Buying A Karate Uniform (Gi) guide to choosing the correct suit. 0
1) The basics
3) Gi Type & Cut
4) Material, Weight, Cost & Quality
5) Gi Care
1) The Basics: What is a karate gi and how does it differ to other martial arts uniforms?
A karate uniform is sometimes called by its Japanese name ‘karate do-gi’ or ‘keiko-gi’ (training clothing) or more commonly used outside of Japan is just the word ‘gi’ (clothing/uniform) which is pronounced ‘ghee’. The same applies for other ‘budo’ (martial way) Japanese martial art uniforms, for example ‘judo-gi’ or aikido-gi.
It is believed the founder of judo; Jigoro Kano developed the do-gi that is similar to that used in most budo martial arts clubs today. This uniform was later modified to further fit the requirements of karate training by the Shotokan karate founder Gichin Funakoshi. Over the years the karate gi has developed further, notably reducing its weight and adding ties inside the jacket to help keep it closed and various styles/cuts of the material and gi shape have become popular. Before karate became more main-stream in Japan it is believed it was practised in casual clothing in its earlier days in Okinawa. Some clubs continue this tradition or allow the first few lessons to be practised in casual but practical clothing to see if the person enjoys karate before having to purchase a uniform, this is something that would need to be confirmed first with the club instructor.
Karate gi’s are generally white cotton uniforms with a cross over jacket; ‘uwagi’ (upper uniform) that forms a v-neck shape when closed and has matching white ‘shitabaki’ or ‘zubon’ (pants), they are worn with a ‘obi’ (belt) corresponding to the persons grading rank.
The pullover v-neck tops that do not fully open like a jacket are more commonly used for martial arts like taekwondo and the coloured gi’s (black, blue, red etc) are more commonly used in freestyle and other martial arts however some karate clubs also use these types of gi but they are a minority. It is advisable to see what the other students at the karate club are wearing and to speak to the club instructor to see if there are any specific requirements for the gi before purchase just to make sure. Sometimes competitions require a certain type or cut of gi that must adhere to the competition weight and sizing requirements, most good quality correct fitting gi’s will meet these but it is something else worth thinking about (maybe less so for the beginner).
The jacket: The 'uwagi' should allow room to be able to punch and rotate the arms and twist the waist without restriction. The jacket should be long enough to pass the waist, there should be enough (suso) 'jacket skirt' material hanging under the belt so that it does not easily ride up and become un-tucked over the belt when performing standard movements, 4 to 8 inches below the belt is usually standard. The (sodeguchi) 'sleeve cuffs' should finish before or at the wrists (some people prefer them shorter) and not be long enough to pass over the hands. The left side of the jacket should be on top/outside of the right side of the jacket so that the (hidari-mae-eri) 'front left lapel' runs from the top left to the bottom right. Supposedly wearing the (migi-mae-eri) 'right front lapel' over the left signifies death in Japanese culture so best to get that 'right' (left).
The pants: The 'zubon' need to be designed in a way to allow maximum leg movement/freedom as karate contains kicks and stances that are very diverse. This is usually achieved by the pants having a wider cut and extra joining material under the groin area. When kicking, correct fitting pants should not cause restrictions around the thigh or groin area of the pants. The (suso-guchi) 'bottom of the pants or pant cuff' should finish just above the feet (again some people prefer them shorter) and not be long enough to be resting on the floor so that there is no chance of tripping on them or catching any part of the foot inside them, 3-5 inches smaller than leg length is standard. Most traditional pants will have a high level of adjustment around the waist from a draw string. Elastic waist band pants are also available with some gi’s, these are more commonly worn by beginners and children but not exclusively.
The belt: It is not uncommon for karate gi’s to not include a ‘obi’ (belt), in fact most higher quality karate gi’s usually do not, beginner gi’s sometimes include a standard white belt. I won’t go in to details about belt types or how to tie a belt in this article but just make sure the belt is long enough to wrap around twice and after tied should hang down at the front ending somewhere close to the bottom of the jacket, belts that hang too far down not only look daft but get in the way of techniques, I have even known beginners to get flicked in the eye by the end of their own belt when kicking, this should obviously be avoided by buying the correct size belt and tying it correctly.
