Judo Gi

In 1998 my son Nathan wrote this heartfelt sonnet to his first Judo gi. My friend and mentor 2x Black Belt Hall of Fame member, Hayward Nishioka liked it so much he sent it to the editor, who published it!

Judo Poem

Above: The sonnet published in Black Belt Magazine, Copyright 1998. Keep reading for more!


More about the Judo Gi

Jigoro Kano Judo

The judo gi of Jigoro Kano that is displayed in the Kodokan's Judo Museum and Library.

It was actually Jigoro Kano who invented the judo gi which led to the development of the multi-billion dollar martial arts supply industry. The judo gi or the kimono used in practice by definition in Japanese means literally thing to wear. Outside of Japan that expression means generally a wide range of parts and that together form a visual considered typical or traditional Japanese, but it is also synonymous with the main piece.

In Japan, the centerpiece of the kimono is called kosode. The kimonos, as we know it today, emerged during the Heian period (794-1192). Since the Nara period (710-794), until then, the Japanese used basically sets to separate the pieces of the top and bottom (pants or skirts), Or unique pieces.

But in the Heian period, a new technique of tailoring of kimono was developed. Known as the method of cutting in a straight line, involved the cut pieces of fabric in straight lines and the stitching on a unique piece. With this technique, the manufacturers of kimono didn't have to worry about the shape of the body of the different users.

The method of cutting in a straight line offered many benefits to kimonos. They were easy to preach and very suitable for any temperature: could be used in layers to keep warm in winter, and could be made in lightweight fabrics, becoming comfortable for the summer.

Over time the Japanese began to pay attention in how kimonos of different colors would represent one's political class.

During the Kamakura period (1192-1338) and Muromachi (1338-1573), both men and women used kimonos brilliantly colored. The warriors dressed in colors representing their leaders and, sometimes the field of battle was so ostentatious it looked like a fashion show.

During the Edo period (1600-1868), the clan of the warrior Tokugawa reigned in Japan. The samurai of each area were identified by the colors and models of their uniforms that consisted of: a kimono without sleeves known as kamishimo, and a hakama, a pair of pants resembling a divided skirt.

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan was heavily influenced by foreign cultures. The government encouraged people to adopt the habits and the style of dress of the American West. The official government and the military were obliged by law to wear this style of clothing to the official functions.

Today, the Japanese wear kimonos for occasions such as weddings, funerals, ceremonial special events, such as summer festivals. The kimono that is used for the practice of martial arts in Japanese is called dogi which means dress used in the path or way chosen. This is why the majority of the martial arts has its kimonos with gi at the end such as judo gi, karate gi, aikido gi. Loosely translated, would be uniform used for the practice of the smooth or gentle way.

The use of the kimono for judo today are made specifically for this practice. These judo gis are tested and approved by the International Judo Federation (IJF). The types of fabrics and materials used to make the judo gi are mainly cotton, some polyester, different types of tarp, and or microfiber.

Four pieces form the judo gi: uwagui wagui or coat or jacket, shitabaki pants, obi belt and last the zori Japanese sandals or slippers which is of extreme importance to the judoka judo practitioner. This is because it is also the responsibility of the judoka to maintain the hygiene of the tatami mats and not come on them with the dirty feet.

The judo gi is considered sacred to the judoka. As such it was their responsibility to keep it clean with regular washings between practice. However, since the obi belt was worn around the hara stomach it was never washed. The Japanese believe one's soul is found in this area and the superstition is that washing your obi could result in washing away the knowledge gained through the hard work in the dojo!

Thus as the belts got dirty and worn prior to the invention of judo they blackened which was also a sign of experience. Jigoro Kano realizing this, decided that the black belt would be the highest rank. He added the optional colors of red & white as well as solid red to indicate a high level sensei, analogous to a PhD.

Nathan Goltz Judo

My son Nathan's original war-torn black belt which he still proudly wears!

Today, the top leading companies of global judo apparel market are Adidas, Mizuno, FUJI Sports, and KuSakura. Regardless of which brand the judoka chooses, their first judo gi will always remain deep in their heart as it did to my son Nathan, when he wrote his heartfelt sonnet.

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Judo
Saddleburn

Two-Time Black Belt Hall of Famer Hayward Nishioka has been campaigning for judo in the United States to harvest more shodans (1st degree black belts) Shodan literally means student. It's analogous to being a freshman in college. It's not the end but the beginning according to Jigoro Kano, the Founder of Judo.

