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Today was my first class wearing a hakama. If you'd told me last week I'd be wearing one today I would have laughed pretty hard. I had no idea that I was even supposed to until class last Thursday...
At the water cooler after that class, one of the newest additions to our dojo asked me about our belt rankings. I explained the belt colors and he asked when people wore hakamas. I told him that I knew the yudansha wore them, but that I'd seen other people wearing them too and maybe they'd transferred from dojos where everyone had worn them and Sensei let them because of that, but he should ask Sensei because I'm just a 5th kyu and don't know.
Fifteen minutes later in the dressing room, my sempai, Sandra, said "You should try out one of my hakamas at next practice." and explained to me that in most dojos women wore them because, from the Japanese perspective, gi pants are basically underwear. Women wear hakamas for modesty's sake.
The concept of wearing one at this stage is pretty daunting to me. I have a hard enough time moving around without an extra 12 yards of heavy fabric flowing around my feet. Plus, what if someone makes the assumption (as I did to others) that because I'm wearing one I actually know what I'm doing!!
After grudgingly saying "maybe" to trying one out, I still felt relieved that I could probably find an excuse before next practice to put it off for a while. Besides, she didn't say that we necessarily lived by that modesty rule in OUR dojo...
After we came out of the dressing room Sandra mentioned our conversation to Sensei, who looked at me and said "Oh yeah, I've been meaning to talk to you about that... After you're ranked, you should start wearing one... you're due..."
So the next day I start looking on-line to order a hakama. The options you have to choose from to order one are almost overwhelming: fabric, color, koshiita styles, sewn pleats, pockets, extra ties, embroidery, etc... And then there are the illustrated instructions on how to put one on! And then how to fold it! How can one garment be so complicated??
Well, Sandra is a good and patient sempai... it only took me 20 minutes to get my hakama on today and I muddled through. I actually managed to get through class without completely embarassing myself (though I got thrown into a wall and experienced my first breakfall accidentally, but those are other stories!). I only tripped once, when standing up after bowing in on the mat, but everyone else was stretching so nobody saw me, I think.
So now I get to get all the looks as various people show up to class, like I did when I first got my yellow belt. When we were paired up today, Dan, another 5th kyu who is senior to me, whispered "How come you get to wear a hakama and I don't??" I said with an eye roll, "...because I'm a GIRL." To which he replied "Oh, that's IT. I'm going to get the operation tomorrow!". Hehe.
Well, I survived class today, and I guess I will get used to my new wardrobe item. Every time I start to get a little "comfortable" with things, they seem to change and force me to adjust. I suppose that's one of the best things about Aikido though. It never gets old, there's always more to learn, and you'll never get it perfect no matter how much you train, but you'll keep growing if you can stick to it.