Monday, January 3, 2011

What to do with Long Hair for Martial Arts?

I've seen this question several times now, so I thought I would address it.  After many years of martial arts, both on the ground and standing up, I have found but one hairstyle that actually works for everything.  It is very simple.

1. Make a nice, tight braid from the nape of your neck.  A French braid is fine but not necessary.
2. Tuck it through your sports bra strap in that little groove above your collar bone.
3. Turn your head as far as you can to make sure there is enough slack to not restrict your motion.
4. Tuck the braid tail under your gi collar and go about your business.

"So what if I'm doing a no gi session?"  You should be using a rash guard of some type.  Tuck it through your bra strap and into your rash guard, around the side of your breast.  There are a lot of reasons why a rash guard would help you even if you are wearing a gi and you don't have long hair.

"What keeps my braid from coming out of my gi?"  Your bra strap is the first thing.  It naturally directs your hair around the outside of your breast into a convenient area.

"What if I'm a guy with long hair, so I don't wear a sports bra?"  The same thing should apply.  Tuck it down through a shirt or a rash guard over your shoulder of choice.  The stiffer the gi, the better.  My 14 oz. gis have a nice stiff collar that holds braids in place really well.  I normally don't even notice my hair, which is the whole point.  A medium weight gi doesn't hold as well, so tuck it into something.

"Can I just tuck my braid down my back?"  Be my guest, but you're not going to like rolling over it or laying on it.

"My braids start to fray really fast."  Braid it wet.  It's good for your hair anyway.  If it becomes a problem, you might try placing elastic hair ties in various places down your braid, starting at the base of the braid and having one every couple of inches until you reach the end.

"So what's wrong with buns and ponytails?"  Buns are great if you're just standing up and not doing any contact or anything that would require head protection.  Ponytails tend to get in your face any time you spin or turn your head fast.  They are murder for grappling because laying on your ponytail is painful and prevents you from moving.  You will not be able to do any escapes that require you to scoot up.  This has gotten me stuck in high mount many times.  Don't do this to yourself.

"I have bangs/fringe and layers."  I'm sorry.  I made this mistake, too.  The layers are not so bad if they are long enough to stay in your braid.  The bangs must be either kept short or grown out for maximum efficiency.  I made the mistake of cutting side swept bangs.  Yeah, they look nice if my hair is down.  What is not nice is this bob length hair that doesn't stay in my braid and having it stepped on and ripped out while grappling.  It's not too fun to have it sweat-plastered to my face during forms and drills either.  Ideally, hair that is all one length is the most efficient way.  If you must have a prettier hairstyle, try to keep layering at a functional length.

That brings me to another point.  The bob is a terrible idea for physical activity.  I know the military hasn't figured this out yet, but it just gets in the way.  You can't tie it back, but it's long enough to be in your eyes and your mouth.  The way I see it, there are three functional lengths of hair.  1. The buzz cut/pixie cut.  It stays out of the way for everything.  2. Pony-nub length.  This is when it is just long enough to stay in a ponytail but not long enough to bounce around or get in the way.  3. Bun length.  This is usually mid-back and beyond.  Shorter than this and it does not stay well in a bun without "billions" of hair pins and probably lot of product.  Hopefully, one day they will get over their "above the collar" regulation and allow the tucked braid...but I won't hold my breath.

Awesome Tip of the Day: I do not recommend using any clips or pins for any sport in which there is contact, especially if you will be rolling around on the ground. Your scalp is not terribly thick or very tough, but being that it is located on your head, it bleeds a lot. Want to find out? Try it.

Feel free to use the comments section if you need any further clarification.  Happy training!


  1. Will definitely try out these hair styles, see how comfortable i am when practicing karate.

  2. I do Aikido, and this didn't work very well for me. My hair came out of my sports bra every technique, and was uncomfortable against my breast. Any other possibilities?

    1. Not sure how this was uncomfortable against your breasts since the tail of your braid should be running along the outside of one of them barely touching (by your armpit) and on the outside of your sports bra. If it kept coming out then your hair may not be long enough.

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