The story of the iconic Judogi - Focus on the Sashiko fabric

Let's give some detail on the Sashiko fabric

Convenience and aestheticism, the story of a whole savoir-faire

After a first description of Judogis' manufacturing steps, let's focus our attention on the Sashiko fabric that covers most of KuSakura Judogi Jackets. Although this fabric appears to be traditional and aesthetic, some of its characteristics turned out to be a huge advantage in martial arts. This is actually why we can find the Sashiko fabric on all Judo, Aikido as well as Kendogi today.

Focus on the Appellation

In the west, the term Kimono is usually used when referring to Judo training suits. However, this term turns out to be a deceptive cognate as we would rather employ the word Kimono to refer to the traditional Japanese clothing, usually made from silk.

Martial arts training suits are called “Dogi”, meaning “the cloth of the way”, but can also be called Keikogi (cloth of training). Consequently, in Judo, “Judogi” is the exact term to refer to. Written in Kanji, it is usually spelled "柔道着" with sometime the last Kanji being replaced by 衣, both pronounced the same way “Gi”. The latter one would be seen as a “traditional” way to write it and therefore, less common than the first spelling.

As opposed to the Kendo Keikogi, Judogi are not fully made with Sashiko. Nowadays they are mainly composed of two types of fabric: the Hishisashi (diamond weaving), usually present on the lower part of the jacket, and the Sashiko, usually on the upper part. This is this latter that we will keep our eyes on here, in this article.

Sashiko and Hishizashi on a Judogi jacket

Sashiko (upper part) - Hishizashi (lower part)

The Sashiko Through Times and Its Advantages

The Sashiko is a traditional Japanese weaving made of little straight running stitches forming usually different patterns. This embroidery style can either have a decorative use or a more functional one as in martial arts like Judo. Indeed, as the threads are intertwined with each other over several horizontal and vertical layers, it provides the fabric enhanced traction resistance. The result is a stronger and durable fabric, designed to absorb the shocks endured during falls, which is a quite interesting feature in a martial art within which grappling and overthrow techniques are ubiquitous.

Appeared around the 6th century, the Sashiko fabric "刺子" tends to democratize itself during the Edo era (1615-1868) where it was especially used as a functional garment by firefighters. Now the Sashiko fabric is most widely known as the “Rice-grain" weaving, due to its typical appearance with stitching recalling this aforementioned cereal.

Although the Sashiko is mainly used in martial arts today, it is also possible to find it as functional garments, rugs or in tapestry. Let's note that, in its conception, different fibers were traditionally used, while nowadays, a conception entirely made from cotton is preferred.

In addition to being shock-resistant and being an extremely solid fabric, the Sashiko is well known for having several advantages when used in a context like martial arts. Indeed, this fabric turned out to efficiently soak sweat up while remaining a fast-dry fabric after washing. Finally, the Sashiko is well known to be antiseptic and made as deodorant as possible.

It is Jigoro Kano, that implemented the Sashiko fabric in Judo’s Keikogi due to the multiple advantages that this fabric gives to practitioners but also to the sport itself. Afterwards, the Sashiko fabric was highly recommended in other martial arts such as in Aikido or in Kendo, which introduced little by little this new fabric into their own Keikogi.

The Production

Nowadays, the unit of measurement used to refer to the weight of a textile is the gram per square meter (or shorten g/m²). However, within Japanese workshops, craftsmen are more used to talk in “Brin per meter,” indicating the quantity of fabric used in a single meter square width. In the past, it was customary to count referring to the size of the Sashiko grain, that was indicated in “Bu.” Moreover, it is important to note that in Judo, the gram per square meter has been first implemented by the International Judo Federation (IJF) as part of their plan to create standards for competitions, but its use in traditional workshops is still insignificant.

As detailed in our article about The manufacturing steps of a Judogi, the Sashiko fabric is produced using two impressive weaving looms. Although they can seem to be “old-fashioned”, these machines remains the most efficient and powerful in their domain of activity, and KuSakura is the only Judogi maker to possess such a jewel of technology. Also, let’s not forget that KuSakura is also the only Judogi maker to master its whole production process, allowing the company to guarantee the high-end quality of its products.

Second KuSakura Sashiko loom

Only two Sashiko loom of this type exist, both at KuSakura's workshop

After the weaving, results several rolls, stocked in a dedicated room for approximately 45 days and piled up on each other to limit as much as possible the shrinking rate and thus, increase the accuracy of the final measurements given to KuSakuraShop customers. Let’s also note that a 36-meter roll allows our craftsmen to produce around 15 Judogi jackets.

Sashiko rolls storage

The rolls are painstakingly stored in order to keep up on their quality

All in all, the production of the Sashiko fabric, due to its long history and the specificity of its conception, requires special attention that only experienced craftsmen can acquire through a timeless savoir-faire.

The Sashiko coloration process

The coloration process can begin, and even though some unbleached Judogi exists such as the Dojin Master JOZC available on KuSakuraShop, 95% of the Judogi currently on the market are bleached.

Bleached and unbleached fabric Comparaison

Bleached fabric (left) - Unbleached fabric (right)

During the process, the fabrics are just immersed during 3 to 5 weeks into huge coloration tanks containing chlorine derived solution. However, as this method turned out to be quite polluting, workshops are increasingly more reluctant in using it. Other more environment-friendly methods exist, but they are more expensive and would significantly raise the production costs.

It should also be noted that when purchasing a Judogi, its ecological impact is significantly different depending on whether it was manufactured in Japan or in countries such as Pakistan, as the environmental standards are known not to be the same.

Weaving Specificities

An important fact to note is that the Sashiko fabric can be woven either vertically ("Tatezashi") or horizontally ("Yokozashi"). It is this latter method that is generally used in the Judogi production. The goal here is to prevent the opponent from easily grasping the garment and weaving the Sashiko horizontally allows for a tougher final fabric and therefore, more difficult to grasp. Conversely, a vertical weave will give a softer fabric, easy to grasp and therefore a disadvantage in a martial art like Judo.

'Yokozashi' weaving on Judogi

'Yokozashi' weaving (Judogi) -'tatezashi' weaving (Kendogi)

Finally, let’s note that there are several different ways to weave Sashiko. Each Judogi manufacturer will have his own "secret recipe" and his own vision, giving a certain identity to his fabric and therefore, to his products. At KuSakura, there is no secret recipe, but a unique savoir-faire and a taste for quality that has been handed down from generation to generation and for more than a hundred years, justifying among other things the high-end nature of KuSakura’s Judogi.

5 comments - The story of the iconic Judogi - Focus on the Sashiko fabric

Published by MAGNIN on .

I’m a painter, and i like to try your textile sashiko Unbleached fabric, can you sell me some meter?
I hope it’s possible, tell me or show me a shoponline?
Nice to hear you,
Stéphane Magnin, Cap d’Ail France

Published by Gaëtan Karst on .

Hello Charles,

You can check out KuSakura company’s presentation video in which KuSakura is pronounced several times:

Best regards,

Published by Charles Cutler on .

How do you pronounce Kusakura?

Published by Sandro Coco on .

Judogi 165

Published by Thomas Leeflang on .

The soul of Japan is in a kuSakura judogi.

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