What is the difference between Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and just Jiu-Jitsu? Is Jujutsu something different?
This topic is so complex and controversial it could be a whole website unto itself. To keep it simple:
Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was the popular term in the early 90's when the UFC was started. However, lawsuits were initiated over who had the right to use the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu name and many academies switched over to the BJJ term to make life easier. Today, BJJ is the most commonly used term. However, these terms are often used interchangeably by BJJ practitioners.
What is the difference between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo?
It is often said that BJJ and Judo are opposite sides of the same coin. Judo focuses on how to throw your opponent to the ground while BJJ focuses on what do to once you are on the ground. They complement each other quite well.
Why is ground fighting important?
In real life fights, regardless of the training or backgrounds of the fighters, the fights almost always end up on the ground. The misconception that real fights look like choreographed movie fights was dispelled in 1993 with the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and reinforced in the thousands of televised fights which have followed. Additionally, it has been demonstrated time and again through these fights that the best way for a smaller person to survive against and then defeat a larger opponent is through ground grappling. By fighting on the ground much of the larger person’s strength and reach advantages can be negated and overcome.
I hear people call Jiu-Jitsu the Gentle Art. Why is that? What does that mean?
This is a frustrating mis-translation. The Japanese character Jiu/Ju does translate as gentle and Jitsu/Jutsu can be interpreted as a art or technique. However, anyone who has trained in Jiu-Jitsu for a single day will understand it is definitely not "gentle". In addition to gentle, Jiu/Ju can also be translated as soft. A more accurate translation would be "soft martial art" or "set of soft techniques". During the eighth century AD, when the term Jiu-Jitsu was first used, martial arts were put into two, broad categories. There were hard arts (that used weapons) and soft arts (that used empty hands). Jiu-Jitsu is just a broad term for unarmed combat systems.
What are the ranks and what do they mean?
Rank in BJJ is sacred. That is why it is the most respected of the martial arts' ranking system. Adult BJJ students progress through white, blue, purple, brown and black belt. Progression through the ranks is based upon technical ability; nothing more. It does not matter how many classes you take or how much Portuguese you know. There are no forms or board breaking. In general, the blue belts will beat the white belts during open sparring, the purple belts will beat the blue belts, etc. Of course there are considerations for factors such as age and injury, but the bottom line is if someone has a BJJ rank, they can fight.
I previously held a rank in another martial art or I used to wrestle. Can I start out as a higher belt?
No. Previous combat sports training can provide you with an advantage in BJJ and you may be promoted quicker, however you will start your BJJ journey as a white belt. Travis Stevens, World Champion and Olympic Silver Medalist in our sister art of Judo, started as a white belt when he started his BJJ training. If it is good enough for Travis, it is good enough for you.
How long will it be until I get my black belt?
This is on many beginning students' minds. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. You will not see 7 year olds walking around wearing BJJ black belts. You will not see people getting promoted every month in BJJ. As mentioned above, rank is based upon your ability and proving that ability over and over again. While some exceptional individuals were awarded black belts in around four years, ten to twelve years is a more normal time frame for someone who starts training as an adult in the current environment. The norms were slightly different for the early Americans to train in BJJ. Some of those early students trained for twenty plus years before earning their black belts. To help put it in perspective, the academy that Josh currently teaches at, Gracie Ohio, is one of the oldest BJJ academies in the US. The academy, despite being around for almost 30 years, has graduated only around a dozen black belts.
What is a typical class like?
Class formats can vary between academies and instructors, but they will generally follow the format of an instructor demonstrating techniques to the class, the students then practicing those maneuvers on their fellow students in a cooperative manner and then some type of structured sparring (or what we call "rolling") at the end. Some classes will also incorporate a warm-up at the beginning, but this is not always the case.
Do I need to be in shape to start training?
No. Regardless of your fitness level, you will be challenged physically during training. The demands on the body during "fighting" are significantly different to what people who train "normal" fitness are used to. The important part is to start your training. As you get more and more time on the mat, you will see your fitness level improve. Many BJJ practitioners supplement their training with functional fitness. However, that is something you can pursue after you have started training.
Why do you wear those outfits?
It may seem odd to see us wearing traditional martial arts kimonos/gi's. They have remained an integral part of BJJ training for the last 100+ years as they synthesize what people wear on the street and allow us to practice attacking, defending and controlling utilizing our clothing and our opponent's. While people may not wear kimonos on the street today, they do wear shirts, jackets, pants and belts.
Do I have to compete?
Students are not required to enter formal competitions, however, it is encouraged. Tournaments can be a great way to evaluate your technical level, push yourself mentally and improve your motivation to train. Competitions are divided by gender, age, weight class and belt/experience level. They are structured so that you can test yourself in a safe and controlled environment.