2) Sizing: Choosing the correct size gi seems to be one of the most problematic factors when purchasing a gi. Whilst there can be slight differences in sizes from one brand to another, you should be able to get somewhere close by following these steps. From experience some brands seem to be more generous on sizing than others (see the brands section), this can also become more apparent if buying the wrong type/cut of gi (see the type/cut section).
Karate gi’s usually have two elements for the sizing, for example size 4 – 170cm.
However, just because you may be a size 4 in one karate gi you may be a size 5 in a different brand and type of gi. These sizes can also differ for different martial arts e.g judo and bjj. This is most notable with karate gi’s due to there being differences sometimes with Japanese and European gi’s/manufactures. For example size 4 in a Japanese manufactured gi can sometimes be 160cm where in a European gi it is usually 170cm. To best avoid this I would advise to always look at the ‘measurement’ in cm and select the size from that rather than the single digit ‘size’ for example pick one that states 170cm rather than just size 4. Some suppliers will have an age range estimate for the kids gi sizes, although maybe useful for a general guide I would advise paying more attention to the height and measurement size chart than this.
The other main point to remember when picking the correct size in cm is what the measurement is actually for. I have spoke to people in the past that got confused with this as they assumed the measurement in cm is the combined length of the actual uniform, i.e. jacket + pant length. This is not correct; the measurement given on the gi size in cm corresponds to a person’s height in cm not the actual gi length.
For example if you are 5ft 7” convert that to cm's which is 170cm and that is the gi size that should fit you e.g. size 4 - ‘170cm’.
There are however other factors to consider, if you have a much larger or smaller than average build you may need to go up or down a size (this is usually easier when half sizes are available e.g. 175cm). Some karate gi's will also have a size chart that details the individual measurements for each size of the gi for example you can see the inside/outside arm and leg length and jacket length etc of a 170cm gi.
Karate gi sizes usually range from;
- Kid sizes; 0000/100cm to 2/150cm
- Adult sizes; 3/160cm to 8/210cm
Although you should always check the individual size chart of a gi as each brand can differ a ‘general guide example’ for sizes would be something similar to below:
0000 100 cm 3" 6' and under
000 110 cm 3" 6' to 3" 7'
00 120 cm 3" 8' to 4" 0'
0 130 cm 4" 1' to 4" 4'
1 140 cm 4" 5' to 4" 8'
2 150 cm 4" 8' to 5" 1'
3 160 cm 5" 1' to 5" 5'
4 170 cm 5" 5' to 5" 9'
5 180 cm 5" 10' to 6" 0'
6 190 cm 6" 1' to 6" 3'
7 200 cm 6" 4' to 6" 7'
8 210 cm 6" 7' and over
Shrinkage is also something to be considered. As explained below pure cotton gi’s do shrink, how much depends on the material, weave/density, if it's pre-shrunk and how you wash/dry your gi (see gi care below).
Cotton gi’s can shrink by around 4-8% on the arms/legs (sometimes as much as 10% on some lower cost cotton gi’s) they tend to shrink most on the first few washes. If the gi seems just slightly too big when first tried on it may be worth keeping it to allow for a little shrinkage, sleeves and pants can always be hemmed if too long, however if the gi seems far too big and hangs over the hands/feet then it would be worth exchanging for a smaller size (you won’t be able to return a gi if it’s been washed so this is something that needs to be considered when first tried on).
The shrinkage on Poly-Cotton blends or polyester gi’s is less than entirely cotton gi’s, some even have zero shrinkage so can sometimes be preferred for children. Some higher priced cotton gi’s come pre-shrunk already when purchased, this minimises shrinkage, beginner low cost cotton gi’s are often not pre-shrunk. It is advisable to allow for 2-4cm shrinkage on this type of gi, most noticeably on the arms and legs.
3) Gi Type & Cut: Over the years the karate gi has developed, there are now different types of karate gi available that better suit different styles/types of training, competition, grade, build and personal/club preference.
