Hakama are the skirt-like trousers traditionally worn by Samurai to prevent the wearers clothing being snagged on twigs or brush whilst on horseback (like the leather 'chaps' worn by modern day horseriders). As leather was hard to come by in Japan, heavy cloth was used. When the Samurai dismounted from horses and became footsoldiers they still wore hakama to set them apart from the common soldiery. Other accounts say that the hakama is worn to hide the foot-movement of the swordsman during battle, but (apparently) old prints and paintings of the wearers in action show the hakama tied back, so as not to impede the wearers movements.

There are many different styles of hakama. The type worn by today's martial artists - with "legs" - is called a joba hakama, another hakama that was a kind of tube skirt - no legs - and the third was a very long version of the second. This last version was worn on visits to the Shogun or Emperor. It was about 12-15 feet long and was folded repeatedly and placed between the feet and backside of the visitor. This necessitated their shikko ("knee walking") for their audience and made it extremely unlikely that they could hide a weapon or rise quickly to make an attack.

There are 7 folds in the hakama (5 in the front, 2 in the back) and depending on which martial art you practise, each is said to have one of the following symbolic meanings. In Aikido and Jujitsu the folds are said to represent:

Yuki = courage, valor, bravery
Jin = humanity, charity, benevolence
Gi = justice, righteousness, integrity
Rei = etiquette, courtesy, civility
Makoto = sincerity, honesty, reality
Chugi = loyalty, fidelity, devotion
Meiyo = honor, credit, glory; also reputation, dignity, prestige

In Kendo the folds have a different meaning. The two folds at the back are included to commemorate a verse from Japanese myth. According to this story, upon the unification of Japan, the two Gods of War helped the God of the Sun (the foremost among the Japanese gods) and worked together to manage the nation using only their dignity and without resorting to arms. Each pleat represents a God of War. The koshiita, which gathers the two pleats, represents the God of the Sun. As a whole, this represents the concept of Wa (harmony). According to Kendo practitioners, the five pleats in front as representing the following five principles:

Jin = affection
Gi = righteousness
Rei = courtesy
Chi = wisdom
Shin = sincerity

In many schools, only the black belts wear hakama, in others all students do. In some places women can start wearing it earlier than men (generally modesty of women is the explanation - a gi was originally underwear).

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.