Rules Are Meant To Be Imposed, But At What Cost?

We live in a society of rules, with the regulation, application and enforcement of said rules being a dominant trait in the modern world. If you don’t believe me, just try to walk through a populated street without a facial covering right now. I, myself, have always been a firm advocate of following rules. But sometimes I can’t help but ask myself if the overall cost is worth the reward in relation to some rules and how they are imposed. If you live in the world of martial arts, the existence and in fact, necessity of these rules can be like swimming through murky waters without a flashlight.

I always refer to my karate as a “traditional” martial art. And what’s usually meant by this is that our students follow traditions and training methods that are as original to the style and methods of when karate was created as possible. When I used to train in Sensei’ dojo, everything was done pretty much on par with how the Okinawans developed it and how they still do it to this day (or at least as they were still doing it in 2001 when I was there, last). But as time has gone by, certain rules and regulations have become part of the martial arts world. I always like to say that it only takes one idiot to ruin things for others, and this is where I’m going to vent about some of those.

Setting aside for a moment that karate is a fighting art… Yes, it is… YES, IT IS!!! As much as I prefer to focus on the “art” aspect and not so much the fighting, the reality is that karate teaches you how to fight. And unlike most traditional sports where contact with another person CAN occur, karate is something where contact SHOULD occur. If you’re in my dojo, contact WILL occur. I bring this up because there seems to be a growing number of dojos that have abolished physical contact; and I don’t mean because of CoVID-19.

When I came up in the dojo, we used to have many practices that involved things that could be painful. Body conditioning, checking, semi-contact and full contact sparring… There were plenty of activities that had the potential to bruise, pull and crush muscle tissue. And we sometimes got injured, albeit lightly. But it was a common understanding that this is something involved with learning a combat art. Like Mr. Miyagi mentioned in the first Karate Kid movie, it’s difficult learning karate from a book. Training in a combat art without striking and/or being struck will leave definitive gaps in one’s ability to properly learn their respective art.

In recent years, there’s been a tapering of such practices, especially since society is quickly developing the inability to let things go and become offended and affronted by almost everything. In the final years before he closed his dojo, Sensei halted all body conditioning and sparring was a rare thing, except with other black belts. His reasoning was quite simple; when new students would get those first whacks on their forearms or legs, they’d soon quit. In my day, we toughed it through because the end result was worth the momentary pain.

But now, there a number of different reasons why dojos have reduced or eliminated contact with students except for the occasional sparring match with senior belts, which often and usually includes the dojo’s insurance policies. Yup, that’s right! Most modern karate schools have “sport insurance” where an injured practitioner can be compensated for specific things, based on the circumstances of the injury. I think that this is a fuckin’ joke as it relates to karate… I don’t understand how you can properly learn WITHOUT some form of injury. But I’m old school.

I once read the stipulations of a particular dojos insurance policy that read (and I’m paraphrasing) that the policy wouldn’t pay out if the injury was found to have been caused by an intentional strike. FOR A MARTIAL ARTS DOJO!!!! Every strike is intentional… So this policy was restrictive to the proper teaching of the school and would not even cover a martial arts-related injury. This is just one type of “modernization” that is slowly eroding the fabric of traditional martial arts, which makes me sad since I’ve spent my entire life training in one.

An easy comparison is to look at it this way: If you join a knitting circle, you don’t expect to get a black eye. It wouldn’t make sense, as it has nothing to do with the skills you’re practicing and using. But if you join a FIGHTING ART, the safe assumption is that you’ll be getting struck at some point. Imagine someone going into boxing with the expectation that they’ll never get hit? Same kind of dynamic. The problem is that some person at some point, made a big stink after getting struck/injured while training and it caused a shit storm from the insurance and/or liability standpoint and many modern dojos have had to adapt.