A very dear friend and sensei of mine the late Allen Johnson, may he rest in peace made a home at Emerald City Judo. In Redmond, Washington.

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Jackson Rudolph
Photo Courtesy: Century Martial Arts

Sport karate has been buzzing on the Black Belt Magazine platform recently with a live stream from the Pan American Internationals, a world tour event of the North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA), reaching over 6.3 million users on Facebook earlier this month. The millions of views and thousands of engagements show evident public appeal for the sport, but I have found that sport karate is heavily underrepresented in martial arts studios across America. Some of this is due to traditionalists who are set in their ways and never intend to accept sport karate, this article is not for those people. I believe that much of this issue is the result of martial arts instructors who have never heard of sport karate, don't think that they are capable of teaching it, or fear that tournaments could introduce a toxic environment for their students. However, I feel that the potential benefits of sport karate with regard to student retention far outweigh those concerns. I'll begin by describing these three key retention-boosting benefits, then provide some helpful resources for learning sport karate at the end of this article.

1. Meeting Student Expectations

Martial Arts Superhero

Photo Courtesy: HarperKids via Medium.com

I started my journey in martial arts, in part, because I loved the cartoon series Samurai Jack. The generation before me may have started martial arts because of The Power Rangers, and before that it was the iconic martial arts movies of the 70's and 80's. Today, many students come to martial arts schools because they see their favorite super hero kicking and punching their way to victory in a Marvel or DC Comics film.

The funneling of super hero-loving kids to martial arts studios is great for the industry, but this source of inspiration presents the challenge of new students who expect to become the next Superman or Captain America through their training. Imagine if you were the eight-year-old girl who begged mom and dad for karate lessons after watching Black Widow, then you had to spend the first three months of your training learning how to do basic blocks, stances, and stand at attention. You would probably be pretty disappointed, and would decide to go play soccer or be a cheerleader with your friends from school.

I'm not saying that those foundational skills aren't important, they are essential to basic martial arts training. My point is that supplementing traditional curriculum with sport karate skills can be a valuable tool in meeting the expectations of those students who are anticipating superhero-level training. If they are already learning stances and punches, is there any harm in adding a leaping "superman punch" with a big kiai to make them feel like they just took down a big, bad villain?

The moves commonly used in extreme martial arts routines at sport karate tournaments for performance value, like the "superman punch", are often criticized by traditionalists in the comment section who proudly proclaim that it would never work on the streets. Maybe it won't, but it just might keep students coming back into your school so that they can learn the techniques that would actually be effective.

2. Curriculum Enrichment

Black Belt

Photo Courtesy: TheMMAGuru.com

Another period in which schools often lose students is right after they get their black belt. They may stick around for a little while so that they get to wear their new belt in class for a few months, but over time many of them fade away before climbing much higher in rank. I believe that this is frequently caused by a lack of satisfactory curriculum beyond first degree black belt. I have observed many martial arts schools that have a seemingly random black belt curriculum, in which the "black belt class" really just consists of whatever the head instructor feels like teaching that day. This lack of formatted curriculum quickly becomes repetitive and it is easy to see how students inevitably get bored.

Introducing a sport karate curriculum is an excellent way to provide a diverse program beyond the rank of black belt. This can be done in a variety of ways. Maybe your traditional style doesn't feature much weapons training, which would be a perfect opportunity to bring in sport karate-based training of the bo, nunchaku, kama, or sword. What if you don't want to steer away from traditional martial arts at all? Then maybe your students can have the opportunity to learn another style of martial arts (like Tae Kwon Do black belts learning a Goju-ryu style form) to use in tournaments. If you are more willing to try the extreme aspects of sport karate, those students could take their kicking skills to a new level by learning tricking. I haven't even mentioned point fighting yet, which introduces a multitude of new techniques and strategies for students to wrap their minds around.

Regardless of which element of sport karate is selected for your school, each of those examples could provide years of additional instructional content that will keep black belts intellectually and physically engaged in their training. We are taught as martial artists to always be students, forever seeking to learn as much as we can. Give your students the opportunity to keep learning through sport karate.

3. Prolonged Goal Setting

Jackson Rudolph Chuck Norris

Photo Courtesy: UFAF

The most common reason that students stop training in martial arts is because they achieved whatever goal they set out for in the beginning. Oftentimes this is obtaining a black belt, sometimes it is meeting a weight loss goal, and other times it might be gaining a baseline knowledge of self-defense. We try to combat this with the classic adage about "pursuing the unattainable goal of perfection" or preaching the "never give up attitude", but sometimes this just gets old. Some students need a clear, well-defined goal to continue sacrificing their time and money to come to class.

