Where Did the “Dobok” Come From?

Posted by Phineas Gray on October, 2016

It’s ubiquitous in the halls of any Asian martial arts gyms – the dobok, the gi, or the uniform, is a necessary part of any taekwondo, karate, judo or jiujitsu class, and for good reason. It’s an instant association – when we think of someone skilled in kicking through planks and breaking bricks, we think of the white uniform with the black belt, the three-quarter sleeves and thin fabric.

However, although the uniform is found throughout martial arts in both Korea and Japan, and their schools all over the globe, it had one distinct and simple origin – in the hall of the Kodokan dojo in late 19th century Japan.

Where it all began.

Historically, the dobok was a Korean adaptation of the traditional Japanese gi – the karategi, specifically. Dobok is a Korean term, and means “clothing of the way”, or in a more contextual fashion, “martial arts uniform”. Before the modern iterations of the dobok, which include a Sport-style and ITF-style cut and neck for Taekwondo uniforms, the dobok was nothing more than a karate uniform. As per the ITF, it consists of a jacket, pants and belt.

But even the karate uniform is just an adaptation from the original – the judogi, or judo uniform. As per the Martial Arts Guy, it was developed in the late 19th century by Kanu Jigoro, founder of judo, out of the hemp jackets of firefighters. Typically, the judogi was incredibly thick and heavy, and designed specifically to withstand the tearing and pulling of a throwing martial art.

Why use a uniform?

For Kano Jigoro, it was a matter of aesthetics, pride for his school, and the practicality of owning specialized, durable clothes for grappling. But for Okinawan karate masters, the adoption of the “gi”, or clothes, were a marketing trick – typically, martial arts were practiced in civilian clothing or light athletic wear, but the introduction of a uniform made it fashionable to train in karate. The same principle worked to popularize taekwondo after the uniform’s import.

The mark of a quality uniform.

Quality taekwondo uniforms are doubtlessly set apart from their competition by the quality of their fabric, as only found from retailers like Otomix. The key, is to look for strong, durable cotton or a cotton blend, and with a thick tti, or belt.

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