As I mentioned earlier, this kind of adapting or “modernization” is slowly killing traditional martial arts. And if it continues in this direction, “contactless” dojos may become the standard as opposed to the exception. If that happens, most arts that have seen their teachings watered down in recent decades will suffer even further. And this is one of the reasons why I’ve opted not to bother opening my own dojo where I am. I would never allow myself to teach karate in any other way than how it was meant to: unfiltered and unabridged. The last thing I would need is some snowflake suing me or my dojo because they couldn’t take a hit… ☯

Oh, There’s An App For That…

I know that I’m usually the first to rag on people’s addiction to technology and their smart devices. That being said, I also acknowledge that my health wouldn’t be what it is today, if not for advancements in the technology that make things like my insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor possible. So, I’m also the first one to swallow my words when technology works in my favour. Maybe that sounds like a double standard, but what are you gonna do? It’s my blog! Moving on… Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis is also aware that I’m a big fan of fitness, exercise and maintaining one’s health. And these are all things that can work great in tandem with said technology.

It seems not a week goes by without hearing someone say “Oh, there’s an app for that…” And that’s usually pretty accurate. From finance to planing and organizing, dieting to social media, smart devices have pretty much opened the spigot on the market for programmers to put out an app for just about everything under the sun. This includes health & fitness. Now, I’m usually one to endorse working out and maintaining one’s health ‘au natural,” if you will. This means that I have no issues working up a solid sweat by using a small square of floor space and using nothing but my own body weight in order to work up a solid sweat.

All this being said, I’ve also gotten into the routine of enjoying a number of different apps on my phone, which I use to track fitness and health habits in my daily life. Most of you know this already, as I use one particular app to prominently track my walking, running and cycling workouts. And since I’ve always used an iPhone, these apps will be ones that are available through iTunes and the App Store. I can’t speak to what equivalents may be available for Android users. But without further ado, here are my top five apps that I use to help improve my health & fitness habits:

  • LibreLink: Of course, I have to include something directly related to Diabetes, here. This is a free app that works in conjunction with the FreeStyle Libre, which as my Endocrinologist puts it is the “poor man’s CGM.” The FreeStyle Libre works by being injected into the tricep and held in place by an adhesive and can be read by specialized software. If you’re old school and don’t have access to a smart phone, you can purchase the Librelink Reader for roughly $50 (depending on the pharmacy you shop at) but you can definitely save the cost by using the app. Simply hold the phone up to the Freestyle Libre and it will read your sensor glucose, same as a CGM would. The app is fantastic as it allows you to input your age, weight and a bunch of other stats and will show you trends, graphs and even has an A1C calculator based on the readings held in its memory;
  • Noisli: If you have a whole bunch of brain-burning acronyms attached to your name like I do, sleep can be a fleeting thing. And even more fleeting when Diabetes issues keep you up as well. It can be difficult to find something to help you sleep that doesn’t involve medication or gets drunk. That’s where Noisli comes in. This is a free “white noise” app that allows you to use and customize a wide variety of sounds to help you drift off to la-la land. Sounds include rain, thunder, wind, rustling trees, leaves, trickling and dripping water (those ones would make me need a diaper overnight), crackling fire and even some more eclectic sounds like the background of a coffee shop and a train clacking on railroad tracks. The aspect I enjoy most is having access to white, pink and brown noise, which are all varieties of a static-like sound that are designed to help calm your mind and help you drift off. I actually did a full post on white noise, which you can read here. My favourite aspect of this app is that you can combine any combination of those sounds and even save them as specific profiles so that they’re available the next time you open the app, without having to combine them all together every time;
  • My Water Balance: If you guys aren’t tired of hearing me say how important it is to stay hydrated, you haven’t been paying attention! This app is a fun little program that allows you to set goals and track your daily intake of fluids. You can input your weight and hydration goals and the tracker will keep a tally of how much you’ve drank throughout the day. You can download the free version, which tracks the basics like water, coffee, tea and a few others. I’ve paid the small amount to download the full version, which has a batch of additional options and lets you track just about every type of beverage including, ahem… wine and beer! The app suggests how much you should be drinking based on your age and weight, but you can also set your own goal. The only downside is you have to manually enter the amount of fluids you drink, which can be problematic if you’re using a glass at home and don’t know how much it holds;
  • Seconds Pro: This app is actually called “Seconds,” but I forked over the added money to get the Pro version. This app features an interval timer that you can program yourself. in other words, you can develop your own circuit timers using your own, chosen exercises. Not only does it let you customize your workout, it also connects to your device’s music library, meaning you can link your favourite workout playlist and have it play in conjunction to the circuit you’re doing. Now, paying for the Pro version does have it’s share of increased features and functions, including different TYPES of circuits and certain tracking features. I purchased a Lightning to HDMI cable and I used to run this app directly to the large, flat screen available at one of my postings. It was incredibly handy to help keep my workouts on point. But the last benefit I’ll mention, is that the app’s voice over means you don’t require a screen. The app will tell you when a timer count is ending, what exercise you’re on and when the workout is done. Think Siri, but for fitness; and
  • Runkeeper App: This one was saved for last because it’s my overlord of fitness… I use it to track everything else. This app has features that allow you to enter your age, weight, height, fitness goals and what units of measurement you want to use for everything (metric or imperial, etc…) Then, you can use the GPS function to track your distance, speed, mileage and calories burned for trackable activities such as walking, running and cycling. It also allows you to manually log other activities, such as swimming, elliptical and even yoga and meditation (yes, meditating burns calories. Read about it here). The basic app is free and you can join fitness competitions, add “friends” through your contacts or Facebook (provided they’re also using the app). I use it to log ALL my activities including weight workouts and karate sessions. There’s a paid or “Pro” version you can sign up for, but it comes in pretty costly at $13.99/month, which may be cheaper than a public gym membership but more than a person is willing to pay on an app. I’ve been using the basic version since 2017, and it’s suited my purposes quite well. In fact, if you’ve read any of my posts on my cycling goals, the images that I feature are usually screenshots from this app.

