The humble Karate Gi, a simple jacket and trousers affair, designed by the Japanese as the standard uniform in Karate training. No one can probably remember why it was designed so, but, with an educated guess, one can probably conclude that it was simple to make, functional, and allowed for freedom of movement and practical demonstration of a wide variety of movements. As with much that is Karate, and therefore Japanese, tradition is everything. It doesn't really matter why, or where from, it just is! And so the humble Karate Gi has changed very little in the concept of functionality.
However, no longer is the choice simply a white all cotton Karate Gi. Once, the only place you could buy your Gi was from your Instructor, and many of us happily parted with £20 for a very basic Gi, and well over £100 for a 'top of the range' Tokaido! There was just nowhere you could go to buy these on the high street, and therefore, the Instructor made a nice extra income from the sale of clothing, and equipment, and no one minded, and quite rightly so!
Now we live in a far different age, where the Internet has not only brought communication to the farthest reaches, it has, consequently, shrunk our world. No more expensive phone calls at un-Godly hours of the day to suppliers at the other end of the World, no more painfully typing our a Telex (who, reading this, remembers those?), and even the once technological marvel, the Fax, it has all been replaced by that most instant of messaging services...the email! Websites can be up in minutes, and a few minutes later, your shop can be viewed from anywhere in the World.
Suddenly, everything that was once difficult to obtain, became easy, and it is getting easier all the time! Costs, as a result, have plummeted, because people refuse to pay those once high prices. No longer do customers simply trust their Instructor, they go out and research the product, and will find the best bargain they can! Prices have also tumbled because production has moved out of Japan, and into more cost effective areas such as China and Pakistan. It still exists in Japan, of course, but these tend to be very much the premium priced products.
So has this affected the quality? Well, yes and no. A Japanese made Gi is still held in high esteem, especially among traditionalists, but it is no longer the sole bastion of a quality Karate Gi. With such a high demand, it was always inevitable that a more cost effective solution had to be found. And with that, so the development of raw material began, hand in hand with world demand, driving prices down through higher demands. As with all products in any market place, there is good and bad, but a few well placed questions and research will generally help you sort out which is which.
As a result of all this, the humble Karate Gi has not only matured, it has spawned many an offspring, with a multitude of colour options, different blends of polyester and cotton, and even different fabric types. White is still by far and away the most popular choice. But, even then, you have a wide choice of styles available:
Japanese Cut - Traditional, still favoured by many, especially in competition. Recognisable by it's shorter sleeves and legs.
European Cut - Increasingly popular, the jacket and trousers follow more traditional western dress codes of a full length leg and sleeve, in the same way as, say, a traditional 2 piece suit.
Kumite Gi - A specially made Karate Gi for fighting, or Kumite Sparring. These tend to be a blend of polyester and cotton, with a 'ribbed' fabric finish, designed to be light and give the competitor more mobility. They also aid cooling by allowing sweat to pass through the Gi, and away from the body.
Kata Gi - Designed for competition Kata, or 'patterns, a set piece whereby a Karateka (someone who practises Karate) performs a series of set moves, demonstrating blocks, kicks, counter strikes etc. Each grade, be they Kyu (coloured belt ranks) or Dan (black belt ranks), each of these grades will have their own Kata to perform. These are typically available in 3 weight sizes, 12oz, 14oz and 16oz, and in Japanese or European cut. At this level, it is very much a preference of the competitor.
Training Gi - Usually the most basic Gi, typically anything from 6oz to 10oz in weight, and made from 100% cotton or a polyester/cotton blend.
Generally, as students progress, so their preference for heavier weight Karate Gi develops. The weight refers to the thickness of the material used to make the Gi. Medium and heavy weight Karate Gi tend to be exclusively cotton, as polyester blends are not as practical or cost effective at these weights.
There are even different finishes available on Karate Gi. The standard 'canvas' style that is the most commonly available, can also be produced with a 'brushed' finish. Again, this is more typical of the heavier Karate Gi. Brushing created a much softer feel, and is certainly a superior quality. It 'hangs' better from the body, and presentation wise, in competition at least, can really set one competitor apart from another!
As well as traditional white, you can also buy your Karate Gi in Black, Blue, Red, or even 'dual coloured'! Certainly not as common as white, but Black is probably the next most common colour of Karate Gi.
With all Martial Arts Clothing increasing in variety and design, which it is easy to become confused. As a general guide, if you are a beginner, look for a standard training Gi, typically around the £11 to £14 mark is a good guide. Material type is a personal choice. Cotton is still the best, but it does shrink, whereas polyester blends do not. Polyester/cotton also feels slightly different, can be prone to static, and is not suitable for anyone with allergies to man made fibres.
Beyond your first Karate Gi, what you buy thereafter will more than likely be based on recommendations of your fellow students, or even your Instructor. The Internet offers a wealth of possibilities in researching various types and brands, so don't be frightened to have a good look around, maybe call a couple of suppliers and talk to them about their products. And, remember, buying a Gi to try is a worthwhile option. If you don't like it, you can always return it, so the risks are minimal, but the ability to get the right Gi for you has never been simpler!
Steve Turner Black Eagle Martial Arts Equipment
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