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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

20 November 2009

Article - Gi Fashion

Article #4, by Can Sönmez [FAQ Entry]

As I mention every time I see yet another "what gi should I buy" thread on BJJ forums, my first set of rolling pyjamas was a £20 judogi, bought through the university team. The material around the knees is beginning to get a little frayed, but the gi is still going strong after four years: my £25 Black Eagle judogi is in similarly good condition. So, why is it that so many people are willing to drop upwards of $140 on a heap of cotton?

I suppose it's a reflection of broader clothes-shopping habits. Some people just want something functional: all my trousers come from shops like Millets, because my main concern is lots of zip pockets. I look for something cheap (my last pair cost me £10) that works for the job at hand. Others want the trendiest label, and there is certainly no shortage of them in the BJJ gi world. I was once surprised during an RGA conversation, when somebody explicitly stated they wanted a well-known brand: low cost and practicality didn’t come into it.

The gi is also sports equipment, which I sometimes find easy to forget when looking at the astronomical price tags and flashy designs. As with many sports, that also involves an element of supporting a team, but unlike football, BJJ offers the chance to be an active member of that team. Hence the flourishing trade in club patches, with some instructors even insisting they're essential training wear.

For example, I have read that Xande Ribeiro said "without it you are like a stray dog, only out for yourself". His teacher Royler Gracie is known for giving push-ups to any visitors arriving to train at Gracie Humaíta without representing their team. Then there is the insistence of several Gracie Barra schools that you must wear an official Gracie Barra gi, as if it were an identifying uniform as well as protective clothing.

I would assume that high-end examples like Lucky Gi and Shoyoroll can offer enhanced quality rather than merely aesthetic improvements. I've never owned one, so that will remain an assumption. However, the fashion aspect of other options is obvious: the growing female market makes this clear. CatFight caters specifically to women who want something more than a plain white gi with no sense of style, and therefore provides a wide array of bright colours and attractive decoration. It is perhaps part of women's greater ability to communicate (to make a generalisation) that they tend to be more expressive in their choice of clothing.

Thus far, I've bought nothing but plain white, with as few labels as possible. That too could be seen as a 'fashion' of sorts, in that I'm intentionally avoiding anything that makes me stand out. I've noticed this is common to a number of men, who turn their noses up at any concept of fashion. Different colours, patches and brands go towards emphasising individuality, but it also draws attention. Therefore my choice to stick with the most boring gi available is a reflection of my lack of flamboyance in everyday dress, and general introverted nature. Not to mention that there are certain people who take sartorial innovation as an incentive to up the intensity during sparring.

Of course, I do have a few more garish items in my wardrobe, like the bright orange Bruce Lee print shirt I bought on Khao San Road in Bangkok five years ago. I somehow doubt I'll ever find myself picking up the gi equivalent, but you never know: perhaps in a decade or two, I'll feel confident enough in my skills to venture beyond the safe (but bland) realm of the pure white gi. ;)

Update October 2014: It's taken five years, but I may be turning towards the dark side. As of this month, a black gi is now regularly in my rotation, along with a blue one. We'll see if I start end up wearing bright green or something, but at the moment my BJJ bling is still 99% restricted to my fabulous nogi wear ;)

Update February 2015: Not bright green yet, but I do have bright purple. Bright green will be following shortly, among others... ;)

Update July 2017:Several shades of green, plus tie-dye. Think I've hit peak colour, but we'll see if I can come up with anything more ridiculous in the future. ;)

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  1. No no no no - you do not write an article name-checking your bright orange Bruce Lee t-shirt and not post a photo up on the HAS to be done.

    On a more serious note. I notice Roger Gracie is very much of the minimalist ilk. He chooses to wear a judo gi with no patches. Not even his own academy patch. And you know what? In this world of blingin' gis and extrovert characters, Roger does all his talking on the mat. No need for flashy gis.

    I personally tread the middle path. Expensive BJJ gi but only one or two patches, that's all. Not too dull, not too flashy. Oli Geddes on the other hand...

  2. Heh - why do you think I put in that link to my post about Bangkok? Bruce Lee shirt is waiting to burn your eyes on there. ;)

    The Roger Gracie point raises another aspect of the gi fashion question, which is that it makes sense to have a truly blingtastic gi if all those patches are from sponsors (or the flashy gi itself is from a sponsor, like Lucky Gi). International competitors obviously need financial support.

    Roger could surely go that route if he wanted, but chooses not to. Part of that might be because he has enough income from his very successful BJJ schools here in the UK. On the other hand, it could be because he is quiet, perhaps even introverted to an extent.

    So, despite very definitely having the skill to back up whatever crazy gi he might want to wear, he still doesn't want to make a big statement with his clothing. I haven't paid too much attention to what he normally wears off the mats, but I'm guessing it isn't too flashy either (could be wrong though).

  3. Arrrgh! Seen the photo now: eyes duly burned!!!

    When Roger comes to tournaments to support the RGA team, he just wears a t-shirt and jeans. You would hardly know he was there.

    Speaking of t-shirts, my sister picked up a BKKBJJ t-shirt (she lives in Bangkok) and sent it to me, it's a very neat design. I might post it on my blog

  4. Slidey,

    I've owned 2 Shoyorolls now, and while they're nice (and I seriously get comments every time I wear the black one) I don't think the quality is any better than, say, a Koral or whatnot. Nothing against them - but Korals are really well made, too.

    I know you can get a Padilla And Sons gi for something like $60, and they're good quality, without all the frills like Guamanian Flag Colored striping on the borders and all that.

