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Frazatto's picture
What did people wear for training pre 1920's???

I'm quite tired of the ill fitted karate gi that I can buy, so I'm going to sew my own.

I truly dislike all contemporary options, competition gi is too long, too light and "traditional" ones are too bulky with all wrong proportions for my body. I can't say I have tried many, but I'm doing this since the 90's and I only remember one that I felt comfortable to wear.

Since (in theory) I can build whatever I want, I started researching the historical references available, but the furthest I could get of people using something that is not a "judo gi", was Motobu's pictures in his book.


Look for the ones he is much younger, sometimes they are using just shorts and the obi is much more like a Chinese sash (that thing is ssssooooo comfortable!). Even when they are not flexing those beer bellies, it looks much more like a heavy duty Jinbei (very casual summer wear) and it makes sense, Okinawa have a much more tropical weather as I understand.

So, anyone have a good historical reference of 1800's Okinawa dressing?

Jonathan Walter
Jonathan Walter's picture

If you make the gi I'd love to hear how it turned out. My understanding from Motobu's book "My Art of Karate" was it was all shorts and no shirt until the gi was introduced. I can't find any evidence Motobu even owned a shirt until 1930. I didn't put it together until you mentioned him wearing a separate obi, but I wonder if he isn't wearing an older form of Okinawan sumo gear. They really emphasize belt grabs, or at least that's what it looks like in the videos I've seen.

I totally feel you on the gi proportions thing. The only brand I've found that actually fits is from bearbrand.net. They are the absolute least professional company I have ever done business with; which is a shame because I really like their stuff. Maybe I'll have to start making my own too.   

Frazatto's picture

I got a good conversation going on Reddit:


Apparently, what we see in the pictures, is just their underwear!

Well....in the sense that it was what most people would use under more formal clothing.

There are some pictures from a very young Miyagi that they use just shorts, or what we would consider today as shorts.

The no shirts beer belly vibe, apparently, is for better visualizing the upper body mussels contracting and relaxing.

Chris Wissmann
Chris Wissmann's picture

Not that karate is a sport per se, though there is a sports element to it, but in every other athletic endeavor I can think of, participants have switched to ultra-light moisture-wicking materials—no cotton, which soaks up sweat and won't let go of it. Rayon, nylon, and Supplex tear too easily to stand up to grappling and they don't give you that nice pop from a well-executed strike, but polyester, merino wool, and some hemp fabrics do the job quite well.

A company that made excellent wicking gis, Millenium, went out of business almost before they got off the ground.

ProForce makes a good wicking gi but they sewed an ugly logo into the chest. If you wear a black gi, you can mask it by dying it black, but that's a bit of a mess, because you need to use polyester dye and a pressure cooker to set the dye. The sizes are also off—if you normally wear a Century 4, you'll want a size 2 of this one.

Same sizing issue with Gimono's merino wool gis, but they're strong and surprisingly light.

I bought a bunch of good fabric and found a tailor, and she's very, very slowly making some custom gis for me. I've liked the results thus far.

When I work out at home, I just wear wicking shorts or sweats (actually, moisture-wicking surgical scrubs made by another out-of-business company, Performance Scrubs) and a T-shirt. I sweat just as much as ever, but I don't soak and squish anymore, and that feels so much better.