Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Kimono Buyer’s Guide
Last Updated: January 1st, 2018
One Piece Construction
There is no more confusing term in BJJ gi’s. Everyone uses the term ‘One Piece Construction’, but everyone uses 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. Since Judo practitioners did not often need to 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.
For decades, grappling gi collars were all the same. They were created by folding cotton fabric into several layers, putting 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 to clothing, it will break down/wear off/wash off. I have had individual MKimonos 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. MKimonos only uses traditional fabric collar construction.
Another drawback with EVA collars is unintentional twisting. In a true fabric collar, the stitching penetrates the entire collar 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.
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. While there is some truth to this, and for a time in the late 90’s gi companies got out of hand with ridiculous collars, there are now IBJJF standards. This means that collar thickness 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.
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 or 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 definition. 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.
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 planned to mandate all gi tops be made of Gold weave fabric. Gold weave was and is used in the furniture business in Brazil. Its pattern is unlike Single or Double weaves. It looks more like a ‘waffle’ pattern than ‘bricks’. Its standard weight is in between traditional Single weave and Double weave weights, making Gold a good compromise between comfort and durability. The Gold weave pattern will usually be on both the outside and inside of the jacket. It is relatively soft to the touch. While Gold weave is not currently required for competition, it remains a very popular weave 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.
MKimonos was the first brand to come with the "Hybrid gi sensation". I called it hybrid because it came and comes in between the weight and quality of a double and a single weave gi. Its weight is the same of a traditional Gold weave, yet it air dried faster. The Hybrid continues to be my best seller. While several comps now use the term Hybrid, the meaning, the weight and the pattern vary amongst manufacturers. Make sure if you buy a competitor’s Hybrid you understand what it is you are getting and what it is a hybrid of.
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 MKimono Summer weave is 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 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.
Pearl is a relatively new weave that has gained traction amongst several manufacturers. The weave is similar to Single weave, except instead of the pattern looking like rectangular ‘bricks’, they have a more rounded appearance. Sometimes, the ‘brick’s are a little wider than a Single weave, but still rectangular in shape. It can vary between manufactures. 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.
While the rest of the industry was going lighter and lighter with their gi’s, I decided to go heavier. I wanted to return to the roots of the true Double weave. The result is the Palladium weave. It has the Gold Weave ‘waffle’ pattern and expected softness, but is heavy as a traditional Double weave. It is a beast of a gi.
This is a term that really does not mean anything, but I see it a lot in the descriptions of competitor’s 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.
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.
Rip Stop Fabric
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 criss-cross pattern sewn into it. The criss-cross 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 criss-cross 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 some guys 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? 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 criss-crosses, 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.
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. It just means that a manufacturer of a Pre-Shrunk gi, uses a bigger size template when the make the gi, then a non Pre-Shrunk manufacturer. After the first wash, both gi’s will be at the same point. Pre-shrinking or avoiding Pre-Shrinking has no impact on quality or performance of the product.
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 gr Gold to another company’s 450 gr 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 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 train, wash or dry your gi, we can no longer re-sell it to anyone else. So we will need to reject your return request and you just lost $200. This policy is not unique to us and is standard across not just the gi industry, but the whole clothing retailer industry. Please contact the retailer if you have any concerns or doubts. Do not take matters into your own hands.
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. 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. 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. You will never need to mercerize an MKimono. The color will hold without the process. This is not the same across all brands.
• Air Dry Always - 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.
Some people ask if they can put their gi's 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.