I’ve been training for Karate for over 8 years and in that time I’ve gained a lot from this martial art.
It all started when my parents walked me into my local dojo when I was twelve. I think they were tired of watching me play video games and spending too much time indoors.
Right away I was hooked. I loved knowing that I was practicing a martial art that had been practiced for hundreds of years. Pretty soon I wanted to buy my first Gi; my holey jogger bottoms and t-shirt didn’t quite cut it.
Today there are dozens of Gi’s on the market. Based on my experience, I’ve tried to narrow them down to help both karate newbies and those who have attained mastery find the best karate Gi for training.
A Brief History of Karate
The name Karate translates to mean “empty hand”; describing its purpose as an unarmed combat system.
In its current form, Karate is less than 200 years old but it has roots that date back thousands of years.
The art originated on the island of Okinawa and in its early form was heavily influenced by ancient Chinese martial arts, because everything awesome in the world was invented by the ancient Chinese. Gunpowder, fireworks, money: all ancient Chinese technologies. Turns out they invented ass-kicking, too.
However, very little is known of the exact origins of karate before it appeared in Okinawa. Island culture is like that, mysterious and shrouded in mystery. What is not a mystery, though, is the both the effectiveness of Karate as a martial art and its benefits as the foundation of your workout routine.
Karate specialises in punching, striking and kicking techniques.
The more traditional styles, such as Shotokan, have long deep stances which incidentally helps to build powerful leg muscles; making kicking techniques far more powerful.
There are numerous films which demonstrate this fighting style. Just look at any of the Karate Kid movies or Youtube’s new hit series, “Kobra Kai.” If you haven’t seen any of these seminal works of Western culture, add them to your Netflix queue immediately after finishing this blog.
Skills I’ve Gained
Here are some ways karate has helped me:
“I’m gonna teach you the style of karate that was taught to me. A method of fighting that your pansy-ass generation desperately needs. I’m gonna teach you how to awaken the snake within you. You’ll build strength. You’ll learn discipline. And when the time is right, you’ll fight back.”
–Johnny Lawrence, Kobra Kai.
Well said, Johnny, well said.
I found that the skills needed to train diligently and regularly could be applied outside of the dojo. I developed the ability to focus on the task at hand in order to get the job done. This certainly helped with my studies during my teenage years.
Karate is often ridiculed as a self defense fighting style. However, you only have to look at Lyoto Machida to realise how wrong this view is: he’s one of the most elegant fighters I’ve ever seen.
Watching this master fight has been inspirational. Machida is a very gentle martial artist, and no, that is not a contradiction in terms. In a sport where even respectful, educated fans are prone to screaming, “just bleed, bro!” Lyoto stood out. He elevated defense and made not getting hit and not bleeding, admired by purists and brawlers alike.
His karate roots are evident from his long fighting stance and long range techniques.
Here is a wonderful, clip from Lyoto performing a traditional kata. Notice he’s wearing what my daughter calls “those karate pajamas.” We’ll be talking about the importance of the Gi (definitely not pajamas!) later.
Why do Karate Students Train in a Gi?
We need something that would show our uniformity, to indicate that we are students. We need something that provides us with a range of movement and something that will be able to take a beating from the constant wear and tear inflicted by the techniques of our martial art. The garment’s original designer took inspiration from the kimono, which is cool, because I have a closet full of those, too.
I still remember the first time I wore my Gi into the dojo. It was a very special moment and I truly felt that I was now part of the club.
What to Look for in a Gi
A properly fitted Gi is the most important purchase you will make in your journey through the traditions and techniques of karate. Here are my thoughts on what to looks for.
Make sure you buy one made from quality materials. If you do, it should last you a number of years.
A cotton Gi is the choice of serious (and those aspiring to be serious) practitioners of Karate.
However, the polyester alternatives are worth considering for new students. They’re usually cheaper and can be more durable that their cotton counterparts.
Cotton is naturally absorbent and will whisk away sweat as you perspire, making you more comfortable and less… moist.
