IN MY AIKIDO SCHOOL, YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO WASH YOUR BELT. I thought about this again as I slipped out of my sweat-soaked dogi after tonight’s class. A rain shower had dropped the temperature outside to below 90, but hadn’t helped with the stifling air in the school gym where my club trains. So despite several fans going, we sweated like the proverbial pigs. I don’t mind training in the heat, but a wet dogi isn’t so comfortable for driving home.
We are encouraged to maintain good hygiene, both to show good spirit and out of respect for our training partners. Part of this is keeping our dogis clean and spotless, especially for special classes and tests, and I got in the habit of carefully inspecting my dogi before packing it. One day I spotted a tiny stain on the shirt just before Kenshu class. It probably wouldn’t have been visible to anyone else, but I knew it would bug me (*), so out came the Clorox and Q-Tips. I got the stain out, but for the next two weeks when I wore the dogi I got occasional little whiffs of bleach. I hope my training partners didn’t notice.
The belt is treated differently. In my nearly six years of Aikido training I’ve worn only two belts – the white one I got with my first dogi, and the brown belt I earned in 2009. I washed them once to soften and shrink them, but not since. As it was explained to me, the belt is considered to represent your energy and effort from training, and to wash it would “wash away” the accumulated energy. Not that I believe I would regress to beginner if I washed it, but it’s an interesting tradition, and it feels right to me somehow. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it subconsciously reminds me of the progress I’ve made. Many other martial arts also practice this custom, with differing stories as to why.
So when I got home, the dogi went into the washing machine, and the belt got a few spritzes of Febreeze, out of consideration for my future training partners.
(*) Kind of like the sculptors of the finest ancient Greek statues, who had carved details even where the viewers would not be able to see them, the reason being that the gods could see them.
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