Have you ever stopped to think about why women’s blouses button from the left whereas men’s dress shirts button from the right? Yes / No / Who Cares? Well, like in most cases, there is a reason for this. Back in the day, only wealthy people could afford buttons for their garments and because they were wealthy, women had servants who helped them dress. With a population that was predominantly right-handed it was easier for a woman’s servant to button a blouse using her right hand when facing her mistress. Men would button their own shirts so it was easier for a gentleman to button his shirt using his right hand. So, the buttons were set to make life easier for all parties involved – a custom that continues to this day.
A kimono, happi, uwagi, or other upper-body Japanese garment is always worn left over right
What does this have to do with karate? Well, in the same way, many Japanese customs can be traced back to their more practical roots. With samurai and bushido cultures having such a pervasive influence on the Japanese ethos, it is understandable that many customs have transcended the battlefield and have found a place regular life.
A kimono, happi, uwagi, or other upper-body Japanese garment is always worn left over right (notice how the sushi chef wears his jacket next time you visit your favourite Japanese restaurant). The reason for this is to accommodate a pre-dominantly right-handed population when drawing the sword using the right hand. A sword is carried on the left hip and drawn from left to right. An open garment on the left side could trap the hilt of the sword impeding its release and causing no end of trouble for the swordsman. A left-over-right garment creates an obstacle-free path for the sword.
It is understandable why new students to the dojo (Western women in particular) tend to wear their jackets right over left – because women in the west naturally wear their garments in this fashion. However, the gender-neutral karate gi should be worn left over right – not for stylistic or discriminatory reasons, but for practical reasons that ensure that the swordsperson is always combat ready.