Hakama Mattatahs – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

Can I say that without getting sued by Dizzney?

Got a sort of request blog this morning, and why not, it’s Sunday and the three day Christmas visit season is about to start. Well that’s tomorrow, today I’m heading for the shop because it’s warmish and I’m tired of sewing. I’m sure there are folks out there better read on this subject than I with my 30 year old memories of afternoons in the Uni library so don’t be shy to correct or add, folks.

Here we go: “If so moved and if you know, could you write a blog about the elevation of the hakkama in some aikido circles; you know: the folks tripping over themselves to fold sensei’s hakkama, and the reservation of hakkama wearing to late kyu or first dan ranks. I’ve wondered how a common garment became an aikido “thing.””

Not just an Aikido thing, the hakama is standard wear for the sword arts. Apparently it started out as “chaps” for the samurai horsemen, the split hakama was to protect the legs while riding. There was a skirt type as well, no split, which would make it more or less like a sarong or a kilt. Comfy, easy to move in, nice breeze for the summer. There were, I believe, nobakama (field hakama) which were what I call “flood hakama” for those beginners who wind up with one half way to their knees. Keep the material out of the mud, basically. There was a court hakama which had really long legs that you had to walk on, that was to keep you from jumping around and attacking the big guy or each other.

This sort of dress, the hakama, hung around during and after the Edo period as formal wear but also in the budo schools, simply because “it’s what we wear”.

Now, in the jujutsu schools one could see that it might be a hindrance, especially if you do a lot of ground work, so maybe you strip to the underwear (the “gi pants”). But I don’t know if I buy that one. Traditional jujutsu seems pretty decisive, one throw, one pin, and not a lot of grinding around on the ground as per wrestling. Wrestling didn’t seem to be much of a Japanese thing, although obviously it existed, it came into Judo.

As far as the sword arts are concerned, you either wear a hakama or you use a slung sword (tachi style) and straps from a belt. The WWII sword belt was the most recent example of that. Look for Toyama Ryu photos to see that. For “traditional”, through the obi, arts you really need the extra straps of the hakama to keep the sword from wobbling around.

OK so that’s why it’s still around I guess. What about this jumping up to fold it for sensei? Easily explained, it’s jumping up to fold it for sensei. I mean what else? The meaning of it is that you’re doing stuff for your senior. Last guy onto the fishing boat cleans the toilet. Junior sumo guys tag along to the bathroom, hell I’ve known lots of Japanese sensei who tag along to the bathroom for older, more senior sensei to hand them a towel. In the early days of the May seminar we saw a lot of this sort of thing, but as the generations have changed the sensei tend to be folding their own hakama, or changing in their rooms.

You want a non-heirarchy sort of reason to fold your sensei’s hakama? Dirty change room floors. You go into the change room, get your hakama off, dress, grab sensei’s hakama and go back out to the dojo floor to fold them both.

In Sei Do Kai we developed another way, the “tuck it under your chin and keep it off the floor” method that you might see some of our students use. I always do. Don’t use it, it’s not traditional, we get told off regularly for doing it. Honestly though, to me it makes more sense than folding your chaps on the mud beside the horses.

Now, what about this Aikido thing with the kyu wearing their underwear and the yudansha in the skirts? You can find some excellent history on the Aikido Faq, some interviews from students of Ueshiba sensei who state quite clearly that O-sensei wanted everyone in hakama from the beginning. He didn’t want to see people practicing in their underwear. Now, just after the war there was a shortage of fabric and grandpa-hakamas so at some point it was suggested that students be allowed to practice for a while without hakama until they could get one.

You can see how fast that would get from a practical thing into a rank and priviledge thing. It’s just a uniform, no more or no less important than any other uniform. Why do people make such a fuss you might say? Hah, you really have to ask? In the last iaido seminar and grading here in Canada apparently the seniors had to have their normal outfit, a montsuki, and a suit. You might detect that I don’t agree with that sort of “excess baggage” fee for the plane trip to a volunteer event. We have a policy of “wear your training outfit to sit on the grading panel” since 1. extra suits and outfits cost more to fly with, and 2. we tend to train right up to the grading and taking time to change outfits means extra costs for the training hall.

(OK also I sell uniforms and I’ve always considered it sort of a conflict of interest to demand more than the minimum of equipment.)

Colours. For jodo you have blue and blue, black and black or white and white and you’ve got kendo gi with your hakama. (Don’t see a lot of black kendo gi so blue is pretty much the standard). This is practical since we get hit on that uniform and a kendo gi is better protection from abrasion than a single-layer cotton twill. For iaido you have the same colour combinations plus a juban under the uwagi just to make it even more likely that you get dinged for a uniform violation. Hey, you gotta fail people for “something”. The colours in Aikido are almost universally white and black, white top, black hakama. I very much suspect this developed because of white training gi with a black hakama added later.

In my particular aikido line it was hakama for yudansha when I started, but then the women argued that they should be able to wear hakama at 3kyu. This was not for “modesty”, well sort of, it was for the potential of bleeding onto a white uniform. Now why not wear it right from the start? I dunno. I wasn’t involved in the discussion, just a scummy 5 or 4kyu at the time I suspect.

Why keep this separation for yudansha and kyu now? I can think of a couple of reasons, first, hakama aren’t cheap, why would you demand people spend even more to start a hobby than they have to. Second, people aren’t used to walking around in floor length skirts, when you’re having trouble figuring out which foot goes where, you don’t want to be stepping on your pantlegs, so give the kids a break and let them wear their underwear.

It’s always a hoot to watch the new shodans trip over their hakama when they first put them on. It’s good for them, keeps them from getting swelled heads.

But if I was teaching Aikido seriously these days I might be tempted to say “wear it whenever you want, but you must wear it at shodan and beyond”. This would remove the hoity-toity attitude to a “piece of tat” as one friend said years ago. When I started Iaido and put that hakama on, years before I wore one for Aikido, it lost all mystique and just became part of the training gear. That’s what it ought to be.

Same as a sword, I’ve never figured out the fascination with “stuff” people develop. “What’s the fittings on your sword?” I once got asked. I had to go and look at them, and even then I didn’t know what they were, some sort of fish I think. Why would I know what fittings are under my hilt wrap? Seriously.

Which is why you might here me say, in class, OK beginners go stand between two skirts and skirts, one step forward! There you go, classism right there, and the beginners are now saying “I want a skirt too”.

And why not?

Kim Taylor
Dec 23, 2018


April 6, Seito Bugei Juku seminar in Peterborough.

May 17-20 Annual CKF International Jodo and Iaido seminar and grading, (Kurogo sensei and Mansfield sensei) Guelph.

November 8-10 Annual CKF International Jodo seminar and grading (Kurogo sensei), Mississauga (Port Credit).

iaito, bokuto, bokken, jo, shinken, karate and judo uniforms, books, videos and other…

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