Will I get hurt?
The below Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gi Buyer’s Guide is an updated version of a guide that I first published in 2012.
While there are several online reviews of BJJ gi’s, most are seriously lacking any quality information. Most reviews focus on aesthetics and fit. While these are two important components of gi’s in BJJ, they are entirely subjective. Either you like how a gi looks or you don’t. There is no right or wrong. It is not necessary for a reviewer to spend 75% of a write up discussing how he likes the embroidery on a sleeve.
Fit is a similar situation. Most gi companies make four distinct sizes. Some make as many as ten. Imagine trying to fit every single person on the planet into 10 standard sizes. Some people will fit perfectly into a size, some people will not fit into any size correctly. So, discussing how a gi fits the individual reviewer never made any sense to me. Just because it fits you or does not fit you, does not mean another customer will have a similar experience.
A gi review or buyer’s guide must focus on tangible, objective evaluations. And the problem is, most reviewers, have no idea about what makes a good gi or a bad gi. It is not their fault, it is just that they do not have the background. It is like car reviews. The people that review cars are experts on cars and can tell you all the details about the car and how they impact quality, reliability and performance. They do not spend the review saying how they liked the color of the car and how they fit in the seat.
So with this guide, I will attempt to provide all the necessary information to educate potential gi buyers. It may be a little long, but it will save you time and money in the long run.
First Time Buyer
So you have just started BJJ? What is my gi buying advice to you? Don’t buy an expensive gi. You have just started training. You are still trying to figure out if this something you will keep doing. You probably also just paid a registration fee, monthly dues and gi rental fees. There is no need, right now, to buy a $300 gi. That time will come, but there is no need for that kind of investment so soon into your career. Your new academy may offer a cheap, standard, ‘grappling’ gi. Buy that to start out. If they do not offer something, there are several generalist Martial Arts supply websites out there. You should be able to buy a generic ‘grappling’ gi or BJJ gi for less than $90. Get something white, with no special decorations. Single weave is fine. This will last you your first several months as you get your bearings.
Second Time Buyer
Once some time passes and you decide that you are sure that you want to continue BJJ and you understand how often you will be training, if you will be competing, etc. You are now ready to look at a more significant gi purchase.
As time has passed, you should now understand what is the proper etiquette for your academy. At some academies, you can only wear their official gi. At others, the gi can be from any manufacturer, but must be white. And yet at others, only people of certain advanced belt ranks wear non-standard gi’s. Do yourself a favor and make sure you understand what is appropriate for your academy before you buy your second gi. If you are not sure, ask your instructor or senior students.
Once you understand the basic parameters of your academy and begin looking online or talking to other students at the academy, you will likely be overwhelmed by the terms used and all the options available on a modern BJJ gi. I have broken down the most common terms below.
Please note, while I will describe many of the options that come on gi’s and give my personal opinion on their value, the ultimate decision is up to you. Eight-time World Champion, Saulo Ribeiro, once said, “There is no right move in Jiu-Jitsu. There is only the right move at the right time.” Gi’s are very similar. There is no ‘best’ gi, even though people often ask that exact question. It is what is best for you based upon your:
• Body type
• Personal style and personality
• Competition plans
• Academy rules
• Training schedule
One Piece Construction
There is no more confusing term in BJJ gi’s. Everyone uses the term ‘One Piece Construction’, but manufacturers use it to mean different things. By just looking at any gi, you can see that is a sewn together and reinforced using multiple pieces of fabric. So, the term is entirely misleading. When people talk of ‘one piece’ tops, they are generally referring to one of two principles:
• Lack of Setsugi stitching: Setsugi stitching is common on Judo gi’s. It is a wide vertical series of stitches that, in theory, keep a gi flat on the back. This makes gripping back fabric more difficult while attempting standing gripping in Judo. Setsugi has also been used historically to simplify gi construction. Instead of seamstresses needing to maneuver and stitch one large jacket, it was sometimes divided into two sides that were sewn together at the end of the construction process. Setsugi is not often present on a BJJ gi as the stiff seam caused by the stitching can be uncomfortable while you are on your back. Additionally, as BJJ gi’s are more form fitting than Judo gi’s there is less concern regarding someone grabbing excess fabric on your back. As BJJ gi’s will usually have a single piece of fabric to comprise the back as opposed to two, it is sometimes referred to ‘One Piece Construction”.
