Here, we’ll introduce the karate gi and look at a range of karate uniforms on the market from affordable, hardwearing and great value-for-money uniforms suitable for beginners all the way to venerable brands offering professional grade uniforms suitable for long-time practitioners or those looking to invest in a premium product.
Table of Contents
Things to Look Out For When Buying a Karate Gi: The Basics
The traditional karate uniform, the ‘karate gi’ or often simply referred to as the ‘gi’ consists of three components; the Uwagi (Jacket), Zubon (Trousers) and Obi (Belt). The gi features no zippers, fastenings or buttons. The jacket is worn overlapped and fastened at the waist with the obi. The pants are held up with a drawstring. The left side of the collar should be worn on the outside, with the right collar tucked in beneath. In Japanese culture wearing the right collar above the left holds connotations of death. It is considered very unlucky or perhaps even disrespectful, so get this right!
Whilst traditionally gi are made from white lightweight canvas, other colours are sold on the market. Before delving in and buying a colour other than white, check in with your instructor and read up on any clothing regulations which competitions you might be interested in enforcing. For example, at some schools coloured gi such as blue or black are reserved for instructors whereas students wear white.
Remember, when buying a karate uniform, the belt is often not included!
The gi is also used in other martial arts, such as in judo. Due to their similarities, judo gi may sometimes be advertised as karate gi or as a ‘generic’ martial arts uniform. Blue is a popular colour for judo and jiu-jitsu gi so if you are looking to buy a blue karate uniform, make sure to read the product description very carefully! Whilst very similar in cut and design, judo gi are often made from much heavier fabric than karate gi due to the greater emphasis of grappling and floor work in judo than karate. Judo gi can be over twice the weight of karate gi, sometimes weighing in at over 35oz in total! Some practitioners of judo may favour a jiu-jitsu gi, since judo is related to the jiu-jitsu family of traditional martial arts. Many of these jiu-jitsu gi are even heavier due to extra padding. The ‘Insignia V2 jiu-jitsu gi’ from Ronin weighs 4.5 pounds (75oz)! However, weight is not necessarily bad. Though the weight of these heavier judo and jiu-jitsu gi is impractical for karate, typically higher quality karate gi will weigh more than cheaper and inferior products.
So, to re-cap, the basic elements to look out for when looking to buy a karate gi are:
- Three Components; Jacket, Trousers and Belt. The belt often needs to be acquired separately!
- Colour. Traditionally karate uniforms are white. Check with your instructor if you can wear a non-traditional colour like black or blue.
- Weight. Karate gi are made from lightweight canvas. Judo and Jiu-jitsu gi are much heavier!
Things to Look Out For When Buying a Karate Gi: The Details
The next thing to consider when choosing which gi to purchase is the ‘cut’. This describes the general dimensions of the gi such as the length of the sleeves and legs. Over the years several cuts of gi have developed. Broadly speaking, there are two main categories. These are the ‘Japanese’ cut and the ‘European’ cut. Japanese cuts tend to have shorter sleeves and pants with the jacket extending further toward the knee than the European cut. European cut gi may also have a slightly shorter lapel and tend to be a bit lighter than Japanese cut gi. Some tournaments tend to favour Japanese gi over European, but unless you are intending on entering competitions the difference between cuts shouldn’t matter too much. Instead, this comes down mostly to the personal preference of both you and your karate instructor. Both gi are perfectly good enough for general karate training, but you may find that a particular cut or style suits your body’s range of movements more so than others.
There are two broad schools of thought regarding karate uniforms. When buying karate uniforms for children or young adults whose bodies are still developing, buying cheaper gi made from lower quality yet still durable fabric is a reasonable choice as children may grow out of their uniform after a year or two. For adults, it is generally considered wise to invest in your gi. Most high end karate gi brands offer price tiers for gi, ranging from those applicable to the beginner or student all the way to master. Here are some popular karate gi and brands and products:
Brooklyn based company Ronin offers a variety of gi for karate, judo and jiu-jitsu. Ronin produces affordable, good value for money karate uniforms in white and black aimed at students available in lightweight to heavyweight fabric. If you are looking for a higher end yet still affordable product, then Ronin also produces a heavier Japanese cut gi. The upper end of their karate gi line is the 14oz ‘Shiai Deluxe’, made from high quality Japanese linen comparable in design and quality to the high end (and more expensive) offerings from venerable Japanese brands such as Tokaido.
- Affordable Student range
- Full weight range
- Classic design
- High quality, value-for-money premium range is cheaper than more famous brands.
- Free shipping (USA)
- Straightforward sizing chart online
- Limited availability outside of the US
- 100% cotton. Special consideration needed when cleaning, otherwise may shrink in the wash.
A significantly more expensive brand than Ronin, Tokaido is a veteran Japanese manufacturer of gi, being one of the oldest and most highly-regarded karate uniform producers in the world. Tokaido products are handmade and utilise durable high-quality fabric. Whilst this care and attention to detail does come with a high price tag, and even a gi suitable for young children beginning their martial arts journey. Whilst a Tokaido gi is an investment, it will serve you well for many years. Reviews of Tokaido products are generally very favourable, however a reoccurring complaint is that the jacket and pants can be quite tight and slim fitting. If you are looking for a slimmer gi, then Tokaido is definitely the brand for you. Otherwise, look into getting a size bigger than what you usually would.
