Are you confused by all the different variables that need to be considered when buying a Karate uniform (or GI)? This guide will provide you with everything you need to know about buying a GI, plus some great information on how to care for it once you’ve made your purchase. A Properly fitted GI, made from quality materials should last you a number of years – assuming you take proper care of it.
Karate Uniform Material – Cotton vs. Polyester
When choosing a GI, you will eventually have to grapple over whether to choose a uniform made from cotton, polyester or a cotton/polyester blend. This is a huge decision, because you will be making significant investment in your uniform and you will be using it for several years. When trying to decide, take the following into account.
Cotton has a number of great advantages over its polyester counterpart. Firstly, cotton is naturally absorbent – which is really important during your training. A cotton GI will whisk sweat away from your body, making you comfortable. A cotton uniform is also less likely to cause skin irritation; a huge plus for all of us out there who want to feel comfortable not only during training, but after training as well. There is nothing more frustrating than leaving the Dojo with a rash caused by a irritable product. Cotton is also a naturally occurring product – so one can argue that there is less industrial refining that goes into its production. You can do some research about Cotton here. One more thing to consider: when I train I like to think that I am doing so in a similar fashion to those who trained long ago in Japan. Back then, cotton was the only option – so if you’re like me and you want to stay traditional, cotton is the way to go.
Oh wonderful polyester. If my rant above about cotton did absolutely nothing to resonate with you, then maybe polyester is the better choice. A Polyester Karate GI is not as likely to shrink as cotton. Of course, this advantage is meaningless because most high quality GI are pre-shrunk (one more reason to avoid a cheap uniform). Of course, polyester is arguably more durable – because of its un-natural origin (think petroleum and chemical refinement). A polyester uniform may be able to last a bit longer than its cotton counterpart. Polyester may also resist stains more efficiently – a good advantage if you don’t wash your GI regularly? You can check out some more information on polyester here.
Stitching – Spot The Difference
You want to make sure that the ends of the GI (the arms, legs, jacket opening) are all at least triple stitched. This will ensure a durable product.
Weight Matters – How Heavy Should Your GI Be?
8oz., 14oz., what’s the big deal? There are several different weights of Karate GI – it might be tough to decide which one is right for you. Here are some useful tidbits to keep in mind when you’re deciding on the weight of your uniform.
8oz. Karate GI
Ahh – the 8oz. GI. You can probably pick one of these up from an online distributer for $20! Prepare yourself for serious disappointment. The real shame is that some people don’t realize that you have to wear white underwear under these uniforms, otherwise your classmates will be distracted by the slight visibility of your gitch underneath. Didn’t Lululemon get some blowback from a similar debacle last year involving razor thin pants? Umm – ya, they did. Read about it here. Of course if you’re trying to seduce your enemy with your perfectly chiseled butt – then by all means… otherwise, avoid at all costs. In addition to on occasion being partially see-through, 8oz. uniforms don’t last long. They are void of any kind of durability; you’ll be looking to replace it inside of a year if you train regularly.
10oz. Karate GI
The 10oz. is a the right choice for the first time buyer who wants to buy a GI, but are not sure whether or not they want to make a serious commitment to the art. If you’re just ‘giving Karate a try’, or if you’re a beginner, then the 10oz. is for you. The material is thick enough to provide a reasonably durable product, but it’s not overly heavy (read expensive). 10oz. is also a good choice for parents, who have enrolled their kid(s) in Karate and don’t want to blow too much money on a uniform because their child will probably out grow it in a couple years anyways.
12oz. Karate GI
12oz. uniforms are not entirely common. Most uniform makers do have a 12oz. option but most people end up settling on a 10oz. This is probably because if you’re going to invest more money in a Gi, it makes more sense to just go all the way to a 14oz. or a 16oz. product. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with a 12oz. uniform. They are quite durable and make a great snap when you execute your technique properly – you just won’t see them around as much as the 10oz. uniform. They are like the middle child in a family – they get no respect.
