Saturday, September 18, 2010

Taking It to the Streets

In the dojo, uniformity is the thing: We dress alike (in gi and obi) - right down to our shoe-less feet. Japanese culture and Okinawan tradition aside (meaning I understand the reasons behind being all gi-ed up and barefoot in the dojo), I don't think training in my baggy karate uniform and without my shoes emulates any kind of true self-defense situation at all. Really, the only time I'll probably ever need to defend myself like that is if I actually get jumped in the dojo, in my living room as I'm packing my gear bag and preparing for class or if I'm on the beach (where my swim suit would have to substitute for my gi).

I've mentioned before how some of my outside of the dojo clothing choices have caused me a bit of concern over the prospect of getting away from an attack or fighting back if necessary. A pencil skirt and kitten heels - my usual work attire - hardly make it easy to run away, throw a spinning kick or even be all that steady on concrete or cobblestones. But, since I wear that stuff for more hours each day than I'm in gi or sweats and a t-shirt, I guess chances are that a "man jumping out from behind the bushes" attack would probably happen when I'm wearing my "girl" clothes.

Earlier this spring, Sensei S held class in the dojo parking lot. I'd worn some sweats, a t-shirt and my favorite pair of slides to class - which made movement not so restrictive - but I soon found out that shoes change the game a bit. Unable to grip my toes into the ground, the very first front kick I threw sent my slide flying over Sensei's car. My uke was a brand-spanking new white belt who had been training for about three weeks and was still learning what the heck appropriate resistance/strength meant - which meant there were no gentle takedowns onto the blacktop at all. And since we were all so used to having the cool wooden dojo floor or the comfy mats underneath us (which make slapping out a whole lot easier), we all got a few scrapes that night if I remember correctly.

All that made me never want to go for realism on the "street" ever again. Sensei keeps telling us that one winter day, we're going to train in boots, long pants and coats - and I truly hope he forgets by the time the cold months roll around again. And he might, as he says we don't do the "real clothing" training more often because anything you can do barefoot in gi you should be able to do in espadrilles and a mini-skirt, but I'm not so sure.

To test that theory a bit, at a recent Women's Self Defense seminar I attended, I did the class in the jeans and a button-up shirt I'd worn all day. So not to soil the dojo's mats, we all kicked our shoes off at the door, but the belt of my jeans as well as my earrings, necklace and watch felt weird, as those things usually gets removed before we bow in. A little more "real" than the gi/no shoes scenario, but still not "pencil skirt and brief case" real, y'know?

Have you ever trained or thrown some techniques in regular clothes? Did you like it or miss your uniform?


  1. Hi Felicia, you raise some really important points here and I'm sure many gi clad, barefoot karateka have also pondered and worried about the same issues.

    I've never actually tried training in 'real' clothes or shoes but a couple of points come to mind: 1. The attacker will also be in 'real' clothes so maybe any disadvantages we perceive for ourselves apply to 'him' as well and are neutralised to some extent. 2. Perhaps we should think about the advantages of real clothes as well e.g do they make effective weapons? After all we take off shoes, jewellery, outdoor wear so we don't hurt our training partners. Perhaps stiletos, rings, buckles or coats even can be used to help us in our defense. Just a thought - I haven't ever put any of this into practice!

  2. Good points, Sue and I totally hear you. I bet there are many advantages to duking it out in clothing - like the weight any shoe could add to a kick, the damage a ring could do to a face with a punch, etc. Sure, we take that stuff off in the dojo to not hurt our training partners, but we also do it to keep from getting hurt ourselves.

    The other issue for me is a matter of practice. I know how I train to do it - like the front snap kick I learned to throw with my toes back using the ball of my foot - will be how I try to do it in real time. My big ol' Timberland snow boot or even the girly heeled dress boot will not allow me to bend the ball of my foot. As I have no idea what type of damage a kick like that would do with the weight of the shoe added in for good measure, I'm not sure I would even try to throw it. Perhaps in a "him or me" situation, but...

    I dunno. Perhaps I'm just thinking about this a little too much...

  3. But, really, what is the point unless you can effect damage in you everyday attire? I feel the techniques learned in the dojo are still sound. you just need to adapt to modern clothing and style!
    Our dojo has plain clothes days on occasion and i feel they are a good addition to the curriculum. But, the drawback is that I get stuck on vacuum duty to get whatever the shoes tracked in up out of the carpet!

  4. I followed your advice this morning, Shibo, and did my a.m. kata flow drills in a sweat suit, slides and socks. My shoes flew off a couple of times (even though I was working Senchin - a kata that has absolutely no kicks) and keeping my balance for a few stances (mainly moving into a horse or cat) was tricky, but it seems like it may just be a practice thing. In other words, I just need to get used to doing it.

    Jeans and sneakers tomorrow morning! Eventually, pencil skirt and low pumps :-)

  5. Great post Felicia!

    We schedule street clothes workouts in the dojo. It has been on my "to do" list since the Summer. On nice days, we put our sneakers on and practice outside on the grass.

    It is time for me to put a plain clothes workout on the calendar. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Glad I could be of service,Michele :-)