How to Choose a Karate Uniform (Or Gi)

This is a practical post for readers in various parts of their martial arts careers. One question that seems to come up a lot is “what kind of uniform should I get? What the heck is a 12 ounce gi??”

People often develop love/hate relationships with different brands of uniforms and different weights of uniforms. Depending on who you ask, and what your intentions are, the best gi for you might change. For beginners, it’s basically just a big mess of colored pajamas.

Let’s start off by examining some of the differences you might find in gi styles.

Gi Styles

As you’ve probably already guessed, “gi” is the Japanese word for uniform. In tae kwon do they use the word “dobok”. But, in general, they are the same thing. All uniforms consist of two major parts, the jacket (uwagi) and the pants (zuban).

gi parts

The jacket has two open flaps in the front that are cross tied – first the right flap to inside left, and the left flap to outside right. It’s important to note that karate and tae kwon do uniforms have these straps as jujutsu and judo uniforms do not. This is because judo and jujutsu feature a lot of grappling, pulling, and twisting, and the straps of a normal karate uniform would very quickly get yanked off.

Another difference you’ll notice is the way the pants are secured. The more “traditional” uniforms have drawstring ties where a strap is threaded through the top of the pants and is pulled tight and then tied together. Some of the newer style uniforms have elastic around the waist with a shoestring tie like normal workout pants. Generally speaking, neither style is particularly frowned upon, even in traditional dojo.

Gi Colors

When it comes to karate, you’ll have two main colors to deal with: white and black. White is the most prominent and is acceptable in almost every dojo. Black is also widely used and has traditional roots too. Anything beyond those two basic styles is considered more modern and very dojo-specific. If you wish to join a dojo it’s important to note what rules and regulations they abide by.

Tae kwon do uniforms tend to be either plain or with a colored collar. Jujutsu and judo tend to use white or blue, with black as a lesser used color. Arts such as aikido and kenjutsu also utilize a hakama, which is the baggy pleated pants you might see Samurai sport in the movies.

martial arts uniforms

Gi Weights

Perhaps one of the trickiest things to do when shopping for a gi is decide what weight to get. The measuring system (which is ounces) is not readily understandable, and it takes tactile experience to know which weight you want. That being said, here are some tips for when you are deciding.

  • 8 Ounce – 8 ounce uniforms are also called ‘student’ uniforms because they are inexpensive and easy for dojo owners to keep stocked. These are the lightest available and feel closest to natural cotton clothing. Wearing a martial arts uniform for the first time is a weird experience and you probably won’t feel too comfortable or natural. Even though these are light, they’ll feel clunky at first. 8 ouncers have other uses as well. Even experienced practitioners use 8 ounce when they need something light and airy for the summer, or if they are participating in a sweat-inducing gasshuku.
  • 10 Ounce – 10 ounce is a great day-to-day weight. For people who feel as if they need a little more response and ‘feel’ from a uniform but still don’t want to feel stifled, 10 ounce is a good choice. As practitioners gain experience, they are expected to generate snap and pop from their gi. This came to pass as instructors started to use the snap as a barometer of kime, or martial arts focus.
  • 12 Ounce – 12 ounce is a nice choice for people who need responsiveness in their gi. For individuals looking to compete in tournaments, especially in kata, this is fine way to go. When ironed and pressed properly, 12 ouncers look very sharp and proper. Many practitioners keep a 12 ounce around for official events or gatherings.
  • 14 Ounce – 14 ounce is the heaviest available uniform (in general) and is considered the ‘heavyweight gi’. 14 ounce gis are the most responsive of all, but can also suffer from the cardboard effect if the material is not of high quality or washed properly. good heavyweight uniforms are often 100% cotton as this helps reduce stiffness. 14 ouncers have serious feel and character, and are great for official events. They also produce excellent snap in techniques.

Price Disparities

The price of uniforms varies greatly. Lightweight gi are generally cheaper (and sometimes downright cheap). When you get into the heavier weights you can range in price from $80 to $300. The brand you choose will have a big effect on the price tag. The major differences in regards to brands is often how stiff they are and how well they lay on the body. You’ll also notice differences in the amount of stitching, and how quickly the gi wears out.

Final Thoughts on Gi Choice

When you are shopping around, one of the best things to do is find people that wear different brands. Ask them how they like the fit and material, and if you are feeling really froggy, ask them if you can try it on.

When it comes to getting a uniform that is right for you, tactile experience is the highest priority. Figure out what you’re looking for, do some brand research, and find the best match!

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