One of the all-time-most-popular posts on The Centurion is this one: 4 Tips for Finding your Perfect BJJ Gi. Although a fine post, I thought it could use a more ~personalized~ update, so I turned to Kyle Young, one of Century’s resident BJJ athletes and competitors, and, at brown belt as of 2019, the highest-ranked in the art at our company.
Kyle has trained for years and probably worn more gis than most of us will ever put on, so he knows a thing or two about picking the best gi.
Kyle recommended starting the hunt for your perfect gi by making a priority list of what you’re looking for. Although he admitted that an individual’s personal preferences will play a large role, he recommended starting with these four criteria:
This should be a given, but don’t overextend your finances to buy a fancy, top-of-the-line gi when you’re just starting. The quality of your training won’t suffer because you didn’t spend $300 on a uniform. Besides, you’ll be paying more for details that you may end up not even liking.
“You’ll discover your other preferences the more you train,” Kyle explained. “A beginner probably won’t have as many – I’m picker now that I was seven years ago.”
“After budget, and what’s realistic within that, I’m going to look at my schedule: how many times I’m going to be training during the week,” said Kyle. “BJJ is an up-close-and-personal sport, so reusing a worn gi is frowned upon. Once it gets wet (eg. sweaty – with your sweat and other people’s), you need to take it home and wash it, immediately.
“If you’re planning to train three or more times per week, then you should really try to budget for at least two gis, depending on how often you want to do laundry. You don’t have to buy both gis at once.”
“Now that you’ve looked at budget and schedule, you need to consider what your goal is, or why and how you’re training,” Kyle said. “If I’m planning on being a competitor, I’m probably going to have one gi that is lighter weight, especially considering that in a lot of tournaments today, you have to make weight* in your gi.”
*Tournament competition brackets are commonly divided by weight (as well as gender and age). You must register in a certain weight class in order to compete. “Making weight” means that when the officials weigh you, your weight is within the set limit. In MMA, fighters are weighted in simple shorts and lightweight tops. In BJJ, however, you may be expected to weigh in while wearing a gi, which will increase your weight. A lighter gi makes it easier for you to make weight.
If you plan on training strictly for fun and exercise, the weight of your gi doesn’t matter as much. Go with what you find comfortable, and what is in your budget.
Obviously, an important one. Kyle added this one because he felt that most people don’t appreciate the variety of fit that is out there, and may settle for something that’s “okay” rather than “great.”
“Gis are getting so much more sophisticated now, so there are a lot of different types of geometry, or patterning, in different brands, that just fit differently,” he pointed out. “The biggest thing is finding a brand that fits your body type.
“Brands like Gameness, for example, will have a standard, and a short, and a long, and even a wide gi. They may not have that for every style of gi they have, but they probably have at least a style that has a wider or a taller or a shorter option, as well as women’s gis.”
The next thing to know about gis is the different weaves they’re made from. Although there are other weaves out there, the five most common are single, double, pearl, gold and ripstop. There are two parts of a gi uniform, the jacket top (kimono) and pants. This next section refers to tops, exclusively.
These are the thinnest (and hence, cheapest) gis out there, making them good beginner uniforms. Worried that you’re going to kill your gi, but don’t want to go above a basic uniform? You can still find variety within the single weave category.
Close-up of single weave fabric.
“Some gis, if you look at the tag, you’ll see that it says “single weave,” and then in parentheses a number,” Kyle explained. “So it might say, Single Weave: 550 GSM. That’s grams per square meter of fabric. The higher the number, the denser and heavier that fabric is.”
Single weave gi kimonos also tent to be fairly soft, and to lie flat when worn. They do not have a lot of texture as compared to other weaves.
As the name suggests, this fabric is basically a doubled-up version of the single weave. It has roughly twice the weight, and twice the texture. Although it’s durable, Kyle says he rarely sees anyone train in this weave, because of how thick it is. Modern technology has allowed gi jackets to be made that are just as strong as double weave, but lighter.
“Well, what about for competitors to wear on their training days?” I asked. “I know some people will jog with ankle weights, so that they’re even stronger when they run without them. Couldn’t you wear a heavy gi for training, and a lighter one for competition?”
“Yeah, you could,” he admitted, “but I wouldn’t. If I’m someone who’s training as a competitor, I’m probably going to be on the mats an hour and a half to three hours a day. So after back-to-back hours of rolling, that thing is going to be like a mop.”
So…that’s a pretty solid no, unless being a sweat mop is your thing.
On the other hand, this weave makes sense for judo. For this martial art, a thicker weave is necessary since players will be grabbed and thrown. However, in judo, not nearly as much time is spent grappling on the mats.
If you look at a pearl weave gi, you’ll see how it gets its name: the fabric resembles rows of tiny round pearls strung together.
Close-up of pearl weave.
“Pearl weave tends to be lighter weight and as strong or stronger than your standard single weave,” Kyle said. “The way the pearls are woven gives it more tensile strength. It also has a bit of a textural difference, too. This makes it rougher for an opponent to grab. There are a lot of variations in the size of the pearls you’ll see in this weave – they can be very small or very large.”
