The following editorial was submitted by George Kibry. It was originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of his monthly newsletter, Kokoro.
I frequently get questions from students about their jujitsu uniforms. Sometimes I can give them accurate factual answers. However, sometimes answers are based upon historical lore rather than facts. Sometimes the answers are even based on simple logic. So, I thought I’d put all this ancient martial arts wisdom out there to share the wealth.
The “ancient wisdom” as to why a new student starts out with an unbleached gi is because when a new student starts to learn a martial art their thoughts & ideals are not pure. The color white indicates purity. So, as a student in the martial arts continues his study of the art and he becomes a better and purer person, his gi becomes whiter and whiter reflecting his becoming a better and purer person.
The reality is that the more unbleached cotton is washed the whiter it becomes as the original color of the cotton is washed out.
This is an almost opposite line of thinking about where the black belt comes from according to “ancient wisdom.” A person starts out as a white belt. The more he practices and works out the dirtier [darker] his belt becomes, eventually, after many years, becoming “black” to represent his
experience in the art.
Why isn’t the belt ever washed? Because if you wash a belt, you wash away your “knowledge and experience.”
As long as we’ve sidetracked onto the issue of belts, if your belt is not tied around your gi in a formal knot [when you’re not wearing it], is your belt folded on itself two times and then tied in a single knot? If not, then the “knowledge” of your belt will escape. The single knot keeps the knowledge from escaping.
A bit more belt lore: The knot used by my sensei and by Budoshin Ju-Jitsu is known as the “death knot” [tied so it looks like an arrow pointing to the wearer’s right]. Seki never gave it that name nor did I. However, after visiting other dojo and other ryu many years ago, I got questions
from many sensei asking why we wore the “death knot?” The only response I could give was that if you were a true martial artist [or warrior] you had to commit yourself to defending yourself or whatever you were doing without hesitation because hesitation could be “fatal” to your success. [There are plenty of writings by Musashi, Sun-Tzu, and other oriental thinkers/samurai that serve as a source for this necessity of commitment.]
On to the black pants: Seki’s uniform standard, which I have continued to uphold, is that sankyu and higher grades in ju-jitsu shall wear black pants. So, the rationale for this is “tradition.” Whose? I don’t know. However, in some martial arts communities, the wearing of the white top and black pants can be compared to the concept of opposites and opposites flowing into each other portrayed in the yin-yang symbol. Although this is entirely conjecture, maybe part of Seki’s [or his predecessor’s] thinking was that a jujitsuka [or martial artist or samurai] had the power over life or death over himself and his opponent[s] and the martial arts uniform should represent such. Or maybe it was just to easily identify the more experienced jujitsuka from the less experienced. However, in Seki’s jujitsu and Budoshin Jujitsu it is generally recognized that students sankyu on up are generally competent enough to effectively defend themselves in a street situation and maybe that’s the symbolism of the black pants as well.
One last tidbit [that I’m not even sure of] is the reason the left flap goes over the right flap of your gi top. Gi tops were designed that way probably because most people are right-handed [about 87% of the population]. It was easier for right-handed warriors to obtain items secured inside their gi top this way. Left-handed warriors simply had to “adjust;” something I find offensive, as I’m left-handed. The other reason for left over right was that once you died [and
hopefully went to the great tatami up in the sky], your gi was dressed on you with the right flap over the left.
Maybe I’ll deal with the hakama in the next issue as I’m now out of space…