• Lack of a separate skirt: Traditional Judo gi’s were composed of thick cotton fabric to survive gripping and throws. As Judoka did not often grab below heart level on their opponent’s gi, it became unnecessary to utilize strong fabric on the lower part of the gi. This saved cost, weight and made the gi more breathable as the skirt was often composed of a thinner cotton fabric. As significant gripping can occur anywhere on a BJJ top, manufactures will often utilize the same material throughout the jacket. Hence the “One Piece” term. To make things more confusing, some companies actually use a single, uncut piece of fabric for the top and bottom of the jacket. While some companies use two pieces of the same fabric that are sewn together around the abdomen. Finding a BJJ gi, that is free from Setsugi stitching and has a skirt that is made from the same material as the rest of the gi top is important. These will make the gi more comfortable to roll on the ground and make it last longer.
Josh’s Verdict: Finding a gi top, that is made from a single, consistent piece of fabric is ideal. As the lack of one additional seam is one less point that could rip or fray and having one high-quality fabric throughout the top will increase longevity.
For decades, grappling gi collars were all the same. They were created by folding cotton fabric into several layers, wrapping another piece of cotton fabric over it and then stitching it flat. In the late 90’s some BJJ companies began experimenting with using a foam rubber called EVA [Ethylene Vinyl Acetate] inside the cotton fabric covering. The idea being that, over time, bacteria could seep into your collar and get trapped in the folded layers of fabric. By using EVA, at least the theory goes, it would eliminate the ability of bacteria to stay inside the collar. Indeed, some gi manufacturers have coated the EVA rubber with anti-bacterial chemicals to further reduce the likelihood of bacterial infestation. While, it sounds like a good idea, there is no evidence that I have seen that it actually works.
The idea is that it is bad if bacteria penetrates the outer fabric layer of the collar it will get trapped inside and cause odor, skin diseases, etc. However, by merely placing a piece of rubber inside the collar instead of fabric does not stop bacteria from penetrating the outer fabric and staying inside the collar. The anti-bacterial coating is once again a cool sounding idea, however, there is little evidence it actually remains effective over time. Just like any chemical coating applied to clothing, it will break down/wear off/wash off. I have had individual gi’s for ten plus years. While some of the older ones do have some brown discoloration inside the collar (ring around the collar), they do not smell and I have never gotten any kind of skin disease on my collar line. As long as you take care of your gi properly, bacteria will not be a problem. That means washing your gi after each training session with cold water and standard detergent. That will kill anything and not allow bacteria or fungus to take up root in your gi.
Another drawback with EVA collars is unintentional twisting. In a true fabric collar, the stitching penetrates the entire collar, front to back, ensuring that it stays flat and in proper alignment. As the EVA is thick rubber, companies often do not stitch through the whole collar. This can cause the rubber insert to twist inside the cloth sleeve and distort the collar on the gi.
Josh’s Verdict: While the EVA argument appears to make sense, I am not sure the problem actually exists. As mentioned above, I have always used traditional collars and never had any problems. Washing and air drying the gi properly is critical and should resolve all bacteria related issues. Somehow, over 25+ years of training, I managed not to get the bubonic plague from my collar. It is worth mentioning that belts would suffer from the same affliction as they too have cloth cores. You would figure this would be a major concern as most BJJ people never wash their belts. However, no company offers an EVA core belt.
This is often something that novice grapplers obsess over. They feel that if a gi has a thick enough or wide enough collar they will not be choked. Early US gi company, Howard Combat Kimonos (HCK), took it to the extreme. I remember trying to grab a collar of an early HCK model back in the 90’s and it felt like the collar was wider than the length of my hand. The IBJJF took issue with the situation and began regulating collar dimensions and other gi features. This means that collar thickness today will vary little from manufacturer to manufacturer. Beginners in BJJ should focus on learning to properly defend against chokes, not to find a gi that will mystically/magically defend them on their behalf.
Josh’s Verdict: Don’t worry about it. Any collar will be fine for you.
Softness of Fabric
This is another big concern amongst beginners. They want something soft on their skin. When beginners tell me this at the academy, I tell them to take a long hard look at what they have signed up for. This is not golf, basketball nor tennis. If they continue down this path, they will break their bones, dislocate their joints and permanently injure themselves a million different ways. Should they really be worrying about which gi will be kindest to their baby soft skin?
Josh’s Verdict: The truth is within a couple months of training your skin will be adequately conditioned to not be irritated by gi material. Besides, almost all gi’s regardless of weave, weight or manufacturer will have a similar feel on the inside. Don’t worry about it.
I truly wish this was an easier part of the business. Every company uses different materials and calls them by different names. It is very difficult for the consumer to understand what they are getting or to be able to evaluate across different manufacturers. It is in fact, a lot like the mattress business. There are several reasons for this mess:
• Gi manufacturers buy their fabrics in giant rolls from textile mills. Each textile company has different names for its fabrics, so this gets perpetuated to the gi manufacturer and then on to you.
• If gi companies used the actual names for fabrics, such as AF150CJ, it would not really help the average consumer too much.