I remember the early years of training in a polyester Gi. I could literally wring out the sweat after a two hour training session.
Polyester is arguably more durable, especially for those of us who work out on the go or have to train when time is available; a gi made of synthetic fabric survives life in the bottom of a gym bag or in the trunk better than one of fine cotton. A quick wash can bring it back to life.
Furthermore, a synthetic Gi is not as likely to shrink as cotton.
Again I remember one of my cheap cotton Gis shrinking significantly when I washed it. The Gi pants came up half way up my shins. I just looked ridiculous. It really is worth investing in a quality product.
A high quality Gi will be pre-shrunk. This is yet another reason to avoid cheap workout wear.
Buy a Gi from a well-established brand. They have, the experience of making a quality product that has been tested over the years by millions of practitioners.
As martial arts have exploded in popularity, dozens of fly-by-night equipment manufacturers have sprung up; selling workout wear that is so flimsy it may as well be made of Kleenex tissues.
Caring for your Gi
Your workout wear is a big, important purchase. Take care of it accordingly to protect your investment.
Do it! Preferably with water and laundry detergent. Don’t be that smelly Gi guy that nobody will train with. Make sure your roundhouse kicks are stronger than your body odor!
Do it! Preferably from a hanger in the closet. Don’t be that guy who tosses his Gi in a pile on the floor and comes to the dojo looked rumpled, wrinkled, and disheveled. Dirty students reflect poorly on the whole school. Have some respect for your Sensei!
My first Gi
One of my early Gis in my early years of training was made by Adidas.
The K200 Club is the respected shoe maker’s foray in the world of martial arts, and it doesn’t disappoint. Designed for multi-level training, this Gi features an elastic waistband for comfort and a unique mesh area at the back of jacket to reduce sweating and improve breathability.
This lasted me several years until I all that training and continuous washing finally took it’s toll.
I can’t remember what I paid for mine but you can check the price on Amazon here.
I decided to invest in a more expensive Gi but this is one that I still recommend to beginners starting out in karate.
Time for an upgrade
After years of training I then moved onto my next Gi.
I was looking for a quality Karate kimono that would resist the ravages of time and the wear and tear of everyday use. I also wanted to invest in a slightly more expensive uniform that was made of 100% high quality cotton.
I found this tough yet still immaculately tailored Gi from Ronin. Not an actual Ronin. I assume that a master-less samurai would find running a workout wear brand distasteful; the social media obligations alone would drive a solitary warrior insane.
I loved how perfectly sized this Gi was and how sturdy it felt. These were certainly not “pajamas,” no matter what my daughter will tell you. This lightweight (sixteen ounces) Karate Gi comes with drawstring pants, so you can tighten them after your workout tones your belly.
I paid just over $100 for mine but you can check the price here on Amazon.
The Best Gi I’ve Ever Owned
Whilst I’ll never be the next Lyoto Machida, I can still dress like the best. After several years of training, I’ve now moved to what I consider to be one of the best gi I’ve ever had.
The Seishin Gi is 100% premium cotton fiber, so no more moistness issues for you, warrior! This beautiful bad boy is engineered to feel light and natural, but to look heavy and intimidating.
I particularly like the air cooling in the gussets which really do work to cool you down after a heavy training session.
I can also avoid embarrassing rips and tears with the reinforced stitching in the seams, hems and strings.
This snappy Karate kimono is lightweight and suitable for the damage inflicted during kumite and yet has enough weight and snap for the precision required of kata.
Increasing the coolness factor by about 1000x, this Gi comes straight from Okinawa to you. Yes, Okinawa – the birthplace of both karate and Mr. Miyagi! They feature the “Original Okinawan Cut” and the pants are high-waisted pants for increased range of movement, which I find helpful when throwing hook kicks and high kicks.
I paid just under $200 for mine but check the price on Amazon here.
I’m so glad I invested in this Gi, it really makes me feel the part, even if my lagging technique means I don’t quite act the part.
Karate rules. Lyoto Machida rules. These three Gi rule.
Hopefully, my advice has been helping you choose you first or next Gi.