Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Karate belt issues!

How should a female martial artist wear her belt? I don't mean how do I tie it but where exactly should I wear it?

Natural waist
Most of my karate career so far I have worn my belt fairly snugly around my natural waistline. It is comfortable there, generally stays done up and helps to keep my gi jacket together. A few months ago I was asked by a senior instructor in my organisation to wear my belt lower, just above my hips. To make it sit on my hips I have to loosen it. It no longer feels comfortable and when I'm grappling my gi jacket rides up and comes apart so I am constantly tugging at it.

Hip level
Last night at karate my husband and I were demonstrating our self-defence techniques to the class and I was forever tugging at my gi to keep it in place. My instructor commented on this and told me to leave my gi alone.  Though I wear a sleeveless top under the jacket for modesty I still feel embarrassed if my gi comes apart too much. In my mind, tying my belt higher and tighter would solve the problem. This is only really a problem when I am grappling or throwing, during kihon and kata work it's not such an issue.

I just wondered if other women experience the same problem? Have you been given guidance on exactly where to position your belt or is it left up to you? Perhaps you prefer to wear your belt lower, in which case how do you keep your gi jacket in place? Do you tug at your gi a lot or does it not bother you when it comes apart? I would really like to know how other women cope with this.

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. said...

I tend to tie mine at my waist and quite tightly. My jacket only rides up then if we're doing lots of twisting about (if we're doing escapes or controls for example). If I tie it lower I find it rides up even when I'm only doing basics and it drives me bonkers. I usually wear a vest top under my jacket unless it's particularly warm then I won't but I always wear a sports bra which is as much coverage as wearing a crop top so still reasonably decent.

Was there a particular reason you were told to wear it lower down? Seems a bit of an odd thing to pick someone up on.


Sue C said...

Hi Marie, apparently it looks better because your body is divided up into two equal halves. Men achieve this symmetrical aesthetic naturally but women need to drop their belts to achieve it. Our organisation puts a lot of emphasis on aesthetics when it comes to the 'art' of karate (ie kata and kihon performances)but this is less important in the practical self-defence aspects.

I think I'm going to offer a compromise to my instructor - I'll offer to wear my belt low for all kata and kihon demonstrations but tighten it up for all partner work that involves grappling and takedowns. Sound fair?

Felicia said...

I think it does. Hope your instructor does, too.

I've never been asked to wear my belt in any place in particular, but, like you, I like to wear it on my natural waistline. Because I have broad shoulders and an small waist, I still have issues with my top opening right around boob level whenever I move my arms, lol. I wear a sleeveless tank (think belly-length sports bra) under my top, but I still feel uncomfy when my top gaps opens - even though the tank is the same color as my gi. The only time my top isn't gapping is when I wear my heaviest-weight gi (14 oz) - but I usually reserve that for gradings, seminars and tournaments.

I've heard that Century makes a female-cut gi top with narrower shoulders and a tapered waist that might make the gapping issue a non-issue - but they are kind of pricey! You can find them here:

Feeling your pain, girl...

Why don't men have issues like this?

~dawn~ said...

Why don't men have issues like this?

I'm sure they have other issues, I just haven't figured out what they are ;)

I can't stand having anything on my natural waist, belt, pants, etc. I wear my belt more loosely, pushed down to my hips. I also don't like the elastic waisted pants (because they ride up) so I wear the tied ones so I can push them down to my hips.

Apparently I have no sense of modesty, I wear nothing but a sports bra under my gi top and rarely give any consideration to gaping. I just periodically turn to the side to straighten myself.

I agree with the others, I don't understand why your instructor would even be concerned about this. I wonder if he understood that it made you uncomfortable if he would rescind his request? As long as you appear neat, tidy and respectful, I would think your comfort would be more important then your belt being three inches lower.

Charles James said...

Hi, Sue: Being the devils advocate here, it seems to me the only reason is to look "cool."

Many of my previous assiciations readily admit they leave it loose and down around the hips because it "looks" better.

Me, personally, I like it tight around the waste. It reminds me of hara and it does what its original intent was meant to do, hold up your pants and keep the top closed and in control.

