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To Keiko Gi or Not to Keiko Gi?

The picture shows Karateka in Keiko Gi.

A Keiko Gi is “a symbol of your preparation for life” writes our columnist TD McKinnon in his latest article for Karate Essences. Like many traditional elements the Keiko Gi has also become challenged in recent years. However, there are many good reason why we should stick to the classic plain white Karate Gi for training.

The Origin of the Keiko Gi in Judo

Keiko Gi (稽古着) is the Japanese name for the karate training uniform. The origin of the uniform or training kimono starts over 100 years ago in Japan.  Its introduction as a martial arts uniform is generally attributed to Kano Jigoro, who developed judo from jujitsu, in the early years of the 20th century.  Kano Jigoro, the founder of Judo, decided that he needed to create a uniform for his students.  He wanted something that would show uniformity; also something able to take a beating from the constant throwing, pinning and choking techniques of the art.

The story goes that Kano based his uniform on ancient jujitsu training attire, which was made of unbleached linen and cotton, a kind of coffee colour fabric.  Apparently, due to the effect of sweating, intense rubbing of the training practices, plus repetitive washing, they would eventually turn white.  So Kano decided to start with a bleached white Gi; and, using a thick, reinforced weave – a style of weaving that was mainly used for farmers’ or firefighters’ garments – and  the modern long-sleeved Judo Gi was born in 1906.  

The Introduction of the Keiko Gi to Karate

Kano Jigoro and Funakoshi Gichin were good friends.  In 1922 Kano invited Funakoshi to mainland Japan, from Okinawa, to demonstrate Karate to some assembled dignitaries at Kano’s Honbu dojo.  Funakoshi was persuaded to wear a Judo Gi, to present a more professional demonstration.  Thereafter, Funakoshi adopted the Judo Gi as training apparel. Generically known as a Keiko Gi, it was soon universally adopted as the official training uniform of most Japanese martial arts.

Sharing a common origin, the Karate Gi is somewhat similar to a Judo Gi; however, the material and cut of the uniform is much lighter, with a looser fit.  The heaviest Karate Gi being 16 ounces compared to the 35 ounce Judo Gi. Because of the nature of Karate training compared to Judo, emphasising striking and kicking over throws and grappling, the Karate Gi has evolved in a different direction.

Is the Traditional Karate Keiko Gi Still an Essential Item?

Since its early inception, the Karate Gi has morphed many times in cut and style as well as in weight and functionality.  Now, in certain sporting organisations, there is a Gi for Kumite and a different Gi for Kata.

Kata Gi

The competition Kata Gi is more like the old style, traditional heavyweight Gi; made from a heavy cotton, light canvas style cloth. The main reason for this, it appears, is to utilise the swishing and snapping sounds (for effect) during the stylised, competition kata performance.

Kumite Gi

The competition Kumite Gi is very different: made from an acrylic fabric, it is a super lightweight Gi, and with (because of the manmade fibre) lots of venting devises. The reason for this design is aimed at less resistance and more ease of movement, supposedly endorsing more speed for competing.  Personally, I think this style of Kumite Gi makes a mockery of the traditional Gi; however this adaptation is not surprising.  Training for competition Kumite has taken some seriously different directions too.

Keiko Gi or Tracksuits?

I am cognisant that, over time, scientific study is bound to change the preparation, apparel and equipment of any given ‘sport’. This merely outlines a point that I constantly make: the sport and the Budo are two entirely different animals.  Some forms of sport Karate, the World Karate Federation (WKF) for instance, are certainly developing a very different system of Karate, where in fact the sport is the entirety of the art. Their training is not the conventional, traditional Karate training of technique and form, and is largely done in tracksuits, T-shirts and shorts.  The Karate Gi is an absentee:

The Importance of Your Keiko Gi

There are various Dojos, some styles of karate, and some organisations that do not lend themselves exclusively to the traditional white Gi.  The International Sport Karate Association, for instance, do not insist on the use of the traditional white Keiko Gi. There are many debates fuelling arguments for and against the traditional white Gi.  