There you have it, folks! My top five apps that I use for health and fitness. This is the part where I point out that I am in no way being compensated for speaking about these apps, nor do I endorse them specifically above any others that you may have tried/like. In fact, I’ve tried a score of others. Some have been as simple as a library of different exercises. Some have been so over-the-top complicated that I removed them from my device within the first week. The important thing is to find some helpful apps that work for you and your lifestyle.

I don’t endorse technology all that often, so mark this day on your calendars! Actually, besides the technology used for my pump and Diabetic supplies, I usually don’t endorse technology at all, haha. But since society as a whole is normally tethered to their smart devices, it only makes sense to use them to benefit our health & fitness. I find that all of these apps are somewhat subjective to the user. I think the five I’ve listed are fantastic and even if I’ve removed some of them on occasion, I always seem to come back to them. There’s plenty of good, free apps out there so don’t be afraid to install a few and try them. Worse that happens is you don’t like them and remove them. ☯

Time To KID Around, Part 1 (The Martial Arts Aspect)

Children can be a wonderful addition to the household and they certainly add a touch of colourful chaos to the overall home dynamic, which is well-demonstrated by my son Nathan’s usual behavioural issues. Today is the first of a 3-part post on children as they relate to the three big pieces of my life: martial arts, Buddhism and Diabetes. As a general rule, I’ve never been a fan of trying to force or coerce children into the martial arts, usually preferring to train kids that actually WANT to be there. But when it comes to those first few, formative years when kids don’t really understand the difference, the best one can usually hope for is to show them little pieces, bit by bit, and hope that they’ll have an active interest. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

When Nathan was a toddler and started scooting around under his own steam, he started imitating the karate movements he’d see me practicing, and started to wrestle and smack me when we’d play on the floor. As some time elapsed, we started to broach the subject of self-control and trying to differentiate the difference between play fighting and harming someone. Not an easy task, when it involves a small child. But critically important towards making the child understand that this self- control is important towards ensuring they don’t grow up to be a bully.

Nathan and I in 2017

One of the more fun aspects has been sparring. Nathan loves to roughhouse and will often try to jump me as soon as I come down to his height, even when we may be doing something completely unrelated to martial arts. It’s a nasty habit I’ve been trying to break in him, but lately he’s been enjoying putting on the gloves and practicing some techniques with me. The photo above shows some playing around that we had started doing a few years ago.

But in recent weeks, I’ve been focusing more on his ability to block and strike, keeping his head up and his eyes open and not allowing himself to simply flop down to the floor when a strike comes towards him. He’s been doing pretty well, and one can’t blame him for squinting his eyes or lowering his head when someone with five times your mass is coming at you with a large, gloved fist. But teaching him balance, footwork and the ability to keep his eyes open so that he can see what his opponent is doing (me) has been going well.

