I’ve Worn Out My Crotch…

So if I haven’t grossed you out or scared you off with the title and you’re still reading at the moment, today’s post will be about karate uniforms. The “crotch” comment mostly references the wear and tear that the stitching on the crotch of one’s pants potentially go through during karate training. Mostly. But we won’t get into the “not mostly.” That can be for another day. But I digress… Moving on!

Karate is most often associated with the wearing of a white, cotton uniform or gi. But what most people are usually unaware of, is that karateka or students originally didn’t wear any sort of uniform while studying karate at all. In fact, you can still find a number of old black and white photos of Okinawan practitioners, training on the beach in nothing but a pair of shorts. In a lot of ways, this was preferable as it allowed teachers to see if proper muscle tension was being used by the students.

An example of a typical, white karate gi

The introduction of the recognizable, white karate gi as we wear it today came about as a result of it being introduced by Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo, who developed the gi, which was later adapted by Okinawan Karate. Nowadays, you can see all kinds of ridiculous bullshit, depending on where you are and what dojos are available. I’ve seen karate gi of all colours, including blue, red, pink, camouflage and even multi-coloured. Since some of those colours have snuck their way into some dojos’ ranking systems, I think the whole thing is rather stupid and moves away from tradition. But that’s mostly because I’m a traditionalist.

Others may feel that it’s an evolution and one that’s unavoidable. After all, karate started with no ranking system at all. You had a teacher and you had students. No matter what your opinion or thoughts on the subject may be, the reality is that joining a modern karate dojo will usually involve the purchasing and wearing of a karate gi at some point, which brings me to the content of today’s post. Over the past 30-plus years, I’ve burned my way through about a dozen different gis, for many different reasons. I’m going to share some of that here, so that if you’re looking to buy a martial arts uniform for the first time, you’ll have an unbiased opinion of multiple brands. This is where I should clarify that I neither endorse nor discourage any specific brand of sports apparel, nor have I accepted any compensation for any positive comments provided herein. Buckle up!

First, let’s start with the basic, bare bones options. As seen in the photo above, I use a black, cotton karate gi that’s manufactured by Century Martial Arts. I use this one because the Regina Institute of Kempo Karate where I currently train, use black gis as opposed to white. Not a big deal and I’ve often worn my white gi on laundry days when I didn’t have my black one available. This cotton gi is single-layered and single stitched, making it ideal for beginners and junior belts, since there may not be as intensive a level of grappling and grabbing involved. It’s also comfortable and easy to wash, making easier to maintain even though it may not last as long as the subsequent brands below.

There are a few of these really good North American companies that manufacture some reasonably low cost karate gis. I love Century Martial Arts! They have an American and a Canadian website and have a ton of martial arts training equipment. But I need to calm down; we’re talking about uniforms. In New Brunswick, Sensei used to obtain his basic karate gis from a company called GeneSport, which is based out of Quebec. They had that same single layer and single stitch hem, making them an excellent, low-cost option for beginners. I went through three of them during my time climbing the junior ranks. But once I stepped up to brown belt and things got rougher, I needed something that could keep up.

Next, we have the Tokaido. As you can see from the tag above, this is a 100% cotton karate gi that has double and sometimes triple-stitched hems for durability and strength. This company boasts being the oldest manufacturer of karate uniforms. I went through two of these during my years climbing through brown and black belt. They’re of a much thicker cotton and are an excellent quality. I can highly recommend this brand to someone making a long-term commitment to karate. I still have one today!

That being said, buyers should be aware that you’re paying quite a bit for that quality. As a comparison, my last GeneSport gi was roughly $40 (in 1996) and my Century gi was approximately $60 (2016). My last Tokaido cost me $230, but I still HAVE it! And it’s still functional, despite some holes here and there. So deciding on which brand to settle may have a great deal to do with one’s budget, especially if you join a McDojo that’ll charge you an arm and a leg for absolutely everything. But before I go on a rant, let’s move on to the last one…

The last brand I’ll touch on in this post, is Shureido. This company holds a special place in my heart, as it is a small, privately owned manufacturer of karate gi and martial arts weapons and equipment located in Naha, Okinawa. I visited this location in 2001 when I traveled to Japan, and I had the pleasure of getting myself a karate gi with Uechi Ryu’s banner embossed directly on the gi jacket. My black belt is also from Shureido and is stitched with my name and karate style. It’s pretty sharp.

Although they have a US distributor and an official Facebook page, there doesn’t seem to be an actual website available. This puts them in a bit of a different category than other manufacturers. I’ve recently reached out to the US distributors as well as sending a message to the Facebook page, without any response thus far. But since they cover all Okinawan and Japanese territories as they relate to karate and kobudo, I would imagine that they’re pretty busy. Cotton material and double or triple-stitched, these gis are top-of-the-line and are prominently used in the tournament environment. At least they were, when I was there in ’01.

These are the top-tier of price range, with a gi costing anywhere ranging from $250 to several hundred dollars, depending on size and accessories. Since I got a specialized gi and specialized belt, my package cost me well over $350. So it may not be ideal in terms of budget. Another issue is that my increase in size over the past five or six years has made it to snug to train in, which is problem. But I’ve had that gi for twenty years, at this point. It’s seen me through my black belt test and all the fun, in-class violence that ensued.