During my own martial odyssey, following whichever martial system I was studying: for instance, I have worn the black cotton Keiko Gi and Hakama of Iaido, and the hand wraps and loose satin shorts of Muay Thai. However, for me, when practicing traditional Karate, nothing is more appropriate than the white Keiko Gi.  Washed and ironed, fresh and clean, it mirrors the fresh and unencumbered frame of mind (Shoshin) that assists the Karateka to derive the optimum from their Karate-Do.

Keiko Gi: A Symbol of Your Preparation for Life

Any competing event, or indeed any training or learning event begins with the mental and spiritual preparation. Part of that mental and spiritual process is preparing the attire that will be worn for that event. This concept is not exclusive to karate or even the martial arts in general; it applies to life.

Prepare your own Keiko Gi

When I began the traditional Karate chapter of my martial odyssey I intuitively understood this concept.  As a member of my high school gymnastic team, as a boxer, and as a British Parachute Regiment soldier it had already become an intrinsic part of me. Most people can relate to the kind of mental preparation that the physical preparation prompts.

Every Karateka should, themselves, prepare their Karate Gi. Even the very young Karateka should be shown how, with the view to eventually conducting their own preparations. It helps to cultivate humility as a human being, while developing pride in the art; encouraging a healthy, lifelong habit. For instance, by the time my sons were 7-8 years of age they were ironing their own Keiko Gi in preparation for training, competition and grading. I believe that preparation discipline was part of what later assisted their achievements of becoming World Champions in their chosen combat sport of Muay Thai Kickboxing.

Keiko Gi Preperation as an Exercis in Mindfulness

For more than fifty years now I have prepared my Gi: for training, for competing, for receiving instruction and knowledge from those more knowledgeable than myself, and for teaching others.  At the start of any Karate event, my Gi is spotlessly clean, scrupulously ironed and prepared for the event, even as my mind, body and spirit is prepared.  Preparing the Gi is a symbolic representation of the ongoing process of mindfulness: a constant preparation for life.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

One can never be complacent about preparation. Complacency, in life, can mean the difference between smooth success and painful failure.

You can get away with being unprepared for a time; here, I am referring to being generally unprepared for life. I could cite many instances, especially from the early part of my life, as an example of unpreparedness…  However, preparation is an ongoing thing, like readying your Keiko Gi for each occasion.

So, I will cite an event that took place at a time I should have known better; a time I should have been entirely prepared:

I had been working as a bouncer for years; and this was just another night at work.

Earlier in the evening there had been an altercation: a powerfully built, six feet plus guy in his twenties, after yelling at and hitting his girlfriend, had knocked out a security operative who tried to restrain him. I put a sleeper hold on him, and evicted him.

Later that evening, while I was controlling the front door, ‘girlfriend-hitter’ tried to enter the premises again and I stopped him.

“I’ve already been in…” he said, irately, “My girlfriend is in there!”

“Yes, I know,” I said, “I evicted you for hitting her and assaulting one of the security personnel.”

He immediately attacked with a head-butt, but I tucked my chin and he broke his nose on the top of my head instead.  He was tenacious, and obviously had some boxing training. As he took an involuntary step back he threw a fairly useful right cross… but, simultaneously, slipping inside his punch, I dropped him with mae-empi (Sen no sen). 

“Come on, young fella, I think it’s time you went home before you get yourself really hurt…” and I reached down to help him up…  That’s when he grabbed my privates in a vicious, steely grip.

During my time as a working bouncer, most of the time I had worn a groin guard, but there was the odd occasion that I forgot to wear the said piece of personal protection equipment (PPE). On those occasions I had assured myself that it was fine because I’d never had an occasion to be thankful I’d worn it; wearing it was just a precaution… tonight I had forgotten to wear it.

A gedan barai broke his grip and then I broke his jaw, but I was in severe pain.  I spent the night in a hospital bed, sedated on pethidine, with an ice pack between my legs, feeling very sorry for myself.

