Thursday, October 6, 2011

Buying a Women's BJJ Gi

Part 1: Why you should buy a Women-Specific Gi
When I purchased my first BJJ gi five years ago, there were only two or three companies that made kimono’s specific to women.
As the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (and MMA in general) grows exponentially, the industry has begun to catch up to the increasing percentage of female athletes. Many companies are providing some female specific gear (although much of this takes place in the form of tight-fitting tank tops and underwear) and recognize the importance of designing apparel that accommodate the female body.

While there is an increase in product, there continues to be a dearth of information on purchasing gear and apparel for women who participate in combative sports. Although I am not an expert on the gi, nor do I have a black belt, I believe it is necessary, in the case of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gi, to use female-specific gear. This article will outline why you should buy a Women’s Kimono and how to pick the perfect gi for your body and training style.

Homegirl looks good in a gi, no?
I started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the summer of 2006 after several years of submission wrestling at a local club. In the first couple of months, I borrowed an old Judo gi from a friend, which was adequate in those early days of learning clock chokes and leg sweeps. However, as I became more passionate about BJJ, the yellowing and ill-fitting Judo gi was no longer sufficient and actually became a hindrance while practicing throws. The search for the perfect gi was long, arduous and frankly disappointing. Not only were there very few companies who made women's gi's, there was (and still is) an annoying preponderance of tacky, embellished kimono's in garish colors. Why the hell can't they make combative gear for women that is not pink?

Note: I love me some pink. I have several pink dresses and even work a seriously hot pink lip most of the time (not at the gym). However, I hate being forced into wearing pink or baby blue when I train.

It is easy for many women to simply purchased the gi that is carried in their school's shop. Typically, BJJ schools carry decent gi's in adult sizes, but not necessarily any that are cut for women's bodies. Although it can be tempting to take this route, especially when those kimonos come with the patches for your school, I would encourage female grapplers to buy a women-specific gi and later sew on their own patches. Bottom line:  buy a gi that fits you and pimp it out later!

Buyers Guide:

Consideration 1: Price
After growing up in a frugal household and spending close to eight years as a college student, I am a cheap bastard.  I'll purchase generic Windex and Ziplock bags to save myself fifty cents and agonize over buying a necessary item for months before finally spending a measly $25. I am not denigrating frugality; it is obviously better than the alternative. I am simply pointing out that I understand: dropping $200 on a gi is a frightening endeavor for many people. 

However, a kimono is an investment and the essential tool for training BJJ; it is important to consider your gi as analogous to a tennis racket, surfboard or pair of skis rather than an outfit.  Thus, be prepared to spend between $150 to $250 for a well-made gi.

Are they worth it? Absolutely. Cheap, flimsy kimonos are easier to grab whereas the material of a well-made gi is almost slick.  Consult your fingertips after rolling with an opponent in an expensive gi and you can see and feel the difference.

Consideration 2: Fit
At every grappling tournament I have ever attended I noticed girls walking around in the same kimonos as their male colleagues. In other words, these women (and men) are purchasing the gi sold by their gym without any consideration for fit. Most gyms just order adult sizes and assume that the female players will wear the same gi as the guys. However, I can tell that these girls are wearing basic gis not just because they look the same as their colleagues, but because they look like they are wearing a men's gi. Make sense? These girls are swimming in fabric, with sleeves down to their fingertips, jackets hitting the tops of their thighs and shoulder seams creeping down their arms.  Not a good look. 

In my opinion, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gi should be fitted. Not tight, fitted. Is this personal preference? Sure. But when it comes to BJJ, the more fabric there is for your opponent to manipulate, the more you will have to fight off submissions. To reiterate: this is not a question of fashion, but an issue of proper equipage.

The Jacket:
Waist: This is the primary reason why I believe it is necessary to wear a women's gi. Women's kimonos are tapered at the waist, allowing you to tighten your belt without the annoying and sometimes painful bunching that occurs when wearing a boxier gi. This tapering occurs at the natural waistline and will allow you to get a tight fit before rolling.
Shoulders: The women's gi is also cut narrow through the shoulders so that the seam sits at your actual shoulder line rather than halfway down your arm.
Sleeves: Another very important reason to order a gi that actually fits: the sleeves hit right at the end of your wrist* rather than at the bottom of your hand. Anyone who has rolled with the gi knows that having a tighter fit is better than a large and loose fit. The less material there is for your opponent to grab on to, the fewer submission attempts. It's sartorial defense.

The Pants:

Leg Width: The pants should definitely not look like hipster, pencil legs nor should they clownishly swallow your legs. Happy medium.
Hem: As with the sleeves, the hem of your gi pants should be short, resting right at the top of your foot or even up to the bottom of the calf muscle. No puddling.

