A hakama is the skirt-like pants worn by many martial arts practitioners (e.g., Aikido, Kendo). Originally, the hakama was worn to protect a samurai horseman’s legs from tree branches etc. In Japan leather was very hard to get, so heavy cloth was used instead. Over the years, samurai gradually made the transition from mounted to foot soldiers, but they continued to wear the hakama as it set them apart, making them easily identifiable.
In todays martial arts schools, the hakama is predominantly reserved for the yudansha (black belt students). A few schools allow all practitioners to wear one, while some schools allow women to start wearing it much earlier than men (general modesty of women is the explanation, since a gi was originally an undergarment).
It has become the fashion within some aikido circles to wear a long hakama that covers the feet. If you look at the old pictures of O’Sensei (Morihei Ueshiba), you will notice his hakama is relatively short. The hakama was meant to be functional, too long a hem and it would tangle with the stirrups. Also the streets of medieval Japan, like those of Europe, were filthy. Too long a hem and the bushi would be trailing horse manure, sewage, and filth into the mansions and palaces of his lord, not the best way to kep your employer happy. Thus logically a hakama should never descend below ankle height, though ensure your gi-pants do not hang below the hakama hem line.
Meaning of the Folds
The seven pleats in the hakama: “They symbolize the seven virtues of budo,” O Sensei said. “These are:
- jin (benevolence),
- gi (honor or justice),
- rei (courtesy and etiquette),
- chi (wisdom, intelligence),
- shin (sincerity),
- chu (loyalty), and
- koh (piety).
We find these qualities in the distinguished samurai of the past. The hakama prompts us to reflect on the nature of true bushido. Wearing it symbolizes traditions that have been passed down to us from generation to generation. Aikido is born of the bushido spirit of Japan, and in our practice we must strive to polish the seven traditional virtues.”
Taken from Mitsugi Saotome.
Once you have earned the right to wear the hakama, you must learn how to fold it. The folding of your hakama following training can is a time to reflect while performing a repetitive, somewhat meditative task. A properly folded hakama will have a neat appearance each time you wear it. It is particularly important to fold and store your hakama correctly to prevent damage and prolong the life of the garment, especially since hakama have so many pleats which can easily lose their creases. Recreasing the pleats may require specialist attention in extreme cases.Clikc on the link below to see illustration.
Hakama are often considered particularly challenging to learn to fold properly, in part because of their pleats and in part because their long ties must be correctly smoothed and gathered before being tied in specific patterns. There are a variety of ways to fold a hakama. These documents and the animation to the right should be helpful.
As with folding, there are multiple ways to tie your hakama as well. Peter A Goldsbury (Professor Emeritus, Hiroshima Univeristy) describes three ways he’s seen used in Japan: [He reports generally using the first way, but with a wider obi that winds around the body with the end tucked in, rather than tied in a knot.
The first way is favoured by Doshu and the Aikikai Hombu. After putting on the obi, you put on the hakama and take the front himo of the hakama and tie them twice around the body, just below the waist, with a cross-over at the font. The ends should be tucked in and not left hanging. Then, with the koshi-ita firmly positioned just above the obi, the back himo are threaded through the front himo from top to bottom and tied at the front, just below the waist. Again, the ends should be tucked in and not left hanging down.
The second way starts with the back himo, which are tied at the front. The purpose is to get the koshi-ita fimly in position. You put on the hakama and tie the back himo first. Then the front himo are tied around the body, much the same as in the first way. You then untie the front himo and thread them through the tied back himo and make a knot at the front, just below the waist. I learned this method from M Kanetsuka Shihan, but other shihans also use this method.
The third is favoured by Japanese university students and is similar to the first way, except that the front himo are firmly tucked inside the obi and are tied under the hakama, below the obi, so that the knot is at the front, but is invisible. Then the koshi-ita of the hakama is put in place and the back himo are tied outside the hakama at the front in the normal way.
It’s generally considered a bad idea to tie your hakama (or obi) at the back, as this can cause injury during some ukemi. If you have trouble with your hakama sliding down during practice, some people will loop the himo (particularly the front ones) an extra time around (up, over, and behind) the obi holding the front of the hakama more securely in place. These instructions might be helpful.