If you’ve spent anytime training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu then you’re familiar with what a gi is. The heavily stitched, cotton uniform that we wear when we train and compete.
In theory, Jiu-Jitsu is the ultimate equalizer. It’s a sport where people of different sizes, age, race, religion and political views all meet as equals.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu gi was adapted from the uniform commonly used in Japanese martial arts. Since Jiu-Jitsu focuses more on grappling and submissions the kimono underwent several modifications to allow for ease of movement and grappling. Jigoro Kano, is to thank for prototyping the gi. He realized he needed to show uniformity among those training Judo. The gi was designed to be durable enough to take a beating from throwing, pinning and choking techniques.
Kano took inspiration from the kimono, and other traditional Japanese garments of the time to make the gi. It was the first ever martial arts uniform and was universally adopted by other Japanese martial arts.
The Brazilian jiu jitsu gi we are familiar with today comes from Mitsuyo Maeda. He traveled to Brazil from Japan and began teaching the now famous Gracie family. Overtime the Gracie family worked with Maeda to slightly alter the gi.
Fast forward to the 1940s and jiu-jitsu was first viewed as a martial art for the upper classes for many decades. However, to instill the ground zero concept all gis were white during this time and students would wear them and leave them after class to be washed.
In the 1960s, we begin to see the first splashes of colour on the jiu jitsu gi. This was pioneered by Reylson Gracie, son of Carlos Gracie.
Jiu-Jitsu gis are made out of a variety of weaves and different fabric blends. The typical jacket is loose and ranges from heavy to lighter weights for training in hotter climates. The pants tend to be a bit loose and short only coming down to the ankles. And the belts help differentiate skill level among practicioners.
BJJ gis can be classified in two classes either Value Gis or Premium Gis. Value gis costs less due to the lesser amount of material and simplicity of the weave. Typically these will be single weave gis or even some pearl weave bjj gis. This is ideal for beginners because you can get straight to training without making a huge investment. Also, you can learn more about what you like and dislike in a bjj gi.
The next category would be premium bjj gis. These sometimes use more material and focus on either lightness or creating a thick weave. Premium bjj gis tend to be more durable and have additional quality features. These features improve the gis performance, functionality or looks. This could include softer cotton, rash guard lining within the jacket, stretch inseams and much more.
When Jiu-Jitsu was first introduced the traditional gi color of choice was white. In Japanese culture, white symbolizes purity, the lack of ego and further feeds the equalizer theory of jiu jiu-jitsu. In the 1980’s the blue gi was introduced to visually differentiate a competitor to reduce the possibility of errors by referees in awarding points. Eventually black gis found their way into BJJ. While other martial arts like Ninjutsu, Kenpo, Karate, Silat etc whose practicioners tend to wear black kimonos. The color black is associated with a darker, more aggressive intimidating character with undertones of stealth and deadliness. A black gi also hies blood and sweat from training making it easier to maintain.
The only colors allowed for international championships are white, black or blue. Also, in many BJJ gyms, it is customary that white belts only wear a white gi until they obtain a blue belt. Then they are free to wear any color.
Also, in competition, the gi must be in good condition. No torn jackets or frayed pants and the material must not be excessively thick or hard where it will obstruct your opponent. All jacket and pants must be of sufficient length and any patches must follow regulations. A special gi check tool is often used to determine acceptable measurements and overall gi fit.