It all Begins with your Keiko Gi

I never forgot to wear that particular protection device, or any other PPE, again. More importantly, I was never again negligent with any preparations. Over the following years, my obsession with preparation saved me from injury many times. In fact I have no doubt that it saved my life. It all begins with the mindfulness of preparing your Keiko Gi.  

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TAISEI: Most famous Karate Gi in Japan in The Dojo Shop

The picture shows Tadashi Ishikawa wearing a Taisei Karate Gi.

TAISEI belongs to the most popular Karate Gi brands in Japan. However, the premium Karate Gi manufacturer is almost unknown in the West despite famous brand ambassadors like Tadashi Ishikawa (8th Dan) from JKS. The Dojo is going to change this now. “Together with our distribution partner SaikoSports are we going to offer three of TAISEI´s premium Karate Gis in our The Dojo Shop: KAZE, MIZU, and HI“, says Dr. Christian Tribowski, managing director of The Dojo. Read here the full story about TAISEI and what makes their Karate Gis so special.

TAISEI: The Story

In Japanese Dojos we see TAISEI’s karate suits everywhere … serious and disciplined Karateka in perfectly fitting Keikogis. We could feel the tension in the air. And the aesthetics of their movements is still persistent in our mind.

Dr. Philipp Lang, Managing Director, SaikoSports

TAISEI means “peaceful life,” said Kenzo Takasu, smiling but firmly. Mr. Takasu is the owner and master tailor of TAISEI. He started karate over 40 years ago and still trains himself. But right from the start of his Karate life, Mr. Takasu was confronted with a major problem for Karatekas: bad fitting Keikogis. Luckily Mr. Takasu is a master tailor by training. So, he decided to utilize his skills to solve this problem.

The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
Mr. Kenzo Takasu in his workshop

For several years, he improved his own Karate Gis by changing their shapes and sizes in order to make them more comfortable and visually appealing. During that time, he gained a lot of experience about the optimal cut and the perfect material for a Keikogi. He learned what it takes to create a Dogi that fits well, has an elegant and traditional design but is yet robust and long-lasting.

His improvements and redesigns of his Karate Gis even caused the interest of his Senseis. Therefore, he started to alter their Karate Gis, too. Not long after that, he also took care of the Keikogis for his fellow Karateka in his Dojo.

The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
Mr. Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
The picture shows the TAISEI workshop.
The TAISEI workshop in Aichi prefecture in central Japan.

The demand for his alterations grew significantly. Due to this success and and because of his wish, to design own Dogis, he opened his own workshop in his home prefecture, Aichi, in central Japan. Here a very traditional Japanese building he designs and sews all Dogis by himself. For Mr. Takasu traditional designs and most comfortable but elegant cuts are of paramount importance.

His Karate Gis even caused the attention of Karatekas far beyond Aichi. Today, TAISEI officially supplies one of the biggest Karate associations in Japan. Renowned grand master Tadashi Ishikawa (8th Dan) of the JKS is one of the most prominent ambassadors of the TAISEI Karate Gis.

The picture shows Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.
Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa wears the TAISEI Karate Gi.
The picture shows Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.
The picture shows shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.

Mr. Takasu is very happy about the endorsement of by Karate grand masters like Shihan Ishikawa. He says that his craft, like karate, is one of the few constants in our fast paced life’s. The master himself, however, is at rest. He sings songs during his work and still using his JUKI sewing machine. Seeking always perfection and premium quality in his work he puts the values ​​of Karate-Do into every handmade Dogi. The new owner should feel the spirit in every part of the Keikogi.

The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
Mr. Kenzo Takasu and his JUKI sewing machine

What makes TAISEI different!