What level and quality of gi you decide to purchase depends on your perspective. An advanced student who buys one of the lower-priced, single-stitch gis may find themselves replacing it within a year or two as it’ll get torn to shit while sparring and grappling. That’s the issue I used to face. So if you burn through three or four of those gis, you’re already halfway to the cost of a basic Tokaido gi, which will be tougher and last longer overall. So you need to find a way to balance the scales.

You may also find yourself limited by the requirements of your dojo and what THEY require. Most traditional and functional dojos don’t care what their students wear, so long as they train hard and put in some effort. That is, until the time comes for a significant climb in rank. Most dojos don’t want to issue a green, brown or black belt to someone in their sweats and a Blink-182 t-shirt. But if you reach those ranks, the safe bet is you’ve invested in a gi already. The important thing is to have your gi loose enough to be comfortable and allow movement, while being snug enough to prevent snagging and grabbing on your opponent’s end. ☯

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Shawn

I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life. Although I have no formal medical training, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding health, Diabetes, martial arts as well as Buddhism and philosophy. My goal is to share this information with the world, and perhaps provide some sarcastic humour along the way. Welcome!

12 thoughts on “I’ve Worn Out My Crotch…”

      1. Oh well, the main thing is that it’s jammed packed with practical info for those who will have need of it in the future and you’re sharing your experience and expertise, right!

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  1. Good post. πŸ™‚ The only thing I *might* have added is the heat retention factor with a heavier weight gi. Beginning students who aren’t used to a solid workout, or those in hot and humid climates like here in the South might be better served with a lightweight or middleweight gi, especially in the summer.

    Century… I dealt with them in the 90s. I found their quality was a bit hit and miss for my tastes, BUT I do love my “B.O.B.” target dummy, and my rock maple escrima sticks. Tokaido was the holy grail of Gis even back then. Wearing out TWO of them is pretty impressive. The closest I got was a Century “Iron Man” that I picked up on clearance as they were closing their Atlanta storefront.

    As far as the colored gis and tradition, as you pointed out, it’s a fairly new tradition in the thousands of years of martial arts history. I tend to prefer a more unified look in a school also, BUT if a special color gi keeps a kid going to class and growing, it’s not that bad I suppose. πŸ™‚

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    1. Yes, the thicker materials retaining more heat is a good point. I guess I never thought of it as the majority of students never invested in a heavier gi unless they reached higher rank, at which point the practitioner is usually accustomed to longer and heavier workouts.

      And yes, the wearing of a white gi is a fairly new tradition, but a tradition nonetheless, which makes it responsibility of the Sensei to retain and encourage it. The thing that separates karate and other traditional martial arts from mainstream sports and McDojos is the adherence to said traditions. And some dojos go to the extreme; things like pink camouflage gis, a sew on patch for every accomplishment, running down the leg or arms, etc… It’s a westernized trend, more than anything else. When I was training in Okinawa, most practitioners didn’t even have they style stitched on their gi. And a last point I’ll make is that we don’t want to keep kids going to class, we want to encourage the ones who WANT to be there to come in on their own.

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      1. Oh I completely agree about traditionalism overall. Lack of adherence to tradition has destroyed Kenpo’s effectiveness to the point of many dojos teaching slap fighting (I feel a rant in my own blog coming, lol). Pink camo certainly has no place in a dojo either IMO. My point towards the end of my earlier reply was meant to say that maybe it’s not so much the idea that’s bad, it’s the extreme it’s been taken to. πŸ™‚

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  2. OH, side note here (since you commented on the low views for this post): FWIW, Cristian Mihai writes a blog about growing your blog that has an obscene number of followers. He recommends avoiding “click bait” type headlines. People are jaded with them. I’m guilty of it too occasionally, although I aim for “catchy” instead.

    Cristian has moved more and more of his stuff behind a paywall, BUT if you’re interested in improving your blogging style and growing your audience, he might be worth a look. πŸ™‚

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    1. Yes, I used to follow Cristian Mihai… He may have been okay in the beginning, but I started to find him a bit difficult to take seriously when he’d write a post about building one’s blog to make money followed by a post basically begging people to PayPal some money to him so he could keep his own blog going and eat. And yes, he’s moved to charging for just about everything, which is of little help to someone starting out. He’s one of the ones I was referring to in a recent post, when I mentioned people with a large following for empty content as opposed to blogs that research and spend lost of time writing.

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      1. LOL, I’d be hard pressed to disagree with any of that. Still, there are nuggets to still be gleaned from him occasionally. Hence I still follow him, even if with a grain of salt.

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      2. Yes, he’s had some decent advice here and there. Things reached a head when I started to be concerned over his constant asking for donations and reached out to him to ask about it. When I asked what he does as a day job to support himself, he took offence and blocked me out. πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ Que sera… I had even paid for a live session with him, which I never got. But everyone has their problems and personal journey, right?

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