Father and son, hitting the mats

Some people question the idea of having a small kid spar, but control is of the ultimate importance when teaching a young kid something like sparring. Control on the kid’s behalf and control on the teacher’s behalf, as well. It stands to reason that I can’t belt him with solid shots the way I’d do with any of my adult counterparts in the dojo, but he’s still learning a lot of individual skills that will not only apply to karate but any sport or physical hobby he may choose to pursue as he gets older.

Sparring with Nathan is excellent training for me, as well. His random, chaotic movements keep me on my toes and ensure a certain level of development as I work to try and block effectively when I have absolutely no clue where he might swing next. It’s been a great combination of fun, sweat and learning, albeit without him necessarily realizing that he’s being taught something. Maybe he’ll eventually snap out of it and realize, “Hey, this is great! Show me more, dad…” Until then, I ensure that there’s no pressure or coercion towards karate on my part so that he isn’t soured by the idea. ☯

Never Back Down, Except When You Do…

Most people like to act tough, especially those who are trained to fight. There’s a “never back down” mentality that kicks in when someone aggressive is challenged, but real fights never quite turn out the way we see it in the movies. For example, one of my favourite movies that just came out recently (recently, being a loosely-used term) is Creed II. The movie has the kind of inspirational tone one would expect from a Rocky spinoff; the protagonist is defeated by a larger, stronger opponent and is laid up in a hospital with severe injuries. Once he recovers, he goes on this wicked training montage to train and build himself back up before defeating the antagonist in an awesome rematch.

It’s very 80’s, which means I absolutely love it. Despite the unrealistic nature of it. Most people who suffer such injuries will usually call it quits and step away from fighting such opponents. Even in the most traditional of styles, we see a sort of expectation that you’ll hammer forward, even when the odds are against you. I’ve never been one who much felt this way, which makes sense when you recognize that I live my life trying to eliminate suffering and propagate peace. But even Sensei used to say, “If you’re going to fight, make sure you win…” I believe he was mostly referring to competing, which our school never did (officially). But it certainly applies to how we train.

I’ve always been a firm believer in drills. Correction and repetition are important in order to establish muscle memory and make it more likely that your body will react properly in a “real fight” scenario. But you’ll notice that the majority of dojos practice these drills by stepping forward, stepping into the opponent or meeting an attack head on. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s also important to perform drills where the practitioner is stepping BACK. Most schools or dojos don’t recognize this, but it can be extremely important if you find yourself in a real fight.

Stepping back while performing drills holds many benefits. The first one is that it can be helpful in better positioning yourself to block an incoming attack. Sometimes a strike may be close enough to be effective against you without leaving you any room to block properly. Another benefit is that you may need to back away in order to set YOURSELF up for a particular attack. Although one needs to recognize that a real fight scenario likely won’t leave you with enough time to “plan out” an attack, a preferred technique that you’ve worked extensively may need some setting up.

The last point is that there is no shame in stepping away from a fight. If you can avoid the fight altogether, that’s always the best option. But if it means protecting yourself or someone else, avoidance isn’t always an option. This is where backing up or “tactically repositioning” becomes important. Maybe you need that little bit of space to examine and reevaluate the situation in order to make a proper decision. When you get right down to it, backing away isn’t cowardly but quite smart, in terms of finding a way to win your confrontation.

Never back down? Well, I’m not saying you should always quit or give up. You should never give up. But backing down is not the same as giving up. I’ll always be more than happy letting some ‘roided douchebag think he’s the tougher one, if it means I walk away uninjured and safe. As long as I can do without it being at the expense of someone else’s safety and/or wellbeing. The lesson here is that in very much the same way as a karateka should be ambidextrous in his or her techniques, said techniques should also be practice stepping in or stepping back. ☯

Can There Be Hatred In Honor?

The title of today’s post poses an important question: Can you have honor while simultaneously hating another person/thing? The easy answer would be no. No you can’t. And the reason is quite simple. At its core, honor suggests a level of respect that you can’t achieve while hating something. This brings us to the question of whether you can respect a person or thing while hating them, but I don’t want to fall too far down the rabbit hole. Rather, the subject of today’s post is to focus on a strange phenomenon that I’ve seen in the martial for decades. I’m talking about the tendency to dislike and/or hate styles that are not our own. And it happens much more than one thinks.