So how do you know what size to order?
Most kimonos are sized based on height and weight. While I don't know that this is the best particular method, it certainly works for a basic guide. Atama has the following chart on their site:

Size Chart
Height  Weight LBS Size
4'9"-5'0" 85-100 F-1
5'0"-5'3"  100-120 F-2
5'3"-5'7" 115-140 F-3
5'5"-5'9"  140-155 F-4
5'9"-6'0" 155-170 F-5
6'1"-6'3" 170+ F-6

This seems to be standard for most companies. My gi is a F3. I am 5'4, 125lbs and usually wear a size 4 in dresses. Although I was at the bottom of the range, I went ahead and ordered the F3 and did a little tweaking to make it a perfect fit. More on that in the later post... "Caring for your New Gi!"

Consideration 3: Color and General Embellishments
Yes, this is subjective, but that does not preclude me from giving my particularly bitchy opinion.
Several years ago, my husband heard a breakdown about BJJ gi colors that we thought was hilarious.

White and Blue Gi = Normal
Black Gi = Bad Guy
Red Gi = Crazy

I am going to add to this list:

Purple = Twee (as in a 12-year-old girl with Justin Bieber notebook)

Pink = Crazy (as in 'Lady, you better choke every single person in this room if you are wearing a pink gi')

Opinion: I will make an exception for any black belt, including Kyra Gracie, who in addition to being a bad-ass, is smoking hot. To quote my first boxing coach after I asked him about buying hot pink gloves, "You've gotta earn pink gear!"  Preach.

To sum up, I would stick with a white, blue or even black gi, especially if you are just starting out. Walking into a gym with a shiny new hot pink gi and a white belt will make you an automatic target for the seasoned, more reserved blue and purple belts. Is there anything more delightful than choking the shit out of someone in brand new gear? Let me know.

In these days of Ed Hardy and Extreme Couture (not an insult to Randy...he is a god), you will be hard pressed to find any MMA apparel that is not covered in scroll work or tribal insignia. Unfortunately, this trend has infected BJJ kimonos as well and women's apparel appears to have taken the brunt of this assault on fashion. Flowers and thorns join elements of tribal art and scroll work; I can only imagine the culmination of this trend with bleeding hearts and kittens. There isn't much one can do about this insipid frippery, except, perhaps, to grab a seam ripper.

Consideration 4: Single or Double Weave
I am not talking about Kim Kardasian's hair weave, but the weight of the fabric used to make up your gi.

Single Weave gi's are traditionally more lightweight and easier for training because they are not as excruciatingly hot to wear. The thinner material does create an easier grip for your opponents, which can be great for training. In competition, however, one does not want to be a walking handle.

Double Weave gi's are made of thicker material that is a bit more slippery to grab. The double weave is so thick (and durable) that my gi jacket can stand up on its own. It's a neat trick. For competition, you should absolutely have a double weave.

Basic Guidelines:

Do purchase a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gi if you are training BJJ. A Judo gi simply will not suffice.

Do find a gi that will fit your body. If you are on the line between two sizes, order the larger size, just to be sure, and shrink to fit*

Do choose a color and style that you like. Remember, a good kimono will last you several years and will be your constant companion. Choose wisely.

Do save your pennies and buy a quality gi. See above.

Don't buy a men's gi. I know, it sucks that they are cheaper, but that is our lot in life (besides periods and bikini lines).

Don't (for the love of science) buy yourself a black belt. I mean...seriously?

Tune in next time for Part 2 of the Women's BJJ Gi Buying Guide: Let's go shopping! 

*Part 3 of this adventure will deal with tweaking your gi, so be patient.              


TheGuy said...

Love the post and your insight, particularly for the "fitting" of your gi or kimono. I am also hichly appreciative of your candor and humor. "Bitchy" opinion? I think not. It's a nice dose of reality.

Anonymous said...

My problem is my height & weight are it 2 completely different sizes, I'm struggling to find actual measurements for gi's and am hesitant to guess a size as I'm buying online, most likely from overseas...I know I fit an A2 dudes gi (my husbands) any idea of how this translates into the F sizing?

Bo said...

My Daughter is beginning BJJ and I'm trying to get a Gi for her. All the gi size charts do not cover larger girls or people in general. She is 5'4", 185 lbs 16-year-old, what size Gi would you recommend?

Hermione Elphaba Silvertongue said...

Love this article, I for one gave played ice hockey since I was a waddler, and any girl with pink laces or stick tape or gloves was the laughing stock of the team. Now that I train bjj I can't stand that so many potentially nice gis are embroidered with pink....