What Do I Wear Under A Karate Uniform?

Have you recently started Karate? Not sure how to wear your uniform or what to wear underneath? We are here to help you!

In this piece, we look at a brief history of the Karate uniform, or Gi as it is formally known, rules that apply to the Gi, and what should be worn underneath it in both training and other sessions. 

What Do I Wear Under A Karate Uniform

The History Of The Gi

When the Gi was designed freedom of movement and comfort when training in the sun was at the forefront of the design.

The lightweight material and design also offer a subtle nod to the farmers and fishermen in Okinawa, Japan, which is where Karate originated.

Many people notice the similarities between the Gi and sleeping apparel. In Japan during the 13th Century Karate practitioners would train at night time as the possession of weapons was outlawed and practicing martial arts was also closely regulated.

If authorities were to come across a training session the Gi was designed to look like sleeping apparel so as to disguise what was truly going on.

Sleeves on the earlier designed Gis are shorter but as Karate spread across the world the length of the sleeves became longer so that students in colder parts of Japan, and the world, were comfortable when training. 

The Karate Uniform

The modern Gi can be white or black, depending on the Karate federation. It features a robe-like top and loose trousers.

The sleeves on the top fall between the elbow and the wrist and the trousers fall above the ankle.

This design prevents accidents as a result of catching wrists in long dangling sleeves or tripping over long trousers. 

There are very strict rules associated with the Gi and students are expected to follow these precisely.

A Gi that has sleeves or legs that are too long is expected to be hemmed to the appropriate length. 

A Gi should also be pressed and cleaned before attending the Dojo. The belt is used to hold the Gi in place but after movement sometimes the Gi will need to be adjusted.

It is extremely disrespectful to straighten or adjust your Gi without turning away from the Sensei. 

If a Karate student attends the Dojo in a dirty Gi they may not be allowed to attend a class. This only applies to a soiled Gi.

A Gi that is stained as a result of efforts and hard work, for example, the white has become slightly gray as a result of how often the Gi is worn and used, this can be seen as a badge of merit.

It is in Karate custom that a slightly discolored Gi shows a skilled practitioner who has sweated and worked hard, resulting in the white Gi becoming dull or gray.

In modern times it is rare that this would be seen as the Gi is usually washed after use rather than simply left to dry out after a difficult training session.  

What To Wear Underneath A Karate Uniform

What To Wear Underneath A Karate Uniform

What is worn underneath a Karate uniform depends on a number of things.

For one, there are different rules for what can be worn underneath for men and women (see also ‘6 Best Martial Arts For Women To Learn‘). There are also rules as to what must be worn underneath  Gi when taking part in Kumite.

For the most part, men do not wear anything, except for underwear. Vests, colored t-shirts, and jewelry are not permitted to be worn underneath the Karate uniform.

In some Dojo, children will be allowed to wear a white colored t-shirt underneath the Gi in colder weather but this would not be a general consensus. 

Women are allowed to wear a white sports bra underneath the Karate Gi. Similar to men, bright-colored undergarments, t-shirts, or vests are not allowed to be worn.

When women are wearing a sports bra, it is important that the Gi is tied to cover the bra, this should not be visible.

During the lesson, women are expected to adjust their Gi if what they are wearing underneath begins to show. 

Jewelry cannot be worn underneath a Karate uniform by women also and underwear worn must not be visible through the Gi.

In competitions, the Karate Gi may be checked to ensure competitors are not wearing anything illegal under their uniform, if they are found to be wearing illegal apparel they can be instantly dismissed from the competition. 

There are also protective garments that can be worn during Kumite, these are worn underneath the Gi also.

The protective wear acts as a shield to protect the private areas of both males and females. These protective garments include:

  • Chest Shield
  • Groin Guard 

When this protective equipment is worn underneath the Gi it is important that they are white in color so as not to distract from the clean look a Gi is supposed to have.

Both men and women can wear a chest shield and men only wear a groin guard. 

Additional protective gear worn during Kumite sessions, such as headgear, foot pads, and shin guards, would be worn over the Gi.

There are no color restrictions as to what external protective gear needs to look like.

Supportive strapping worn by practitioners who may have an injury is not allowed unless it is a soft material that will not harm others if it were to be struck by a sparring partner or Kumite opponent. 

In training sessions, there can be more flexibility regarding what can be worn underneath a Gi but this is at the discretion of the Head Sensei at a Dojo.

Often there are relaxed rules when training in cold weather but for the most part, the rules outlined above are strictly adhered to. 

Final Thoughts 

In Karate how you present yourself is very important as it shows the amount of respect a person has for the ancient martial art, their Sensei, peers, and the Dojo space.

Understanding what can and cannot be worn underneath a Karate Gi will enable you to look smart at all times when in the Dojo.

Christopher Anderson
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