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The case for standardized uniforms in youth Martial Arts


There is no profession more noble, no calling more vital, and no vocation more admirable than teaching children.  To that end, we refer to our school as a “school” and not a gym or a club. Like any other public or private school, we are dedicated to offering the highest standard of instruction and focus on a holistic approach to personal development thru mind, body and spirit (character).

Due to the commoditization of martial arts in recent years, many of the core values and traditions upon which the martial arts were founded seem to be diminishing.  Martial art customs and courtesies have developed over centuries are rooted in basic politeness and respect. The bow, for example, has its origin in another time, when kings ruled, knights wore armor, and courtly manners flourished. It was the age of chivalry. Students follow martial arts traditions as part of their leadership training and character education. This includes rendering martial art customs and courtesies, wearing a uniform, and participating in drill and ceremonies. These traditions inspire martial art students to take their physical and personal development training seriously.

Few things inspire pride and esprit-de-corps more than the martial art uniform. Some martial art uniforms date back hundreds of years and reflect the proud legacies and traditions of warriors past. By wearing the uniform, students display a profound respect for their art, their school, and themselves. Uniforms promote the visibility and credibility of the school to the general public and the community whom the head instructor is devoted to serving.

However, in today’s environment, the importance of uniform standards seems to be waning. In fact, there is a new trend among some martial arts (including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) that allows students to pick the color of their uniforms. Colors vary from blue, red, black, grey and even camouflage!  While this new-wave approach may be popular among some instructors and students, many teaching professionals feel it deteriorates classroom discipline and lowers the bar of excellence indicative of martial artists. 

The martial art uniform is a vehicle for learning self-discipline, personal responsibility, and self-respect. To wear the uniform properly, students must pay attention to detail. Is it clean and spot free? (Which is hard to tell if the uniform isn’t white). Are your lapels overlapped correctly? Is your belt tied properly? Taken individually, these concerns may seem petty and nitpicky; but by paying attention to detail, you learn to value accuracy and precision.

Although attitude is something that exists in our minds, it is visible to the people around us. The care we put into cleaning and preparing our uniform displays our attitude, as well as our behavior on and off the mat. Students learn more than they may realize by wearing a uniform, and we owe them the benefit of this powerful teaching tool.

According to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the benefits of uniform standards include:

Influencing Classroom Discipline
Almost 80% of general public schools with uniforms say classroom discipline has improved. Uniforms promote good behavior and provide an improved environment for learning.

Curtailing Peer Pressure
Uniforms usually reduce the competition among students to wear certain (and nearly always expensive) brands of uniforms. Over 75% of schools in uniform noted a reduction in peer pressure among their students after adopting a uniform policy.

Improving the Learning Environment
Teachers surveyed say that uniforms promote a "down to business" approach. Kid's view uniforms as work clothes and take school more seriously. 52% of principals surveyed said that uniforms had a positive effect on student achievement.

Bolstering Self Confidence
Many studies have shown that kids with high self-esteem perform better in school. By eliminating a reason to feel self-conscious, uniforms can help improve children's self-confidence and may lead to greater class participation.

A case study performed by Virginia Draa, assistant professor at Youngstown State University, reviewed attendance, graduation and proficiency pass rates at 64 public high schools in Ohio. Her final analysis surprised her: “I really went into this thinking uniforms don’t make a difference, but I came away seeing that they do. At least at these schools, they do. I was absolutely floored.”  Draa’s study concluded that those schools with uniform policies improved in attendance, graduation and suspension rates. She was unable to connect uniforms with academic improvement because of such complicating factors as varying instructional methods and curriculum - Which will be the topic of a future discussion.

While fads come and go, we hold true to our belief that white uniforms represent the values of purity, avoidance of ego, and simplicity. It gives no outward indication of social class so that all students remain as equals. Some may call us old fashioned, but maybe the world would be better off if we taught children a few more old fashioned values. 

By Frank Cucci