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John Graden

John Graden

Executive Director

John Graden led the martial arts into the modern era by creating the first professional association, trade journal & instructors certification program.

Do you think the gi hurts or helps to promote martial arts to adults?

Play to listen. This was heard by approximately 14-million listeners.

The Gi is not an issue with kids as much as adults.

One of my schools was next to an aerobics studio. I was at lunch with the owner when she said, “Some of my students walked over and watched your class. One said, ‘That looks interesting.’ Another woman said, ‘Yeah, but look at what we’d have to wear.'”

That is not the only time that I’ve heard complaints about the gi.

I coined the term “black belt eyes” as the natural tendency for school owners to look at their school through the eyes of a veteran black belt instead of a potential student.

Many women WILL NEVER put a gi on and/or take a class in their bare feet.

That has NOTHING to do with “lack of discipline or tradition.” It’s pure black belt eyes. You came up wearing a gi and you like it. It’s what you’ve always worn to class.

Here are two of the latest examples of why the gi needs to go.

Video 1. Watch a nice BBC profile on a very pretty girl in a very ugly outfit.

Video 2. Listen to a short audio clip from Sean Hannity as he describes his MMA training to Bill O’Reilly, who teases him about his “little white outfit.”

Question: What do you think? Should the gi go?

Notice Tyson’s hand is by his face, not his hip.

His chin is down instead of up.

His shoulder is up instead of pulled back.

His body is sideways to his opponent instead of squared off.

His legs are under his body not spread apart like he was riding a horse.

With this kind of form, he would fail his orange belt exam in most schools. 

How does that make any sense?

Sensei Tyson?

If Mike Tyson or a world champion kickboxer came to your school to teach your black belts. What do you think he would work on? Double punches, square blocks, and keeping your chin up?

I’m pretty sure he would emphasize head movement, how to snap your punches and a defense that does NOT include pulling your punch back to your hip.

I’m sure the students would learn advanced applications to adjust for different fighters. Notice I said advanced applications, not advanced strikes.

When you focus on application, you can apply that to almost any technique.

For instance, if the drill is about how to fight a taller fighter, the answer is more about footwork to stay on the outside until you can secure quick access. My brothers are 6′ 3″ and 6′ 4″ so I know something about fighting a taller opponent.

Drills that teach that application do not require complexity. They require simplicity.

The more complex a skill becomes, the less chance it can be used. Have you ever seen a double punch? Only in kata and here:

If you eliminated all kata and traditional skills, you could devote that time to drills and conditioning that would give your students a true advantage in sparring or self-defense.

Imagine teaching fewer skills that are easy to teach and learn than traditional skills and kata.

You could spend more time on the application of those skills rather than stepping up and down the classroom and holding blocks and punches out in the air, which leaves you wide open for a counterattack.

Rather than spending student’s time with the complexity and frustration of spending years perfecting the bad habits of pulling their hand back to their hip, keeping their chin up, aiming and holding a punch in the air, and blocking with power while stepping forward, your retention will improve. Your student quality will improve. Your curriculum consistency will improve.

This is the core of our white to black belt curriculum Empower Kickboxing.

It’s an old saying, but true. “Less is best.”

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  1. Dan

    Love the white Gi of course. England is still a much more traditional and reserved country and Japanese Karate the most popular Martial Art over here, but almost all martial art are taught over here.

  2. Rebekah Nutter

    Most kids in our program – and those who come in to talk to us – are over the moon happy to have a traditional white uniform. It’s what they associate with martial arts, and for them the uniform helps them see themselves as a martial artist. Occasionally we have a child with sensory issues, a child who can’t bear the feel of a uniform, and in those cases of course we try to accommodate so that the student feels comfortable. In any case, we have a provision that allows students to wear karate pants and a school t-shirt for most classes, only needing the white dobak for testing and special events. Works for us. But the question is worth asking, and different schools may have different conditions.

  3. Chicken Recipes

    I have to disagree that the GI would be a reason to not take martial arts – perhaps a symptom of a mindset about many things however. Our program has about 5% Adult Women in it – our Kickboxing program is all barefooted (but regular clothes) – 85% women.

    If the Gi and bare feet is what is in the way of an adult female taking karate, well then taking away the Gi and allowing shoes just leads to the next issue – My breaking nails, messing my hair, or sweating off my makeup….

    Karate is a sport in this country – obviously mostly focused on kids – but for the same percentage of adults who play soccer, softball, volleyball, karate is an option…

  4. Matt Frey

    The gi stays! What is the alternative? Letting them wear their skin tight leotards or stretch pants from aerobics? They’re okay wearing those, but a gi is unreasonable? Students have enough distractions as it is and it’s getting harder to keep their attention where it belongs. Gi pants and a t-shirt have typically been reserved for really hot summer days. If you go back far enough, the gi was just the Samurai’s underwear. But isn’t it a more modern tradition to wear the gi in order to temper the ego? Don’t the Buddhist monks all shave their heads to rid themselves of ego and vanity? I would think the practice similar so you’re focusing on training and not distracting other students.

    • John Graden

      Hi Matt,
      The gi was the samurai’s underwear? I didn’t know that. I would think the training is far too important to let samurai underwear to get in the way. :0)

      Would you have been as excited and devoted to training as you have been (for a long time :0), if the apparel was different? I imagine you would be, but only you would know.

      In my school, gi pants, belt, and a school t-shirt were the option that virtually 100% of the students took. Only on belt exams would a full uniform be required.

      It’s the gi top that puts 10-lbs on and looks unattractive.

      • Matt Frey

        I read this on Wikipedia. Maybe I’m misinterpreting what they mean by underpants.

        The top part of the keikogi is called the uwagi (上着 uwa means “upper”). The pants of the keikogi are called shitabaki (下穿き), which literally means underpants (or zubon (ズボン), which means pants or trousers).

        • Matt Frey

          I always thought of them as undergarments of some sort, because they usually wear a heavier or more colorful kimono and the hakama over them.

  5. Douglas Nybell

    Well, you certainly got my attention. If that is supposed to be a legitimate ad, that person or agency should be fired. I agree it is ugly. It looks like two models were given random gis and obis and told to put them on (without instruction). If I saw someone wearing a black belt like that I’d certainly questions their legitimacy. This looks like a Jim Carrey parody. The obi should be worn over the hara (center) and in our system the ends only extend about halfway to the knees. I wore gis like this in the 60’s when we had to get them from India or Japan and they didn’t make them to fit Americans. We mix and match pant and top so they fit right and our students feel proud to wear them. In over 50 years I’ve heard very few (I can’t recall any) complaints about wearing gis. Our new students are very anxious to get their first gi and are very proud of it. I think it helps set the mindset that they are there to train. I agree with Matt Frey non-traditional dress would create too many distractions. In the summer school t-shirts are optional and only a few students wear them.