Dobok – Taekwondo Uniform & Martial Arts Costume

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The Dobok is the uniform of martial artists

The Dobok

The roots of martial arts date back at least to 600 BC, but for most of us the system of codified training techniques marked by self-discipline, humility, restraint and respect will be forever linked to the films of Bruce and Brandon Lee, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, and, most recently, Chow Yun-Fat. These five men sparred, flew and kicked their way to stardom and brought the rest of us along for the ride.

Dobok worn by a woman

While the combative styles of these famous martial artists may have differed, one thing remained constant: the Dobok.

Very simply, the Dobok is the uniform of martial artists. Typically it is white, with wide sleeves and long, wide pants tied together by colored belts denoting the rank of the wearer.  White belts are for novices, who through years of training will work their way into belts of yellow, green, blue, and red or brown before earning the coveted black belt.

Man wearing Dobok

The plain white Dobok creates an outward sign of the wearer’s humility and brings the competitor closer to the perfection that is the journey in martial arts.

The Dobok is the uniform worn by practitioners of Korean martial artsDo means “way” and bok means “robe” or “training clothes – but lilkely was modeled after the Japanese Gi, though the pants of the Dobok are wider and longer than those of the Gi.

The origin of the Dobok is unknown. Research shows that martial artists practicing during Korea’s Three Kingdom Era wore the Dobok. There also is evidence that the Samurai may have been the first to wear uniforms like the Dobok in public.

So as not to damage their fine silken outer garments during practice, the Samurai often stripped to their kimono-style underwear. This practice-wear of the Samurai was both functional and symbolic. In his book “Japan, the Story of a Nation,” Edwin Reischauer, former professor of Japanese history at Harvard and U.S. Ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966, said the underwear was a vast technological improvement over medieval western European armor, allowing the wearer more flexibility and speed.  On a symbolic level, Reischauer noted the white kimono-style underwear stood for “purity and beauty in death.”

The Dobok has evolved over time and today is the official uniform of Taekwondo, worn during training, gradings and competitions. Taekwondo is a Korean martial art, as well as the national sport of Korea. Tae means to strike or break with the foot. Kwon means to strike or break with the fist. Do means way, method or art.

Taekwondo combines combat techniques with self-defense, sport, exercise, meditation and philosophy. It is considered to be the world’s most popular martial art and became an official Olympic medal event in the 2000 Sydney games after having been demonstrated four years earlier during the Olympics in Seoul.

The emphasis on kicking is what distiguishes Taekwondo from other martial art forms such as Karate and Kung Fu. Historically, the Koreans thoght that the hand was too valuable to be used in combat, so they turned their attention to the longest and strongest weapon available to a martial artist: the leg.

Physically, Taekwondo develops balance, strength, speed, stamina and flexibility. But it also emhasizes mental and ethical discipline, ettiquette and respect, and self-confidence. To practicioners of Taekwondo, the Dobok represents the physcial, mental and spiritual aspects of their art.

The Dobok instills pride and self-confidence in the students who wear it. The Dobok, and its colorful belts, identifies the degree of skill and cultural education attained by those who wear it. The Dobok symbolizes the heritage and traditions of Taekwondo. Grades and degrees indicated by the color of the Dobok belt create incentive and preserve humility.

The Dobok is such an integral part of Taekwondo that students and experts alike take great care in how they wear the uniform and in how they clean it.

Wearing instructions: The label inside the pants goes at the front, not the back as is usual with most other kinds of pants. A string cord is used to tighten the waist. The Dobok top is put on over the head just like a T-shirt. The piece of elastic attached to the shirt is used to pull in the top at the back of the waist. The elastic goes around to the front underneath the Dobok’s front flap and attaches to a button on the other side. Instructors don’t like to see dangling bits of elastic so it’s important that the elastic stays hidden under the front flap.

Students might be asked to sew a club badge onto their Doboks. Sewing is to be done carefully and neatly with matching thread color because instructors do not appreciate badly sewn badges.

Cleaning: The Dobok should be washed in cold or warm water after every training session, every grading session, every competition. There is only one caveat: Never, ever wash the belt. The Dobok also will need to be ironed so that the pressed crease runs down the side of the pants, not in front, and down the outside of the shirt sleeves.

Before each training, grading or competition, practitioners of Taekwondo tie back long hair and remove all jewelry. They keep their fingernails and toenails short, and make sure their feet are clean because shoes are not a part of the Dobok.

Once the Dobok is properly prepped, the wearer, whether taking part in a training, grading or competitive session, walks quickly and quietly to the center of the floor to greet his or her opponent. Through mental toughness and self-discipline, competitors from the novice level on up learn to clear their mind of thought as they prepare to face their opponent – all the while staying true to the oath they have taken:  I shall observe the tenets of Taekwondo. I shall respect the instructor and seniors. I shall never misuse Taekwondo. I shall be a champion of freedom and justice. I shall build a more peaceful world.