In your photos I have to say your wearing it at the waist is not only good, its effective, it gets the job done, and it still looks good/cool.

Your issue may not be wearing of the obi but the fact that a senior instructor told you to do it.

Do you do what your told or do you question it or do you just go back to wearing it properly.

Is the senior a Sempai, Sensei of the dojo Sensei? If it is not the head man/woman in charge of the dojo then I feel you should pose the question/concern to them via the senior.

OR, simply discuss it privately with that senior to let them know your feelings and preferences...who knows he may just smile and say, "Ok!"

Maybe, its some unofficial test before the test. After all, you are a black belt even it not officially sanctioned yet and maybe he/she wants to see if you will go the distance.

Who knows ... :-)

In about twenty years of instruction the only comment I would make on the obi is to adjust it so the ends meet equally but then that is just a preference.

Michele said...


I prefer to wear my belt lower on my hips. I wear a t-shirt or sport tank under my gi so it doesn't bother me if jacket comes apart.

One of our students used to wear his belt high on the waist. When he went to Shodan testing at the Honbu, the Federation President asked him to adjust his belt lower. I guess men have these issues too. :)

Man of the West said...

I know you asked for commentary from the women, but I'm jumpin' in anyway.

My first thought upon reading your account was, to be frank, "What the HECK is his problem?" It seems like the most utterly bizarre thing imaginable.

Then I thought of something else and I'm just tossin' it out there as a possibility, pure speculation:

I couldn't help but notice that in the two photos, your--ahem--womanly shape is much more noticeable when your belt is around your waist. I wonder if it is just possible that your instructor asked you to wear your belt in a way that better disguises your shape so that the men in your class would be less tempted to look at you?

Just a possibility, like I say.

FWIW, in RyuTe we wear a hakama of Taika Oyata's own design. There is no belt, per se. But you know, the only time my instructor requires me to wear one is when I go to a seminar. Although I wear hakama pants and a t-shirt for most regular classes, if I want to show up in jeans and a t-shirt, I am perfectly free to do so. Perhaps that colors my perspective and makes me wonder why anyone would be uptight over the way a woman wore her uniform.

Hope I haven't inadvertently given offense. None was intended.

John Coles said...

All I can do is shake my head in despair. And some people wonder why martial arts are not taken seriously. I recall training in England and asking the instructor a question. I was taken aside by senior students after the class and told I was not allowed to talk to the instructor unless he talks to me first ... even outside the dojo. The guy was a tradesman outside the dojo, and I was not allowed to talk to him in the pub if we bumped into each other unless he talked to me first. I mean really ...

On the issue of female modesty. I always remember a female in one of the classes I was attending. I'd known her at university, she was studying law but was also a little alternate. We were engaged in a form of training whereby the instructor signals an attack without the defender seeing it. This particular attack was to pull the gi top down around a person's elbows and hit them. The poor chap that did this to the aforementioned female lawyer/alternative never got his hit away because the pulling down of the gi top revealed she wasn't wearing anything under it. ... I suppose that could be considered a form of defence.

True story.

Unknown said...

I've never received instruction either way. I did take a hard look around the dojo last night, though. The men wore their belts lower, closer to hip level, and the women to wear their obi higher, toward the natural waist. I think it's because the one instruction/suggestion Sensei did give us was to cut off the little ties inside the gi top. They are never positioned correctly and can hinder your movements. He said the belt will hold your gi top closed (that's what it's for). So, we just position our belts so the top stays closed. Women have hips and boobs, so we position our belts higher.

Yamabushi said...

At my dojo, the belt is tied lower so that the knot is near the hara. For women, this usually means lower than the waist. Then again, if anyone has a problem with their gi, we turn away from shomen and fix it (just not during a kata, and only if we are not in the middle of something else).
Also, in my dojo, we don't get the opportunity to negotiate with our Sensei in regards to such things, so I would urge caution in that regard.

Sue C said...

Thanks everyone for commenting. I'd just like to point out that it is not my club instructor that has asked for my belt to be lowered but a senior female instructor from our organisation. My own instructor has never really mentioned it. The request is also to women generally in the organisation, not just me personally.