• Companies could use the weight of the fabric as this is common in the textile industry. You will see some companies use this method to describe their products from time to time. It is usually represented in Grams per Square Meter for gi tops. Such as 550 Gr/Sqm, 550 Gr or just 550. The problem with this is it does not tell you anything useful. Yes, a 550 gram fabric is heavier than a 450 gram fabric, but it does not tell you anything about the quality. One is not inherently better than the other, merely heavier. Generally, across most manufacturers, lightweight gi’s will be 250-350 GSM, middleweight will be 400-500 GSM and heavyweight will be 550-1300 GSM. Pants are handled similarly, but usually referenced in Ounces per Square Yard, strangely enough. The common weight range for BJJ pants fabric is usually between 8 and 12 Ounce per Square Yard (~270 GSM to ~400 GSM). In general, heavier materials will resist wear and last longer, but that comes at a price. They can be extremely hot and dehydrating to wear. Also, as most BJJ competitions now require athletes to weigh in with their gi on, a heavier overall gi would mean the fighter would need to cut more weight.
• Companies do not want competitors to duplicate their weaves, so they use make up names to make it difficult to be copied. It also creates an air of exclusiveness. If they are selling a single weave gi, but call it “Double Diamond Micro-Ultra Weave Technology”, they are now the only companying selling it.
Even using terms like Single weave or Double weave mean little. Since there are no standards, one company’s Double is another company’s Single. Below I will describe some basic fabric naming conventions.
Single Weave (Brick Pattern)
If you could say there is a ‘standard’ BJJ fabric, Single would be it. It is arranged in a ‘brick pattern’, relatively light in weight and cheap to produce. BJJ practitioners like Single weave as it is breathable and does not add much weight to their bodies (as you have to weigh in with your gi on at some competitions). Companies like Single weave because it is relatively cheap to buy and easy to work with. The limitations of Single are that is less durable than the heavier weaves. Single weaves will sometimes have a ‘brushed’ interior meaning that it is smoother and does not look like ‘bricks’ on the inside of the jacket. This is merely for looks and comfort it does not affect the durability of the gi.
Josh’s Verdict: Good for an introductory gi, but your money is better spent on a superior weave for future purchases.
Double Weave (Brick Pattern)
I see a lot of ‘information’ websites describe Double weave as two Single weaves sewn together or somehow two threads interwoven into a single base fabric. People are taking the names Single and Double too literally and trying to come up with some meaningful justification. In reality, Double weave is just a heavier, thicker version of Single weave. In Portuguese, they are not even called Double nor Single. They are called Pesado (Heavy) and Leve (Light). Double weave also has a ‘brick pattern’. It is very difficult for an untrained eye to identify Single versus Double without comparing the two pieces of fabric side by side. While Double weave is more durable and stronger than Single, it can be hot an uncomfortable to wear. Many companies today do not make a true Double weave. They usually call their heaviest offering Double weave, but they are not heavy enough to be considered true Doubles under the traditional perspective (usually 800 GSM and over). You may even see references to a Triple weave. This is the same principle. It just means the fabric is heavier than what that company calls Double weave. Double weaves will sometimes have a ‘brushed’ interior meaning that it is smoother and does not look like ‘bricks’ on the inside of the jacket. This is merely for looks and comfort it does not affect the durability of the gi.
Josh’s Verdict: If you can find a true Double, I would not recommend it unless you understand what you are getting into with it. Otherwise, training will be hot and uncomfortable.
Gold Weave (Waffle Pattern)
Single and Double were all that existed for decades in Judo and BJJ. In 1999, in an attempt to standardize competition gi’s for BJJ, the Confederation for BJJ (the precursor to the IBJJF) planned to mandate all gi tops be made of Gold weave fabric. Gold weave was and is used in the furniture business in Brazil. It’s unlike Single or Double weaves. It looks more like a ‘waffle’ pattern than ‘bricks’. It is commonly found in weights in between traditional Single weave and Double weave, making Gold a good compromise between comfort and durability. The Gold weave pattern will usually be apparent on both the outside and inside of the jacket. It is relatively soft to the touch. While Gold weave ended up never being required for competition, it remains around today. Different companies use different weights for their Gold weaves. Depending on whether they go lighter or heavier, the gi will have more in common with a Single weave or Double weave, but the ‘waffle’ pattern will remain. There are some minor criticisms to Gold weave as some people dislike the look of the waffle pattern or how Gold weave gi’s can appear overly wrinkly depending on how they are dried or folded.
Josh’s Verdict: A great weave. One of my favorites. But make sure you are not getting one that is too light. If the Gold weave is not at least, a medium weight, many of the benefits of the fabric are lost.
