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Gi at Store

Today I was at a home improvement store. As I walked the aisles, I saw a Karate student who had obviously just come from class. The boy was about 10 or 11 and was wearing his gi bottom and top with his green belt slung around his neck. Of course, I did not say anything, but I wanted to say:

"Don't wear your belt outside of the dojo, ever. And don't wear your gi top either. Your gi is for the dojo. If you wear it outside the dojo, it will reflect negatively on your Sensei."
These are just my views. I am sure that some Sensei encourage their students to wear their gi outside of the dojo, particularly if the dojo name is written prominently on the back. This could be viewed as a readily available form of inexpensive advertising.

Here in Hawaii, there was a time when Sensei closed the windows and doors to the dojo during training to keep out prying eyes. While not a secret, Karate was certainly a private matter and one could only become a student if someone the Sensei respected gave a positive recommendation. Students didn't talk about being in a Karate dojo. This was a private matter. And talking about training in Karate could evoke a challenge from another martial artists, boxer, wrestler, or street fighter. Karate was not a secret, but it was private. Additionally, Karate skill was best kept as a surprise for use in unavoidable self defense situations.

When Karate instructors came to Hawaii and started to make a living from teaching, they found that they had to advertise to get students. They also found that having 100 students today does not mean that they would have 100 students the next month. They constantly had to advertise to attract new students in order to replace students who quit, and also to make the enrollment grow. You don't advertise by hiding your art, so the "private" attitude about Karate was replaced, in some schools, by a new "public" attitude. Karate became a product -- more correctly, Karate lessons became a product. Belts, patches, certificates, titles, trophies, embroidered clothing, and a seemingly endless line of products could be bought from people and companies that were eager to sell them to aspiring students.

If they wanted 100 students, instructors found that it is extremely hard to find 100 dedicated adults. It was much easier to find 100 willing children (or 100 parents willing for their children to take Karate lessons). So classes and the curriculum became tailored to children. Adults could learn too. And if a child earns a black belt, well that is just great.

Tournaments help to increase enrollments too. So the focus of training naturally shifted to success in this format. Karate became "performance" oriented. By this, I do not mean performance in terms of the student's performance envelope (speed, power, timing, etc.), I mean performance in terms of "show." Karate had to look "good," whatever that means to whoever if evaluating the performance. Whatever happened to effectiveness in self defense?

So these are some of the thoughts I had, in just a few seconds, as I walked past a boy wearing his Karate gi with his belt slung around his neck at a home improvement store.

Well, I also wondered who this boy's Sensei is. Hmmm.


Charles C. Goodin