My heroes wore a cape

Yes! Most of my fiction heroes wore a cape… cloak… robe… or equivalent, seemingly useless, long impressive outfit!
Batman to begin with… And right next to him Dr. Strange of course, whose cloak is not to be underestimated… (By the way, the recent movie with Benedict Cumberbatch was a nice reminder of my long ago, but not forgotten, hero!)
Master Po, from the Kung-Fu TV Series, to name another…
And Lord Darth Vader, who I hope is “forgiving” today for putting him fourth in line!
Sometimes this single piece of cloth was standing out above anything else, like with the Spartan’s impressive red, neck to ankle, cape. And Spartans were anything but fiction heroes!
Does Clint Eastwood’s poncho, which he wore in his famous spaghetti westerns, count as a kind of cape? I wonder…

Which kid has not played “super hero” of some sort, by putting on its shoulders his parent’s big bath towel “transforming” it into a cape?
I could probably keep at this all day, you know, but for maturity’s sake I will draw a line here…

For the record! What is a cape good for? Is it not just a long, plethoric, useless piece of cloth, which can only get in your way?!
We should not judge a relic of the past, with today’s standards! There were so many everyday practical uses for the cape, but also in a man to man combat, this subject could occupy its own multipage text!
A cape it was not!
In our times image travels fast, and of course, putting this as lightly, this is “a good thing”. But an “I have seen it all” attitude, can work also the other way round, by depriving you from the value of attention of the first time.

And besides “seeing” means nothing, in comparison to the day when one is called to become, through action, part of a picture itself.
My first Aikido lesson was not a regular one, like in participating in a planned out lesson at a Dojo. It happened spontaneously, after my insisting request of finding out what Aikido is, from a person which I happened to come across. It took place near the river Verdon, deep in the woods of Southern France. So, I was in my civilian clothes and so was my Portuguese, one-time only, Instructor.
I did not need a second lesson in order to know what I want…
This one was enough, for it to become my turning point...

Up until my first participation, in the casual atmosphere of an Aikido Dojo later on as a beginner student, I had seen a Hakama before, but mostly in related to Martial Arts magazines and Samurai movies.
And now I was sitting there, experiencing people around me wearing this…ahem, I did not know how to call it, or what to make of it!
Advanced students would “slap” the interior of this outfit in a peculiar manner, to get it “out of their way”, as I found out, just as they sank into their kneeling position. Others would pivot elegantly, while executing techniques, which would expand their Hakama around them and it looked to me as if they dominated more space by doing so. Also those students in midair, while taking a fall, would produce a sound with their Hakama like a… parachute when it opens, and I was definitely sure that they actually somehow stayed… longer in the air, and landed more softly.
But esthetically I was flabbergasted, to say the least. I am aware that this might sound odd or funny, but the impression it gave, to my eyes, was as if those people would wear… a cape, which was tied around their waist!!!
What was this outfit anyway?! I asked myself… Even when I took one in order to examine it by hand, a skirt it was clearly not, and pants it was neither. Soon enough I learned.

To explain this, in an upside-down manner, let us see this from our western perspective. We all have seen cowboys wearing above their pants a wide extra protective leather outfit, known as chaps!
This provides protection for a horseman from branches, high bushes, contact with cattle, and anything else that can give a rider a hard time…
The Japanese Hakama was exactly that, from the early times of the Samurai class, when they were mostly on horseback… With the difference that it was made of fabric because it was not in the Japanese tradition to breed animals. Neither in order to eat them or exploit their products, nor to use their skin! And therefore, there was basically no use of animal leather for anything…

But here I would like to point out something. Especially when interpreting Japanese tradition, one must follow “the golden rule”. Never be in a haste to explain things, even if you are the most knowledgeable person about Japanese affairs, because you will certainly end up missing out something… Always leave a door open to more possibilities, even if you are certain that there are none. One suggestion, of managing this, is always starting with the entering phrase “One interpretation is…” And actually mean it so, while stating this!

For example (on the Hakama issue)…
One will often hear that the reason the Hakama was made, is for hiding the feet and stance from his opponent…

Now everybody who has correct training background and knowledge will tell you that this is a misconception, and they would be right! They will tell you that the Samurai would actually tackle-in into their Obi (belt) part of the Hakama in order to have it out of the way in fighting, thus totally exposing their footwork… And in fact, most Aikido practitioners, whenever practice outdoors Kumitachi (sword-work with a wooden sword) we do that, too.

It is only few days back from writing this text, when I was teaching some private lessons to a scientist, a really above the average intelligent and successful person. In every other technique, armed or un-armed, he constantly protested, asking of me to lift “this… that you wear” because, and in his own words, “…you are hiding from me!”
And I repeatedly did the “tackle-in maneuver” for him to see.
Now if you could re-wind time in order to see my past, how many times would you guess this has happened, and with how many students?!
Correct! Countless of times, like about every other time!
“Riddle me this riddle me that” Which is now the correct answer?
No, the Hakama was not made to hide the feet and stance, but it can do that! Not to mention that, on occasion, I have actually “played that out” on purpose, and not to beginner students, if you get my meaning! 
The bottom line here is not what I can do or not…
But if I have done so and if it worked, how many have done this before me and how many times?!

What is old will be new again
I will not tire to state that anything which is old, outdated and of no use, belongs to a museum, the history books, or where everything will end up eventually, to oblivion… Hence, this is the nature of things, for everything which “exists”. Before you judge me of being cruel for having that said, I will tell you that it is quite the contrary!
Would you prefer to see something, which was to be admired in the past, be dragged by force into a futile future, while deteriorating and forever limping into a torturing decline, becoming an ugly ghost of its former self? Would you prefer this instead of simply letting it go?

So, is the Hakama a cloth like that, an old, outdated relic, of a long gone past?
Describing the Hakama at the beginning of this text as chaps is true, but that’s not all. Samurai warriors would wear their weaponry on it, through it and sometimes hidden under it! The most important of them all was the Katana (long sword) which the Samurai are so famous about…

Nowadays wearing the Hakama for reasons as ritual, etiquette, tradition, habit, appearance, or rank distinction, are all the right reasons to do so, but not THE one. Because all of those reasons mentioned above, are nothing solid, and will only help to the decline of the wear!
The principles and techniques of Aikido lie firmly on sword-work in the first place, which we simply cannot afford neglect practicing. If one takes that away, Aikido becomes an incomprehensible gathering of complicated techniques, which make little or no sense…
Sword practice is the, down to earth, utilitarian and right reason to wear a Hakama. It is not only a question of thinking, but also of feeling. There is no way to describe the feeling of drawing and re-sheathing a Katana while wearing an outfit which is still alive, about a thousand years after it first appeared!

And who knows… maybe it will be someday scientifically proven, that this… non-cape, also slows down break-falls like a parachute, after all!

June 9, 2017