Hybrid Weave (Brick Pattern)
The Hybrid weave was created, by Machado Kimonos. I was actually the one that came up with the name Hybrid. That was one of the first times a BJJ gi company created a proprietary name for a weave. So, if you hate the fact that every gi company comes out with their own names of weaves, blame me. I started that. I called it Hybrid as it had the best qualities of both the Single and Double weaves. It was a ‘brick’ pattern with brushed interior. As its weight was in the middle between traditional Singles and Doubles, it was more durable than a Single and more comfortable than a Double. Its weight was the same a traditional Gold weave, yet it air dried faster. While several companies now use the term Hybrid, the meaning, the weight and the pattern vary amongst manufacturers. Make sure if you buy a Hybrid you understand what it is you are getting and what it is a hybrid of. Also, tell them the owe me royalties.
Josh’s Verdict: The Machado Kimonos/MKimonos Hybrid may be the greatest gi fabric of all time. You can’t go wrong with it. But remember, if you go with another Hybrid, the quality, weight and other characteristics can vary wildly.
As a category, Summer weaves, are generally lighter in weight and more breathable than a traditional Single weave. When some manufacturers label a gi Summer weave, they sometimes are referring to their Single weave offering or sometimes to something entirely different. The weave patterns in this category can vary substantially. The Machado Kimonos Summer weave was made from a fabric similar to gi pants material. It does not have a weave pattern, per se. That kind of fabric is sometimes referred to as ‘Non-Twisted”. Other companies just use a lighter weight version of Single, Gold, Pearl or other patterns. Other companies use Rip Stop material. The important aspects to remember in terms of Summer gi’s is that while they are generally more comfortable to wear in hot weather than other gi’s they are usually less durable due to the thinness of the fabric used. Also, keep in mind, that some Summer weaves, due to the weave patterns used, cannot be used in certain competitions.
Josh’s Verdict: Summer weaves should not be a primary gi. If you already have a few ‘regular’ gi’s, try out a Summer.
Pearl Weave (Ball Pattern)
Pearl is a relatively new weave that has gained traction amongst several manufacturers in the early 2000’s. The weave is comparable to Single weave, except instead of the pattern looking like rectangular ‘bricks’, they have a more rounded appearance. It can vary between manufacturers. Companies, use Pearl in lightweight gi’s as an alternative to traditional Single weave fabrics. It is not normally used in thicker/heavier gi’s. Consider it on par with Single weave in terms of quality, durability and weight. However, I have seen instances of the looseness Pearl threads and the inconsistent fiber pattern leading to tearing and runs in the fabric.
Josh’s Verdict: Same as a Single weave. Good for an introductory gi, but your money is better spent on a superior weave for future purchases.
Palladium Weave (Waffle Pattern)
While the rest of the industry was going lighter and lighter with their gi’s, Machado Kimonos decided to go heavier. The result is the Palladium weave. Blame me for that name too. It has the Gold Weave ‘waffle’ pattern and associated softness, but is as heavy as a traditional Double weave. Other companies may use the name Palladium now, but it is the same situation as Hybrid weave. Just because it is called Palladium does not mean it is the same fabric.
Josh’s Verdict: The Machado style Palladium was a beast of a gi. It is definitely not for beginners. It was extremely hot to train in, but quite difficult for your opponent to grab and manipulate. Get your ‘sea legs’ first, then if you want to experience a true Double weave, give it a try.
This is a term that really does not mean anything, but I see it a lot in the descriptions of gi’s. As you can see from the dozens of different patterns, weights and qualities, there is really no ‘standard’. Most times, the term ‘standard’ is used to describe a Single weave, but it can depend on the manufacturer. Look at the weave pattern and the weight and you can get an idea of what it actually is.
Josh’s Verdict: Do more research to know what ‘Standard’ means before you purchase.
Similar to ‘Standard’ weave, this term does not really mean anything. Companies use it to differentiate these gi’s from their regular gi’s. This means, the gi may be of better-quality fabric, heavier or competition legal. There is no universally accepted definition for ‘Competition’ weave. Just like with the Standard weave. Check the weave pattern and the weight so you will get an idea what you are getting.
Josh’s Verdict: Do more research to know what ‘Competition’ means before you purchase.
