Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We care about gi care...

The Japanese martial arts uniform is familiar to just about everyone.

Generically, it is called a keikogi or dogi. Sometimes it is closely associated with the art, hence: Judogi, Aikidogi, or Karategi. Most often, it is shortened to the simple, if vulgar, “gi.”

Does something both simple and familiar even warrant a description? It consists of three parts:
1. the jacket, or uwagi
2. the drawstring trousers, or zubon
3. the belt, or obi – which, of course, has a life of its own.
There are many myths about the origin of this uniform. The best – which is to say both comprehensive and reasonable – is contained in Dave Lowry’s excellent book, “In the Dojo.” Like so many things in modern martial arts, the keikogi is a byproduct of Judo. And while we closely associate the keikogi with tradition, it was as radical in its day as the board shorts and rashguards are in our own day. In fact, the impetus behind the keikogi design was similar. There was a desire for durable, relatively cheap, comfortable clothing that would protect the wearer from mat burn. And if you think traditionalists are incensed today by board shorts, imagine the uproar when Judoka started wearing that very-Western innovation: pants! The horror.

I recently purchased two new gi from Kinjisan Martial Arts, a New York based supplier. These are Ronin Brand gi, which were made in Pakistan. The quality, however, is excellent. I bought a black Judogi and a heavyweight, black Karategi. I won’t give a detailed review of these gi, but I am – so far – extremely pleased with both uniforms. The Judogi in particular, is of amazing quality. When I first unwrapped it, the judogi looked so tough, I thought it might walk over to my Gladiator gi from Asian World of Martial Arts and smack it around for impersonating a Judogi.

But, in addition to suggesting Ronin Brand for your consideration, I wanted to discuss the care and feeding of Keikogi. This is a subject that doesn’t seem to receive much attention these days. I’ve learned my method mostly by trial and error over the years. I can’t swear it is the best, but it works for me.

After unwrapping my two new gi, I immediately washed both twice in a row. I’ve also seen advice suggesting new gi be soaked overnight in water with a modest amount of salt dissolved in the basin. I’ve never tried that, so I can’t tell you about the effects. I’ve always found multiple, initial washing sufficient to soften the material for wear. Nevertheless, the heavy material of a gi doesn’t really loosen up until you start moving around in it. So it always takes a month or so of classes and related washings to work into a gi.

For most of my career, I would wash the go and then throw it in the dryer. For awhile, I even ironed it. Don’t do that. Especially, don’t iron the gi. The material will weaken and fray at the crease. If you do use a dryer on your gi, take the uniform out of the machine immediately when it stops and hang the uniform.

I’ve stopped using the dryer. I now take my wet gi out of the washing machine and hang them up to drip dry. I went out to LinensNThings (or was it Bed, Bath & Beyond? I can’t tell them apart…) and bought heavy duty, metal hangers for this task. Asking the plastic hangers I bought at Wal-Mart to hold a waterlogged Judogi top is too much.

Now my gi are not subjected to the damaging heat of a dryer or iron. Gravity pulls most of the wrinkles out for me, so the uniform doesn’t need to be pressed. I believe this method of drip drying will also help keep my black gi from prematurely fading. With my previous gi, it was too late to tell. I’m watching how long it takes for the new Ronin Brand gi to fade.

Another practice I’m thinking of implementing is buying some nametapes from a military outfitter and sewing them inside my gi jackets and trousers. Obviously, this helps identify your uniform. But if you buy the white tape and a laundry marker, you can also mark your pants and tops in such a way that you can always match the set. That may not be important to some people, but it is to me.

Recently, I purchased some 12oz. cotton canvas from a fabric store to affect a significant repair on an old gi jacket I believe still has some service in it. Fortunately for me, my mother has a professional grade sewing machine for the task I have in mind. Minor repairs can be made by hand, if you have the patience to sew a seam around the edges of a fabric patch. If the patch is small and discrete, the uniform is perfectly capable of soldiering on; if the patch is more obvious, you might want to keep the uniform for informal training sessions. Your uniform is a reflection of your training, and if you train hard, it is perfectly acceptable to have a few dings in the uniform. On the other hand, you don’t want it to be so ratty that you look like slob.
I have slightly more wearable gi in my closet than the number of classes I attend in a week. Generally, the gi will be worn once a week, and washed thereafter. This leaves me with minimal wear-and-tear on my primary uniforms, and still leaves some extra available in case there is a problem or an opportunity for extra training.

I’m not sure why keikogi care is not more widely discussed these days. I guess there is an assumption that people can figure out how to wash their clothes. Cynically, I suspect some schools would like the opportunity to sell you more uniforms more often, so why tell you how to extend the life of the uniform you have? I hope this information helps keep your uniform in good condition. If you have any additional suggestions or care tips, I’d love to hear them.


rednekkninja said...

Yu done skeer me, jrf. Next ime yull post sumtin 'bout keepin yer nickers tidy an such. Wut else dyu got goin on?

jrf said...

You worry about your knickers, and I'll worry about mine...