What is a karate dogi?
A dogi (outift for ‘the way’, pronounced doe-gee, with a hard ‘g’), also known as a keikogi (outfit for training) or karategi, is the traditional Japanese uniform worn for training in martial arts. It was introduced into karate by Gichin Funakoshi in the 1920s after it had been developed by the founder of judo, Jigoro Kano, though the karate dogi is a slightly different design and lighter.
It consists simply of a loose wrap-around jacket (uwagi) and trousers (shitabaki) and is traditionally white. The top is wrapped by a belt (obi).
Buying a dogi
Most good sports shops will sell a karate dogi (eg. Decathalon in Crawley sell fairly decent Outshock uniforms) with the advantage that you can try it on for size before you purchase, but you will have a greater (perhaps bewlidering) choice online.
I have bought dogis from several brands and stores, including Blitz, Tokaido, Kamae, Kaiten, Giko, and Cimac - all of which I've been happy with. I have even bought some decent children’s dogis from ebay (Spirit).
If you’re totally unsure where to start, Blitz are a long-serving and trustworthy UK supplier, Amazon can also be good, with an easy returns policy and free shipping if you have Prime, and I can also recommend Budo Online, where I've obtained my last few karategi. Wherever you buy from make sure the online store has clear contact details with a phone number and address, and that they have an open and favourable returns policy.
Dogi sizes are generally measured by your height in cm and increase in increments of 10 (sometimes 5), eg. 160, 170, 180 etc. Sometimes these are given a size rating as well (160 is usually size 3, 170 size 4, 180 size 5, etc.), but as these may not be consistent across brands it is best to go by cm sizing.
A karate uniform should give you plenty of room to move around in so don’t automatically get a dogi that is exactly your size - it is sometimes better to go a size bigger - especially as washing may shrink the uniform a little (particularly pure cotton uniforms, though some brands are ‘pre-shrunk’). If you have a larger frame you should take that into consideration also, and move up in size. Children’s sizes (110-150) are usually more acurate for their height.
Sizing on the internet can be a slight gamble as different brands will have different arm and leg measurements within the overall size. If it’s too small or overly large, you can always return it and get a different size - it’s worth getting it right. Remember that children can grow quickly, so don't spend too much on a children's do-gi, you might need another one soon!
Another factor you will see with a dogi is the weight. This may be described as simply lightweight or heavyweight, or in oz, such as 12oz or 160z.
Lightweight dogis are thinner and are often best for beginners - they’re also good for the warmer months, though can get a bit sticky if they become overly sweat-drenched. Heavyweight (14oz and up) dogis are usually used by more advanced practitioners and will be longer-lasting, but more expensive.
If it’s your first karategi, opt for light to middle weight (8-12oz). Children’s uniforms may be as light as 6oz.
You may see terms such as ‘European cut’ or ‘Japanese cut’, or ‘kata style’ or ‘kumite style’. These can be confusing and are not usually that important - though it will affect the look when worn.
The Japanese cut will tend to be shorter in the sleeves and legs and have a longer jacket, while the European cut has longer sleeves and legs with a shorter jacket. This is generally true also for the kata and kumite styles, respectively. This is all down to personal preference (mine is for the Japanese/Kata). Arms should be clear and you don't want to trip over too-long trousers.
Another aspect is the trouser waist - this is traditionally a drawstring that needs to be tied, but you can also get an elasticated waist, especially on children’s uniforms.
Adding to your options is the material used for your dogi. These can include cotton, polyester or polycotton (a cotton-polyester mix). Again, this will be down to personal preference - cotton is softer, but polyseter is often longer-lasting and less prone to shrinkage after washing. Polycotton attempts to combine the best of both worlds.
Not all new dogis come with a belt, so make sure it does if you need one, or you can purchase them separately.
Some karateka prefer the ends of their belt to hang quite long from the knot, while others prefer a shorter length - either is usually acceptable. If it’s too long there is a danger one of the ends could fly up and hit you in the face when kicking! Hanging down to mid-thigh is often considered a respectable length.
Belt lengths come in cm (eg. 240, 260, 280) - you can multiply your waist measurement by 2 and add 110-120 cm, or another method is to simply multiply your waist measurement by 3.3 - then find the nearest belt size (don’t worry about it being exact).
Your dogi should be washed regularly, after each class if possible (especially if you work hard and sweat). Sometimes it can be helpful to have a couple of uniforms in rotation - but don’t leave a sweaty dogi too long before cleaning it.
Wash on a cold or low-temperature setting and avoid using fabric conditioner or bleach, both of which can damage your uniform. It is also best to air-dry your karategi rather than using a tumble dryer - hang it out to dry right away after washing. While it’s still wet you can stretch the wrinkles out - ironing shouldn’t be necessary unless for a special event, or you’ve left it wet and in a crumpled heap for too long!
What do I wear under my dogi?
For men and boys you will usually just wear your usual underwear, though it is perfectly acceptable to wear a plain (white if possible) t-shirt or vest under the jacket, especially in colder weather.
Women and girls can wear a sports bra and a plain t-shirt or tank-top under their jacket (the jacket will likely loosen open at some point during training). Really it’s whatever is most comfortable for you - everyone’s different, but it is not against dojo etiquette to wear something under your dogi.
How do I wear a dogi
Put the trousers on first - if they are drawstring then make sure the loops are at the front and the drawstring is pulled through them. Pull the drawstrings comfortably tight and tie in a bow-style knot.
Once the jacket is on, the right flap goes underneath, pulled to the left, and the left side is pulled over to the right, on top. You can then use the ties on the flaps to fasten the sides at the hips.
Next the belt goes on (see how to tie your belt here). This should come round over your hips, not too high up the waist.
You want to make everything secure so it won’t come undone too easily, but not too tight to restrict your movement or cause discomfort. Once everything is tied up, stretch your arms and torso out so the fabric has a little give when you move around. Make sure it looks as neat and symetrical as possible - though things will move once vigorous training begins!