The key to optimal Karate training lies, on the one hand, in the execution of techniques. On the other hand, the fabric and cut of the Karate Gi is also very important. It must perfectly fit, give enough freedom to move, and must look good. It also must be manufactured under humane and ecological sustainable conditions. Then, a Karateka can fully concentrate on karate training. “

Dr. Philipp Lang, Managing Director, SaikoSports

Three major features make TAISEI Dogis special and different:

  1. Triangle Cut: It makes the Karate techniques faster and more precise without resistance.
  2. Japanese Blue-White Effect: The Karate Gi stays longer white.
  3. 180° Movement of Legs: Guarantees absolute freedom for the legs in Karate training.

Beside that, TAISEI Keikogis distinguish themselves from other brands through some more features. The traditional Japanese cut of TAISEI is the result of decades of experience by Mr. Takasu. He has compared cuts of other brands to find the best fit for Karate training. The different Karate Gis, TAISEI offers, differ mainly regarding their fabric thickness: HI (13 ounces), MIZU (11 ounces), and KAZE (9 ounces).

The picture shows Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.
The picture shows Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.

The special cut enables absolute freedom of movement for the arms thanks to the high seam under the armpits. How high the level of craftsmanship of Mr. Takasu is can be observed at the seams of the suits. They are processed from the inside out and have a barely noticeable inner web. Every Dogi comes with an integrated inlay in the upper back area.

All Karate Gis are made in Japan and from 100% pure and high quality cotton (original canvas cotton). That gives the suit an impressive and inimitable sound.

No Difference between Kata and Kumite!

Another major feature of TAISE GIs is that there is no difference between Kata or Kumite Gis. All Karate Gis come with a traditional cut.

However, heavy Karate Gis are often preferred for Kata. Light ones, on the other hand, fit better to Kumite. TAISEI offers Karate Gis between 9 and 13 ounces.

TAISEI Karate Gis

The Dojo is going to offer three TAISEI Keikogis in The Dojo Shop:

KAZE 9 oz

KAZE (風) literally means “wind” in Japanese. The lightness and elegance of the TAISEI KAZE Karate Gi gives the feeling of being surrounded by pure and fresh air.

The picture shows the Kaze Karate Gi from Taisei.
The picture shows the Kaze Karate Gi from Taisei.

MISU 11 oz

MIZU (水) literally means “water” in Japanese. The dynamic and straight elegance of the TAISEI MIZU Karate Gi gives the feeling of water in constant flow.

The picture shows the MIZU Karate Gi.
The picture shows the MIZU Karate Gi.

HI 13 oz

HI (火) literally means “fire”. The energetic and powerful elegance of the Taisei HI Karate Gi gives the untamable strength and creative power of a blaze.

The picture shows the HI Karate Gi by Taisei.
The picture shows the HI Karate Gi by Taisei.

All TAISEI Karate Gis can be individually embroidered upon request.

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Spirit meets Quality: The Shotokan Times and Saiko-Sports have partnered up

The picture shows the banner for the "Spirit meets Quality" series.

“Spirit meets Quality” is the motto of the newly forged partnership between German karate gi and equipment supplier SaikoSports and The Shotokan Times. Together both companies will offer karate gis and other equipment to the international karate community through The Shotokan Times Shop.

With “Spirit meets Quality” the partnership expresses its desire to reach perfection in its operations and products. Dr. Philipp Lang, owner and managing director of SaikoSports, commented on the partnership: “The Shotokan Times is the right partner for us to bring our products to the global market. It fosters the highest ideals of the karate spirit: seeking perfection, honesty, effort, and humility. And: to serve their readers is of utmost importance for The Shotokan Times.”

“Spirit meets Quality” also means Tradition and Innovation

Both companies agree that a combined approach of constant tradition and innovation puts “Spirit meets Quality” into practice. Dr. Christian Tribowski, owner and managing director of The Shotokan Times, on his decision to partner up with SaikoSports: “Dr. Lang has shown a strong focus on tradition and innovation. For instance, the YAMA karate gi has a traditional cut but is made from organic cotton. To maintain what has proven excellent and to innovate when new solutions improve products is part of the SaikoSports DNA. With their strong focus on highest quality they are the right partner for us.”

