What do many English speaking martial artists call their uniform? Chances are if they train in a style of martial arts that originates from Japan they’ll often call it a “Gi,” however there is a problem with this. It is grammatically incorrect, and a misuse of this Japanese “word.” For you see, “Gi” isn’t actually a word at all, it is a suffix. How do we represent a suffix as a stand-alone term? This is something most English speakers were taught very early on in their education; we can
So how did this suffix -gi come to be misconstrued as a stand alone word? Ignorance and/ or laziness. Many people are told that -gi is the word for “clothes,” however it isn’t quite that simple. See the word for clothes that uses the same kanji is actually Kimono. We can see this quite clearly when looking at the kanji. The kanji for -gi is 着while the kanji for Kimono is 着物. But wait, why is it pronounced differently: -gi vs ki?
In Japanese there is a natural speech pattern called Rendaku (連濁). This is where often times a sound presented in the middle of a word will often be softened. In English we call this Sequential Voicing or simply Voicing. Sounds such as T, S, K, and H all have a softened version used later in words: T becomes D, S becomes Z, K becomes G, and H becomes B or P. Those who have studied Hiragana and/or Katakana have already seen this:
Or in this case きbecomes ぎ.
Okay… so if it is -gi as a suffix should we call it a ki instead? No, that would also be grammatically incorrect. See 着just isn’t meant to stand alone. The closest you’ll get is actually the verb “Kiru,” to dress, which is written 着る.
So what should we call our martial arts uniform? There is actually a whole laundry list of things to choose from. Most commonly used are the generic terms: Dōgi (道着)and Keikogi (稽古着). Dōgi being “clothes of the way,” while Keikogi (my preferred term) is simply “practice clothes” or “training clothes.” Next we have Budo-gi and the style specific -gi, such as Karate-gi, Judo-gi, Kendo-gi, etc. There are also acceptable terms that don’t even use the suffix -gi, such as Seifuku (制服) which simply means “uniform.” (Be careful looking up the term “seifuku” because one of its homonyms is the Japanese term for BDSM, which uses the kanji 征服.)
Last two things I want to touch on is mixing languages and pluralization. Is it okay to slap a Japanese suffix onto an English or Korean word? Not really. So things like “martial arts-gi” and “taekwondo-gi” would be frowned upon. Do people still use them? Yes. Should they? No. Also how would you pluralize the correct terms such as: Dōgi, Keikogi, Karate-gi, Judo-gi, etc? Simple, leave them alone. Just like the plural of Moose is still Moose, the plural and singular forms of all these words remain unchanged.