The Taekwondo uniform is called a "dobak" or "tobak." Like everything else in Taekwondo, it is steeped in tradition and history. The dobak consists of a jacket, trousers, and belt. It is derived from traditional Korean clothing called "hanbok." The dobak is not only for wear during Taekwondo training, it is the required uniform for competition in regional and national tournaments and in the Olympics,the V-neck style is required in Olympic competition.
Reasons for wearing the dobak
- It instills pride in the student as a practitioner of Taekwondo.
- It identifies the degree of skill that the wearer has attained.
- Style is symbolic of Taekwondo's heritage and tradition.
- Rank levels indicated by belt color create incentive to achieve rank while also preserving humility.
- It is extremely practical and healthy for physical activity.
- It distinguishes Taekwondo practitioners from other martial arts.
Students should keep their dobaks clean, ironed, and in good repair. They should understand its historical significance and wear it with pride and proper respect and etiquette.
Meaning of dobak
According to Earl Weiss and Damian LaVoice, the rationale behind the plain white dobak has its roots in martial tradition. A goal of martial arts training is help us to come to terms with the rather unpleasant aspect that all humans face—death—and to help us understand our attachment to the body or "I." This is accomplished in part by attempting to abandon the ego through martial art training. Freud said, "The ego is a body," and to quote martial arts author Peter Payne, "The nature of the ego, the ordinary sense of 'I', is intimately bound up with the physical body."
We have a difficult time as humans getting past the egotism of the body and feeling a greater connection to the universe around us. This is evident in virtually every aspect of our lives, such as through the clothes we wear, which are really just an extension of the body. We have physical contact with our outer garments and therefore much interconnectedness.
When we put on a plain white dobak, bereft of superfluous trim, we are creating an outward sign of our humility, or should I say, "attempted humility." It is a small step on the way toward the never obtainable perfection that we seek through our training in the martial arts. As Master Hee Il Cho said, "One can go on forever developing perfection within the frame work of the martial arts."
Korean origin of dobak
The origin of the hanbok is unknown, but records show that it was used during Korea's Three Kingdom Era. Wall paintings from the era show people wearing trousers and a long jacket. The early Chinese author Sukyong in his book Koryo Tokyong states , "People in the Koguryo Kingdom wear white costumes with black silk belts around the waist." An article in the Choson Daily Newspaper, on April 18, 1990, says that a Japanese professor discovered a 400-year-old Ch'onik Chollae P'um male costume that had been used during the Choson dynasty. This costume confirmed the style of the early hanbok. The hanbok gradually evolved into the tobak that is worn by today's Taekwondo practitioners.
Dobak's link to Japanese samurai
When training, Japanese samurai removed their nice silken outer garments and stripped to their white underwear. This may have been the origin of our white uniform, since colored fabric would not stand up to the dirty training and frequent harsh washings. This also gives an insight into training without shoes, since shoes were not worn indoors, and slippers would have been difficult to train in.
According to Edwin Reischauer, in his book Japan, the story of a Nation, the white silk under garment or "armor robe" of the samurai, was both symbolic and functional. On a symbolic level, it symbolized "purity and beauty in death." It also functioned as the first stage of armor for the samurai. The second stage or outer armor consisted of tiny scales of lacquered iron, or lamellae, laced together in rows with silk cords. The result was a metallic fabric, as pliable as European chain mail, but tougher and lighter. An entire suit of armor for a samurai weighed only about 25 pounds. Since the martial arts rely on flexibility and ease of movement, the soft armor had an advantage over western European armor that was rigid and bulky.
Many fatal wounds received in battle were not from sword blows but from arrows. Since the arrowhead flares backward and outward, it rips at the surrounding flesh and organs when an attempt is made to remove it from a victim. Therefore, the major damage from an arrow results, not from the initial piercing, but from the subsequent removal. When an arrow pierced the silk underwear, it became entangled in the tiny silk threads, which made removal easier and less damaging.
Three shapes of dobak
The traditional hanbok was based on three shapes that signify the foundation of the universe "samilshingo." The shapes were the circle "won" that symbolized heaven, the square "bang" that symbolized earth, and the triangle "kak" that symbolized man. The circle is related to the number "one," the square to the number "two," and the triangle to the number "three." The unity of the three shapes is called "han." These three shapes are symbolized in the hanbok: the waist is the circle, the legs and sleeves are the square, and the hip or torso area is the triangle. In comparison to the principle of Eum-Yang, the trousers are Eum or earth, the jacket is Yang or heaven, and the belt is man, who ties everything together.
Colors of dobak
Traditional dobaks were all white in color to symbolize oneness with the universe "han." Some organizations or schools have adopted different color schemes on seams and lapels of their dobaks to differentiate between the color belt ranks, black belt degrees, and instructor status. Some organizations or schools use flashy uniforms for their demonstration teams. This degrades Taekwondo as a martial art and turn it into an entertainment spectacle.
Styles of dobak
Traditional dobaks have an open jacket that overlaps in the front from left to right. Some Taekwondo organizations have adopted a V-neck, pullover style jacket. Sleeves are short to prevent the fingers from getting snagged in them while using open hand techniques. Some karate styles use even shorter sleeves and pants to make it easier to move when in close-quarters sparring.
Dobaks are usually made of cotton or a mix of cotton and polyester, sometimes referred to as “polycotton”. Some heavy weight uniforms are made from canvas and heavy drill cotton. TIP: The seams on heavy fabric uniforms are thicker, which may led to chaffing. This is especially true when doing sit-ups. You may want to place tape over the back seam so it does not rub your tail bone.
Some "masters" wear uniforms with so many colors and accoutrements that they would put am Aztec high priest's ceremonial robes to shame. It is best to to just wear the traditional white uniform with a few discreet identifying patches. Let you knowledge and skills define your expertise in your art. If crowd of martial art novices were watching a group of martial artists wearing only plain white uniforms and no belts performing patterns and sparring, the people should be able to identify the masters from their skill level.
Higher rank students (mostly black belts) often prefer to wear heavier uniforms which are made of heavy drill cotton or canvas. These uniforms last longer, look better (especially when wet of sweat), and make a louder "snapping" sound when punching and kicking(especially when wet of sweat). Some tournament competitors, especially in pattern competition, are aware of the impressive effect of executing kicks and punches with an audible "snap," so they starch the uniform, in particular the sleeves from the elbow down and the pants from the knee down to make these areas make a louder snap.
When sparring rules permit grabbing or throws, many competitors remove the side ties of the jacket. This allows the jacket to slip or even slip off when it is pulled, which gives the person more time to react to the grab.
Tournament competitors also favor longer jackets and belts to further their chances of impressing the judges. The idea is that when they are performing low stances, the longer belt and jacket give the appearance of being lower to the ground.
Care of dobak
- Dobaks will shrink when washed in hot water the first time, especially those made from 100% cotton. Washing in cold water reduces the shrinking during the initial and subsequent washings. Drying can also cause shrinking, so use the lower settings on the dryer.
- Be careful with the bleach when washing the dobak. Repeated bleaching may weaken the uniform material causing it to rip easily, may cause small holes to appear, and cause patches to fade. a
- Some use Velcro to attach patches and badges so they may be removed when washing the uniform. This also make it easy to remove them when visiting another school.
- When ironing the uniform, it helps to first dampen the uniform or use spray starch.
Do a YouTube search for folding a dobak/gi.
Folding tee shirt
Some schools wear a tee shirt in class instead of a jacket. Here is how to impress others with folding your T-shirt.
Korea Taekwondo Association. Available: [Online]. Available: http://www.koreataekwondo.org/english/english.htm