Originally posted by akiy
Hasn't Hikitsuchi sensei in Shingu, Japan, worn a white hakama for a while now?
I've also heard that some aikido organizations in Europe have people wear white hakama.
My understanding is that Hikitsuchi Sensei wears a white hakama because he is an ordained Shinto priest. Like most things Japanese, there is a hierarchy within Shinto as well, and some colors are restricted to levels or types of practitioners. Purple is reserved for those who are senior priests at major shrines, for example. Red is restricted to young women who serve as shrine attendants. And I saw a couple of priests wearing absolutely gorgeous turquoise blue models.
Aside from the Shinto-specific, white is sometimes used as a generic color for schools or special occasions which are more generally oriented toward "spiritual aspects" of the art, for lack of a better phrase.
Some schools in Lovret Sensei's Tenshin Ryu Kenjutsu system have used white for beginning practitioners in this country, and I have seen the same in Japan for both sword arts and kyudo -- once in a situation where both very senior and very junior practitioners were wearing white. In that situation, the senior practitioner's action might be interpreted as an external sign of the intention to come to practice with "beginner's mind."
Black is an all around semi-formal color that doesn't show the dirt. Some who were around when Saotome Sensei was still teaching at Hombu have told me that he was the first on the Hombu instructional staff to wear blue and the custom was adopted by many students who regularly attended his classes, but I wasn't there so I can't vouch for the truth of that claim.
As for grey, when you see a bunch of Japanese businessmen in dark suits and one in grey, it is immediately apparent who's the boss -- sort of a human Alpha-Male variation on the silver-back ape. I think the same applies to hakama.
My personal view is that color and movement are wonderful, people generally ascribe too much significance to this kind of stuff, and aikido videos might be more interesting visually if there was a greater variety of color.
On the other hand, a wider range of color also increases the potential for fashion wars and that was one element of how the celebrated incident of the 47 Ronin began, so there are long-standing cultural reasons for being wary of that.
Finally, about length: there were a number of "codes for military households" promulgated during the Tokugawa Shogunate. In some instances, bushi who received audiences with daimyo or other high officials within the shogunate were REQUIRED to wear extra-long hakama, in some cases as much as TWO FEET LONGER THAN THEIR LEGS. This is generally interpreted as a security precaution to insure that any bushi foolish enough to attempt an attack from seiza in his lordship's chambers would be likely to trip on his own hakama before he got one shaku closer....
Still, I do have some turquoise dye and a white cotton hakama...hmmmmmmmmm