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Actually, gi is not an independent word in Japanese. It is a suffix or a part of a compound word that means "clothing." When the Japanese refer to the uniform worn during karate class, they call it either karate­ gi (karate clothing) or keiko-gi (practice clothing). Most people who do not speak Japanese, however, refer to it simply as gi.

Karate-gi are traditionally made of cotton, though it is common nowadays to see gi made of polyester. Although today gi come in a wide variety of designs and colors, the first ones were simple and white, symbolizing purity. Even if your school does not stipulate white as the color of your gi, keep in mind that the appearance of your uniform is, to a great extent, a reflection of your practice of karate. An expertly executed technique can still look sloppy if the gi is wrinkled and dirty. In contrast. a clean, bright gi can add a vivid crispness to your punches and kicks.

Many schools also display their crest on the gi, usually on the left breast, close to the lapel. If your school does this, make it a reminder that your actions in public will always reflect back on your school If you show poor sportsman­ ship at a tournament. for example, you will affect people's impression not just of yourself but also of your school The same is true even when you are wearing street clothes. If people discover you are studying karate, your actions will reflect on karate; so be sure your conduct is always appro­priate. Make the crest on your gi a reminder of this lesson

Probably the part of the gi that receives the most atten­tion is the belt, the color of which indicates the amount of karate skill and knowledge the student has acquired. Colors range from white to black. The lighter colors, such as yellow and orange, indicate a student who has just started training, while the darker colors, such as blue, purple, or brown, mark the more advanced students. A black belt, as you know, indicates a high level of expertise.

Remember, however, that what is important is not the belt itself but the skill and knowledge it represents. Unfor­tunately, students often become too distracted by the color of their belt and start to want to attain one rank after another as fast as they can. Keep in mind that attaining belts is not a race. Concentrate more on perfecting your skill, and the belts will come naturally. After all, if it is just the belt that you want, you can always go to a store and buy yourself one.

Keep your gi clean. Also, treat it respectfully by folding it properly before putting it away. (If you do not know how to fold your gi, ask your instructor.) Take good .care of your gi, and it will always keep you looking your best as you master those impressive kicks and punches.

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