Full Review: One of Black Eagle's best features is that they listen to their customers. In the course of producing their BJJ gis, Black Eagle frequently has extended consultations with various figures in BJJ. For example, Meg Smitley provided plenty of input on their female cut gis. Black Eagle are also sponsoring fellow blogger, Liam Wandi, for his writing rather than competing (AFAIK). There is even a blogger-designed Black Eagle gi, in the form of the swish Raptor by gi reviewing champion, Meerkatsu.
Flashy gis have been popular for several years now. With the advent of brands like Shoyoroll, the gi has become a fashion item. I'm sure this was true in the years before I started BJJ as well, but the clever marketing strategy of Shoyoroll (tense pre-sales, limited edition runs, 'rebel' sloganeering, etc) has accelerated that perception. On BJJ forums, gi threads often run into multiple pages: everybody has their favourite.
Yet there are also those who don't want a fashion item. They simply desire a piece of reliable, practical equipment, without any bells or whistles (as I discussed in my article on the topic). For that market, Black Eagle have produced the 'Basico' plain gi. I've mentioned numerous times that my ideal gi design is basically the same as on the Black Eagle judogi: two small logos, nothing else.
I was hoping for something similar after I heard about the Basico. For many years, my favourite gi has been the Padilla & Sons gold weave. That was partly due to the price and the quality, but also the relative lack of embroidery and patches. I've been wanting to get something even plainer, but until now the only option was either a judogi or to go overseas, where American companies like Killer Bee offer a completely blank gi. Therefore I had high hopes for this new, plain option from Black Eagle.
As far as I'm aware, Black Eagle is the longest running UK BJJ brand. The company was founded on the 1st June 2005 in Hampshire, starting as a general martial arts supplier before it made a major move into the BJJ market. Black Eagle dipped its toes into BJJ as a reseller for Atama and Kwon back in early 2006 (possibly earlier, as I'm just going off the Internet Archive) Eventually, the company would produce its own Black Eagle branded gi. A year or two after I started BJJ in November 2006, the Black Eagle standard issue gi became ubiquitous at the Roger Gracie Academy.
I was never fond of that design, which IIRC was launched in September 2007. The eagle logo was coloured by the Brazilian flag, which I thought made it look like a bird of prey wearing a t-shirt. I've also never liked large text written on a gi, which on that first offering was along the shoulders (a common practice, so once again, it's an entirely subjective matter of taste). The next incarnation, on the Mundial, shifted to a more stylish logo, but still plenty of text. That was followed by the popular Predator (which I reviewed last week), where for some reason the logo tilted, joined a few months ago by the blingy Raptor.
The Basico is a very similar gi to the Predator, being cut from the same pattern, except that it thankfully lacks the large wedges of text along the shoulders, next to the collar and across the jacket skirt. The eagle on each shoulder remains: I prefer the logo placement from the Black Eagle judogi, where they are on the arm and leg instead, but this works too. In a slightly unusual design choice (which looking again I now see is the same on the Predator), these eagles aren't arranged to face each other when you have your arms at your sides, as you might expect. Instead, they look in the same direction, which I found a little odd. However, that's not a flaw, just something I wasn't expecting. ;)
There are a few minor design shifts in the jacket, restricted as far as I can tell to the choice of patches on the lapel and inside the collar. Rather than the monochrome eagle logo used by the equivalent patches on the Predator, the Basico is a bit more colourful, taking the Brazilian flag as a template. The main distinction is that the jacket weave is also different: the Predator was a pearl weave, while the Basico uses a gold weave. The length from cuff to cuff was the same, at 153.5cm, staying there after a wash at 30 degrees Celsius. There was some slight shrinkage elsewhere though, as the jacket feels a bit tighter across the chest after washing.
If you're wondering how exactly all these gi weaves differ, in simple terms, there are three: single, double and gold, with ripstop being a recent fourth addition (for more on that, see my review of the Gorilla Fight Gear all-ripstop gi, here). Single is the thinnest and lightest, while double is much thicker, meaning that it is stronger but retains heat. Gold is a combination of the two. All other names are essentially used by companies to differentiate their gi, but there often isn't all that much specifically different. For some more discussion on that, check out Seymour's brilliant post on buying a gi, then scroll down to 'weave'. In Black Eagle's case, their use of 'pearl weave' refers to their usage of a softer, tougher yarn, getting the 'pearl' name from that shiny white resulting from the anti-shrinking techniques applied to the material.
Black Eagle has the uncommon feature that their gis not only come pre-shrunk, but they guarantee it won't shrink more than 1% or 2% further, as I discussed at length in my Predator review. Normally I would get an A2, but due to that lack of shrinkage, I decided that the Black Eagle size chart indicated an A1 would be more sensible. Prior to these two Black Eagle gis, I've never owned an A1, so I was interested to see if that would fit me better (as I'm a pretty small guy, at 5'7" and about 65kg). Thankfully, it did: the cut is apparently competition legal, but it is definitely tighter than I'm used to, which I like.
The trousers for the Basico are almost exactly the same as the Predator, with two exceptions. First, that they are regular cotton rather than ripstop. Secondly, at 95cm my A1 Basico trousers are 4.5cm longer than the A1 Predator, without any noticeable change after washing at 30 degrees. I would have preferred that there was a third exception, but that similarity extends to the two large patches on the upper legs (except that they say 'Black Eagle' rather than 'Predator'). As with the embroidery on the Predator, it is possible to remove them if you're willing to put in the time.
I used a pair of cuticle scissors to gradually chop my way through the threads. The scissors broke almost immediately, but I only needed a blade to slide underneath the stitching. You then have to pull out the loose stitches, along with the adhesive fluff on the back of the patch. If you aren't careful when removing, the sticky residue from the back of the patch will stick to the trousers, rather than coming off attached to the patch.
If that adhesive remains on the trousers, when you roll with somebody wearing a blue gi, it will pick it up (though the adhesive seems to go after a wash or two). The needle holes left behind aren't too noticeable on the Basico cotton trousers, but they can be clearly seen if you remove the patches on the much thinner Predator ripstop. I'll update the Predator review if those holes cause a rip (though that wouldn't be Black Eagle's fault: after all, they aren't expecting you to remove the patches ;p).
Available to buy here in the UK, for a reasonable £64.99. The Predator is £79.99, for which you get lots more embroidery, ripstop trousers and a pearl weave rather than gold weave jacket. Either way, the Basico would be my choice, though hopefully in future they'll get rid of the trouser patches, perhaps also shorten them slightly.
Update August 2014: Sadly, the company no longer exists, as per this status update on their Facebook page. To quote the founder, "Due to the incompetence of the people we effectively sold our business to, and from which we still earn a living through a percentage of sales, Black Eagle has now ceased trading. Those concerned still owe us £20K, plus earnings, and have left us completely penniless. So, if you see cheap Black Eagle gear being sold, please don't buy it, we get nothing for it, and you will just be lining the pockets of the liquidator."