Rip Stop Fabric (Stupid Pattern)
I could devote a hundred pages to this vile abomination and plague upon the Earth. I honestly thought this would be a fad and soon die out, but it seems that companies continue to make more and more items with this inferior fabric. Rip Stop is thin cotton fabric that has a crisscross pattern sewn into it. The crisscross can be cotton or nylon threads. Rip Stop is popular in items like hot air balloons and parachutes. The idea behind Rip Stop is that it is extremely light and if it does rip, the crisscross stitching would prevent the tear from spreading. That makes perfect sense for a hot air balloon or a parachute. If there is a tiny tear that is fine. If it grows, I will die. Once I get back to the ground, I can repair or replace the equipment. It saves lives. However, in my opinion, it does not translate well to BJJ gi’s. Look around your academy. Chances are people have Rip Stop pants or jackets. Look closely, they will likely have rips. Yes, the Stop part probably did its job, but the gi is already torn. Starting with an inferior fabric, one that was not meant to put up with the abuses of BJJ, is the weakness of the idea. Why not start with a fabric that will not rip or is not likely to rip? I hate to sound like a broken record, but I have several gi’s over 10 years old in my rotation. I have had only one rip, ever. It was when my instructor got his heel caught in the V-seam of my pants. That is it. Start with a quality fabric, maintain it properly (cold water wash, no dryer, etc.) and it will last. There is no need to try and game the system with Rip Stop. If people’s Rip Stop did not rip and it still had the backup system of crisscrosses, I would be all for it. But what is the point in running around in a gi for years that has a dozen tears in it? I now see people making Rip Stop collars and Rip Stop belts? When was the last time someone ripped a collar or a belt? Also, keep in mind that Rip Stop gi tops may be prohibited in some competitions. Companies like it as it can be very cheap, easy to work with and inexpensive to ship (due to its weight).
Josh’s Verdict: Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.
This appears to be another area spiraling out of control. People often complain that their pants do not stay tied during training. I have never understood it. I have never had my drawstring come undone.
Relson Gracie showed me a trick back on 1996 that I use to this day. His advice was to always tie your drawstring knot off-center, in the area between your belly button and your hip. Most people tie the knot directly over their belly button. Through the course of training, this area can receive a lot of friction and pressure and cause the knot to come undone. By tying the knot a little over to the side (and using a double knot), it is a lot less likely to get messed with. Some manufacturers only had one belt loop on the pants, directly over the belly button. This forced people to tie their knot slightly to the side. Unfortunately, having only one belt loop on the pants proved confusing to consumers and I started seeing a lot of people tie the drawstring knot directly onto the belt loop. This, of course, was counterproductive. So, companies started using two belt loops, but I still pull my one side string through the two belt loops, and tie the knot closer to my hip.
You would think that would solve the issue. However, it appears that companies are now competing to see how many belt loops they can put on a pair of pants: three, six, eight… It never ends. I really can’t understand what people think the advantage of having twelve belt loops on BJJ pants is. One loop works just fine. One was good enough for Rickson, Relson, Rolls and just about everyone else that came up in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Two are more than enough.
Josh’s Verdict: It is not necessarily worse to have more belt loops on a pair of pants. But it is not better either.
For years manufacturers took a piece of pants material, folded it in half, stitched it and that was used for the drawstring. Over time, companies began purchasing a flat cotton cord that functioned the same way. This was the standard until people started complaining that it was sometimes hard to untie the drawstring after training. I know what you are thinking. People complain that the drawstrings are too hard to tie and people complain they are too hard to un-tie. You can’t win. So, companies began using a thicker, corded drawstring in gi pants. Common modern drawstring looks more like a round cross sectioned rope (which it is) than a flat piece of fabric. I have seen examples of companies using bungee type fabric or other strange materials to make belts. Some companies have also offered plastic belt buckles, locks and other doodads. Other than trying to stand out from the crowd, I don’t see a benefit.
Josh’s Verdict: I have pairs of pants that have both the old (flat) and new (corded) styles of drawstrings. As I mentioned before I never really had a problem with tying or untying any of them. But I guess it is somewhat more comfortable and convenient to work with the corded drawstring. So, I will give a slight advantage to the corded drawstring, but either will work fine for you.
Some gi’s will be advertised as Pre-Shrunk or 100% Pre-Shrunk. This merely means that the fabric was washed once prior to being cut and sewn. Cotton fiber can be very sensitive to water and motion. The first time a cotton fabric is washed, it can shrink significantly. After that first washing, the size will maintain. Pre-Shrunk gi’s can still shrink a little on their first washing. Pre-shrinking or avoiding Pre-Shrinking has no impact on quality or performance of the product.
Josh’s Verdict: Six of one, half dozen of the other. After the first wash, you will not be able to tell a difference. Pre-Shrunk is not something you need to look for when evaluating gi’s for purchase, but you do not need to avoid it either.
Gusseting and Reinforcements
These are other terms that manufacturers continuously reference. Gusseting involves adding additional patches of fabric to stress points, usually the armpits and groin. Reinforcements often refer to additional lines of stitching to other high stress areas. Gussets and reinforcements are important, but for them to be effective, they need to be skillfully placed and applied. This is something that you often cannot see in the pictures of the gi in advertising and can only inspect after you have the gi in your hands.
