I realize this is opinion based, but I have had a wide variety of responses that seem to believe that "true" martial arts can only be learned by properly dressing the part of the original form, whereas others state its the body mechanics and focus but not the dress that matters. I am curious if this is the "type" more than a general concept and I am wondering when it matters and when it doesn't matter.

Example: Kickboxing seems to not matter so much whereas Kung Fu, Ninjitsu, Karate, Tae-Kwon-Do, judo, etc... seem to have very specific dress codes and not allow anyone in unless they adhere to the dress code. Also these dress codes are all different as well.

What is the goal of the dress code and how does that really affect the body mechanics of the sport/art?

  • I think that kickboxing is not a specific martial art as much as a martial-arts-based sport, so there would not be a "traditional" uniform associated with something that generic. This doesn't answer the question (hence, a comment), but it's a bit of an apples to oranges comparison. Mar 27, 2017 at 15:41

5 Answers 5


In descending order of importance, here are reasons why your attire matters:

Range of motion

Uniforms are cut to provide range of motion for the joints. Skinny jeans and Western-style suit jackets restrict your range of motion in ways that loose-fitting or stretchable clothing do not.

The manner in which clothing is worn also matters. If you wear your pants around your knees, don't expect to be able to run or kick well.

Proper body development

Clothing designed to look good can create problems for your body development. For example:

  • high-heeled shoes change the forces on muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout the body.
  • corsets restrict breathing

Even if you don't wear these while actively training, their effects still matter.

Clothing as a weapon

You can use either your own clothing or an opponent's clothing against that opponent. For example, you can grab it, you can choke with it, or you can tie up limbs with it.

Skin infections

For grappling-based martial arts, the uniform plays an important role in preventing the transmission of skin infections which can be viral (herpes), fungal (ringworm), or bacterial (staph). Your skin is one barrier to infection, and the uniform is another. Unless you and your training partners are scrupulous about hygiene, this is an important consideration. Training half-naked may provide fewer advantages to your opponent, but it presents more hazards to you as well.


Uniforms should be designed to last. Most normal clothing will rip or tear under stress from many martial arts activities.


Although appearance is not a primary consideration for uniforms, it does affect whether your training partners stick around, which does matter to you.


Does particular traditional attire affect the ability to learn and perform martial arts?

In small ways, yes.

  • Safety & comfort:

    • Kicking techniques need parts with lots of extra material around the groin, and some bagginess and/or stretchiness around the hips and legs, so they don't snap taught in unpleasant places as the legs are driven apart for a kick, or rub constantly.

    • Hand strikes need similar freedoms around the torso and shoulders, though even a moderately tight t-shirt is normally stretchy enough.

    • Some throwing techniques are applied to the clothing, so the clothing needs to be robust enough, and not concentrate excessive force in vulnerable places like the neck. For example, if you tug violently on the back of a judo/jujitsu/hapkido uniform's collar, or on a sleeve, there's no tight fixed collar forcing the front or side of the neck to absorb the forces.

    • As mattm points out, uniforms may reduce skin-on-skin contact which is desirable for hygiene reasons. No harm reducing skin-on-pad/bag and -floor contact either.

  • Modesty

    • Some students may appreciate a uniform design that doesn't come open easily and isn't too revealing. I suspect that's one reason that when the big (ITF and WTF) Taekwondo organisations decided to leave a little more of their karate legacy behind and design more distinct uniforms, they went with pull-over vests rather than the separate folding sides of the karate-gi. This is particularly relevant for girls and ladies, but some young boys starting training may have been bullied about their skinniness or whatever and feel more comfortable.
  • Consistency

    • Outside martial arts, many schools and organisations use uniforms because they minimise any one-upmanship or jealousies that kids may feel about each others' attire, and instead promote a sense of community. Same in martial arts. For better or worse, it focuses attention on the bits that do differ - which is often the belt signifying rank.
  • History / uniforms similar to common clothes

    • Some techniques evolved to work on people dressed a certain way. It's no coincidence that the "gi" jacket worn in ju-jitsu, judo, karate is similar to the Japanese kimono. Related techniques may be ineffective these days though, for people wearing western dress. So you could reasonable argue that what you're calling "traditional" uniform now hinders people's learning and performance of martial arts: not only might they be better off learning more about how they can fight in the clothes they normally wear, they need to know what works on people wearing "normal" clothes in their society.
  • Feedback

    • Some uniforms provide feedback such as a certain intensity of snapping sound when a technique is delivered in just the right way. Students will hear seniors and instructors, and try to reproduce the sound, which can help them improve and even motivate them to practice harder.

Certain schools or teachers might require certain attire or practitioners prefer to dress and look a certain way, perhaps like a hero of theirs. But your question asks about attire affecting 'ability to learn and perform'. I can think of a few examples of this - in judo and karate, the uniform and belt are often grasped and may aid throws and techniques, though Ronda Rousey seems to employ her considerable judo skills in shorts and shirt in the MMA ring. It's her mastery of balance and technique that gets it done. There is also the common 'attire' of bare feet in japanese and korean martial arts as opposed to chinese martial artists usually wearing shoes - for example, the mud-walking step of baguazhang slides along the floor, and most practitioners are usually seen wearing shoes, but I practice this movement in bare feet, as do some others -it is a subtle difference, but it does take adjustment. In the film, Man of Tai Chi, Tiger Chen is surprised by a fighter while wearing a suit and tie and his opponent uses that tie creatively, dominating him, until Tiger is able to get it off. In the end, I have to conclude that attire would make no real difference in the execution or performance of a master of his or her martial art, except in the mind of the practitioner - on the other hand, looking how you feel you want to look is no small thing - it is actually an integral part of your expression as a martial artist and may give you a feeling of comfort and wholeness, feeling true to yourself - which is important.


Going against the flow here, I would say that some traditional outfits actively hinder in developing your skills.

For example, in Shodokan Aikido, we do not wear a hakama. The main reason is safety: you and/or your partner can get tangled in it making injuries more likely to happen. This is especially true during randori-ho. Some urban myth started that the hakama needed to cover the feet making it even more of hazard. Hence, we just do not wear one.

Even the traditional dogi can be a hindrance. If you are training for self defence but cannot do a technique because of your close fitting skirt, suite, or coat then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage. Can you do a break fall with your keys in your pocket? Tomiki (who founded Shodokan Aikido) used to train in his three piece suits from time to time.

In the self defence course I ran, I suggested that the last class is a recap of all learned before in cloths you go out clubbing in -- clearly with sport oriented underwear. It always is an eye opener.

So, why do we still wear dogi while training? First, they are sturdy pieces of clothing with padded knees. Second, they do confer a sense of belonging to the group. Finally, tradition. But a dogi does nothing whatsoever to improve ones Aikido.


When I started training in Taekwondo, it was explained to me that we all wore a dobok (training suit) to help us remember/understand that:

  • Everyone is equal
  • We're all part of the same school/organisation
  • We're all on the same/similar journey

The waters are muddied somewhat when the black belts have a slightly different uniform. Black belt doboks have black edging on the bottom of the tunic; I was told that black was a colour associated with royalty in Korea (much like purple was in ancient Rome).

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