I asked Kyle if he’d recommend a lighter, smoother pearl weave gi with smaller pearls, or a heavier, rougher gi with larger pearls (my thought was, if small pearls make it uncomfortable for my opponent to grab, bigger pearls will make it REALLY uncomfortable). However, he advised against it.
The Ambassador Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gi is pearl weave.
“In the heat of the moment, the difference between one pearl weave and another isn’t going to cause enough discomfort to really make a difference to your opponent,” he told me. “I’d still focus on a lighter gi.”
“A gold weave fits between the weight of a double and a single,” Kyle said. “The weave looks kind of waffled, with little ridges and valleys. The ones I’ve worn have all tended to wear really well. They’re comfortable: not too rigid, not too stretchy – ” stretchiness is a bad think in a gi, because it can let your opponent twist and manipulate it more easily – “and still really strong. It’s a good middle ground if you don’t want a pearl weave.”
Detail of a gold weave gi.
Gold and pearl gis fall into similar price ranges. Pearl weave gis can be lighter, however, which is something to consider if you plan on using the gi for competition. Again, the more you train, the more you will come to develop a preference for certain types of gi. It may be worth it to you to have a gold weave gi, despite the extra weight.
As the name suggests, ripstop material is hard to damage, and, if it does sustain a tear, that tear is unlikely to spread. This is because the weave forms a crosshatch pattern, with each of the squares the pattern forms working to support the others. Unlike the other weaves, it’s made with blended fabric and not strictly cotton.
“Ripstop is made to be worn, used a lot, be able to be really put through a bunch of rigor and abuse and still hold up,” Kyle explained. However, a word of caution: “Ripstop kimonos are not fully supported by IBJJF regulations. I think (the regulators) felt that it was too much of a departure from the traditional gi. I do feel like it can also be a little more slick to hold on to, so maybe that was a concern?”
Whatever the reason, even the IBJJF seems a little fuzzy on its own rules: their Uniform Requirements Page simply says a gi should be make of “cotton or cotton-like fabric.” It doesn’t mention ripstop by name. Is ripstop a “cotton-like” fabric? It’s arguable.
If you plan on training hard, and feel like you need the most durable gi out there, invest in a ripstop gi – just make sure you have a backup for tournaments.
A Quick Note on Pants
As I said before, these material refer to gi kimonos, or jackets. Gi pants will typically be made from cotton canvas, brushed cotton, ripstop or denim (I know you just pictured someone in jeans – no, that’s not what I meant).
Since uniforms are often sold as complete sets, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about picking out pants. And most people have stronger preferences when it comes to their gi tops than bottoms.
Final Words of Wisdom
I gave Kyle three common scenarios in which first-timers might purchase a gi. I asked him what advice, specifically, he’d give to each of them.
Scenario 1— A parent is buying a gi for their seven-year-old, who has just started a youth BJJ class.
“I would just go with a basic, single-weave cotton gi. The younger the person doing BJJ is, the less strain they’re putting on the fabric.
“The reason that gis are made to such a high degree of specificity (eg. rip and tear tests) is because not only are they intended to be used as weapons by me, but also against me. That means there’s a lot of pulling, a lot of grips, grabbing, all that stuff. But a child simply isn’t going to have the same kind of strength as an adult. I’m probably going to go for a lightweight, functional single or pearl weave gi. As long as the kid likes the look, and it fits well, I’m going to go for a basic gi since the likelihood of it getting ripped is extremely low.”
Scenario 2—A 30-something individual, wanting to get into better shape, decides to join a BJJ class.
“First of all, you don’t want to be the guy who comes in wearing the fancy gi, especially as a beginner. Just…don’t make that mistake. Get something that’s unembellished and minimally decorated – maybe it just has the brand’s embroidered logo on the sleeve. You may also be asked to put a patch with your gym's logo on the back (as seen in the picture).
“Apart from that, I’m going to come in with a middle-of-the-road, middleweight pearl weave gi, because I can afford something that’s a little more technical than a single weave. In the long term, most people will like that kind of gi longer. Let’s assume you like jiu-jitsu enough that you stick with it. If you train for six months in a single weave gi, then switch to a pearl weave, you’ll be like, “Why did I wait until now?” So I would pay the extra $20 or $30 upfront to get a gi that you’re going to like more and stick with for longer.”
Scenario 3—A high schooler with some athletic experience (like football or wrestling) decides to join BJJ with the goal of eventually competing.
“I’m going to commit to a good pearl weave gi. There’s a wide enough window there of prices. I think you can get one for as little as around $99, and up to $169. So, you know, if you want a Cadillac buy a Cadillac. But knowing that if I’m really going to compete I’m going to have to train four or five days a week, I’m going to buy on the cheaper end so that hopefully in a few months I can afford a second gi.”
Got any more questions about choosing a gi? Leave them in the comments, and Kyle or I (it will be Kyle) will answer them!