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
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 hakama has 7 folds in it (5 in the front, 2 in the back). The pleats are
symbolic and are supposed to represent the virtues considered essential by
the samurai. Many martial artists continue this tradition, but different
sources give different meaning to these pleats. Here is one version:
- Yuki - courage, valor, bravery
- Jin - humanity, charity, benevolence
- Gi - justice, righteousness, integrity
- Rei - etiquette, courtesy, civility (obedience)
- Makoto - sincerity, honesty, reality
- Chugi - loyalty, fidelity, devotion
- Meiyo - honor, dignity, prestige
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.
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
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
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.