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Meijin Karate Uniforms - A Review
Appearances, as we all know can be very deceptive. What we believe to be the product of a famous European sporting goods company, is these days more likely made in Taiwan, China, or Indonesia. The name on the label means nothing any more, or does it! Clearly it is not possible to produce textile goods economically in the wealthier western nations. Apart from the need for plentiful cheap labor, it is difficult, because of the very nature of textile production, to find workers in the more developed-countries who are willing to work in the chaos of a cotton mill. Multinational manufacturers such as Adidas, Nike, Dunlop and Wilson simply send their work to reputable makers in the third world, and impose upon them a harsh set of quality requirements, which, if not met, usually results in the cancellation of the order.

It is possible, therefore and I have done it myself, to visit factories in all parts of the world and see the self same brands being made in every one of them. Until now these offshore manufacturers of everything from training shoes to tennis balls have accepted this situation. They have made anonymously for the major American, European and Japanese manufacturers, and by doing so, developed resources of experience and skilled manpower that are unequaled in the Western nations and Japan where the textile trade ceased to be profitable several decades ago. Those manufacturers who have only in the past made for the famous label general sporting goods companies, are now able now to manufacture for the smaller more specialized customer who is expert in a particular field and, if anything, has higher quality standards that the famous name brands. Increased factory capacity, better technology, and innovative computer-assisted production techniques have resulted in a range of martial arts goods from MEIJIN that are world class, and that meet, and often far exceed in quality the famous brands that are made by the same people, in the same factory, using the same equipment!

When I was asked to evaluate the new uniform by Meijin I admit that I was somewhat taken aback. Having been a national distributor for Tokaido for more winters than I care to remember, I felt that I knew all there was to know about uniforms, and having seen the best, could only give report that would upset, and possibly make lifelong enemies of the people responsible for MEIJIN uniforms who, for the record, are a very nice bunch of people. Old dogs can learn new tricks it appears, and this one did. The uniform I was given to test was excellent in every way, and not surprisingly has made a major impact in the market already. I have handled the very best uniforms for more than 25 years and can say with confidence that MEIJIN is in almost all respects, better than the best at often less than half the price of the big name brands. Sweeping endorsements are one thing , but I was asked to use my special knowledge to evaluate this new product, which is exactly what I intend to do.

Briefly, what sets MEIJIN apart from all others is the quality and refinement of the design and construction. It took me about one minute to realize that they had fixed all the problems that I had complained about to my manufacturers for years.

The best sort of material for karate uniforms is medium weight, long fiber, finely woven canvas that is usually bleached to make it look attractive. An interesting side note is that the traditional, pre 1925 uniforms were almost brown in color due to treatment with an extract of persimmon which reputedly greatly strengthened the basic cotton fabric. This same treatment was traditionally used on ninja clothing and accounted for the rust/black mottled color fabric used in their garments that provided a natural and very effective camouflage. Contrary to popular belief ninja did not wander around feudal Japan in black uniforms because it made identification easy and more often that not, fatal.

The material in the MEIJIN uniform I was given was first class. It was tightly and evenly woven, free of the flaws so often found in canvas, and had not been overbleached, a fault that weakens fabric considerably. The way the uniform had been cut out was also very good with the waft and warp of the fabric carefully taken into consideration during the planning of the garment. The thread used was better than the industry standard. Although I could not identify it with precision, it had the look and feel of Japanese manufacture, and the stitching throughout the garment was exactly what you would expect in the highest quality karate uniform.

As stated above, when it comes to design this uniform is ahead of all others. The team that developed the measurement grid must have had a lot of experience, some rather fancy computer software, or more likely, both. The MEIJIN uniform is literally tailored for the job it has to do, and as a result surpasses all others I have seen in fit and comfort. For example, at the back of the pants the cut is tailored-up, into the waist, eliminating the excess material that "bulks " uncomfortably in other uniforms when the waist string is tightened. The opening in the sides of the pants and jacket are fully reinforced with tape all around and not just a triangular scrap of waste material sewn in to stop the seam running. The trousers are cut wide and long for and freedom, and so they resist binding, even when very damp The jacket is full in the chest, but not bulky about the midriff. It is comfortably loose, but does not hinder movement in any way, even during hard training. Uniquely, the jacket has gussets discretely sewn into the armholes, and equipped with ventilation holes finished with stitching to prevent the fabric running. This gives a level of comfort never experienced before, and reduces stress on the fabric. The design is a work of genius, and should be regarded as such.

