Lessons on Terminology and History

with Dan Bernardo, Sabom


Dobok "道着" - Uniform

The Dobok which is called a Dogi "道着" in Japanese, is the Martial Arts uniform that we put on day in, and day out while practicing martial arts. But it wasn't always called this... in the late 19th century a man by the name of Kanō Jigorō was developing a cutting edge way of teaching Jiujutsu to the young, and to the masses in an educational setting. He was such an amazing educator that he toured all over Europe and the USA spreading his new teaching method. This method, became Kodokan Judo.

The uniform worn in Judo was called a Keikogi "稽古着".  Keiko means practice, and gi means clothing.  There is a picture of Kano wearing this Keikogi from 1920 taken at the Kodokan (Judo headquarters).  While spreading the Okinawan art of Karate into Japan, Funakoshi Gichin adopted Kano's uniform for his students as well.  And the rest is history.  You see, before Funakoshi adopted Kano's dogi, Okinawans practiced in everyday clothes, sometimes very little clothing in fact because Okinawa is a subtropical island.

And then there's the Dee 帯 (obi in Japanese) which didn't have anything to do with rank until Kano implemented it for competition purposes.  But that's another post, and something I've touched on before (see, Cho "初").

It is common practice in Budo (the Japanese martial art expression) to call the Keikogi by the name of the martial art, followed by gi.  Therefore and Judo practitioner will wear a Judogi, a Kendo practitioner will wear a Kendogi and a Karate practitioner will wear a Karategi.  This got translated badly into America where we just call the darned thing a Gi.  YUCK.  Don't be that person.

In Tang Soo Do it is called a Dobok because we take this tradition from the Japanese.  Our art is indeed a Moodo (Budo) practice, and therefore we wear a Dobok.  And because it is a part of Do, we have to treat it better than just work clothes.

I remember one of my tournaments I attended as a school owner, I was just out of college and very full of myself.  I showed up in a nice suit and tie that I just bought (and anyone who knows me knows how big of a deal that is) and Master Kim looked at me and said...

"You look good, but where's your dobok?"  "In the car", I said.  "Go get it!  That's the most important suit you'll ever wear".

This resonated with me, and still does.  I can't tell you how many tournaments I go to where Judges and Referee's are in Jeans and a T-shirt.  Some even have the audacity to wear ballcaps!  All while sitting there judging.  To me, that's a total lack of respect.  Not only for the participants, but to the art, to themselves, to the tournament director, to the friends and family and all guests.

After selling my school in 2008, I spent some time in a monastery in Big Sur, California.  It is a Camaldolese tradition which is a sub-order of the Benedictines.  And I got to thinking about the Habit worn by Monks, and the Dobok worn by Tang Soo Do practitioners are the same thing.

  1. They even everyone out, meaning everyone wears the same thing (with difference in color for rank), you cannot tell social class (aka, how much money you have) by the dobok you wear.
  2. They bind us together, meaning if a group of Tang Soo Do practitioners in their dobok were standing in a crowd, you'd know they were there with each other.
  3. The habit of the monks were actually work clothes that now have more meaning, the big Scapular worn over the tunic was an Apron from the Middle Ages, and we work, sweat, bleed, cry, break, bruise, etc... in our Dobok.

So the next time you put on your dobok, think about what it means to you.  And I ask you all to share a picture of yourself wearing your dobok.


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