There are two (or four depending how you split them) main karate gi cuts to be aware of. These are; Japanese and European cut. There are also Kata (pre arranged forms) and Kumite (sparring) cuts, although a kata gi can be used for sparring and a kumite gi for kata these cuts are more for personal preference or competition and aesthetic reasons. The difference in cut may be slightly favourable in terms of freedom of movement for either kata or kumite training but as most karate training consists of both these things a good gi should be generally ok for all aspects of karate training. Usually a kata gi is closer in comparison to a Japanese cut gi and a kumite gi closer to a European cut. Kumite gi’s are usually lighter than kata gi’s.
The Japanese cut features shorter sleeves and pants with a longer jacket, the kata gi is almost an exaggerated version of this. The European and kumite cuts are opposite to this and usually have longer sleeves and pants.
There is sometimes conflicting information about gi cuts, there is also extra confusion as on top of the distinction of the type of cuts of karate gi above there are also gi’s that are sometimes referred to as either a tournament or traditional gi. Generally a ‘tournament’ gi is a heavyweight gi with shorter sleeves and pants similar to a Japanese cut, however some European cuts are sometimes also called 'tournament' gi's. Usually a ‘traditional’ gi will be a heavyweight gi, sleeve and pant length seem to differ on these depending on the brand/style it is, sometimes Japanese cuts are also referred to as “traditional” gi as well which can make things very confusing : )
If you remember that the Japanese/kata cuts have shorter sleeves/pants with a longer lapel and European/kumite gi’s have longer sleeves/pants sometimes with a shorter lapel and are usually lighter (especially if it’s a kumite one) you should hopefully be ok.
4) Material, Weight, Cost & Quality: New material and weave combinations are constantly developing and being used for various karate gi’s. The main two materials used for karate gi’s are cotton and polyester. There are also different weaves such as single weave (lighter and cooler) and double weave (heavier and thicker) to name the main two. Each material/weave has different advantages and disadvantages but ultimately it comes down to personal preference.
Cotton used to usually be preferred to the poly-cotton or polyester gi’s, usually the cotton gi’s are more expensive. Cotton gi’s do shrink more than poly-cotton gi’s, but pre-shrunk cotton gi’s are available. There are also now gi’s that have a material from a polyester core wrapped with cotton that feels similar to a cotton gi but is more durable and lighter.
Some gi’s can come in a brushed cotton or a none brushed or stiffer canvas material. Brushed cotton is usually lighter in weight and more comfortable. Canvas gi’s are usually more durable and can give a crisper snap to your techniques. Some gi’s; (usually lighter kumite style gi’s) can now have ventilation and moisture features such as climacool.
While the cost and quality of a gi differs from brand to brand (anywhere from around £7 to £197) 'usually' the lighter poly-cotton gi’s are the cheapest and more commonly used by beginners. The heavier and thicker the gi is, the more expensive it often is due to the material used. Thicker heavier gi’s are ‘generally’ preferred by more advanced karate students (unless a specific kumite lightweight competition gi is desired such as the Adidas Adi-Zero gi pictured above). Karate gi weights from lightweight to heavyweight are usually split up into the following categories:
Lightweight: 4oz to 8oz usually used by beginners and children (apart from the kumite specific or purpose built premium light gi's). Can be good for agility but material can sometimes be a little thin.
Middleweight/light-heavy: 9oz to 12oz these are more durable than the lightweight gi’s and are often used more by intermediate level students or advanced students that prefer a slightly lighter than heavyweight gi.
Heavyweight: 14oz to 16oz these gi’s are made from a heavy drill cotton or canvas or double weave cotton. These are generally preferred by more advanced students, usually these are of a higher quality and cost more due to the material used however they are a lot more durable and should last a long time.
