Digg is probably the news aggregator app that I use most on my iphone to get news stories/information for reading when I am on the train or in the coffee shop (I don’t always read kendo books!). The other day I randomly picked a story about something I had never heard of before: Raw Denim. This is defined by wikipedia as “a denim fabric that is not washed after being dyed during its production” or by rawdenim.com as a “denim that has been unwashed, untreated, and virtually untouched to the extent that it remains in its pure form.” Basically, people into the fad purchase cotton jeans and try to wear them as long as possible before giving them there first wash. When they first wash them the dye comes out in an uneven manner reflecting the wear-and-tear of use, creating individual patterns and shapes. One pair of jeans on the rawrdenim site had been worn for 15 years without a single wash!
As someone who constantly wears jeans I was fascinated by the article and – you know whats coming – I immediately drew parallels to kendo.
Like almost every kendo person, I have never washed any of my bogu… ever. The oldest piece of equipment I have is nearly 20 years old (a tare and dou). Keikogi usually get a wash when I buy them, and then again every few months (though the last few years – because I practise 10-12 sessions/week – I’ve usually wash them once/month). Hakama never see the inside of a washing machine – the most they get is stamped-on in the shower. Like the raw denim jeans discussed above, both the bogu and the dogi’s colour change over time and, depending on how often you do keiko, the shape may change as well.
A certain sense of… something
Ok, I’ll confess: I love it when my bogu starts to look well-worn and my keiko-gi gets a wee bit dishevelled around the fringes! My favourite dogi has patches on the shoulders and the colour has faded just enough to still look like I mean business. A men that I have used almost daily for the last 10 years has literally been hammered into shape on my head receiving uchikomi and it’s uniform colour lost (pictured at the top of the article).
I’m not sure why exactly I like this type of look, but I do. I guess it’s a kind of like saying “I’ve been working hard!!”
BONUS: You look cool, but you stink… !
The minute you say “kendo” to a non-kendo person here in Japan they immediately say “臭い” (stinky) such is the notoriety of the kendo smell!! Because it’s nearly impossible to get rid of the smell, we all tend to get used to it somewhat (our smell and others). However, there are things you can do to help.
Here are 2 things I actively do nowadays:
Juban – an undergarment (usually white) for wearing underneath your keikogi. I wear one constantly and wash it every couple of keiko’s. As my keikogi doesn’t get as sweaty as it normally would I can increase the time between washes. In winter, the juban also makes you feel warmer!
Gloves – for wearing underneath kote. These are now a must for me. They absorb sweat and definitely increase the life of your kote. Although wearing gloves won’t eradicate kote smell, being able to wash them helps tremendously.
Other possible strategies (I don’t do these):
Men pad/lining – there are a few different options for this: using a cloth chin-piece, a men-pad at the top, or even a completely removable/washable inner-ring. Of-course, tenugui help a lot.
Washable bogu – never tried it so can’t really comment. Doesn’t seem to be very popular here in Japan however.
Go white – another option is to constantly use white dogi. I sometimes go white in summer, but the major problem is that your gi can easily be turned blue by your own bogu, himo, or the bogu of others. I sometimes go white in summer but, it’s just not as cool.