14oz. Karate GI
14oz., okay – now we’re talking. At a certain point in our training (usually when we are older than 16) we develop a need to further define our individually through our training. We want to come into our own as it were. It has become more then just learning Karate – it’s becoming a way of life for us. We train hard, we train regularly and we want to have a high quality product. The 14oz. uniform can be a great solution. It will be more expensive than the 10oz. that we’ve been using for years – but it will be worth it because like an old baseball glove, this uniform and you will be spending many years together.
16oz. Karate GI
The reigning King in the Karate world. Many instructors will use the 16oz. GI. Why? Well, it’s extremely durable, which is useful when you are training daily. Additionally, the 16oz. GI ‘looks’ a little different. It’s a bit heavier, it’s a bit thicker, and it sits nicely on your shoulders. It ‘looks’ like the uniform of a professional Karate practitioner…because it is! It will cost you though. A 16oz. GI will be quite a bit more expensive than lighter uniforms. It’s well worth the investment however. A 16oz. GI will serve you loyally throughout the years.
Proper Fitting – A Dimension All Its Own.
Now that you’ve got the basics sorted out, it’s time to discover the important points with regards to fit. Of course, everyone is unique and we all have our preferences but there are a few fundamental points we all need to be aware of. Here we go!
Since this is the focal piece of the uniform, it’s best to start here.
Length (amount of GI hanging below the belt)
There is a bit of room for your own personal preference here. Some Karate practitioners enjoy it when their GI top has plenty of length. You’ll see some students with several inches of GI hanging below their belt. This is not entirely unusual, but too long can look a bit strange. You do however want enough material hanging under your belt, so that it does not ride up your body when you’re executing your techniques. A GI that consistently becomes un-tucked (from under your belt) has been fitted improperly and is too short. I would recommend around 4 inches of material hanging below your tied belt but no more than 6 or 7 inches.
Length Of Arms
As with the legs of your GI, you don’t want your fingers getting jammed in your sleeves while punching, etc. Make sure the arms end above your wrists (at the very least). Take a look at some old Japanese Karate videos… you’ll notice the arms are quite short. Functionality is more important than looks – at least that’s what ancient practitioners thought. I believe they had it right.
Room Under The Arms (armpits)
The sleeves should not be tight under the arms. There should be plenty of room for you to move around. You want to avoid Karate uniforms that chafe under the arms. This is bad.
Room Around Chest, Etc.
Generally speaking, you should have plenty of room inside your GI. The uniform should not be tight around your body at all. Your body needs room to execute all the various techniques, etc. Additionally, you don’t want to be stifled to death while you work out – give yourself some room to breath.
Efficient and effective use of your legs cannot be understated while practicing Karate. Long stances, quick movements, kicks, sparring – the list goes on. You need to make sure that your GI bottoms are up to the task. When you’re fitting for a proper GI, keep the following information in mind.
Waist – Draw String vs. Elastic
When choosing your GI, you will notice that most uniforms come with either an elastic waist or a more traditional drawstring. The advantage of elastic may be noticeable for children. They seem to have more problems keeping a traditional drawstring pant from falling down. But for adults, the traditional drawstring is the way to go – you wont get as sweaty around the waistband. Avoid zippers and buttons. They can have sharp edges and can scratch/cut either you or your sparring partner.
Legs – Width Of Thighs
One of the most annoying things that can happen with a GI is when you kick, and the material stretches tightly over your thigh. This restricts movement and is really just uncomfortable. The GI should be cut wide in the legs, giving you lots of space to move around. Avoid uniforms that have narrow legs.
Legs – Length of Leg
You want to avoid getting a GI with legs that touch the floor. In fact, 4 or 4 inches shorter than your legs is ideal. You don’t want your heal and/or toes getting caught up in your GI. It’s awkward and can even be painful – if for example, you twist a toe during a kick.
Groin – Lots of Room
This is pretty self-explanatory. You don’t want a GI that hugs your groin area. It will restrict your movement. Make sure your GI leaves space in the groin for free movement of your legs.
Other Things To Consider
If you’ve chosen a cotton GI, you should pay considerable attention to the softness of the cotton itself. You have two choices: Brushed or Non-Brushed.
