Wednesday, February 12, 2014


      Many traditional martial arts require that students wear a special practice uniform. The names for these numerous forms of apparel often vary from one discipline to another but there are certain common elements that are found in all of them:

  • They tend to be what we refer to as “rather baggy” and “loose fitting.” Stylish looks means nothing in a training hall where efficiency is the key word. Clothing that is tight or restrictive is not particularly conducive to quick, smooth movements.

  • They are devoid of items that may result in injury to one's training partner or oneself. Zippers, snaps, and hard buttons are not to be found on traditional martial arts uniforms. And anyway, zippers and snaps simply didn't exist at the time these uniforms came into existence. In fact, several types of traditional uniforms are versions of ancient streetwear.

  • They are usually made of fairly rugged material that will stand up to rigorous physical training. This especially true of the grappling arts.

  • Students are expected to keep their training uniforms clean and in good repair at all times.

      In other articles I have written about the evolution of various training uniforms; in this chapter I'd like to discuss why I feel that wearing the proper uniform is an important part of your martial arts practice.
      As a lifelong practitioner of the Chinese martial arts, let me begin by admitting that except for the grappling art of shuai-jiao, there is no such thing as a standardized kung-fu uniform. I currently reside in southern China and martial arts enthusiasts generally wear the same attire that they have always worn for martial arts practice; their street clothes!       
     Some wear what are referred to as “Tang clothes” (so named because they were popular during the Tang Dynasty) but by and large, they wear sports shirts or t-shirts and everyday trousers. Nothing special.
      Consequently, many Western kung-fu schools disdain the wearing of any kind of formal training attire. I think this is a serious mistake that adversely affects their training. Participants dress casually and, because how we dress affects how we behave, they tend to approach their training in a rather casual manner. This isn't particularly contributive to the development of a strong (martial) spirit or maintaining a well-disciplined class.
      Moreover, street attire was never intended to hold up to the rigors of a spirited martial arts class. Shirts and trouser are easily torn and ruined and their buttons, snaps, and zippers can easily result in injuries to both participants. So, instructors are left with one of two choices; they can either conduct a proper class and watch as their student's clothes are gradually reduced to shredded scraps, or they can tone down the training and ensure that their students (and their wallets) remain happy.  The latter is almost always the choice that is selected.                  
      Training uniforms were developed over many years because the martial arts practitioners of times past understood that ordinary street clothes were simply not suitable for training. Also, a consideration that is often overlooked is the fact that in most martial arts schools, all training uniforms look the same...or very nearly so. This is a policy that is often strictly enforced. Students must understand that they are all equal and they are all “related”, as it were. They are members of a martial arts “family.” Thus, they all wear the same uniforms.
The training uniform gives the new student the feeling of authenticity; a feeling of, “Now I'm really doing it!” He becomes enthusiastic about training. This is exactly why many martial arts schools include a uniform with a new student's first tuition payment. It has a considerable impact on the student's attitude about his training and his place in the school.
      It is for this same reason that I tell my students to wear their uniforms when they practice at home. Putting on the uniform reminds them that they are “really doing it” and they are less likely to slack off or cut their training period short when they get a little winded. They try just a little harder because of that special uniform. However, sometimes they are unable to wear the full uniform. I tell them that in such cases, they should at least wear the trousers. And it helps. Training without the uniform just isn't the same.

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