Karate is an accessible martial art that doesn't require too much equipment for the karateka just starting out in it. Here’s a guide on choosing the right beginner karate kit.

Basic karate kit requirements

Whether you’re an absolute martial arts beginner, or a seasoned warrior, karateka (the name given to karate participants) all require a uniform to take part in this dynamic and highly beneficial sport.

  • The Gi — The Gi refers to the white cotton suit worn by all karate competitors. Whether you’re a lowly beginner just finding your feet, or a martial arts professional, the Gi is the universally accepted suit that all karateka must wear. Designed to match the ‘cleansing’ qualities of the sport, the Gi originates from judo and didn’t become an official part of the karate uniform until 1939. A light and hard-wearing Gi should be relatively inexpensive. Just remember, they’re meant to be worn baggy but make sure you don’t go over-the-top!
  • The Obi — Not to be confused with a well-known Star Wars character, the Obi is simply the karate belt and is tied around the waist of the Gi during a contest. The Obi will vary in colour depending on the ability level reached by the karateka in question, with white signifying a complete beginner and black representing the highest level of expertise. Karateka progress through the range of obi colours by competing in tournaments, demonstrating their mastery over a range of key karate moves.
  • The gum shield — There’s nothing exotic about this essential piece of karate kit. Even the most basic khion session might throw up some unexpected surprises in the early days so it’s vital you wear a gum shield at all times, to avoid any damage to your teeth or jaw bone.
  • The Tatame — This refers to the type of mat used during karate practice. Although it’s not technically a part of the karateka’s uniform, falls and throws could prove more than a little painful if your training doesn’t take place on one of these.

Karate kit for sparring contests

Although a Gi, Obi and gum shield will ensure your early karate training gets off on the right foot, karate kit requirements do become slightly more complex (and expensive) when you start to progress as a martial artist and opt for some sparring action. If you are about to try some high-contact kumite karate, ensure that you’re kitted out with the following pieces of essential gear.

  • Hand and footpads — If you want to avoid the potential pain of badly bruised knuckles and broken toes, wearing a strong, reliable set of hand and footpads could be ideal for protecting those precious fingers.
  • Athletic ‘box’ — Obviously it’s essential to invest in a good quality groin protection ‘box’ or ‘cup’ if you’re a male karateka. However, kicks to the groin can be equally painful for women, so make sure you wear adequate protection beforehand.
  • Head protector — There’s nothing more dangerous than suffering a head injury, so make sure you keep your brain safe with a good quality head protector. It’s never a good idea to cut corners when buying protective padding for your head. In the case of sparring combat, it really does pay to invest wisely in quality.

Weapons in karate

OK, so you’re unlikely to need any weaponry if you’re a beginner karateka simply looking to get fit whilst enjoying some fun karate workouts. However, if you do progress through the Obi ranks, you may decide it’s time to have a go at the many karate styles that make use of weaponry. Here are some of the key karate weapons you may require in your further training.

  • The Bo — The Bo is simply a 1.82m (6ft) long staff made from a variety of woods. It can be used as a long or short-range weapon, working in conjunction with a number of traditional karate techniques.
  • The Bokken — This is a straight wooden sword used in many martial arts, including karate. Bokken techniques are combined with more traditional karate movements in a high-skill contest of the mind, body and sword.
  • The Nunchaku — Although potentially a deadly weapon, the Nunchaku has been popularised by Bruce Lee films and TV shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Made up from two pieces of wood — around 30.5cm (12in) in length — joined together by a cord or chain, this is a weapon that should only be used by the most skilled karateka.
  • The Tonfa — The Tonfa resembles a traditional police baton, with a short handle stemming from a 50.8cm (20-inch) length of strong wood. Sometimes deployed in a pair, the Tonfa can add an extra dimension to heated kumite contests.

Staying safe for karate

Karate training offers a fun and rewarding route towards fitness success, with a range of body benefits. However, before you jump in at the deep-end it’s important you get the equipment that’s right for your training. Karate can be a dangerous sport if it’s not conducted safely so make sure you’re taught by a fully-qualified teacher, using the best possible kit that your budget will allow. As long as you don’t cut corners, you’ll be enjoying safe karate in no time!