The story of the iconic Judogi
The evolution of the most famous and influential martial art training suit
As we mentioned in our 100th-anniversary article, KuSakura is famous to be the inventor of the modern Judogi as we know it today and known as the only brand capable of producing Judogi based on the original one worn by its inventor, Jigoro Kano Sensei. With this article, we would like to share with you some key points about the evolution of this iconic training suit from its origins until nowadays. This article is also the beginning of a succession of few articles dedicated to the conception of this famous martial art garment that we all wear during our long training session.
The Origin of the Judogi
Whether it is Aikido or Karate, many martial arts share a common history as well as similar codes and values with Judo. The training suit or the 'Gi' as we call it, is part of them. In fact, the Judogi was the first modern martial art training suit and as such, has deeply built the perception that we have of training kimonos nowadays.
The Judogi (柔道着 or 柔道衣) in Japanese, is the traditional training suit used in Judo invented by Jigoro Kano. It is generally thicker and heavier than other martial arts training suits, allowing practitioners to be firmly anchored on the ground during practice.
Initially, Kano Sensei was using a traditional Japanese Kimono as well as some other Japanese garments that turned out not to be suitable enough for the practice of his art. He altered it with a thicker fabric in order to ensure that the Gi doesn’t tear off, loosen it to ease the use of grappling techniques while designing it to give certain freedom of movement. After numerous attempts and one perfect 'Gi' later, his students were the first to benefit from the first version of the moderne 'Gi' that hasn't changed much until nowadays.
Some alteration later, the modern long-sleeved Judogi was adopted in 1906, resulting in the famous ‘traditional cut’ that we know today. However, Judo has achieved worldwide acclaim and as one of the most practiced Japanese martial arts in the world, increasingly important competition followed and with it, its batch of norms and rules.
The Standardization of the Judogi
One of the most widely known evolution is most certainly the blue Judogi suggested during the Maastricht IJF DC meeting in 1986 by Anton Geesink, the first non-Japanese judoka to win the World Judo Championship. Before then in Japan, one opponent would attach a red sash to his belt but the distinction was even harder to make overseas, as no definite standards were in place at the time to facilitate the distinction of two opponents for judges, referees and the audience. A color contrasting with the white Judogi turned out to be the solution to this issue and this is the actual and only purpose of the blue Judogi.
Although it is a worldwide standard today during competitions, the adoption of the blue Judogi provoked a public outcry among the Judo community, claiming that Judo should stay “pure” with only the traditional white Judogi as authorized uniform. This thinking was strengthened during the 2004 Olympics, when opponents wearing a blue Gi were seen as having some sort of advantage over their counterparts wearing a white 'Gi' most of the time being outperformed at that time. Several studies were conducted afterward, on the subject trying to find out whether the blue Judogi actually had or not a psychological effect on the opponents biasing competitions, but even until today no solid explanations have been exposed regarding this trend.
Naturally, the IJF (International Judo Federation) also contributed to the standardization of the Judogi. Even though they did not influence the basic conception of the Gi, they have a great impact on the way judoka have to wear it during competitions. Instead of evolution, we can rather call it an adaptation of Jigoro Sensei’s basic Gi's specifications to the worldwide phenomenon that Judo has become nowadays.
Let’s give some brief examples of the recent major changes in judo competition the IJF brought:
- In 2014 the rules concerning the specifications for materials, manufacturing, and sizing of the Judogi has strengthened as well as controls before and during competitions.
- On a similar note, the regulation changed even more drastically from April 1, 2015, with a whole document from the federation displaying the proper materials, manufacturing specifications, for all Judogis. These new rules have also implemented the MANDATORY red label for competitors ensuring the conformity of their Judogi to the new IJF rules. Although, it is important to note that this requirement applies only to Judogi. Blue or red labels being still allowed for belts. You will find more information on this matter on our dedicated page.
Overview of the Production Process
Back to the conception of this iconic training suit, the production process knew some radical changes since the invention of the modern Judogi. Handwoven at first, the mechanization of the process effectively implemented after the Second World War has rapidly become a standard, and in this environment, KuSakura grew as a forerunner in the sector with the mechanization of the ‘Sashiko’ (rice grain) fabric process. Nowadays, even though the process has technically not changed, manufacturers set as part of their mission toward customers, a social and ethical approach behind the conception of their Judogi which is likely to be drastically different depending on the brand.
In a nutshell, before you can use it on the mats, a Judogi starts with a simple thread of cotton, carefully selected for its resistance and its quality. Thereafter, the threads are woven by a sophisticated and powerful machine to form the first canvas that will be used for the manufacturing of the final Judogi. Depending on the final model, the weaving process is different, as it is the case for KuSakura’s models, most of them being assembled using the special ‘Sashiko’ fabric, famous for its outstanding resistance compared to other more classic fabrics. Then, all these canvases will need to be bleached or colored in blue for our JNV, JNF and JNEX models, to be cut and assembled afterward to form the first garments that will compose the Judogi. Finally, comes the quality check process, thoroughly carried out at KuSakura by some highly experienced employees ensuring the quality of all our high-end models preparing them for the final embroidery performed by our talented workshop in Tokyo and eventually the delivery to our customers.
Throughout a succession of illustrated articles, we will bring you to the heart of KuSakura’s production process, from the first manufacturing steps to the social and ethical mission behind this production we strive hard to accomplish.
We hope that we will be able to give you some valuable information on how KuSakura’s products are made. Thank you very much for your interest in our work and see you soon on KuSakuraShop!
Thank you for this question Erik.
The first Judogi were peace of traditional garments that were not suitable enough for the practice of Judo (too thin and fragile). Therefore, Kano sensei had to find a solution to conceive a more resistant and durable Keikogi. It turned out that the Sashiko (rice grain weaving) was perfect for Judo. Indeed this style of weaving was mainly used for farmers’ garments and firefighters’ technical clothes due to the extreme resistance that it provides. Then, Kano sensei decided to implement this type of weaving in Judo training suits.
The Keikogi has been initially designed for the sport itself, but Jigoro Kano got the idea to use a traditional weaving technic that was already existing for centuries to the advantage of his sport. Later, the Sashiko weaving was recommended and implemented in more and more martial arts.
I hope I have been able to answer clearly to your question.
I recommend you to check our article about the Sashiko weaving to go further: https://www.kusakurashop.com/blogs/the-kusakura-blog/05-focus-on-the-sashiko-fabric
Thank you for your info. I would also like to know if the original Gi was made for practising the sort or belonged to the farmers and then adaped to the sport.