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What makes the perfect Gi? In this article we will examine the following criteria: how the best materials, fits, colors, styles and designs all work together to make what we think is the perfect Gi.
To start you may be asking, where did the tradition of wearing a Gi come from and how did it make it all the way to Brazil? The answer to these questions takes us back to the late 19th century in Japan.
The History of the Gi
The standard uniform in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and many other martial arts is called a Gi, it consists of three parts: a jacket (Uwagi), pants (Zubon), and a belt (Obi), which generally signifies rank. While the origins of the design of such uniforms stretches much farther back to the traditional Japanese Kimono and other similar garments, their use in martial arts in modern form doesn’t go back as far as you might think.
It wasn't until the late 19th century that the Gi in its current design was developed by Kano Jigoro, the founder of Judo, known as the Judogi. Kano wanted to design a garment that could stand up to his grappling style without needing constant repair– designing a uniform with heavy lapels and reinforced paneling. Early on it is likely that his students were simply given the design plans and instructed to make their own Judogi or commission a tailor. Once Judo started gaining in popularity the Judogi would soon become commercially available to keep up with demand.
Before Kano’s innovation it’s likely that many Japanese martial arts practitioners would have trained in regular clothes, like the traditional Kimono, but by the early 20th century the Gi had caught on as the standard design and was adopted by many other martial arts all over the world.
Its use in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is easily traced back to Mitsuyo Maeda bringing Judo and its uniform to Brazil in 1914 and going on to teach a young Carlos Gracie who–along with his brother Helio–would adapt Judo techniques and create Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Certain alterations were made to the Judogi for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu particularly, like tighter cuffs on the jacket and pants, and a shorter skirt, so there would be less material for an opponent to manipulate.
To non-Japanese speakers the term Kimono has become a popular colloquialism to refer to the jacket of the Gi, especially in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community, whereas the bottoms are generally just called pants.
Though the Gi has been adapted and changed over the years the attributes that have remained constant are its cotton weave material, heavy lapel, and reinforced paneling on the most often gripped areas.
The final element of the Gi is what holds it all together, the belt. Belts weren’t always a signifier of rank, in fact they were worn for only one purpose to start with, just to keep the Kimono closed. Let's go back to the late 19th century again and explore the origins of this martial arts tradition.
The History of the Belt
The now iconic colored belt ranking system used in most martial arts in modern times is also a fairly recent innovation. Contrary to popular myth the colored grading system doesn’t originate from a student starting with a white belt that is never washed that changes colors from the accumulation of sweat, grass, blood, or dirt as an outward symbol of the time one spent training. (Seriously though, wash your belts.)
In fact, this is yet another innovation of Judo founder Kano Jigoro.
Around the 1880’s Kano began dividing his students into one of two ranks based on experience level–white belt and black belt. The idea of a belt ranking system soon spread to other martial arts most famously in 1924 when the father of modern Karate Gichin Funakoshi awarded the first Karate black belts.
It wasn’t until the 1930’s, while living and teaching Judo in Paris, France, that Judo Master Kawaishi Mikonosuke devised a colored belt ranking system similar to the one we know today. This was likely a way to incentivize his students' continued training and improvement and give them something to strive for on their way to the black belt.
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the colored ranking belt system is famously strict with the IBJJF requiring minimum ages and certain increments of time in between belts in order to formally recognize ranks. In fact the average time between belts is 2 years meaning that it takes an average of 8-10 years to reach the black belt level For adults the IBJJF requirements are as follows:
- White: No requirement.
- Blue: must be 16 years old.
- Purple: must be a blue belt for at least 2 years
- Brown: must be a purple belt for at least 18 months
- Black: must be 19 years old and a brown belt for at least 1 year.
Now that we know a little bit more about where the Gi and its tradition comes from, we can start to examine what makes the perfect Gi.
The obvious place to start when choosing a Gi is knowing what it’s made of. A modern Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Kimono is typically made from cotton in one of 4 of the most common weaves, those being Single Weave, Double Weave, Gold Weave and Pearl Weave.
Weaves are measured in GSM or grams per square meter which roughly translates to the weight of the material. In order to know what makes the perfect Gi let’s take a closer look at those four weaves.
- Single Weave
Single Weave is the most lightweight and typically least expensive of the modern weaves, the downside is jackets made from this material tend to be less durable.
