Special Feature

The Judogi Control

 

GETTING INSIDE THE GI

The next time you think that the judogi is just another piece of clothing, thing again.

 

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: It comes in white and it comes in blue, and is the most visible element of a judo competition on the tatami. Yet despite its omnipresence the judogi or simply the gi is often overlooked.  To the most causal observers of the sport it is simply a piece of clothing that is worn by the practitioners of judo and is in keeping with the traditions laid down by the founder of judo, Dr. Jigoro Kano. But if you think that it is as simple as that, read on.

 

Fashioned on the style of the Japanese kimono, the judogi has evolved along with the sport. While the essential purpose of the clothing is to be just that, it is also aimed to be the best tool at the disposal of a judoka. “A judogi is supposed to comply with all the rules laid down by the International Judo Federation. Even the slightest deviation from established norms can lend an undue advantage to a competitor and restrict the opponent,” explains Mohamed Meridja, the head of the Education Commission of the IJF.

 

To understand this aspect one has to pass through the judogi control that happens before a judoka steps into the competition hall. This area before the entrance into the main arena is where an official stops the judoka just like a traffic cop would stop traffic at a traffic light. However, there is no whistle in his mouth and no cap on his head. Instead in his hand rests a device that seems like a cross between a large plastic scale and a vernier caliper that physics students would be rather familiar with. This device is called a soku teki and is simply used to ensure that the judogi is specific to international standards. In simple words, the free space between the arm and fabric of the sleeve has to match the pre-formatted width of the Japanese device, and the lapel and fabric have to easily fit into the set grooves on the scale to ensure that the gi does not have any specifications that can disadvantage an opponent while they grapple on the tatami.

 

 

“The lapel and the collar have to be exactly specific to IJF standards as even a centimeter here or there can prevent an opponent from getting the proper grip required for a throw,” explains Mohamed Azzoug, member of the Education Commission. The exact nature of the judogi is listed under IJF regulations and only judogi supplied by the official suppliers of the IJF are allowed in competition. How does one check that? Remember the ‘traffic cop’? Before the judoka enter the main hall, he fastidiously shines the light on them. To be specific, he uses a UV torch to check the IJF logo on each gi to ensure that it has the correct hologram and is authentic.

 

“A judogi for us is like a red-carpet dress,” says USA judoka, Hannah Martin while adding, “If it is not the proper fit or even slightly off-kilter it can make a big difference in our performance on the mat.” Which is why judoka always try to ensure that their judogis match the requirements set for competition down to the T. Nobody likes to step into a spare gi that is set aside just outside the hall in case their gear is found to be in violation of guidelines. “It is like stepping into someone else’s clothes just before your big moment and one is always conscious of that, even though the effect is largely psychological”, says Martin.

 

But the most unique characteristic of the judogi is that it is the only sporting equipment of its kind that is meant to be of greater use to the opponent rather than the one wearing the kit. An opponent has to be able to get a proper hold on a judogi to effect a throw and to ensure the correct grip for a judoka, one has to ensure that a judogi is not moist or wet so that it would be difficult to latch on to with one’s hand. However, there have been instances where competitors have tried to grease the sides of the sleeves with Vaseline or varnish to prevent an opponent from getting the correct hold. Some have even gone so far as to sew patches of plastic on the inside of the lapel or the collar so that the opponent’s fingers slip on the surface.

 

“We have to be vigilant during competition on the tatami as well as there could be disfigurements to the judogi during a fight that the judoka might try to hide when they come back to compete in a subsequent round. The judogi always have to be in prime shape for any contest and if not, then the coaches are penalised with suspensions,” explains Mr. Meridja.

 

 

There are often times, largely in lower-level competition when a judogi becomes a lethal weapon, quite literally. 2014 Tyumen Grand Slam winner (-81 kg) Victor Penalber of Brazil recalls,” In some competitions I have competed with judoka who have had very coarse fabric used for the lapel that has torn the skin off my fingers as I reached for a grip.” Blood on the judogi is not allowed in IJF regulations with the judoka either needed to change into a spare set or cover the offending patches with white tape. And that is not the only thing that is supposed to be covered.

 

“Sometimes, judokas have ostentatious tattoos that can be exposed during the course of a fight. During judogi control, we keep an eye out for such tattoos and cover them up before letting a judoka pass through. Of course, we do respect their wishes to keep tattoos but we ask them to cover them up with white tape so that no ostentatious symbols are exposed during a fight,” says Md. Azzoug.

 

In a sport known for its reliance on the use of the body as a fulcrum, the judogi is the best companion for any judoka. And it is a relatively cheap and long-lasting one at that. It can last for at least 2 years of competition. Made of cotton, the judogi are available to judoka only through official suppliers.

 

“It is like our bodies are skeletons and the judogi is the skin around those skeletons,” says Penalber to highlight just how incomplete a judoka is without the innocuous piece of clothing, even if the choice of colour in competition is not up to them (the first athlete being called on the tatami always wear the white judogi).

 

Photo © IJF media by Gabriela Sabau

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