Updated: Dec 8, 2019
Everything we do in Aikido has meaning. The way we enter the dojo, remove our shoes, bow, put on our uniforms, line up, train, fold our hakama etc. Everything has purpose; the incense, how the tatami mats are positioned, which wall the shomen resides etc. Our school allows a student to wear a hakama at the rank of third kyu. There is reason behind that as well as there is reason behind the seven pleats of the hakama, which most people do not know about or think to question.
The pleats represent the seven virtues of budo: Benevolence, honor, etiquette, wisdom, sincerity, loyalty, and piety. These seven virtues are placed into the hakama so that every time it is donned, one is reminded of these virtues. The virtues date back to the samurai and the values by which they lived their lives. We are not of that era, but that doesn’t mean that the values don’t hold up in today’s society. That is the power of their meaning; they are timeless and will never die.
It is easy to fall into the realm of thinking that when you are allowed to wear the hakama that you have achieved something over other people and that it is a symbol of “arriving.” Nothing could be further from the truth. That is the time to start honoring those virtues. The hakama should always be worn with those seven virtues in mind because then you will always be reminded of them when you train, you will live your life with them in mind. The small act of wearing the hakama will have significant effects on the way you live your life. Throw the pebble into a calm pond and the waves will go on for a great distance.
The hakama must also be worn with the respect it deserves. You are a representation of the school and the art of O’Sensei. If you wear your hakama without paying attention to keeping the pleats crisp, clean, and sharp and if you don’t fold your hakama to keep the pleats crisp, clean, and sharp, then you dishonor everything it represents. To wear a wrinkled hakama with nine or ten pleats because time was never taken to make sure the original pleats didn’t drift and careless folding created new ones is an insult. I’ve been to schools where students just take their hakama off after class and role it up into a ball and put it in a duffle bag until the next class. Everything has meaning, substance and purpose in budo training. That is the tradition and there are so many lessons to be learned by paying attention to every little action and setting them in motion. We may not see the value right away, but with time and open eyes they will come one by one and enrich our lives. After all, that is the real reason for training; to be a better person than we were the day before.