Some groups feel pretty strongly about dress. I used to be in that category. Over the last fifteen years or so I have found myself training outside in my garden, in the courtyards of Washington University. or in parks more often than in proper dojo. There have been stints where this has not been true, but taken in total I think this is an accurate statement.

It is not easy to get grass stains out of a karate gi and they are not cheap. We like to throw each other in TKRI. We like to use strikes to unbalance our partners, we like to grab most any bits of cloth or flesh that happen to be within grabbing range (we are a close group), and it is not uncommon for us to go to the ground when the spirit moves us. Add to this a fair amount of falling practice, some sit ups, push ups, and who knows what else, and you have got gi hell.

It took about a decade (some of us in the karate world are evidently a bit slow) for me to discover that it was not necessary to always wear a gi when training. I found I liked it. There are a lot of advantages to training in shorts, with or without a tee-shirt. Seizing feels much different without the thick cloth of a gi’s sleeves. The sleeves both absorb sweat which makes grabbing much easier, and the material is itself easy to grab.

It is not that unusual, in our Saint Louis club, for our male students to train without a gi top or a tee-shirt, sometimes our female students will wear a sports top. This immediately reveals postural, balance, and technical problems. In yakusoku kumite it allows for much more precise targeting.

Some people may counter that a gi mimics the vulnerabilities one should be aware of when wearing everyday attire. Coats, shirts, jackets, and ties are all easily grabbed more easily than bare flesh and change the nature of many attacks. This is true of course, and I am not advocating the abandonment of the use of the gi altogether, however I have found that old coats, shirts, jackets, and even ties are also effective stand ins for coats, shirts, jackets and ties if one is interested in approximating real world encounters (the similarities truly are striking).

TKRI has several important events every year around which our schedules revolve. Both the Virginia and Missouri branches have special training to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The clubs collaborate on the demonstrations at the annual Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical Gardens held over Labor Day weekend every year. The Ferrum Virginia clubs host a weekend long summer camp towards the end of June or the beginning of July every year. Each club tries to host at least one major event over the course of the regular school year. These are all big productions. We often have guests. During these sorts of activities we wear our gi (to be truthful the Ferrum group usually trains in gi) and try to make ourselves presentable.

I spend a lot less money on gis now. It is a big help. I do not want to even imagine how much I have spent over the years on karate. I am more prone to wear my gi at the beginning of a semester when we are trying to bring the group together. Mostly my gi functions sort of like formal wear (with sweat stains).

I tell my students all of the normal stuff about appropriate dress for special occasions and visiting other clubs ; wear all white traditional gi without patches and do not wear jewelry on the training floor. I tell them that regardless of their rank in our club they should be prepared to wear a white belt when they visit any other club (unless invited to do otherwise by the host).

We may get the odd student who does not have the sense not to wear “ninja” gear or tee-shirts proclaiming themselves to be a sensei, master, shihan, grandmaster, soke, or my favorite; ni dai soke, but we nick that in the bud pretty quickly. In fact there is nothing quite like working with a bunch of sweaty, grass stained, very fit, slightly bedraggled looking people who are more interested in how to knock one another down on their butts then they are in ranks, certificates, and titles, to take the piss out of any self proclaimed expert.

Admittedly about half way through the summer the group, when we are hot, muddy, grass stained and bug bitten looks a bit like Captain Jack Sparrow’s crew. I like it though (arrrrrgh).