Higher quality GI are usually manufactured from brushed cotton – Also known as flannel. So what’s the deal with brushed cotton? Well, it’s super soft (read non-irritable). You can literally feel the difference. Uniforms made from non-brushed material can feel a bit like canvas. Since you’ll be working hard wearing your GI, a brushed product is the way to go.
Caring For Your GI
When To Wash
Immediately after training in it. You want to wash it while it’s still sweaty. If it’s wet, the sweat (and thus sweat stains) will not have had time to set. If you wait until it’s dry, you risk staining it. And wash it all by its lonesome. Don’t combine with whites or colours.
Washing In Cold Water
Washing you GI is obviously very important, but there seems to be some confusion around water temperature. So I’ll setting the debate right here. Wash your GI in cold water. Why? It’ll retain its natural colour longer. Period. Washing it in hot water will shorten its lifespan. If you spent any kind of real money on your GI, you want it to last as long as possible and look as good as possible. Cold water is your best friend.
Huge mistake! Bleech will weaken the material over time. I learned this the hard way. If you are washing your Gi regularly in cold water, you won’t need bleach. Please, please, please avoid using bleach at all costs. If your GI is turning yellow, it is because you are not washing it before sweat stains have a chance to set in. Wash your GI when it is still wet from your sweat.
Drying (UGH! NO!)
Please do yourself a favor and DON’T use a tumble dryer… or a dryer of any kind. Allow your uniform to air dry. Using a dryer will stain the GI, and will slowly damage the fabric over a period of time. You might want to use a hanger to properly hang the top portion. You can hang the pants on a coat hook or something similar. It actually does not take too long for a cotton GI to dry. Dryers shorten the lifespan of clothing – GIs included.
Conclusions and recommendations.
I hope you have learned some useful tips from this article. I have been training in martial arts for over 25 years and as such, I’ve gone through my fair share of GIs. I have learned all these lessons the hard way – through trial and error. Please take it from me, this information will help you choose a GI that is right for you AND will help you maintain it.
Any Particular Brand?
Disclaimer: I have NOT tried every brand of GI in existence. There are literally hundreds of manufactures of GI. I have picked my top three choices of Karate GI and included them as my recommendations. Does this mean that there are no other great brands? NO! I am simply giving recommendations based on my own personal experiences. If you have a suggestion for a brand to buy (or avoid), you comments below are really appreciated!
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White Tiger GI
Manufactured by a small, family run operation in Pakistan, White Tiger GI offers a really great product which is sold out of Great Britain. What I like about White Tiger GI is the quality of the stitching and the cut of the product. The stitching of the GI is tight, even and consistent. You can see if you look closely, great care and quality control exists. Because of the great stitching, the GI is quite durable and is built to last. The sleeves and pant legs are cut at the proper length and there is plenty of room in the groin, chest and under the arms to execute your technique freely, without obstruction. The GIs are priced perfectly too. They will be less expensive than brands like Tokon, but are totally on par with regards to quality. And Bruce, the owner of White Tiger GI has been training in martial arts all his life. He has poured his heart and soul into the design of his product. White Tiger GI is my personal favourite. I sell them to my students and I use them myself almost exclusively.
Tokon Karate GI
If big brand name attracts you – then Tokon GI could be your answer. Tokon has been around for a long time and has offices in the US as well as other countries. They are like the ‘big fish’ in the pond. They make a good quality product and offer a selection of sizes, cuts and weights. You will notice that Gi has a decent feel to it. If cared for property, it will last you many years.
Tokaido Karate GI
Okay – I had to include Tokaido in my recommendations because they are considered by many to be the most ‘traditional’ Gi around. They make a high quality product, which is custom fit (if you so desire). Proper care of the GI will ensure it lasts many years. You’ll pay for this GI though – they are very expensive. Be prepared to bust out the serious dollars to get your hands on a Tokaido GI.
Close Runner up!
These guys make a lot of martial arts product! It’s that big box type feel that we are all familiar with. But they make a good quality product. They offer a variety of weights, etc., just like any good supplier. KI is a solid product.