Originally, in Aikido the hakama was not earned but rather was a part of the standard uniform a student of Aikido was expected to wear. The hakama were the pants of the uniform. In fact, that’s basically what the hakama was (and still is). They’re pants, perhaps the traditional Japanese equivalent of the dress pants we wear today in the Western world. To show up to Aikido practice without your hakama on was like showing up to work in your grundies. Not cool. And O-Sensei apparently didn’t allow it. In chapter 19, page 211 of Principles of Aikido by Mitsugi Saotome, O-Sensei is quoted as saying:
Where is your hakama?….What makes you think you can receive your teacher’s instruction wearing nothing but your underwear? Have you no sense of propriety? You are obviously lacking the attitude and the etiquette necessary in one who pursues budo training. Go sit on the side and watch class!
I’ve not yet been to Japan to study. So, I can’t comment on what is expected of students there. But from what I’ve seen, most places in the West don’t require that students wear a hakama to class. In fact, in the U.S. at least, most places appear to require that a student reach a certain level before wearing a hakama. Although, women are typically allowed to wear a hakama at their own discretion regardless of rank.
Anyway, the level required to earn a hakama varies from dojo to dojo. In Spain, the Asociación Española de Técnicos de Aikido, which falls under the European Aikido Federation, required that a student reach the level of 3rd Kyu in Aikido to earn his hakama.
Where I practice now, a student earns his hakama when he passes his first test.
Still, in other dojo, an Aikidoka earns his hakama when he earns his black belt, i.e. the level of shodan.
So, when you earn your hakama depends on where you practice. Ask your sensei. He or she is the only one who can tell you.
How you earn your hakama, however, is a much more personal and philosophical question, in my opinion. How you earn it depends, perhaps, on what it represents to you or the organization with which your dojo is associated. Does it represent your serious intent to follow the way? Is it a symbol of how far you’ve walked along the path? Is it a sign of respect for the traditions, attitudes and etiquette of Aikido? Or is it…
Saotome Shihan dedicates an entire chapter to the relationship between Aikido and the hakama. Read it here: