What You Need To Know About Gi Color in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

The Gi is a treasured possession for many martial artists especially those involved in Japanese and Okinawan traditional martial arts and more recently, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Sometimes it’s an expression and extension of their personalities. In modern times we see athletes sporting a variety of Gis that vary in their color, weave and are adorned with a myriad of logos and patches.

But the beginning of this tradition was a rather humble one. Japanese martial traditions like those hailing from the Samurai (currently referred to under the umbrella term Japanese Jujutsu) made use of the traditional Japanese dress, the Kimono. Even though there existed many categories of Kimono suited for different social occasions, men or women and even marital status, as far as martial arts were concerned, plain white kimonos were the norm. In Japanese culture, white symbolizes purity, the lack of ego and an egalitarian atmosphere in the dojo to emphasize that everyone is cut from the same cloth at the end of the day regardless of their belt rank or seniority.

It was Jigoro Kano who introduced the modern design of Keikogi as the training uniform of Judo. A similar style was also adopted into Karate by Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate, to appeal to the existing standard of uniforms of that time. Over time, the term Gi became an acceptable replacement for Keikogi.

Being connected to the lineage of Judo, the white Gi was adopted as a standard uniform for BJJ as well. With evolving tastes and to keep up with modern sensibilities, the IBJJF rules have been modified to allow blue and black colored Gis in international championships. IBJJF rules also require the Gi top and pant to be of the same color. Outside of competitions, every school or academy has their own standards when it comes to the color and style of Gi that are allowed on the mat.

The Blue Gi was introduced in Judo competitions in the late 1980’s to visually differentiate a competitor from the other who would wear the traditional white Gi. Wearing a blue Gi reduces the possibility of errors made by the referee in awarding points as the contrasting colors reduce eye fatigue and help in making quick and accurate decisions. As it is with any sport, the tendency to associate better performance with the color and design of the uniform caught up with the phenomenon of Judo athletes clad in the blue Gi. The blue color was purportedly thought of to be more intimidating on a subconscious level along with other pseudoscientific claims to prove its superiority. This was further fueled by the dominant performance of contestants wearing the blue Gi in the 2004 Olympics. But this was soon disproved by evolutionary biologists in Scotland and Netherlands who scientifically studied all the factors and data involved in the superior performance of those competing in a blue Gi. It was a usual case of correlation being confused with causation.

There are a few martial arts like Ninjutsu, Kenpo, Silat etc whose practitioners usually wear black uniforms. This has also made its way into BJJ. As such, the color black is associated with a darker, more aggressive, intimidating character with undertones of mystique, stealth and deadliness. This has been further accentuated by the stylized portrayal of ninjas in all-black uniforms and covert spies and assassins in movies. But this perception is no different from the temporary obsession with the blue Gi and is unrealistic. A sincere student of martial arts looks beyond superfluous factors like the color of a Gi and is more concerned with the reality of survival and victory. A black Gi though has the practical advantages of hiding the sweat, grime and blood from training and hence, is easier to maintain.

In the recent past, BJJ has become widely popular thanks to its coverage in popular media, movies, documentaries and involvement of celebrities like Ashton Kutcher. Inevitably a wider range of colors of the Gi has come to be accepted and it asserts an individual’s taste and expression of what they stand for. Now we have online stores and labels that offer a wide range of choices like Navy, Green, Grey and even Camo Gis.

There is something important to consider while selecting a Gi in this milieu of colors and it is the acceptable standards of uniform in the academy one chooses to train in. There are quite a few traditional schools which insist on the white Gi for beginners and white belts. For example, Royler’s academy in Rio is reported to allow only white or blue Gi. There is also a widely accepted etiquette of not wearing a Gi that is darker than one’s belt. But as noted earlier, with evolving tastes it has become acceptable at most academies to wear a color of one’s choice as long as it’s not too flashy or vain. There also exists a general sentiment to scoff at the beginner who shows up wearing an expensive branded Gi for his first session.

Even though this behavior might be less than ideal on the surface, it’s a human tendency to resist that which is different and stands out. Putting all these facts into perspective, one shouldn’t shy away from sporting his own style and flair when it comes to the Gi. After all, it’s the uniqueness and creativity of the artists which keeps an art alive and relevant. So why should it be different for the martial art of BJJ?

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