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Home > Spiritual > Hakama Pleats
by Hiroshi Ikeda

(Translated from Japanese by J. Akiyama)

I got to talk to Hiroshi Ikeda sensei for a while during the Washington DC Summer Camp, right after Tim Gion asked him about the reason why the Bu Jin Design hakama had the pleats on in a "mirror image" fashion. This is basically what he told me in Japanese.

The reason why Bu Jin Design hakama have the pleats in a "mirror image" fashion is because it is our design. That is all. It's just the way that we designed the hakama to be a Bu Jin Design "original" hakama.

I've heard there are some people out there who say that if the pleats are reversed in this way, it's something out of tradition and you shouldn't wear it. I don't believe in that. I do not think that the hakama you wear influences your aikido or budo in any manner.

These days, if you were invited to the White House to meet the President of the United States, you could conceivably go there in jeans, T-shirt, and sandals. Most likely, you wouldn't do that, but you could. Back in feudal times in Japan, if you were called up by a daimyo or even the shogun and you showed up in "casual" clothing, your head would most likely get chopped off due to disrespect. Perhaps, if you wore a hakama in which your pleats were reversed, you could lose your head. This kind of tradition extended into aikido as well, as the roots of budo and, hence, aikido reach down into these traditions developed in feudal Japan.

However, luckily for us, we're not living in feudal Japan any more.

Back when people started practicing aikido, everyone who wore a dogi wore a judo gi top. This wasn't due to the fact that there was some rule or regulation that forced people to wear a judo gi top -- it was just that there was no other dogi top to wear!

These days, you can see people wearing canvas based dogi tops (like the one Bu Jin Design sells), karate dogi tops, and even some people who wear the V-necked taekwondo gi tops. Sometimes, beginners even just wear a T-shirt and sweatpants during the beginning of their training, as they have not yet purchased dogi. This is all accepted. It's not like if you wear a non-traditional hakama, your aikido suffers.

There have been "advancements" in what we use to practice aikido. There are now many aikidoka who wear Bu Jin Design's hakama with the "Aiki Style" koshiita. Back in feudal times in Japan, people didn't mind wearing the stiff, rigid koshiita, because the people who wore them back then were not going to be doing rolls or anything of that sort. When people started practicing jiujutsu, some people actually injured their lower back due to the koshiita breaking. This is one reason why I made the "Aiki Style" koshiita. I think that advancement has been accepted by the aikido community very well.

In the same way, can we not take a look at the "lineage" of aikido? If we were to say that we must be "traditional," should we not all be training under Japanese shihan? Can we not extend such "tradition" to say that we can not learn "true" aikido through people who were not with O-sensei? Can we not say that unless you actually trained with O-sensei himself, we are not learning "true" aikido? I don't think so.

How about the place that we call a "dojo"? There are many dojo in America which are situated in converted warehouses, in malls, and other such places. Even this week, we can call the DuFour Athletic Center here at Catholic University with the mats that we borrowed from people a dojo. If we wanted to be strictly traditional, these places can not be a dojo.

Can we say that such places that were not built from the foundation on up with the intent of that space being a place to practice "the way" couldn't be called a "dojo"? How many dojo in the United States were built this way? How many dojo have been blessed by Shinto priests? If such things were not done, couldn't you say that these places are not, in fact, "dojo" any more? I don't think so.

Take a look at churches. These places of worship were not created by God. No, God did not create these churches; people did. The reason why churches are spiritual is because the people in these churches make it spiritual. It is the same way with a dojo. It does not matter where the dojo is. As long as the people practicing within that dojo have the spiritual mindset, that place becomes spiritual.

Whether we practice in a warehouse, a garage, a park, or a gymnasium, what _we_ bring to the space makes it into a dojo. What we bring makes things spiritual.

"Katachi dewa naku, kimochi." Not the shape, but the feeling behind it. If we were to just be wrapped up in merely the shape of things, we would not be able to get to the feelings within.

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