Attire and the Evolution of Martial Arts

Many organizations, groups, and clubs that study Japanese martial arts usually have specific training attires. Some, that are treated as uniforms, help to identify what is being studied, or the style/school everyone belongs to. Other attires may represent following a tradition  of strict rules, or modern schools that are more loose in structure. Training attire is more than just looks, but actually have an effect in the evolution of martial arts. For today’s post, I will focus on this point through the changes that took place in the martial style called jūjutsu (柔術)¹, which is the predecessor to today’s jūdō (柔道)².

FROM PAST TO PRESENT

The history of training attire is not as long as one would think. Before Japan’s peaceful times, there was no standard clothing one needed to wear. However, after the unification of Japan in the 1600s, there were several pushes for standardization. This is especially true once martial arts schools increased and, for the sake of business, having a modest sized student base was a desire.

A pic of Maeda Mitsuyo. Although he is renown as a jūdōka (practitioner of jūdō), his training attire is reminiscent of the shorter sleeves and pants those who trained in jūjutsu would wear. Screenshot from International Suigetsujuku Bujutsu Association.

Jūjutsu became a well-established martial system from the Edo period onward due to the peaceful, yet regulated society everyone was living in. Despite the shift from battlefield confrontations, martial artists at the time still needed to rely on skills to defend against attacks in town, or to use for work. Jūjutsu of old is recognized for throwing and restraining techniques, but also utilized strikes and weapons. As a system that taught bearing a mindset for effectiveness in a fight, the training attire also reflected this.

Around the late 1800s, as a more competitive approach was taken in martial arts, a man by the name of Kanō Jigoro³ took a chance to transform jūjutsu in a way where it could be more accessible to many without the risk of serious injuries from the more combat-focus techniques, such as atemiwaza (当身技). Taking the nagewaza (投げ技), gatamewaza (固め技), and ashiwaza (足技) from various koryū jūjutsu he either studied or researched, Mr. Kanō developed a new approach for engaging in grappling in a more health-conscious & sports-centric fashion, which he called jūdō. Training attire also changed to cater to this new system, where the sleeves of the jacket was made longer, the pant legs reached lower, and the clothing was made baggy overall. As a sport, the larger uniforms encouraged more frequent attempts to grapple and apply techniques. Thus, jūdō is a martial art that is actively trained in by both men & women, and young & old.

LOOKING AT TRAINING ATTIRE

From what can be learned from antique koryū scrolls, jūjutsuka (柔術家, meaning those who train in jūjutsu) wore a short-sleeve jacket. An advantage of this was to avoid having your sleeves used against you, where it can be grabbed for control or get you thrown. Also, their hakama (袴, wide-leg pants) was at times shorter, where it reached slightly above the knees, or just generally slimmer. This allowed for less restriction in footwork. In other scrolls, robe-like attire with no pants may have also been worn during jūjutsu training. This has a look of what would’ve been worn indoors or during hot days.

2 pages from a book called “Jujutsu Kenbo Zukai Hiken” (柔術剣棒図解秘訣), where jūjutsu techniques are demonstrated by those wearing a much older style of training attire.

From these old pictures, you’ll notice that while these martial artists shared the same style of clothing, these were not quite fitting to the word “uniform”. Each jūjutsuka’s training attire was very much the same as common wear, boosting different designs and patterns. This does illustrate a sense of practicality, where one learns how to utilize their skills in the very type of clothing they’d be wearing in case a confrontation does arise.

Later in the years, this style of training attire standardized around the Meiji period. The jacket was similar as before, but was more of what is called a dōgi (道着, training uniform), where it was generally white and used primarily for martial arts training. As before, the jacket is “han-sode” (半袖, short-sleeve) style. Instead of a short hakama, a simple short pants called “han-zubon” (半ズボン), which is similar to what was worn under hakama, became part of this new uniform. Still the same mindset for jūjutsu was retained.

COMPARISON OF THEN & NOW

While it’s safe to say that jūjutsu was the forefather of jūdō, make no mistake that they’re not the same. Jūdō takes a different approach, from how techniques are performed to rules. To say it simply, the difference is generally stated as the following:

  • Jūjutsu = kata geiko (形稽古)
  • Jūdō = randori (乱取り)

Although this is a direct statement, it’s not so cut & dry. First, let’s look into the specifics between the two. when studying older martial systems that specialize in jūjutsu, kata geiko is used to learn the techniques, timing, and under what types of situations can a person perform what through kata (形, forms). Movements are generally specific, while grappling techniques applied (with strikes acceptable to assist) in a way to prevent an opponent from escaping or even taking ukemi (受身, breakfall). On the other hand, jūdō uses a great deal of randori to practice and learn techniques in a more active setting between 2 jūdōka (柔道家, a person who practices jūdō) who are frequently going for a clinch. This type of training is great for the adrenaline-fueled matches found in jūdō competition. In short, the training that takes place in randori is much more free form, while kata geiko puts emphasis on precision under structured scenarios.

A visual comparison between jūjutsu and jūdō. Notice the shorter sleeves and pant legs for the 2 jūjutsuka (left) compared to the longer versions for the 2 jūdōka (right). Left pic is a screenshot from International Suigetsujuku Bujutsu Association, while the left pic is from Wikipedia.

While it is true that jūjutsu does have a great dependency on kata geiko, this doesn’t mean that randori, or some form of free play, isn’t used as a training tool. This can also be said for jūdō, for there are kata used to teach, as well as to publicly demonstrate, how techniques are executed. The approach for both systems are different, but not so one-sided.

Another difference lies in the clothing. When engaging with a training partner in jūjutsu, areas to actually grapple are limit. Students are often limited to grabbing the collar and jacket of their partner, as there are no long sleeves. While the bare arms can be seized, it won’t be firm grip. In jūdō, not only are the long sleeves of their jackets available, but one can get a firm grip and stay latched on. Also, with wearing long pants, a student can attempt many types of throws that go to he ground due to the legs being completely covered. For those who practiced jūjutsu in the past, this is not the case, for greater care in execution had to be considered in order to avoid bruising one’s knees and exposed legs while wearing short pants.

CONCLUSION

Here ends a short look at training attire and how it may help influence the changes that take place in martial arts. While the connection between jūjutsu and judo was used to illustrate this point, many other Japanese martial systems have a similar history where evolving with the times was impacted from the need to conform with the change in clothing.


1) Jūjutsu is generally labeled a a “grappling system”, but it’s a little more than that. In essence, it’s a hand-to-hand martial system that utilizes grapples, strikes, and (small) weapons. Due to Japan’s history of engaging in activities where one displays their strength through a wrestling-like fashion, grapples do play a larger role in jūjutsu.

2) Jūdō is a modern adaption of jūjutsu, which takes a more philosophical approach, and focuses on the development of a healthy body and refining the spirit. Note that the word “jūdō” is not a modern term itself, as its use can be found in a much older document called “Nihon Shinbu no Den” (日本神武の伝).

3) The creation of jūdō is a credited to Kanō Jigoro (嘉納治五郎). After studying the jūjutsu of Tenshin Shinyō ryū (天神真楊流) and Kitō ryū (起倒流) during his youth, Jigoro researched various jūjutsu systems to understand how to devise a new system that could be beneficial to all. In 1882, he opened up his own training hall called “Kōdōkan” (講道館), and introduced his unique style called jūdō.