I first ran into this phenomenon in the late 90’s, early 2000’s when I met a guy who had mutual friends within my small group of associates. We got to chatting one night and it was discovered that he also studied karate. I was a brown belt at the time and somewhat in the prime of my physical abilities, such as they were. But we got to discussing karate in greater detail and he revealed that he studied a style called Kyokushinkai. For those who may not be familiar with this style, it’s one that was developed and founded in 1964 by Masutatsu Oyama and loosely translates as “the ultimate truth,” making it less than a century old and one of the youngest styles of Japanese karate, with the exception of its own off-shoot styles.

When he asked what style I studied and I answered Uechi-Ryu, he asked if that was a style descendent from Naha-Te. I replied that it was and he sniffed and hitched his pants up and said, “Kyokushinkai incorporates Naha-Te as well…” He went on to explain the premise of his style involved constant, full-contact training to overcome the fear of being struck. I was always one to prefer learning to effectively block to PREVENT being struck, but that’s just me. But he showed a visible level of disgust at the fact I would study anything but the style he was in, and his bravado showed that he thought very little of MY karate.

Now, don’t get me wrong… Kyokushinkai is an effective style of karate, despite the fact that Master Oyama created it by bastardizing and combining elements from Shuri-te, Naha-Te, Tomari-te, Goju-Ryu, Shotokan and Shito-Ryu. Quite a colourful soup bowl, which rather goes against the whole premise of “One life, one love, one style” that most Okinawan karate practitioners believe in. But the style even practices Sanchin, one of the basic katas associated with my style, proving that most styles of karate share a background or ancestry that can be measured.

There’s a big difference between feeling one’s style is the better one and openly disrespecting and disliking another. I sincerely felt that the other martial artist disrespected my years of training and hard work with his belief that his style was “superior” and “the only real school of karate.” The boasting and the bravado went against what I was taught as a martial artist and what’s more, ended the friendship before it truly began. He might have been a great guy, overall. But when the first thing you have in common becomes a thorn in your foot, it’s a little hard to carry on.

Truthfully, one needs to understand that there is no such thing as a “bad style.” Simply a style that’s better suited to the practitioner. There are plenty of reasons why I would never practice Tae Kwon Do, but it can be easily argued as an effective martial art. In fact, one of the few combatants who genuinely rang my bell but good, was a practitioner of TKD, and he was more than quite good. The same can be said of any style, unless you refer to one of these jokers “knocking” people out by waving a hand at them… That shit’s crazy! But I digress…

A good analogy that I’ve enjoyed using to explain this to others, is one that I’ve used in martial arts circles and in my professional life. Imagine you’re installing a new bathroom in your home and the time has come to run water lines into your shower. In order to do the necessary plumbing, you’ll contact a plumber versus an electrician. By the same principle, you’ll contact the electrician to install your lighting and electricity as opposed to letting the plumber do it. Both are trained professionals, capable and necessary in their respective fields. But what they do is inherently different. Neither one is better than the other; just different.

This analogy applies to the martial arts, as well. All schools, styles and types of martial arts are different. No one style is better than any other; just different. I’ve been studying Uechi-Ryu for 33 years, this year. But I’ve trained and practiced in Kobudo, Kenpo, Kendo, Judo and Tae Kwon Do. No one will ever convince me that any of those styles are better than mine. But I can respect that they’re just as good, in their own way and offer a different perspective into an art I’ve studied for most of my life.

This is why it’s so important to respect other schools and styles and to understand that if you tried it and didn’t like it, it isn’t because it was inherently bad. It simply wasn’t for you. This is without including the whole McDojo element in the equation, of course. But if one is to have true honor and respect, then genuine dislike and hatred for other styles can’t be something one permits oneself to feel. After all, this isn’t a bad, old-school kung-fu movie. Dojo rivalries were never really a thing on Okinawa, and that’s where karate was founded. It would be reasonable to think that it should exist today, either. ☯

Spatial Awareness

The world is a dangerous place, and it’s made all the more dangerous by people who ignore their surroundings and have no sense of spatial awareness. This can apply to a martial arts context as well as in everyday life. In the video below, I share my thoughts on that very thing. ☯

Not All Karateka Are Created Equal (The Invisible Armor)

One of the problems with telling people you do karate, besides what I wrote about a few days ago in relation to having others prove how tough they are, is the fact that the average person will assume you’re able to kick ass. The truth is, people join karate for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to wanting to lose weight, get in shape, improve their physical and/or mental state and potentially learn how to fight or defend themselves. Honestly, I’ve even seen some folks who join karate with the only goal being to socialize and be around other people. Granted there are a lot of better, easier ways to socialize than joining something as complex and intricate as karate.

