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Aikido hakama are loose, pleated pants worn over a kimono. They typically come in two styles: undivided and divided. The divided style is used more for those who need flexibility with their legs for such activities as horseback riding. The undivided hakama have a looser waste and tighter legs; this style is mainly worn by field workers and farmers.
The most popular type of hakama worn today are the divided hakama. As its name implies, divided hakama have two separate chambers of cloth for the legs, similar to pants, whereas the undivided hakama are designed as one piece and tend to resemble a dress. While hakama today are mainly worn by practitioners of aikido as well as other martial arts, they are also worn in ceremonies and even in everyday life.
Originally, hakama were worn by the samurai, enabling them to mount horses easily and protecting their legs while riding. It is commonly mistaken that the aikido hakama were worn by the samurai in order to hide stances and foot movements from the enemy. When facing battle, however, the samurai actually would take the long ends of the garment and tuck them into a belt to enable quicker and more accurate maneuvering during the fight.
Aikido hakama generally have seven distinct pleats — five in the front, and two in the back. There is a debate as to whether the specific number and arrangement of the pleats have any specific meaning. Some believe that the pleats represent the seven virtues of Bushido, or the samurai code. This can not be verified, and many believe that these attributes were placed upon the pleats much later.
Martial arts schools vary widely on wearing the aikido hakama. Some schools only allow black belts to wear them while in other schools everyone is permitted and encouraged to wear them. Some believe the original reason that wearing hakama was reserved for black belts came out of necessity, as cloth was in short supply in post-war Japan.
Today, hakama are available from many stores and websites and come in a variety of different styles, colors, thicknesses, and materials. Prices of hakama also vary greatly and depend on many factors. A high-quality “traditional” aikido hakama, for example, typically will be the most expensive; many other hakama made with low- to mid-quality materials are relatively inexpensive.