Continuing on from the last edition, we asked Mr. Shoji Seki about kendo gear maintenance.
What is the first thing someone who uses kendo gear should do for maintenance? Seki gives a clear answer.
After sweating, they should dry it before using it again. They should hang it where there is good breeze. Never dry it in the sun. Especially with gear that is thin in material, as we are seeing more of recently, the roll of cloth absorbs more sweat, so if you expose it to the sun it would just be terrible.
And there is one thing he wants everyone to do.
When you dry your gear after using it, use spray damping to give it enough water. That will reduce the salinity. Some people use towels to wipe them before drying, but never do that. The more you wipe it, the more the salt gets trapped inside.
When you dry it in the raw sun, the salt appears on the cloth and leaves a white stain. I’m sure some would have experience with this. Afterwards, that part of the cloth changes color and becomes a patch. If there is still salt left, the kendo gear will wear even when not in use.
Spray damping can reduce the salinity. We saw Seki actually spray water on the surface. It is difficult to show exactly how much water to spray on, but a lot of water on the inside and outside.
Water is needed not only on the men, but also the kote, dare, a do. The negative effects of drying it in the burning sun appears not only on the cloth but also on the leather. There are many leather parts used in kendo gear such as the dark blue leather on the men and the top of the kote, the string leather, and the frame leather used on the men. It can be said for all parts, but especially for the kote the inside gets very sweaty and needs to be sprayed with a lot of water.
Seki told us of a time someone asked him to re-dye one of his gears. It had turned completely white. Seki spent 2-3 days spraying it with water then hanging it in the shade. This needs to be repeated before being re-dyed, because dyeing dark blue over salt does not work well.
Regarding salinity, there seems to be change due to the kendo sports wear that has become popular over the last 10 years. The sweat passes through the sports wear without being absorbed, which means the kendo gear like the string leather of the do sucks up the sweat. Then drying it in the hot sun will cause the leather to become damaged.
The difficult things is that even though people know that drying in the shade is best, it does not drying in one day. Spraying it with water will make it even harder to dry. Seki knows of a high school that has a “drying room” with a huge drier, so kendo players can spray as much water as they need and still be able to use their kendo gear the next day. But many places would not have such facilities.
Recently there are many shops that offer cleaning services for kendo gear. Many people clean the kote and other gear themselves. In the past, it was said that washing kendo gear was not good, but these days Seki says it is common to wash them.
This is also due to the advancement of washing machines. Now, instead of washing machines that simply spin the clothes round and round, most machines have a function that can remove the dirt through spinning that does not damage materials for knitted items. This makes it possible to wash kendo gear too without damaging them.
The advancement of washing machines is incredible. In the past they just spin round and round, the dirt doesn’t come off that much and the material gets damaged, but now it’s different.
But Seki still recommends washing by hand.
Prepare a bowl, and water that is heated to about 38-40 degrees Celsius, and the dirt will fall off well. Any higher and it could damage the gear, and any lower means the dirt will not come off effectively.
Especially the kote is full of bacterial and incredibly dirty inside rather than on the surface. Use a scrubber to remove the dirt inside as much as possible. Putting it in the washing machine will not get the dirt off inside, and the color on the surface will fall off. It is OK to remove the dirt from inside and then throw it in the washing machine.
It is also important to give lots of rinsing too. With regular detergent, rinse it about 6-8 times until the water becomes clear.
How you dry it is important too. As mentioned, it should never be dried in the sun. It is ok the rinse it with the washing machine function, but especially for the kote you need to put your hand inside to readjust the shape before hanging it.
Some may worry that the dark blue leather may get damaged, but if you are careful with the washing and drying it will be fine. I think probably about 80-90% of people wash the gear themselves. They sometimes use hair rinse, or think of other ways of cleaning their gear.
When taking it to cleaning services, sometimes the detergent may not be a good fit, or they may use heat to dry it, so you need to be aware of these things. It is important to get the gear in the proper shape and dry it naturally in the shade.
To be continued
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