    At the end of the day, I think that what you wear or don't wear is part of what you want to say to the BJJ world. It's very easy to get enticed into spending $150 on a gi (I know, I've done it twice now) despite the conscious knowledge that you don't need that stuff.

    Who knows. Great article!

  5. Yeah, the Korals seem to be even more expensive than I thought. I was talking to my instructor Kev about them last night, as I was interested in his favourite gi (seeing how I only ever buy cheap ones). He said without question, the Koral.

    However, he also said it costs around £160, which is insane: I thought he meant in dollars at first, which would still be pricey. I could get eight judogi for that, at the price I paid a few years ago. Eight!

  6. So far, I've only bought judo gis on ebay, because they were the cheapest. My hubby is going to reward me with a gi actually fitted for a girl when I've been doing BJJ for a year. For me, that is the only reason why I will buy a name-brand gi: because men's judo gis just don't fit me correctly. They get the job done, but that's about it.

  7. Pish-posh.

    I like to look unique. I like to have gis that fit well. Hence, I have to wash them and shrink them, only to find out some aren't as comfy as others. Sponsors rock for sending me free gis, too. And instead of a stack of indistinguishable white gis (hmm, which one fits well when I'm 5 lbs over? which one is cooler in the heat?) I can go "Oh, today's a green day."

    And then there's the fun of pissing off some more conservative members of your school who are offended at the thought of a tiedyed gi :)

  8. Given that you're undoubtedly the queen of gi fashion, do you think it's possible to climb the heights of blingin' gi mountain on a tight budget? Not that I'd ever venture into those realms myself, but I'd be interested to know if it was possible.

    I guess if there is reasonable quality dye available at a low cost, and you had a good understanding of the process, plus some skill at making your own patches, it might work?

  9. I started with a HSU Judo gi. It was a world of difference when I bought my first Koral MKM. I'll never go back. The money is worth it. Georgette post on Atama's sale has landed me my next gi a Mundial #5. slideyfoot you have got to try one. I don't feel like I'm in a big floppy bathrobe anymore.

    Here is my blog review on it:…lian-jiu-jitsu/

  10. Heh - the only way I can see myself ever using a Koral is if someone sent it to me for free. I could never justify dropping that much cash on some trousers and a jacket, particularly when there are high quality - but cheap - alternatives like Padilla around.

  11. It IS important to have a few Gi's so that laundry doesn't get out of hand. I only have one at the moment and my hot water bill is rising and sometimes I go to BJJ class in a damp Gi because it didn't have time to dry. This is definitely a Christmas list item.

    That said. I like plain, dark colours, no patches.

  12. Hey Slidey--I've never commented before, but I definitely enjoy your blog.

    Personally, I own a Koral, and it's pretty great. It may not be completely worth the money, but as a first gi it is great to never have to worry about your gi in a bad way. It's comfortable, fits great, and most importantly I can machine dry it, so it is always ready for my next class.

    On an unrelated, I started a blog here:

    You can add that to your blogroll--I'm pretty positive I'm going to keep it up, although it is the "we did this, we did that" variety.

  13. @Johnay: Yep, more than one gi is essential, unless you're able to spin dry your one gi or something (though that would definitely reduce its lifespan, probably cause greater shrinkage, and up your electricity bills).

    If money is an issue, I'd highly recommend just grabbing a cheap judogi to give your equipment time to dry between sessions.

    @Ben: Thanks, and I've stuck your site on the blogroll (though it will be a while before the latest version goes online: something involved in Google Docs seems to have made all my spreadsheet hyperlinks go dead, so I have to rejig with the new code. Grr.)

    Keep up the blogging! :)

  14. Slidey--

    Yes, definitely as long as your gi is cotton, dyeing it is quite easy and reasonable in terms of cost. It can be messy, and if you are at all concerned, I am happy to dye for you (or for whomever reads this blog!)

    As for pros and cons of expensive vs. cheap gis...

    I think the key issue is fit. Koral gets great reviews but if it doesn't fit it's worthless. Fuji and Padilla and Sons also get great reviews, and are less expensive, but ditto-- if it doesn't fit, it's going to be the last gi you choose to wear, if you have a choice. I have the gamut of gis, from GTMAs and a Hsu and a host of Atamas, Gameness and Keikos all the way up to a Lucky ... and funny enough, it's the fit that really distinguishes the gis from each other. And no one will know how it fits until they buy it and (usually) shrink it. *sigh*

    Anyone wants me to dye a gi, just let me know on my blog... happy to do it for the cost of materials and shipping!

  15. That's a point: I'd forgotten cotton isn't the only option, with those snazzy hemp gis coming onto the market. That's something else that might tempt me away from my current bland selection, as stronger but lighter sounds rather good.

  16. I have four very cheap, plain gis. Each is an unbleached HCK and cost something like $65 USD.

    I am very methodical about washing my gis. I wash the four jackets together in very hot water and tumble dry on the highest heat setting, which kills any bacteria but dramatically reduces the life of the fabric. I do the same with the the trousers.

    Using this process, each gi tends to last about 75 wash cycles, and I wear a clean gi to every class. This makes the gi-purchase-cost of doing BJJ a little less than $1 USD per class.

    A lot of my friends have bought gis costing close to $200 USD, but I'd rather have more gis and do wash less often.

  17. Interesting approach. I also always wear a clean gi to class (I have four, none of which cost more than £60, and that includes shipping from the US. Two were less than £30), but I wash my gis at 30 degrees celsius, then either leave it to air dry, or in winter I'll sometimes put them on the radiator. I only ever put them in the tumble drier when I first buy them, in order to shrink the gi.

    Last night, I had my first bit of gi damage, as my oldest gi (the judo one I bought four years ago) has developed a small rip on the one of the knees.