By Joshua Hagen
Recently, while watching the IJF's World Championships and Tokyo Grand Slam, a certain theme dawned on me. I have never seen such beautiful tidy uniform in a tournament as you see on Hashimoto. I mean, his judogi always looks meticulously neat. Which got me wondering, is Hashimoto just obsessive compulsive, or is there a method to his tidiness? Hashimoto is constantly rearranging, tucking, and straightening his uniform. To illustrate my point, I have embedded a video below of the 2017 Paris Grand Slam -73kg Final between Hashimoto of Japan, and An of South Korea. During the match, I count Hashimoto fixing his uniform 15 times without once being prompted to do so by the referee. There are two times that you don't actually witness the tucking, but you see that it's been done during video review. Moreover, he fixes his gi three times during the action when there is a little space between himself and his competitor. The third attempt is broken up by An engaging in kumikata, as Hashimoto is in the process of adjusting his kimono. I have an educated guess as to why Hashimoto is so programmed to fix his uniform.
As many people know, judo’s lineage originates in Japanese jujutsu, a martial art used in hand to hand combat training by the Samurai. To this day, the military of every nation holds personal orderliness in high esteem, for reasons of health and safety. Hair is typically kept neat and short so that it can't be grabbed in hand-to-hand combat. Shirts are tucked and boots are tied tight so that they don't get snagged. Even loose threads are burned off. It's not hard to imagine that when Jigoro Kano was learning jujutsu, some of the rituals of Samurai orderliness would have been passed down to him. Recall that the Samurai were only banned from carrying a sword 6 years before Kano created Judo.
This practice of keeping your gi relatively tidy is fairly native to judo. It's definitely something I've seen in many dojos over the years. Most senseis hate to see athletes leave their belts on the floor, myself included. How ingrained it is in the culture of judo is further highlighted by the fact that it's an integral piece of nage no kata. At the end of each set of nage no kata, the athletes very deliberately turn their backs to each other, and make sure that their judogi is in perfect order. In Canada, failure to perform this piece of tidying during your black belt grading means a fail, period.
What interests me in Hashimoto's case, is the extremity of his fastidiousness, and the fact that he's taking time to tidy his judogi at the highest level of competition. The thinking judoka must pause and wonder what he stands to gain from being so neat.
What do we know for certain about a gi that's as close to the body as possible? For starters, it's a strategic advantage! It's pretty clear if you've ever done a significant amount of competing or high intensity randori that it's much easier to grip someone when they have a messy uniform.
With this knowledge in hand, athletes pushed the sport by wearing tighter and tighter uniforms, with sleeves as far from the wrist as possible, and large, incredibly thick collars. If anyone has ever worked out with a partner in an old Gill Sport gi or Dax Mosquito gi, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. As recently as 2015, the IJF mandated that the judogi be of a lighter fabric, and simultaneously narrowed the collar substantially. In 2014, the IJF told the athletes that the sleeve must meet the wrist bone, lengthening the sleeve by approximately 2 inches. The fact is, if the gi is orderly, and the belt is tight, it is without a doubt harder to grip, especially on the opponents back.
What I can confirm through conversation with a friend and former Japanese National Team member is that the coaches 100% mandate that their athletes continually tidy their judogi. What I cannot confirm is the motivation for the required tidiness. Whether or not Hashimoto ever comes out and declares that he's doing it for strategic advantage is immaterial to me.
A tidy gi looks better, can be had for free, and requires minimal effort, once it's part of your athletes' programming. It's certainly an advantage that I seek to exploit for my own students.
Please check out my last blog on the future of developing judoka
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