by Sam Foster
“ Mommy, why is that man wearing a dress?” Break time during a workshop or seminar can often lead you into the street, into the public eye attired in your practice clothing. The general rule of thumb is to ‘go, get it and come back. Quickly’. Practice time is short enough without the mundane but necessary delay of refueling the body. With luck, your peers are with you, a mass exodus to the local sub shop or just an extra set of hands to carry back the bulk order you’ve been tasked with. (Safety / comfort in numbers, and all that). The public at large, thanks to large doses of cable / satellite broadcast media, is an informed (if not enlightened) public and the daily feedings from the cathode ray nipple has imparted on American society just enough information to satisfy immediate curiosity. ‘Must be one a’ them karate-guys’ or part of a play ( Gilbert & Sullivan at the community college?) , probably some kind of cult ! (Don’t make eye contact kids, they may ask for a donation!) As luck would have it, I’m on my own this time, and the sole representative of my school.
Any time we are connected to or identified as belonging to something larger than ourselves, be it a Dojo, corporation, religion, social/educational group or family, we can assume that those outside of our group will see us as embodying and representing the groups we’re connected with. Get out your diplomat hats kids, its show time! “ Mommy, why is that man wearing a dress?” Dress Indeed! This is the uniform of my Dojo. This dress, (looks more like a skirt actually) is a hakama. With origins dating back to the Kofun period (300-700 CE), the Hakama initially saw service as leg protectors for horsemen when riding through brush. Joba hakama (roughly, ‘horse riding trousers’) were popular amongst the warriors of the horse and bow but declined in use as Chinese fashion became en vogue.
Jump forward to the Fujiwara Period (857-1160 CE), and we again see the rise in popularity of the hakama with the bushi class. Becoming an early symbol of the samurai, (as much, if not more than the daisho), the hakama becomes a symbol of manhood, often being presented to a bushi’s son on his seventh birthday. Mazel tov ! The hakama we know today (for martial arts practice) is a split, pleated skirt/trouser. The pleats (seven total) represent the seven virtues of Budo. The two pleats in back originally represented the gods of war, Take-Mikazuchi-no-Kami and Futsu-Nushi-no-Kami who helped to unify Japan. The koshi ita (back plate) gathers the two rear pleats and represents Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess. The front pleats represent Jin (affection), Gi (righteousness), Rei (courtesy), Chi (wisdom) and Shin (sincerity).
Ueshiba Morihei the founder of aikido, reintroduced the hakama into his art as a martial as well as spiritual connection for his disciples. In aikido, the seven pleats stand for Yuki (courage, valor), Jin (humanity, charity), Gi (justice, integrity), Rei (etiquette, courtesy), Makoto (sincerity, reality), Chugi (loyalty, devotion) and Meiyo (honor, dignity). Practitioners of aikido are admonished to treat the donning of the hakama as a focus and meditation in preparation for training. At the conclusion of class, the removal of the hakama is a further meditation in honor of the student, the school and the art.
So, why is that man wearing a dress? That ‘dress’ represents the spirit of the samurai. That ‘dress’ is a connection to a time honored warrior tradition. That ‘dress’ links me to all those who came before me, it represents my spirit and dedication to my art and my struggle to improve myself. ‘And the Chuck Taylor high-tops?’ They keep my feet dry on my lunch run.
Stephen Turnbull (1992) “The Lone Samurai and the Martial Arts”
Arms and Armour Press
(1992) “Samurai Warlords, The Book Of The Daimyo”
Yoshimitsu Yamada (1981) “Aikido Complete”
Michel Random (1978) “The Martial Arts”
R.H.P. Mason (1994) “A History of Japan”