It's interesting that some of you are happy to wear your belts low and don't mind the gaping and others prefer higher, tighter belts. I wonder if this difference reflects age groups? Younger women are used to wearing low slung jeans as they've been fashionable for a while now. My generation are used to more fitted, higher waisted jeans. I don't feel any more comfortable in 'low rise' jeans than I do with my belt slung low on my gi.

I don't think this is an issue of 'cool' or of disguising the female form (let's face it, a gaping gi jacket is more distracting than a tightly tied belt). I think they genuinely think it looks better with the belt tied lower.

Since this request has come from 'up above' so to speak I feel I should respect it and just try getting used to it. It's been interesting to hear all your views on this though, so thanks.

John: She wasn't even wearing a bra? My god she must have had chaffed nipples!(and saggy boobs):-)

~dawn~ said...

It's interesting that some of you are happy to wear your belts low and don't mind the gaping and others prefer higher, tighter belts. I wonder if this difference reflects age groups? Younger women are used to wearing low slung jeans as they've been fashionable for a while now.

Yes, yes, that must be it. I'm young :D

John: She wasn't even wearing a bra? My god she must have had chaffed nipples!(and saggy boobs):-)

That made me laugh! I have to admit, as the female assistant instructor, I had to take aside a father one day to point out his 6 year old daughter should probably be wearing a tee shirt or tank top under her gi :O That was a fun conversation!


Sue C said...

Dawn, it's funny what people wear under their gis sometimes. My teenage son wore a shirt under his once. He'd just put his gi over what he'd been wearing all day. (If I'd realised what he was doing I'd 've made him take it off. Teenagers - soooo embarrassing to their parents!) Sensei, noticing the shirt, requested (sarcastically) that he also wear a tie next time!

Charles James said...

Sue: It might help if the instructor were to explain the purpose of the belt being lower.

I am at a loss as to what purpose it serves in a applicable martial sense.

I have contemplated reasons it could involve that are not rated under the heading of "ego" or "cool" and if it were some test since your approaching the Shinza, curiosity has me now ...


Sue said...

Charles, I'll be seeing the said instructor tomorrow at my pre dan grading course so I'll see if I can find out more!

Denman said...

I'll just add some brief comments.

The dojo I attend is run by a woman, she wears her obi at what I assume was hip level. Of the women who have attended the adult class, they also wore the obi at that location but I never asked why -- they probably were just following where sensei wears her obi.

I do use the knot of the obi as a "target" for my kicks however. I try to avoid striking the knot, but that is where I am aiming.

All this talk about open gis and such, also reminded me of sensei's story concerning "Bushi" Matsumura Sokon's fight with his wife (she was a student too, and they were engaged in a contest, not spousal abuse). Apparently, she had the better of him in that match, until he punched her in the breast, which ended the fight, and likely led to heated discussions for years to come.

Sayo said...

I agree that you should ask to what reason you have to wear it on hip level. But this is true for al things that raises questions for you. If this is because it looks cool or for homogeneous reasons, I would argue against it.Their has to be a practical or logical reason for it, or else it is not worth doing.

My Sensei explained to me, receiving my black belt, that the belt is worn on hip level to support not only the lower back, but also to feel hara pressing against the knot. So you know when you tensing the muscles of the abdoman right. An other reason can be that the belt at hiplevel gives a nice indication were gedan starts or were chudan starts (either way).

As a female I personally like wearing my belt a bit higher, but not on my natural waist. I feel that is just to high. Went tighten, it obstructs my breathing at that level. I like to wear it higher not because of the top going open, but because it rides up anyway and have to keep tucking it down. This I find really distracting. Also the strings of the gi on the sides are then under my belt, which is a pain in the bliep.

I understand the practical reasons to wear it on the hips, but if this makes you feel uncomfortable, make you tuck your gi all the time, being distracting ans stuff, than I see no reason for you instructor to insist you wearing it like that. Unless their is a damn good reason for it.

Gi's aren't made to be comfortable, let a long be comfortably for the female shapes.Dresscode is one thing, but if this keeps you from the thing you need to focus on...

Man of the West said...