Once again, sport karate can solve this problem. Although a school does not have to participate in tournaments to use sport karate in their curriculum, much of the philosophy behind the techniques is designed to make a practical movement more visually appealing or optimize it for speed in a point fighting match. Therefore, it just makes sense to compete if you are teaching sport karate. The world of competition organically introduces a near-endless list of goals that could never be obtained within the walls of a single studio. Competitors can seek to win first place in their division, become ranked by some league or region, win a grand championship, get sponsored by a national team, become a world champion, compete on television, and so much more.

The two most common anti-tournament concerns I hear from school owners are fears that losing will make their students want to quit and the fear that if another school's students win, students might leave for the school across town. As for the worries about quitting after a loss, I believe this 100% comes down to culture. If students are appropriately taught to view losing as a source of motivation to train harder and improve their skills, it is hard to imagine a circumstance in which losing a tournament makes a student quit martial arts all together. Regarding the concern about losing students to another school, I have seen this extremely rarely in my fifteen years of competing in sport karate tournaments. The only times that I have seen this occur is when there is direct mistreatment of the student by the original instructor, such as the instructor threatening the student to only train with them and not seek private lessons. If the instructor handles the student and their parents professionally, I have never seen a student change schools simply because they lost a tournament.

In addition to the goal-setting benefits of competing in tournaments, I would be remiss to not mention the importance of the social relationships built through sport karate competition. Sharing the ring with other martial artists, going to dinner with them after the event, carpooling on the way home, and so many other aspects of competition are proven to foster lifelong friendships. These friendships will keep students coming back to continue their martial arts training even when times are tough, because they know that the next tournament is when they will get to see all of their best friends again.

Helpful Resources

Sport Karate University

Photo Courtesy: Black Belt Magazine

I could list dozens of more reasons that people should start training in sport karate. I firmly believe that this sport and style of martial arts has shaped me into the man that I am today, and I wish that every martial artist could experience the same blessings that I have. From a martial arts school owner's perspective, a sport karate curriculum could be your key to meeting students' expectations early on in their training, retaining those students after they achieve their black belt, and giving each of them a multitude of goals that will keep them in the martial arts for years to come. Here are some helpful links to start sport karate training or introduce it to your school:

Sport Karate University is probably the most diverse and cost-effective training tool to get started on the forms and weapons side of sport karate. I joined Sammy Smith in this project to provide world class training on bo, nunchaku, open forms, tricking, and more for as little as $29.99 for one program.

The Flow System is a more in-depth option that is a bit pricier for martial arts schools that want to go all-in on introducing a weapons program. I started the project with a complete bo curriculum, and Mackensi Emory was recruited to include a kama program as well.

Retention Based Sparring is an excellent program that was created by Team Paul Mitchell Executive Director and successful school owner Chris Rappold to help instructors teach sparring in a way that will keep students coming back. A world champion during his competitive career, he balances teaching techniques that really work in the ring with methods that make sparring a more inviting experience.

Adrenaline Action Design is a new product founded by Maguire and Jimmy Kane that directly introduces Hollywood stunt training into a martial arts curriculum. The featured instructors include actual stunt doubles who have performed in blockbuster movies, such as Caitlin Dechelle who doubled Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman. Their Adrenaline Worldwide website also has a membership that provides a ton of content for tricking and extreme weapons training.

There are plenty of other resources for learning sport karate and bringing it into your school, but these are some programs that I have intimate knowledge of and would recommend to anyone interested in this unique aspect of martial arts. I would also highly recommend hosting seminars with world champion competitors or taking private lessons to learn specific elements of sport karate. I encourage you to contact me personally on social media for recommendations. If you have already identified a notable competitor who you would like to train with, most of us are easily accessible via social media and are happy to spread sport karate to as many people as we can.

Bruce Lee museum
cdn.i-scmp.com Dickson Lee

An immersive feature in the revamped Bruce Lee exhibition in Hong Kong.

On what would have been Bruce Lee's 81st birthday Saturday, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum unveiled a new Lee exhibit which opened to the public on Sunday. Following on the heels of the museum's previous Bruce Lee exhibition, which ran from 2013 to 2020, the new exhibit, A Man Beyond the Ordinary: Bruce Lee, is slated to run until 2026.
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