I was amused recently when a martial arts shop proprietor told me that he’d recommended a martial arts school to some random blow-in at his shop. The guy, obviously a clown with no idea, came back later, the proprietor told me, annoyed, to tell him that the martial arts school had required him to wear a uniform. And – how dare they! This is a classic example of inappropriate egocentric attitude! I told the martial arts shop proprietor that I’d be telling such an applicant to go chase himself! He was obviously a jerk! Such arrogance! He wanted to learn a martial art – probably for all the wrong reasons given his attitude – yet wasn’t prepared to comply with the culture and rules of the martial art school. All take and no give! No commitment! The martial art shop proprietor also told me that a number of martial arts schools didn’t require the students to wear uniforms nowadays. I was surprised but laughed and replied that it was the norm for sports clubs worldwide to have, and require the wearing of uniforms, it was common for clubs to have dress rules and many businesses required employees to wear uniforms. Not to mention the armed services! If some of the local martial arts clubs choose not to have uniforms and to look scrappy and be cheap – well, that’s their choice. But, we’ll continue dressed as professionals.
Most often the clothing and equipment required for some sports or activities by far exceeds the cost of a martial art club uniform and equipment. I related to the martial arts shop proprietor that when I began training there were two traditions with respect to uniforms. The very few karate and judo schools back then required uniforms. The traditional gung fu gwoons also required uniforms. Except for Wing Chun, however, they didn’t accept or teach gwailo students. It was unheard of then that anyone wanting to join would refuse to wear the uniform. Our Wing Chun gwoon only had an optional T shirt with a club logo screen printed on it. In Hong Kong the students simply took off their shirt to train bare-chested or in a singlet. It was awhile before Wing Chun adopted the black gung fu outfits worn by other gung fu styles. So my early training bridged both traditions – strict adherence to a simple uniform for karate and a pair of jeans and a T shirt for Wing Chun. Today, however, uniforms have become the rule. Most Wing Chun schools don’t wear chong sam jackets but wear T shirts. A lot of other gung fu schools have also ditched the old traditional jacket in favour of a T shirt. Wushu and Tai Chi practitioners wear the coloured silk uniforms, of course, as there is no contact or grappling. Uniforms develop an esprit-de-corps and give a martial arts club a professional image. Sadly, though, some of the ones I see Americans wearing, multi-coloured and with more badges than a boy scout, are downright laughable and embarrassing!
I designed our Yun Hoi uniform – the T-shirt, the singlet, sloppy joe, trousers – for the very reason that it encourages pride in the club and belonging. I didn’t want – and don’t want – a group of trainees looking like a gaggle of thugs in a hoon fight club. The uniform exists for sound reasons: uniformity, belonging, good public presentation, esprit de corps. We ought keep it clean and in good repair and be proud to wear it. My message to those who don’t want to wear the uniform is simple, as I told the martial arts shop proprietor – if you don’t want to wear our uniform, we definitely don’t want you to wear it! And, you don’t learn from me! If you don’t want to belong, we don’t want you to belong!