At this point, I have to profess amusement. In the first few decades of the twentieth century, it was not at all uncommon for men to practice karate in their underwear, outdoors, at night.

Now we're actually having a discussion about the right way to wear a belt that wasn't even an element in martial arts training gear until Jigoro Kano came up with it.

Etali said...

The issue of belt height crops up occasionally in my dojo too (I train Shukokai, but with a different association in Northern England).

My Sensei says that the belt height is an issue for a practical reason, though. The striking area that we're supposed to aim for in Kumite starts where the belt is, and all kicks have to be above the belt.

Women wearing their belts high gives them an unfair advantage, in that there's less area to strike :)

During day to day training we can tie it wherever (I even use a non-traditional not so that it doesn't come loose when we're thrown), but for tournaments/gradings we're called on it if it's too high.

Is it an issue for you at tournaments?

Sue C said...

Denman, thanks for adding your thoughts. Apparently Matsumura's wife
was a very formidable opponent!

Sayo, you provide some interesting reasons why the belt should be worn on the hip, thanks

Man of the West, I'm not surprised you're feeling some amusement, I'm quite bemused myself. I never realised that this post would generate such polarised opinion on the subject! I know there are more important subjects to talk about but it's been interesting to hear people's views on the topic. Clearly the belt has more significance to many than merely securing the gi in place - location of hara, separation of gedan/chudan etc.

I hope you weren't suggesting we go back to training in our underwear! ;-)

Charles, I didn't really get the chance to ask about the belt thing on Saturday. However, I'm trying to comply with the request. I think I'll get used to it with time.

Etali, thanks - you've provided yet another reason for wearing the belt low. I'm not aware that belt height is an issue in kumite competitions but then again I don't enter them. Interesting thought though.

Charles James said...

Soya: I don't understand your Sensei's meaning:

Why does a black belt need the obi to remind them of when they tense the adomenal muscles?

Why would you need it for lower back support, wouldn't proper body alignments, poses, postures, etc. mean that the back is properly set,etc.?

Why would you need it to remind you of gedan and chudan?

What does it have to do with gedan (lower), chudan (middle) and jodan (upper) as that is the true division of the body in martial practice?

Just couldn't understand that perspective as a black belt you should not require it but it can be used temporarily for a white belt to learn the fundamentals, etc. correct?

Unknown said...

funny you posted this! I've had these exact thoughts. Nobody has told me to wear it lower but I've noticed that almost everyone at my dojo wears their belt lower than me. I don't really like it down by my hips tho. I find it better at my belly button/waist. And I think everyone should wear a top under their gi, not just gals. guys I don't really wanna see your underwear while we're practicing.

Sue C said...

rahrah, if it's not an issue in your dojo then I'd just keep wearing it where it's comfortable. I've been persevering with wearing my belt lower and I am getting more used to it now. In fact to make it stay in place on my hips I've actually got better at tying the knot tighter - so something good has come out of this!

blackbeltsuze said...

A late comment. Just read this. I wear my belt at the hips, because I have short legs it looks silly any higher. But we have a few teenage boys who wear the belt high and sensei tells them to tug it down. We often instruct hand techniques to "hit the belt" we don't really mean hit, it just means pull back to the hip so it helps if we conform.

Sue C said...

Hi Suze, thanks for adding your comments on this issue. I'm actually getting quite used to wearing my belt lower now.

Finra said...

It's much more comfortable to wear it lower; but it looks much better at waist height in my opinion; hey it shows my curve!! XD

I tried (in fact I studied) how it would look when its tied around my hip bones and my waist - I still prefer tight around my waist even though it makes it hard to breath; but it looks better! And I'll be used to it after a while of wearing :D

Sue C said...

Finra, I agree it looks neater around the waist and more comfortable but I'm getting used to wearing around my hips now. Since I was presented with my black belt at my shodan grading, which is really wide, I now have difficulty tying a tight enough knot! Who'd have thought belts could be so much trouble :-)

zoekaitlyn said...

The Karate Gi I use isn't up there but I highly recommend using Bushido Karate Uniforms! You can get them at The best Karate Gis use Cotton duck canvas of course. (Don't bother with polyester)


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