Having spent years selling size 5.5 pants with size 4.5 jackets, and asking the factory to change their standard sizes to suit American and European karate men, (they always refused) the MEIJIN uniform is a dream come true. Unlike nearly all other uniforms which are based on the original patterns developed in Japan during the fifties and sixties in the factories of Tokaido, Mitsuboshi, and R.K.Mizuno, this is designed for the European American market exclusively. Rather than doing as everyone else does and slavishly following a measurement grid that will never ever fit Occidental proportions perfectly, the manufacturer has started afresh and the result is the first really new and worthwhile product for karate enthusiasts for decades. The only uniform that I have seen that approached this for fit is the GI uniform which was produced in limited quantities for a short period in the mid seventies with sponsorship from WUKO (World Union of Karate Organizations). It was made from a revolutionary new material from Japan's very best textile company that allowed the canvas to stretch a little, and was cut along very similar lines to the Meijin, although not quite as well in my opinion. Despite the backing of WUKO, and the support of some very substantial and well known companies, production costs were so high that it never made it on to the market. As far as I know the material was never produced commercially.

Using Tokaido uniforms as a bench mark I would say that MEIJIN is better in almost all areas, particularly cut and therefore fit and comfort, except in the quality of the basic material where Tokaido scores a narrow victory. If you are willing to pay twice as much just to have marginally better material and a well-known label it's your choice. Please don't misunderstand me--Tokaido produce a good uniform that has very few faults other than the size and fit which my company used to, more or less, overcome by mixing and matching pants & jackets. The only other complaint about Tokaido that was common related to the blue dye that's used in the bleaching of the Tokaido material. This becomes excessive from time to time, and varies, sometimes greatly, from batch to batch. This made matching the size 5.5 pants with 4.5 jackets from different batches (to get a uniform that would fit a non-Japanese) difficult, if not impossible to say nothing of the nightmare it created for our inventory manager. At around $95 retail for the adult sizes I can honestly recommend MEIJIN as the very best I have seen for the money in ages and light years ahead of the competition.

Since the publication of the review above I have been asked any number of questions about these uniforms, and about my own qualifications to make the statements I made. Answers to the most frequently asked questions follow.

Q.  Am I qualified to write such a review?

    Yes, I feel I am. I have been distributing karate uniforms since 1968 and have professionally represented, as a sole national distributor, Tokaido, Mitsuboshi, and R.K. Mizuno for more than a decade. Additionally I have written a number of books on the martial arts, acted as a martial arts technical advisor to governments in the Middle East, including the construction and outfitting of one of the largest and certainly the most lavish karate dojo in the world, and a number of European police departments. My other credits include martial arts technical adviser to major film companies.

Q.  Are MEIJIN anything like TENKI?

    YES!  MEIJIN uniforms were originally known as TENKI and are essentially the same uniform. The name was apparently changed for legal reasons, and the uniform has gone through a number of upgrades since it was sold under the TENKI name, notably;

  • 1. Extra waist loop (making three)
  • 2. Improved collar material and construction
  • 3. Improved fabric
  • 4. Longer waist tie
  • 5. Full cut sizes now available.

Q.  Do the instructors who appear in the Tsunami videos really wear MEIJIN uniforms.

    Yes they do! but it's not blatant commercialism. MEIJIN sponsor Tsunami because so many top professional instructors use MEIJIN products. I think you would refer to it as a symbiotic relationship.

Q.  What about reproducing the Tide label in their adverts. Can MEIJIN do that?

    MEIJIN tested many detergents to find an ideal one for their karate uniform. They discovered as a result of their research that Tide(R) With Bleach, met all their requirements and recommend it strongly as the powder of choice for their uniforms. Use of the Tide(R) symbol and Tide(R) name is covered by a contract between MEIJIN and Proctor and Gamble, the manufacturer of the Tide(R) detergent products.


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