- Double Weave
The nature of this weave makes for a heavier and durable material but also one that can feel comparatively uncomfortable and restrict movement making this the least common weave, especially in a competition setting where weight and mobility are key.
- Gold Weave
For many practitioners, this fairly lightweight weave was the go-to for years but with its tendency to shrink, and with the popularization of other weaves it is not as commonly used as it once was.
- Pearl Weave
Named for its unique weave pattern resembling a string of pearls, this lightweight and durable fabric has become the industry standard in Jiu Jitsu.
Now that we have a better idea of what materials are available for jackets let’s talk pants.
Pants typically come in two materials, either Cotton or Ripstop.
Long lasting, time tested and available in a variety of thicknesses.
A fairly modern innovation using a unique reinforced stitching to create a lightweight but durable material.
Now that we know a little more about what a Gi is made of let’s get you fitted with the right size.
Gi sizing has been more or less standardized into a system based on height and weight, but it’s important to check each brand’s sizing chart in case there is slight variation.
Here’s how our sizing breaks down.
- AO: Height 5’0”-5’4’ Weight 110 lbs.-140 lbs.
- A1: Height 5’4”-5’8” Weight 140 lbs.-165 lbs.
- A1L: Height 5’6”-5’11” Weight 135 lbs.-165 lbs.
- A2: Height 5’8”-6’0” Weight 165 lbs.-195 lbs.
- A2L: Height 5’11”-6’3” Weight 165 lbs.-190 lbs.
- A2H: Height 5’8”-6’0” Weight 195 lbs.-225 lbs.
- A3: Height 5’11”-6’3” Weight 195 lbs.-230 lbs.
- A4: Height 6’2”-6’5” Weight 225 lbs.-250 lbs.
- A5: Height 6’5”-6’8” Weight 250 lbs.-300 lbs.
Materials and size aren’t everything though, often choosing a Gi has even more to do with personal style and self expression. Throughout its history the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Gi in particular has been an outlet for both of these values, whether through the inclusion of Academy patches and logos, to the now numerous brands and sponsors seeking to add their own flair to the tradition. Just as with athletes' individual games and grappling styles, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a sport encourages individualism and uniqueness that many practitioners will choose to display in their choice of Gi.
Here at Flowhold we believe we’ve struck the perfect balance between form and function with our Jiu Jitsu Kimono, the Fundamentals Gi.
The Fundamentals Kimono
The Kimono itself is made from the lightweight and breathable premium quality 450 GSM Pearl Weave, combined with 10oz Cotton Pants and available in black as well, we believe we’ve created a Gi that not only will take whatever punishment you throw at it on the mats but also look damn good while doing it.
Okay, so now we understand a little history on the Gi, the materials used in the manufacturing, and some background in the development of the stylistic components, you might be wondering what about those undershirts a lot of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners are wearing these days? Those are generally referred to as rash guards and here’s what they do and where they come from.
Rash Guards are a lightweight, stretchy garment usually made from Lycra, Spandex or similar material, often worn under a Gi. They can come in either long sleeve or short sleeve and are often paired with a similar undergarment for the pants generally called Spats.
(Note that rash guards and spats are currently illegal to wear under the Gi during IBJJF Gi tournaments. Rash Guards are required for No-Gi and are worn with Shorts. Check here for all current IBJJF uniform restrictions.)
Rash guards originally come from surfing culture, named for their ability to reduce the risk of friction burns from surf board wax or sand. Because Surfing and BJJ have often been practiced by the same people it’s likely that the use of the rash guard simply jumped from one sport to another.
In BJJ the rash guard also lives up to its name by both reducing the risk of friction burns, and also the transmission of skin infections from grappling. These reasons along with their moisture wicking characteristics have made them a very popular addition to the traditional Gi uniform.
Like many developments in martial arts uniforms, rash guards began as fairly simple designs, often just solid colors. The designs have gradually become more and more elaborate over the years incorporating various styles and colors as yet another way for a BJJ player to express themselves.
What makes the perfect Gi? We’ve talked about history, philosophy, fashion and textile manufacturing in the pursuit of this one question and the key is finding the perfect balance between comfort, weight, durability and style.
So, what makes the perfect Gi? We do.
About the Author
This article was written by Taylor Alexander, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Purple Belt.
You can learn more about him here.