Josh’s Verdict: Critical for a quality and long-lasting product. As you cannot evaluate the work prior to purchase, stick with a well-regarded, experienced manufacturer. They will know what to do. You can also get valuable information from your training partners. Ask them which brands have lasted for them.
Hue is not something people mention when discussing gi’s. It refers to slight shading differences within a particular color range of a fabric. Obviously, not all blue gi’s are the same blue. Some are darker or lighter. But, did you know not all white gi’s are white? In fact, only a small percentage of white BJJ gi’s are actually white. As fabrics are bleached to appear white, depending on the color and quality of the original fabric and the sophistication of the bleaching process, a “white” fabric can look slightly yellow, blue or pink. In the fabric industry “very” white is often called “bone” and more expensive to produce (It appears as white or white with a slight amount of blue). It is also the most desirable amongst high end manufacturers. Sometimes you will not be able to tell the hue on a white gi unless you put it next to other white objects or gi’s. Some gi companies will cut costs by using white-pink or white-yellow. It will be difficult to tell from advertising pictures and companies will not list hue in descriptions. Unfortunately, it can vary batch to batch. The good news is it is a minor cosmetic issue and does not impact the gi’s longevity.
Josh’s Verdict: Hard to avoid completely. Check out your training partners’ gi’s up close. That may give you an idea before you buy. I would suggest sticking with veteran manufacturers. They are likely to produce a consistent, good looking product.
Taped seams are a relatively new feature to BJJ gi’s. It involves places an adhesive strip on top of a stitched line of fabric. These are usually applied on the inside of the gi. Manufacturers will claim this reduces the likelihood of stitches fraying. There may be some truth this this, but it has been my experience that companies will often use taped seams to hide shoddy stitch work.
Josh’s Verdict: Not a deal breaker, as some companies apply them to all their gi’s for cosmetic reasons. But, I would be somewhat concerned it may be being used to hide inconsistent and cheap stitching. If the gi is poorly stitched it will come apart more rapidly than a well-constructed gi.
I am officially old. I do not understand this. Interior designs started appearing in BJJ gi’s a few years ago. It came in as part of a heavy fashion-focused movement, with people really trying to get artsy with their gi’s. Lucky Gi’s were the first ones that I saw with the designs, but I am not sure if they were the first to do it. It started with companies printing tessellated patterns on the inside of the jacket fabric (the part that faces your body). It was something that no one could see unless you unfolded or took off your jacket. Early generations of the printing would often rapidly fade in the wash. Most companies now achieve the effect by using rashguard material with sublimated art. The sublimination process injects the ink directly into the rashguard mesh and is very effective at holding the art despite friction. The rashguard is then sewn to the inside of the traditional fabric jacket.
Josh’s Verdict: It is purely cosmetic. So, I guess to each his own? But it is strange to me to buy all this elaborate art (and some of the designs are incredibly ornate) and no one sees it.
I have made references to this throughout the Buyers’ guide. NAGA, Grappling Industries, Grapplers Quest, IBJJF, etc. each have their own rules regarding what constitutes a gi legal for competition. Please review these rules (available on the tournaments’ websites) prior to purchasing anything. Samples of features that MAY cause you to be disqualified from a competition:
• Different color gi top and pants
• Different color fabrics on one piece (i.e. black collar/blue gi top or white and black pants, etc.)
• Use of a non-twisted fabric gi top (some Summer weaves would fall into this category)
• Use of a Rip Stop gi top
• Inappropriate patch positions (especially around the ankle and wrist cuffs)
• Too thick or too wide a collar
Please keep in mind; just because a company sells a gi, it does not mean it is legal to wear in competition. Just because a company calls a gi “Competition Certified”, does not mean it will pass muster at all competitions.
Josh’s Verdict: Buyer beware. Do your homework ahead of time if you are going to be competing. Check the rules of the various organizations. If you still have concerns, email the manufacturer and confirm competition eligibility prior to purchasing.
A Final Note on Quality
This is the most difficult attribute to convey in this guide. All manufacturers will say their gi’s are top quality. As I mentioned before, just knowing the weight or the pattern of the weave, does not tell you the quality of the fabric. There are additional factors and costs behind the scenes. You will not have access to this information to compare one company’s 450 GSM Gold to another company’s 450 GSM Gold. Also, common terms like reinforced stitching or reinforced patches are used by everyone, however that actual implementation and effectiveness of these measures can vary wildly between companies.
The question is, “What does gi quality mean to you?” For some people they want a gi that will last them six months. Other people want a gi that will last them six years. Some people will train in a particular gi one day a month, some people will wear it a couple times a week. Customers sometimes look for a gi to fit a particular niche (competition only, summer training only, etc.) While many others just want a gi for day in/day out training. As long as you know your definition of quality and seek out a gi that fulfills that requirement, you will be happy.