“Spirit meets Quality”: Bring Japan Closer to the West

“Spirit meets Quality” stands also for the will of both companies to bring Japan closer to Western karatekas. All SaikoSports products are inspired by Japanese karate masters like Tadashi Ishikawa. Thus, they fit perfectly into the program of The Shotokan Times, which constantly reports about Japanese karate masters, karate activities in Japan, and works as a facilitator between Japan and the West.

Both companies will be supported by TuWaBo, a marketing agency run by three karatekas from Magdeburg, Germany. TuWaBo will be responsibly for the marketing campaign and the brand communication.

“Spirit meets Quality” Products

The first products we offer you in our “Spirit meets Quality” series are the TAKE karate gi, the FUSO karate gi, the YAMA karate gi, and the Karate Bag, a must have bag with an individual embroidery.

„TAKE“ (竹) is the Japanese word for bamboo. Thus, this karate gi is suitable for all training conditions: kihon, kata, and kumite.

  • The picture shows the FUSO karate gi in the "Spirit meets Quality" series.

The FUSO (扶桑) karate gi is the king of snap. “Fuso” is the ancient name of Japan. Thus, this karate gi combines innovation and tradition.

  • The picture shows the YAMA karate gi in the "Spirit meets Quality" series.
  • The picture shows the YAMA karate gi in the "Spirit meets Quality" series.

“YAMA” (山), the mountain: The first „organic-karate gi“ ever. With a YAMA you have an excellent karate gi for your training and you also contribute to a more sustainable world.

  • The picture shows the KARATE BAG in the "Spirit meets Quality" series.

The new KARATE BAG is the ideal companion for every Karateka: Sporty, robust, and perfectly organized. Upon request it can be individually embroidered with your own name, club logo, or symbol.

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Product Review: Daedo Gi Quality Insufficient

Daedo has established itself as one of the top five non-Japanese Karate Gi producers world wide. Especially in the WKF they are a prominent brand. That is why we conducted a product review of their Shihan Karate Gi. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Daedo under Review

A few days ago, Sensei Erkan Kemir from Cologne, Germany, sent us a product review for the Daedo Shihan Karategi. Daedo is a Spanish martial arts gear producer. They also sponsor the WKF and received the approval to provide official fighting gear. Here we briefly recap the experience he communicated us.

Sensei Kemir bought the Gi for his son Kaan, who wore it only once during a workshop. The workshop dealt with Kata. So no fighting whatsoever could have damaged the Gi. Right after the first training, however, the Gi showed several signs of insufficient quality. Erkans wife, Filiz, who is a professional sewer, documented the flaws.

Seams Insufficient

While the garment itself appeared to hold the promised quality, the seams were insufficient. All over the Gi, they found several parts with untidy and weak stitches.

Daedo Shihan 2
Daedo Shihan 3
Daedo Shihan 5

Even worst than the untidy seams, some of them were already broken. That is an absolute no go. It might be that somebody wore the Gi before. However, it came right from the distributer. Thus, one can expact that it was brand new. Broken seams implicate very poor production quality.

Daedo Shihan
Daedo Shihan 6

Sensei Kemir was very unsatisfied with the Gi. The next day, he sent it back to the retailer and got one from another brand.

No Sufficient Quantity of Gis Tested

We cannot judge whether this is a common problem of Daedo Gis because we have never tested a sufficient quantity of them for a longer period. It might be that it was a Gi from a flawed production charge or just a single case. We do not know. We also do not know the experiences of other Karatekas, who have been wearing them. This report is only based on the experience of Sensei Kemir.

Price very High in Comparison to other Brands

However, we can understand Sensei Kemirs disappointment. The price of 140 Euro or 160 Dollar is considerably high for a Karategi. Thus, he expected a higher standard of quality.

We hope that Daedo will get in touch with Sensei Kemir, find a solution and restore its good image.

What about your Experiences?

Please, write us your experiences with Daedo Gis. Did you experience the same problems? Was the quality as high as promised? Are you happy with your Gi?

If you also want to share your experiences with Shotokan Karate-related products, just send us a message. We are happy to help.