But so long as your goal isn’t to intentionally harm others or turn yourself into a bully, the sky’s the limit. One of the beautiful things about karate is that there’s something for everyone. But the reality is that not all of us are top-tier fighters who can fend off any opponent. Movies and television have also done a pretty good job of spreading this belief, when you see a protagonist fighting off large groups of assailants with reasonable ease and skill. But none of that is realistic and if I’m being honest, only about one percent of people who join martial arts will become proficient at the skills they study.

That may seem like a bit of a narrow view, so allow me to explain with an example. Some years ago when I was still in New Brunswick and training in Sensei’s dojo, one of my high school teachers decided to join. I won’t guess at her age and it would have been rude to ask, but I knew she was of at least one generation older than myself. Obviously, since she was a teacher of mine when i was in high school. But suffice it to say that she joined for the physical and mental improvement aspects and had no physical constitution to allow her to participate in combat or even light sparring. Although she no doubt learned SOME skill while training with us, it would be doubtful that she would have the ability to fight off anyone but a much weaker assailant.

The truth is that this will apply to quite a number of karate students, regardless of how much they train. And if we’re being honest here, everyone kind of has their “specialty.” Some favour forms, others like pressure points or weapons, some may enjoy sparring and fighting. Most students will become reasonably proficient at the specialty they enjoy and as much as it would be nice to say that all karateka are jack and jill-of-all-trades, this is rarely the case. Although I’m quite fond of forms and absolutely LOVE doing kata, I consider myself a sledgehammer as compared to a scalpel. I can brawl with the best of them, but I’m not so great with the specific, fine-muscle techniques.

My point behind all of this, and the message is mostly for the non-martial artists, is that just because someone studies karate or any other martial art, that doesn’t mean that they’re good to go and can pull an Ip Man and fight off a crowd of enemies in one sitting. And the realities of actual fighting versus what the majority of people see on television also make such things impossible. So, if someone you know tells you they study karate, don’t bother to ask, “Could you kick THAT person’s ass?” Because the likely answer will be, “No. No, I can’t.” ☯

A Little Something To Inspire…

I usually write my posts ad nauseam, and often require a number of edits to eliminate them being twice as long as they are once they’re posted. Once in a while, I like to post something that simply to look at, without all the necessary background, citations and references. So, here’s what I found last week while randomly surfing the web…

I forget exactly where I found this little gem, but I’ve seen it floating around in a few places. What I love about this photo is the absolute look of intensity and determination on the kid’s face, despite the fact he’s tethered to what appears to be an oxygen tank. I’m ignoring the fact that he appears to be one belt shy of black, despite his young age. Let’s not go there.

But it goes a long way towards showing how much determination can pay off in the long run, and the fact that motivation has to come from within. This little guy reminds me of myself when I was younger. All guts and determined to live and grow stronger, despite the pitfalls and medical challenges that life threw at me. As long as you keep fighting, may lose some battles but eventually you’ll win the war. ☯

It Ain’t All Gear And Logos…

I wrote a post about karate gis yesterday, and focused a bit on brands, cost and durability, which I think can be pretty important if you’re a life-long student OR you’re just starting out and thinking of taking the Nestea plunge and buying your first gi. It can be a pretty particular decision, especially when the cost involved can be substantial. But since you can read about that here, I won’t get into all of that. Rather, today’s post will focus on what you wear OUTSIDE the dojo. Yes, you read that correctly…

There’s an interesting phenomenon that takes place when someone joins a club or organization that I’ll reluctantly admit that I’ve been guilty of, myself. They tend to purchase and wear a lot of swag. Basically, what I mean is that if a student joins a dojo, it usually won’t take long for them to start purchasing and wearing a club t-shirt or hoodie, wearing a track suit or buying the “yearly” dri-fit shirt. These items will often be worn out in public, either through a sense of pride or because they paid for it and don’t want to leave it sitting in their drawers.

