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When It Comes To Gi’s, Wearing Is Believing

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While the Internet affords the modern shopper a gazillion options, it also breeds paralysis by analysis. With countless reviews, vendors, and styles in the mix, making a purchase becomes much akin to compiling data for a case study. And when it comes to something you’re going to wear? A decision becomes even more difficult.

Take shoes, for example. You can look online, but the proof in the pudding comes from lacing them up. The same is the case for a BJJ gi. You can stare at photos of the sports’ stars wearing the latest innovation, waffle back and forth between canvas or ripstop pants, or wonder about the fit of the latest entrepreneur’s contribution to the burgeoning gi market. However, you’re never going to know if a gi’s the right fit until you try it on.

Alas, there’s no true Zappos.com for gis. Buying and returning isn’t as simple, especially if you have to pick up the return fees. But we’ve pulled together some common sense tips to help you make the best decision.

Your Intent Always Matters

One thing you simply have to know before making a purchase is how you plan to use the gi, and this boils down to whether you’re going to wear the gi for training, for competition, or for both. When it comes to gis used exclusively for training, there’s far less pressure on a purchase; while a perfect fit is always wanted, it’s not as critical. But when it comes to competitions, you’ll probably want to be much pickier.

The first thing to do is review the IBJJF rules and regs (page 28) for gi fit. The last thing you want to do, especially if you’ve traveled far and wide to a major competition, is have a gi that doesn’t meet the IBJJF’s stringent requirements. Since giving your opponent as little gi fabric to latch on to is always a benefit, most competitors want a snug fit, but one that still allows for maximum mobility.

But let’s be clear: when competing, your skill level, strategy, and endurance are far more important than the gi you’re wearing—no matter how perfectly it fits. Just chalk a well-tailored gi up as a small advantage, but never as a game-changer. However, if you typically roll in a looser gi, don’t just save that snug gi for competition. You need to feel comfortable in your competition gi, so as much as you probably prize it (especially since they’re typically more expensive) make sure you train in it extensively beforehand.

For Trial and Error, Beg And Borrow

Like most sizing systems, the universal sizing system for gis is very imperfect. An A2 in one brand may fit far differently than an A2 in another. This is another reason why staring at a computer screen serves you very little—even if you pull the trigger on a new gi based on the slick design or thickest collar, the sizing may not be in line with gis you’ve worn from other brands.

The best—and of course, most logical—way to size a gi is by asking your training partners to let you try theirs on, especially if it’s a brand you’re interested in. Better yet, attending a seminar often presents a great opportunity since a large group of practitioners has gathered. While you might not be comfortable asking a stranger to try their gi on—which is somewhat illogical since you’d probably be willing to roll with them—you’ll just have to weigh if that request is easier than having to head to FedEx to return a gi that just didn’t work for you.

Again, with so many new gi companies on the market, and with many of them using smart marketing tactics such as “limited run” gis, “champion-approved” kimonos, and slick new designs, it’s not going to get any easier any time soon. So when faced with these factors, always fall back on fit. That’s why most seasoned practitioners are brand-loyal; it’s usually based on the fact that a particular gi has consistently been a good fit for them, and nothing else.

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