Brands: It would be implausible to name all the ever increasing karate gi brands and possibly unfair to compare them in terms of quality, especially when each brand tend to offer many different individual level/quality of gi’s. Instead I will briefly mention some of the brands I have had the opportunity to have experience with and that are known to have a great reputation for karate gi’s. As mentioned in the sizing section different brands usually differ slightly in terms of quality and sizing of gi’s. For example some people may find that a Blitz gi seems to be slightly more generous in size when comparing to the same size adidas gi etc. Some high end traditional karate gi companies/brands for example Tokaido offer custom fit gi's (this is usually rare) such gi’s can be expensive but are great quality.
For gi’s that are easily available in the UK, suppliers such as Cimac and Blitz to name two I have dealt with often offer a great range of karate gi’s from lightweight beginner low price gi’s to high quality heavyweight advanced gi’s. There is also the supplier Budo Online, which I hear are great : ) (our company so obviously biased). For the student looking to get a high quality gi I would recommend checking out the following brands, all have a great reputation within the karate community: adidas, Arawaza, Cimac, Odachi/White Diamond from Blitz, Hayabusa, Meijin, Seishin International, Shureido, Tokaido and Tokon. Some of these may be a little high end for the beginner but such gi's usually ensure great quality and last longer.
5) Gi Care: Hopefully this article has helped a little for choosing the correct gi, when you have purchased a gi it is important to follow certain methods to ensure the gi lasts for as long as possible.
Washing: It is important to wash a gi as soon as possible after a heavy training session, do not leave it screwed up in a bag for a day or two! You should turn the gi inside out when washing and ideally use cold or lukewarm water to prevent shrinkage and maintain the colour and shape. Never wash above 30-40 degrees centigrade. If possible use an organic or non-bio detergent, a standard laundry detergent may be ok though. Don’t use bleach, vinegar or bicarbonate of soda on a gi. Sometimes people use bleach on a gi if it has turned a slight different colour in areas, however this will weaken the gi especially if used more than once and may lead to further discolouration, it is best to prevent any discolour in the first place from correct gi care.
Washing a karate belt... Some people feel you should never wash a karate belt, especially a 'yūdansha' (black belt grade). This is thought to be to do with the karate tradition, honour, respect, dedication to achieve the belt etc this will be a matter of personal preference though. Personally if my belt needed washing I would wash it. Belts should not need washing as often as the gi though, if put on just before and took off straight after training and handled with care (not thrown on the floor) it shouldn’t get all that dirty/sweaty, after a period of time if it needs washing, carefully wash by hand and dry naturally, similar to gi’s belts can shrink, (sometimes more than gi’s) washing machines and definitely tumble dryers should be avoided. Extra care should be took with silk/satin belts.
Drying: You should dry a gi naturally; hang drying outdoors is the best method or close to a radiator. Tumble dryers should be avoided! This will cause the gi to shrink and loose its shape and strength. You can starch and iron the gi after a wash if required, ideally; iron the gi inside out and avoid any fine embroidery, print or patches where possible.
Storage: Pretty obvious but gi’s should be kept hung up when not in use in a dry place (usually called wardrobes) with the ultimate aim of having a wardrobe just for multiple karate gi’s : ) when taking your gi to and from training don’t screw it up inside a small bag (this is more common after a hard training session when tired) this will save time preventing ironing and help the gi last longer and be fresher. There are several ways to fold a gi (it should be hung up as soon as possible) that can help when transporting it and preventing creases. You should try and fold along the seams to prevent creases or you can use these two popular methods of folding when transporting a gi: ‘shikaku no gi’ (squarely folded gi) or ‘maki no gi’ (rolled gi) I won’t explain methods for these here but if you do an internet search I am sure there are articles and videos showing these methods of folding a karate gi.
Hopefully you have found something of use throughout this article, if so please do give it a like or share. Please note this advice is from my personal experience from karate training and working as a martial arts retailer and should only be used as a ‘guide’. If you would like to re-use/publish this article (it has to be in its entirety with accreditation) then feel free, if you spot any glaring errors, would like to discuss anything in the article or just want extra advice on purchasing a karate gi you are more than welcome to comment below or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can see all of our karate gi's here we will be adding more specialist karate suit brands over the next couple of months so check back soon
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