And I get that… As I mentioned, I’ve been guilty of this myself. In fact, I still have some stuff that I occasionally wear, albeit under something else or in such a way as I don’t turn myself into a walking billboard for whatever location is involved OR I don’t turn myself into a walking target, which is the bigger concern. I was having a comment conversation with a fellow blogger who also happens to be a fellow martial artist (here’s looking at you, Silk Cords) and we were talking about how talking about karate or wearing karate apparel outside the dojo will usually incite short-sighted fools to try and prove themselves by fighting you.

My favourite hoodie, with my “old school” crest from 30 years ago

Just to be clear, it’s not a BAD thing… Being excited and proud to have joined a dojo can be a good thing. And if you feel the need to wear a dry fit shirt with a giant yin yang on the back that says “karate” (I have one of those) then by all means, fill your proverbial boots. Just be aware of the type of attention you may draw. It kind of falls under the same category as avoiding the muscled idiot who goes to the bar wearing a “Tap Out” t-shirt… If he or she if advertising themselves in THAT manner, in THAT environment, the safe bet is they’re likely looking for trouble. I could be wrong and/or biased, but that’s also based on observation.

After a while, the fascination with wearing all the swag wears off, and the student becomes aware that such clothing items are best left to memory. Even students in Okinawa don’t wear karate apparel outside the dojo, and karate is the equivalent of what hockey is, here in Canada. Except the kids, of course. On class nights, you can them running to the dojos clad in their gis. I have an exception that comes in the form of the hoodie you see in the image above.

The crest I have on the shoulder reads “New England Academy of Karate and Judo,” which is Sensei’s school. I got that crest all the way back in my early white belt days and my intention is to never let it go. But let’s be honest, unless you get real cozy, you won’t be able to read what it says anyway. But the best way to win a fight is to never have had it in the first place. So, best practice is to keep from advertising yourself in such a way as to make a target of yourself. ☯

I’ve Worn Out My Crotch…

So if I haven’t grossed you out or scared you off with the title and you’re still reading at the moment, today’s post will be about karate uniforms. The “crotch” comment mostly references the wear and tear that the stitching on the crotch of one’s pants potentially go through during karate training. Mostly. But we won’t get into the “not mostly.” That can be for another day. But I digress… Moving on!

Karate is most often associated with the wearing of a white, cotton uniform or gi. But what most people are usually unaware of, is that karateka or students originally didn’t wear any sort of uniform while studying karate at all. In fact, you can still find a number of old black and white photos of Okinawan practitioners, training on the beach in nothing but a pair of shorts. In a lot of ways, this was preferable as it allowed teachers to see if proper muscle tension was being used by the students.

An example of a typical, white karate gi

The introduction of the recognizable, white karate gi as we wear it today came about as a result of it being introduced by Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo, who developed the gi, which was later adapted by Okinawan Karate. Nowadays, you can see all kinds of ridiculous bullshit, depending on where you are and what dojos are available. I’ve seen karate gi of all colours, including blue, red, pink, camouflage and even multi-coloured. Since some of those colours have snuck their way into some dojos’ ranking systems, I think the whole thing is rather stupid and moves away from tradition. But that’s mostly because I’m a traditionalist.

Others may feel that it’s an evolution and one that’s unavoidable. After all, karate started with no ranking system at all. You had a teacher and you had students. No matter what your opinion or thoughts on the subject may be, the reality is that joining a modern karate dojo will usually involve the purchasing and wearing of a karate gi at some point, which brings me to the content of today’s post. Over the past 30-plus years, I’ve burned my way through about a dozen different gis, for many different reasons. I’m going to share some of that here, so that if you’re looking to buy a martial arts uniform for the first time, you’ll have an unbiased opinion of multiple brands. This is where I should clarify that I neither endorse nor discourage any specific brand of sports apparel, nor have I accepted any compensation for any positive comments provided herein. Buckle up!