- Long legacy and experience in crafting gi
- Top quality material and production methods
- Retain shape well after many washes
- Official World Karate Federation Certification
- Reinforced seams
- Slim fitting sleeves and pants
- Limited availability outside of Tokaido’s own website, few retailers.
- Very expensive, perhaps unsuitable for a beginner or student but an excellent choice for a pro.
Inevitably, major sports apparel companies have started to enter the martial arts uniform market. Adidas retail a range of karate, judo and taekwondo uniforms. As such, beginners looking to purchase a gi should take care and pay attention to the style of gi required by their teacher. In my experience, Adidas is a popular choice amongst college students looking for an affordable brand offering fair quality, rather than resorting to ‘off-brand’ alternatives. The Adidas training gi aimed at students are made from Adidas’s patented ‘ClimaCool’ material, a 70% Polyester-30% cotton canvas weave used in many of Adidas’s canvas footwear products. This material has good ventilation and helps to regulate body temperature. Many customers comment on the respectable breathability of the Adidas gi. Adidas also markets higher end options, suited more for professionals as competition wear. These premium range gi are still significantly cheaper than Japanese brands such as Tokaido.
- ‘ClimaCool’ material offers good breathability and temperature control.
- Affordable, reasonable value for money.
- Keeps shape well after several washes due to Polyester blend.
- Durable, five rows of stitches along the lapel
- Available in black and white. Stylish stripes along shoulders available in a variety of colours.
- Some quality control issues. Most reviews speak highly of the build quality whereas others complain of issues after little use.
- Whilst providing good thermal regulation, the ‘ClimaCool’ fabric does retain moisture and can become quite sweaty after a prolonged training or sparring session.
Meijin is a newer brand aiming to offer karate uniforms comparable in quality to the traditional Japanese gi designers at a much more affordable price. Meijin uniforms feature underarm gussets, providing breathability and flexibility. Meijin is all about customisation. Due to their split product lines, it is possible to order a complete gi with the pants in one style and size and the jacket in another, ensuring the ultimate fit. Meijin also offer free embroidery on all of their gi, from their student oriented ‘Dojo’ range to their ‘Premium’ and ‘Pro’ ranges. A note for teachers: Meijin offers a fairly significant discount on orders over five pieces. So, if you are looking to create a standardised uniform for your school complete with embroidered Japanese calligraphy and your school’s logo, then look no further!
- Affordable and high quality. Meijin also sells slightly imperfect or blemished items at a significant discount. If you’re on a particularly tight budget, this could be a good option for you.
- Significant discount on multiple orders. A good option for teachers looking to design a standard uniform for their school,
- Free ‘Gyosho’ style Japanese calligraphy embroidery available on all orders.
- Jacket and Trousers can be ordered separately from different product lines, allowing you to ‘mix and match’ your gi to suit your sizing and style needs.
- Embroidered ventilation holes and underarm gussets
- Limited availability on larger 3rd party retail platforms. Orders need to be placed through Meijin themselves.
- Though Meijin gets generally favourable reviews, it is not a time tested brand. Compared to Tokaido, Meijin have 20 years’ experience vs. 64 years’ experience in making quality gi.
- Limited availability outside of the US.
Mooto is a Korean company which specialises in sportswear and martial arts uniforms, especially for taekwondo. Taekwondo uniforms often feature a higher degree of sports branding and modern sports design than traditional karate gi. However, if this modern, sleek aesthetic is what you are looking for and is permitted by your instructor then consider karate uniforms produced by taekwondo-oriented brands. Mooto produces a sleek, ultralight-weight karate gi featuring fabrics designed to increase ventilation and decrease static and friction. The Mooto ‘Karate KUMITE Uniform’ is stretchy, 100% polyester, quick drying and effective at wicking sweat from the body. The shoulders, armpits and back of the knee feature mesh for ventilation and the overall sleek shape of the gi is optimised for minimal body contact. Though more expensive than some of the other gi on this list, it may interest the more athletic or sport-oriented karate practitioner.
- Sleek, modern sports inspired design and mesh system optimised for breathability. Stretchy fabric used to facilitate more athletic movements.
- Ultra-lightweight. Some may prefer a heavier more traditional gi, but those looking for a lightweight alternative will be pleased.
- Sweat dries very quickly and is wicked away from the body effectively.
- World Karate Federation (WKF) Approved
- More third party distributors than Meijin and Tokaido, but mostly all ships from South Korea.
- Non-traditional design may not appeal to everyone.
- Some sizing issues. Try to buy one size smaller than you would expect to, though the online sizing guide is fairly helpful.
- Expensive, especially for a lightweight gi.
There are many factors to consider when looking for the ideal gi. Price, fabric, weight, cut and design may all influence the decision making process. As such, the ideal gi for you may be different to the ideal gi for me. However, we feel that Meijin comes out on top in this product review. Highly affordable and made from excellent quality materials, the ‘dojo’ or student range would make an excellent gi for those studying karate. We like the level of customisation offered. Being able to ‘mix and match’ the ideal gi for the ideal fit is very positive and is especially helpful for those who may have more unconventional body types. The ‘special’ discounted price on orders over 5 pieces along with the offer for free embroidery also makes Meijin an attractive brand for instructors looking to put together a uniform for their school. The more premium gi offered are of very good quality and would suit competition use. All of the gi reviewed here are of a good standard and have many strong proponents. A close second in this review is Ronin. We like that their student gi come in a full weight range and that their gi are accessible via mainstream 3rd party retailers.