of Karate uniform is the more traditional of the three types of uniforms worn. This style of Karate uniform is the one most recognizable with its short sleeves and pants sleeves. It also gives less restriction to the practitioner along with a longer lapel that won’t ride up over the obi(belt).

The European Cut

The European cut of Karate uniform is one worn more for an aesthetic appeal rather than a practical one. It has longer sleeves and pant sleeves with a shorter lapel than  the Japanese style Karate uniform.

The Kata Cut

The Kata cut Karate uniform is the type of uniform that is worn less often than the other types of uniforms. Like the European cut it is worn for aesthetic appeal and has even shorter sleeves than the Japanese cut. You will only see top level Kata performers wearing a Kata cut style of Karate uniform. 

What material is used for modern Karate uniforms? 

Most modern Karate uniforms are generally made from two types of material, but are made of various types. Here are some of the types of materials used to make Karate uniforms.

Cotton & Cotton/Poly Blend.

For the longest time, most all types of Karate uniforms were made of 100% cotton. Now that cheaper and more durable materials are being made, cotton blended materials are being used to make Karate uniforms.

These types of uniforms made of cotton and polyester are a cheaper option, while still being fairly durable. This is why the majority of Karate schools use this type of materials

Canvas

Types of light canvas are another material that is commonly used to make Karate uniforms. The positive of this type of material is that it is durable, while allowing for good ventilation for the wearer.

Hemp

Hemp was actually one of the first materials used to make Karate uniforms along with Judo uniforms. Although Karate uniforms generally are not made from hemp anymore. The only time you really see hemp material used in martial arts uniforms anymore are  with some BJJ Gis.

What colors do Karate uniforms come in?

Initially, Karate uniforms only came in white or a yellowish white that Okinawan Karate practitioners were known for wearing. Later on black uniforms were introduced, but they were generally for upper belts and then blue uniforms. Today, Karate uniforms come in a variety of different colors. 

What other martial arts use Gis

Aside from Karate, there are various other martial arts that use various versions of a training Gi. Here are some of them and the name they use for their style of Gi.

  • Judo: The uniform used in Judo is called a Judogi 
  • BJJ: In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the uniform worn is called a BJJ GI or kimono.
  • Aikido: Like in Judo, Aikido just mixes the word Aikido together with GI for their uniform name. 
  • Sambo. In Sambo, they call their  Gi jacket a Sambovka or Sambo Kurtka.
  • Taekwondo: The Taekwondo uniform is called a dobok. 
  • Kendo: A Kendo uniform is referred to as a Kendogi

Wrap up

The Karate uniform, karateki, dogi, or whatever you want to call it is more than just Karate training clothes. This uniform is a representative of the martial art and anyone that puts on the dogi must wear it with pride. Just like with BJJ or any other martial art that you may participate in.

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