First, let’s start with the basic, bare bones options. As seen in the photo above, I use a black, cotton karate gi that’s manufactured by Century Martial Arts. I use this one because the Regina Institute of Kempo Karate where I currently train, use black gis as opposed to white. Not a big deal and I’ve often worn my white gi on laundry days when I didn’t have my black one available. This cotton gi is single-layered and single stitched, making it ideal for beginners and junior belts, since there may not be as intensive a level of grappling and grabbing involved. It’s also comfortable and easy to wash, making easier to maintain even though it may not last as long as the subsequent brands below.

There are a few of these really good North American companies that manufacture some reasonably low cost karate gis. I love Century Martial Arts! They have an American and a Canadian website and have a ton of martial arts training equipment. But I need to calm down; we’re talking about uniforms. In New Brunswick, Sensei used to obtain his basic karate gis from a company called GeneSport, which is based out of Quebec. They had that same single layer and single stitch hem, making them an excellent, low-cost option for beginners. I went through three of them during my time climbing the junior ranks. But once I stepped up to brown belt and things got rougher, I needed something that could keep up.

Next, we have the Tokaido. As you can see from the tag above, this is a 100% cotton karate gi that has double and sometimes triple-stitched hems for durability and strength. This company boasts being the oldest manufacturer of karate uniforms. I went through two of these during my years climbing through brown and black belt. They’re of a much thicker cotton and are an excellent quality. I can highly recommend this brand to someone making a long-term commitment to karate. I still have one today!

That being said, buyers should be aware that you’re paying quite a bit for that quality. As a comparison, my last GeneSport gi was roughly $40 (in 1996) and my Century gi was approximately $60 (2016). My last Tokaido cost me $230, but I still HAVE it! And it’s still functional, despite some holes here and there. So deciding on which brand to settle may have a great deal to do with one’s budget, especially if you join a McDojo that’ll charge you an arm and a leg for absolutely everything. But before I go on a rant, let’s move on to the last one…

The last brand I’ll touch on in this post, is Shureido. This company holds a special place in my heart, as it is a small, privately owned manufacturer of karate gi and martial arts weapons and equipment located in Naha, Okinawa. I visited this location in 2001 when I traveled to Japan, and I had the pleasure of getting myself a karate gi with Uechi Ryu’s banner embossed directly on the gi jacket. My black belt is also from Shureido and is stitched with my name and karate style. It’s pretty sharp.

Although they have a US distributor and an official Facebook page, there doesn’t seem to be an actual website available. This puts them in a bit of a different category than other manufacturers. I’ve recently reached out to the US distributors as well as sending a message to the Facebook page, without any response thus far. But since they cover all Okinawan and Japanese territories as they relate to karate and kobudo, I would imagine that they’re pretty busy. Cotton material and double or triple-stitched, these gis are top-of-the-line and are prominently used in the tournament environment. At least they were, when I was there in ’01.

These are the top-tier of price range, with a gi costing anywhere ranging from $250 to several hundred dollars, depending on size and accessories. Since I got a specialized gi and specialized belt, my package cost me well over $350. So it may not be ideal in terms of budget. Another issue is that my increase in size over the past five or six years has made it to snug to train in, which is problem. But I’ve had that gi for twenty years, at this point. It’s seen me through my black belt test and all the fun, in-class violence that ensued.

What level and quality of gi you decide to purchase depends on your perspective. An advanced student who buys one of the lower-priced, single-stitch gis may find themselves replacing it within a year or two as it’ll get torn to shit while sparring and grappling. That’s the issue I used to face. So if you burn through three or four of those gis, you’re already halfway to the cost of a basic Tokaido gi, which will be tougher and last longer overall. So you need to find a way to balance the scales.

You may also find yourself limited by the requirements of your dojo and what THEY require. Most traditional and functional dojos don’t care what their students wear, so long as they train hard and put in some effort. That is, until the time comes for a significant climb in rank. Most dojos don’t want to issue a green, brown or black belt to someone in their sweats and a Blink-182 t-shirt. But if you reach those ranks, the safe bet is you’ve invested in a gi already. The important thing is to have your gi loose enough to be comfortable and allow movement, while being snug enough to prevent snagging and grabbing on your opponent’s end. ☯