Back in the day, buying a jiu jitsu gi wasn't complicated. That’s because you didn’t have much to choose from. Today, there's a growing industry dedicated to the jiu jitsu lifestyle, including a ton of companies offering gis of all different styles, materials, and sizes.
So what bjj gi is right for you? Here's what to consider:
- Not too loose, not too tight
First and foremost, your gi needs to fit right. If you’re a long-time veteran of the gentle art, you probably already have this down. If you're just beginning your journey, it’s easy to end up with a gi that’s excessively baggy or uncomfortably snug, especially in the pants. That’s because the only reference you have for how a gi is supposed to fit are your everyday clothes. The problem is you don’t normally roll around on the ground in your everyday attire. So when you’re gi shopping, you need to test the fit. Do a full squat to check that you’re pants aren’t too tight. Rotate your arms in all directions to check that fabric around your shoulders don’t obstruct your range of motion. Have a friend grab your sleeves and pant hem to ensure that you don’t have an excessive amount of material. If you can hide a bowling ball up your sleeves, they might be too baggy. On the flip side, you also need to make sure you have enough fabric around your arms, otherwise you’ll get some dirty looks from your fellow training partners over your skin-tight, gripless gi. IBJJF gi regulations require at least 7cm of clearance between your skin and the fabric.
The length of your gi is largely personal preference. Many practitioners favor the more traditional style, in which your hems hit exactly below the wrist or ankle joint. Others like their gis a bit shorter. The shorter the gi, the farther your opponent has to reach to get a hold of it. For those long-legged folks, some brands offer “L” (long) sizes, which give you an extra few centimeters without having to look like you’re wearing a tent. However, if you are or plan to be a competitor, your gi has to comply with the guidelines set by IBJJF, UAEJJF, and other promotions. For example, IBJJF requires that the edge of your sleeve be no more than 5cm from your wrist when your arms are outstretched in front of you, and your pant hem be no more than 5cm up from your ankle. If you don’t compete, no need to worry about that. Rock them high waters like it’s 2008 again.
Cotton is the most widely used material for jiu jitsu gis, but many companies offer styles made with ripstop as well. As the name suggests, ripstop is a durable polyester or polyester/cotton blend fabric that resists tearing better than standard cotton fabric. It also tends to be lighter and resists shrinkage. If you’re a competitor, keep in mind that only your pants can be ripstop; for most promotions, your jacket must be cotton (or a cotton-like fabric, i.e. not ripstop). On the other hand, cotton does shrink when washed in warm or hot water and tumble dried, which could be a good thing, depending on how you like your gi to fit. Many practitioners will buy a gi slightly larger and wash/dry it to fit just so. The fabrics differ in feel as well, both when dry and when wet.
Well what about hemp? Okay, you hippie, yes, there are hemp BJJ gis out on the market today. Like cotton, hemp can shrink; however, hemp is said to be far more moisture absorbent than cotton, and has anti-microbial properties, so it won’t get as much of a “sweaty gi funk” when left in your gear bag or trunk too long after training. If you have the cash - hemp gis are usually a bit more pricey - a hemp gi can be a nice addition to your collection.
- White versus colored
Again, this is personal preference, and jiu jitsu gi colors have meaning. However, keep in mind that you might be limited to specific colors by either your academy or tournament regulations. A lot of academies these days limit you to wearing only a white gi during class, so if you’re a fan of color, you’ll have to wait to wear your colored gi during open mats or tournaments. The IBJJF and UAEJJF allows competitors to wear colored gis, but limit your options to blue and black, and your gi top must match your gi pants. Several gi brands offer a wide range of colored gis - from the standard white, blue, and black, to red, grey, green, yellow, pink, purple… and even ninja turtle. If you have mad skills, you can even customize your gi color yourself. For example, I had a friend who liked to tie-dye his gis in his grandmother’s wash machine.
Finally, before you make your decision, ask yourself, “Do I feel like a badass in this gi?” If the answer is yes, then you’ve chosen wisely young Padawan.
Train on. Oss.