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Author Guest Blog: “Dress for Success”

December 2, 2010

September 3, 2010 by katengh

Phillip Starr has authored four books on martial arts with Blue Snake Books, including his latest guide, Hidden Hands: Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Martial Arts Forms. Starr shares his wisdom from over 50 years as a practitioner and teacher of martial arts in a monthly article on our blog, and writes books to help martial artists not only improve their skills on the mat, but strengthen their minds. For more information or to purchase Starr’s books, just click on their covers.


“Dress for Success”

By Phillip Starr

Many years ago there was a book named Dress For Success which enjoyed considerable popularity. The author (whose name I can’t recall) noted, among other things, how one’s attitude was affected by the manner in which one was dressed. It sounds a little weird but over the years, I have found many of his assertions to be true and it’s one of the reasons I insist on students wearing a proper training uniform.

In general, it can be said that the condition of one’s practice uniform reflects one’s attitude towards training. If it looks like a used facial tissue; if it’s torn and in need of repair, or if the salt stains (from yesterday’s sweat) haven’t been washed out, it is a fairly accurate indication of how one regards oneself and one’s training.

A students who pays a lot of attention to detail — who is a stickler for sharp technique and who aims at perfection — will usually wear a uniform which is clean and pressed. You could almost cut your finger on the creases in their trousers.

At the other end of the spectrum is the student whose uniform has been wadded up and shoved into a practice bag for a couple of days. It has more wrinkles in it than an elephant’s butt and his attitude towards training will tend to be lackadaisical. His technique and form often leans towards the sloppy…like his uniform.

And then, of course, there are a lot of in-betweens.

Training in street clothes is common in many internal Chinese schools and I think this actually has an impact on their (the students’) approach towards training. Casual. That’s how they often regard it, but training time should be anything but casual. One must concentrate and give a full 100% of one’s attention to it.

In the old days (and even in modern China) most training was conducted outdoors. People gathered in parks to practice and so they naturally wore their everyday street clothes. That’s why most kung-fu stylists wear shoes.

But I think this kind of thing has had a negative impact on (Chinese) martial arts. For one thing, street-clothes don’t hold up very well to the rigors of strenuous practice. So, the teacher has a choice; he can water down the training so that the students don’t damage their clothes (and maybe themselves), or he can go ahead and conduct a vigorous class and end up with a bunch of half-naked students.

Due to the heat and humidity (especially in southern China), many kung-fu stylists prefer to wear training trousers and tee-shirts. Such clothing won’t hold up in our training. Tee-shirts don’t stand up to grappling practice. There are some who will argue that “in a real fight your opponent won’t be wearing a heavy practice jacket”, and that’s why they prefer tee-shirts. Okay. So let’s do the techniques and grab the tee-shirts. Watch what happens. Or we can just grab meat and execute the throw. But then, a lot of students wouldn’t be returning to class.

The reason the heavy jacket is worn is NOT to accommodate the thrower in the execution of his technique; it’s to PROTECT the receiver,  so the thrower doesn’t have to grab a fistful of meat in order to perform the throw.

If the receiver insists on wearing a tee shirt or regular street clothes, it leaves the thrower in a quandry. Does he rip his partner’s clothes to shreds? Does he dig into his partner’s flesh to perform the throw? Or does he water down the technique?

This is why I require all students to wear a full uniform in class.

However, the main thing is that the overall condition of the practice uniform is an indicator of the regard a person has for training and even for himself.

What other elements do you think contribute to 100% focus on the mat? Tell us in the comments, and you could win a set of Starr’s books!

Other must-have martial arts books from Philip Starr:

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