What to Wear to a First Martial Arts Class

It can be a scary thing to walk into a martial arts class for the first time. There are questions that both children and adults grapple with in the days leading up to the time and nervous doubt once the class has begun. The answer of what to wear can vary according to sex, age, and the style taken.

For most students and styles of martial arts it is best to come in loose pants or narrow legged shorts and a t-shirt. Jewelry, phones, toys, or other personal items should be left outside of the workout floor or mat area. Footwear isn’t important since shoes and socks will in most instances not be worn.

There are still many other things to consider. What if a child needs to go to the restroom? What if someone was already issued a uniform? Adults and children alike are already nervous. There are many other answers that can make a first martial arts class a lot less stressful.

Adult Considerations For Martial Arts Apparel

For adults taking classes for the first time there are a few issues that will have to be weighed. Because of the differences in the sexes, these issues change for males and females.

There are the differences in the styles taken which could definitely present a problem wearing certain types of clothing. So that you or your soon to be training partners all feel comfortable there are a few guidelines that can help.

Issues For Men Wearing Gis

For men taking nearly any style of martial arts, a major consideration is whether or not to wear protective equipment for the groin area. I have trained in and competed in countless martial arts styles and systems. If a man is training in a martial art, my recommendation is to always wear a jock strap and cup. No question. If you follow this advice I have a message for future you, “You’re welcome.”

As for what else to wear under a Gi (Japanese term for a uniform), it has much more to do with comfort and preference. Some guys get chaffing easily, especially with the heavier grappling style Gis (Judo, Brazilian Jiu jitsu, Sambo). To help with this I would recommend a rash guard and/or biking shorts. They breath very well and wick sweat away from the body all while protecting from chaffing and yes, rashes.

Be ready though if you are taking a traditional style or have an instructor with traditionalist leanings. Sometimes they will require that men not wear a shirt under a Gi top. That more than likely won’t be an issue since rash guards have become very common. But it is perfectly acceptable to not wear a shirt under a uniform jacket for men in most any style.

Issues For Women Wearing Gis

One issue for women that becomes apparent when wearing an open style robe for a top during exercise is what to wear under it. Generally speaking, women are nearly always requested to wear a t-shirt or rash guard under a uniform jacket. This is for modesty and practicality.

What about a sports bra? This worn alone can be an issue for mixed sex and age classes. These type of workout tops are seen often at weight lifting gyms and aerobics studios. But a martial arts class has much more intimate contact. This may lead to partners or others in the class feeling uncomfortable. Whether your class instructor is okay with sports bras or not, as a general rule, a rash guard or t-shirt is best.

Factors When No Uniform Is Worn For Both Sexes

There may be classes where no Dobok (Korean TaeKwonDo uniform) is worn at all. The student may be at an introductory lesson, the style may not have a specific uniform, or the type of uniform may only involve a school specified t-shirt.

Some issues arise for instance when a grappling style is taken. If a man or a woman wears wide legged shorts to a grappling class, some positions and techniques may expose crotch areas unintentionally because of the width of the shorts at the lowest hem.

Another consideration when grappling, especially for newer students who are not used to being on their knees for extended periods of time, is the abrasions that can occur from mats on the legs while wearing shorts. There are also concerns of skin rashes and lesions. Many wear shorts in ‘No-Gi’ type classes, so it is up to you once you feel more comfortable in the class what you will wear.

Children And Martial Arts Clothing

When it comes to kids, many times it will be a comfort issue, but parental involvement is important. If a child is only comfortable doing a class with a puffy jacket on under a uniform top, it is up to the parent to give them other acceptable alternatives. They may not understand how strenuous exercise while wearing two jackets inside could cause overheating.

There is also the issue of some children wanting to carry comfort items into a class. Blankets, stuffies, and other such items, though useful in some instances, could be a hazard in a martial arts class setting.

Things to Consider For Boys

For most boys it is acceptable to wear a uniform as their only source of clothing. This is an option if there is no changing area available. They can simply come to the class dressed and ready to go.

Another option is to wear a shirt and shorts (or in some cases pants) under the uniform. Many children see the uniform as a costume and for nervous or shy kids, it may be helpful to describe the outfit in that way. As long as heavy or cumbersome pieces are not worn, like jackets or thick sweaters, it can be perfectly fine.

Things to consider for girls

For girls, as for women, it has generally been the custom to wear a t-shirt under the uniform top. Yet, in recent times this has been less universally seen. I would suggest girls of any age wear a t-shirt underneath. This is for the same reasons as for women and it is about teaching modesty in children from a young age.

The same thing can also be done as with boys who wish to wear full sets of clothing underneath. As long as there are not too many layers or overly insulated items, this should be fine in most cases.

Footwear Issues That May Arise

What if a child or even an adult has to use the restroom while in a class? There is one rule that should be followed without fail. Do not go into or send a child into a restroom without shoes on unprotected feet. This is important for the one going to the bathroom as well as for everyone else in the class.

Mats and floors can spread skin rashes, lesions, and warts. Keeping them clean is of utmost importance. Many schools or martial arts studios have a set policy for inside and outside shoes. Some with mats go so far as to not allow any shoes to touch the surfaces for any reason.

This is even true in the case of wrestling shoes. I had to scrub pairs after a hard workout because of a sudden rush to a bathroom to scream ‘Ralph’ at the toilet. Even though many grappling schools take this very seriously, it is also true for many traditional striking styles. Some schools go so far as to require flip flops, slippers or other solutions.

Jewelry In a Martial Arts Setting

This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many people get attached to wearing certain jewelry pieces 24/7. Necklaces, rings, watches, earrings, and bracelets all can be used in this way. They are worn for sentimental, religious, or expressive reasons. Though, in a martial arts setting, these can be a danger to the person wearing them or to others in the class.

It is usually only acceptable to wear wedding bands in a class and even those are sometimes disallowed. I have personally worn my wedding band at all times. When this or that instructor has had a problem with it, a strip or two of medical tape usually fixed the issue.

One exception to this rule may be a medical bracelet. This should be discussed with the instructor prior to the first class. Notifying instructors is not only a good idea for dress code reasons, but they should be informed of any issue that could arise from a potential medical condition.

Other Martial Arts Related Accessories

There are times in the long journey of martial arts training when other items may be allowed, encouraged, or even mandated. There may be headbands, patches, or protective padding. These are issues that would arise as students advance and shouldn’t be much of a consideration in the beginning.

There are some styles that also train in weapons and may have specific gear needed to practice those techniques in a safe manner. Again, this would be a later consideration and there are usually items to borrow for newer students until they squire their own.

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

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