Your new Gi has arrived. Now what?
Now that you have your new gi, please follow the next steps closely. It will save you and the retailer pain. Take the gi out of the box and try it on. If you have a Pre-Shrunk gi and it is around one inch too big, you are good. If it is not a Pre-Shrunk gi and it is around 2-3 inches too big, you are all set. If it is bigger or smaller than that on you or you do not know if it is Pre-Shrunk or not; stop there. Email or call the retailer and ask for advice. Sometimes, even though a customer thinks the gi may be too big or too small, they will go ahead and train in it and or wash it. Please, never do this. Once you train or wash your gi, you cannot return it for an exchange. If you have concerns, you need to contact the retailer and they can tell you what to do. They may confirm that you will be ok after a wash or a disciplined dry. They may also instruct you to send it back for another size. If you wash it or wear it, you will not be able to return it. Seek advice from the retailer. Do not take matters into your own hands. Claudio França was a tremendous help to me when I bought my first Krugans from him back in 1997.
Washing, Care and Maintenance
Now that you have your gi, how do you take care of it? It drives me nuts when I hear people complain about the cost of gi’s, then as soon as they get one, they completely ignore the care instructions and ruin their gi. Whether you are buying a cheap or expensive gi, proper care can add years to the life of it. Make sure you always follow the below steps:
• Cold water wash: Only wash your gi in cold water. People think the concern is that hot water will shrink your gi. This is actually a misconception. Heat makes things expand. I am sure you remember that from elementary school. The concern here is that heat can break down cotton fibers and over time, weaken your gi. If your gi material becomes weakened, it can rip. Cold water will get your gi clean without damaging the cotton fibers.
• Use regular detergent: There are recommendations all over the internet. Wash your gi with seltzer water, lemon juice, window cleaner, etc. Keep in mind the detergent business is a multi-million dollar industry. They have been in business for decades. If there was some magical, home remedy that would clean your clothes, don’t you think the detergent companies would have figured that out and put that chemical in their detergent? Stop playing Mr. Wizard and just use regular clothing detergent without bleach. I have been using regular, old Tide for decades. It works. Don’t get fancy.
• Never use bleach: Bleach will remove stains, but it does so by destroying fabric fibers. This will weaken your gi and increase the likelihood of rips.
• To Mercerize or not to Mercerize: Some people recommend that you soak a new gi that is dyed (meaning not white) in vinegar the first time you wash it. This is a simplified, home version of mercerization. A process to help lock in color dyes in cotton fabric. Please read your manufacturer’s instructions carefully. This is usually only required on lower quality products.
• Air Dry Always - Part 1: This is a bad one. People think that putting the gi in a heated dryer will shrink your gi. This is true, but not for the reason people think. Once again, people attribute the heat of the drying to the shrinkage. But as we covered before, heat does not cause cotton fiber to shrink. When you iron your clothes, they do not shrink. So why would the heat of a dryer shrink your clothes? The actual reason the dryer shrinks your gi is that cotton fiber, when it is made into fabric is manipulated. The fibers are stretched and aligned to provide maximum length while using minimal material. This is efficient for the textile company and creates a uniform product. When you tumble dry your gi, all that hard work that went into lining up and stretching out your cotton fibers is ruined. The fiber becomes bunched up, twisted and folded. The net effect of this is that the fiber is not as straight, which makes the fabric cover less surface area. Which ultimately leads to a smaller gi next time you put it on. Some fabric can be stretched out again after tumbling, but that is not the case with most gi materials. It may stretch a little, but basically it will maintain that shrunken size. So, please do not tumble dry your gi. Just let it air dry. That way, the cotton fibers will maintain their alignment and the gi’s size will maintain itself over time.
• Air Dry Always - Part 2: Some people will now say, “Can I put my gi in the dryer, but have it not tumble?” The answer is still, “No”. Even though that will avoid the tumbling motion that will irreversibly shrink your gi, excessive heating will also damage your gi. Cotton is a fiber that should always contain moisture. That is part of what gives it strength. Air drying will leave the correct amount of water inside your gi. Heated drying will over-dry the fibers, making them brittle. This will lead to tears or wholes in your gi. While you do heated dry other clothes and not notice the damage it does, you do not beat on your regular clothes as much as you do a gi. Do not heated dry. Some people will do a heated dry one time with their gi to intentionally shrink it to a desired size. I do not recommend this. Even one drying cycle can do irreversible damage to your gi. Just work with the retailer/manufacturer from the start to ensure you have the right size.
Well, there you have it. My thoughts on what to look for when purchasing a BJJ Gi, what to look for, what to avoid and how to maintain your gi for years to come. I hope you enjoyed the information. I will continue to add more information as new features are rolled out across the industry.
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