What Is Gi In Martial Arts?

If you’re passionate about martial arts, then you may have noticed that some styles have a “uniform” while others give students more freedom. Some martial arts, such as karate, incorporate a leveling system into the Gi belts to display the status of the karateka (karate practitioner). Is it necessary, and do the uniforms provide any benefits? Let’s find out.

What Is A Gi?

So, what is a gi in martial arts? Is it karate gee or gi? You may sometimes see “what is gee in martial arts, ” an alternative spelling for phonetic purposes. It is spelled gi because it is a shortened form of the Japanese word keikogi, which is what martial arts practitioners wear. Over time, keikogi has been phased out and the word “gi” is prevalent in Japan and all over the world.

The gi is the uniform name in various types of martial arts, and it is usually white but can come in other colors as well. The gi consists of 3 different parts – the jacket (uwagi), the pants (zubon) and the belt (obi).

While gi is a broad term for martial art uniforms, but the gi in karate, the gi in taekwondo and the gi in kung fu have different names. The gi is short for karategi for karate, but it’s referred to as judogi in judo.

Which Martial Arts Use Gi?

The keikogi is used in various martial art forms including:

  • Aikido – A modern Japanese martial art form
  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu – A Brazilian martial art and contact sport
  • Judo – A form of Japanese unarmed combat
  • Jujutsu – A Japanese form of jiujitsu
  • Karate – A Japanese martial art form heavily influenced by Chinese kung fu
  • Kendogi – Japanese swordsmanship that resembles a fencing
  • Sambovka (sambo) – A Russian combat sport martial art that has some elements of wrestling
  • Taekwondo – Korean martial art that combines kicking and punching

Why Do Martial Artists Wear a Gi?

What is the purpose of wearing a gi? Some beginners may find it comfortable, while others may prefer to wear soft and loose clothing of their choice. Is there really a reason behind the gi, or is it just to distinguish the tiers of each martial art?

While most do it for tradition, there are some other practical and mental reasons behind it.

A Sense of Belonging

There is something to be said about dressing the same as the others around you. It’s not to dilute your identity, but instead, it fosters kinship among the group. It doesn’t draw attention to someone who has nicer gear and it doesn’t take away from the skills of someone who doesn’t. There is no segregation, and donning the gi should immediately transform your mindset from a student, employee, mother, father, whatever your status, into that of a respectful martial artist.

Respect for Tradition and the Community

It’s a tradition to don the gi when practicing various types of martial arts, and it’s important to do so to show respect for the ancient art. Wearing the gi can also serve to identify each person’s level. For example, karate tiers are separated by obi (belt) colors.

Not only is it necessary for people to different individuals within the dojo, but it also allows students to know their place within the community. Seeing the different colored belts in karate, for example, can also instill a sense of determination and drive to rise up through the ranks.

A Sign of Commitment

Wearing the gi and respecting tradition also shows a student’s sign of commitment. Mastering any form of martial art is a progression that can take years, and wearing the gi can display an individual’s sense of commitment to the task.

The commitment creates a lot of value, and it clearly communicates a person’s perseverance and dedication to the craft – definitely something worth seeing in a beginner, but it also shows the continued commitment of seasoned fighters.

It’s Practical

To be honest, wearing a gi when practicing karate is also practical. Not only that, but it doesn’t give anyone an unfair advantage or disadvantage due to the clothes they wear. It puts everyone on a level playing field as the gi is designed for its specific form of martial art. This means it is optimized to accommodate the movements you do, and can definitely wear for a long time.


Wearing the same gi uniform as all the other fighters can be humbling. It makes everyone equal and everyone wears a gi, including the sensei. Not only is this mindset beneficial when honing your martial art techniques, but it also teaches a virtue that is very important in everyday life – humility.

What Do You Wear Under a Gi?

We’ve established that a gi is necessary to pay respect to the art form, but what goes under it? If you look at it, a gi is loose-fitting, and it makes people wonder what we can wear underneath for more security?

Generally, men do not wear anything under the uwagi, but they can wear what makes them feel comfortable such as a sleeveless tank (but nothing visible). However, they will quickly realize that going topless under the gi will afford more range of movement and improves breathability.

As for what goes under the zubon, that’s entirely up to the person, but we would recommend something tighter for more security.

For women, it’s appropriate to wear a sports bra under the uwagi and they are free to wear anything that suits them under the Cuban.

Most gi’s are white, and while some may be thick enough to cover what you choose to wear underneath, others are made of thin material and are pretty transparent, so make sure to give yourself a once-over before you leave the house.

Does the Color of the Gi Matter?

As said, most gi’s are white and use various components of the garment to illustrate the fighter’s level. However, there are other colors available as well, such as blue and black.

The white gi is the most common and it is this color because it symbolizes a blank slate or purity. White is available for most forms of martial arts, but judo and jiujitsu also incorporate blue because it is easier for audience members and judges to tell the difference between the competitors during competitions.

Judo only allows blue and white gi’s, but you can find black as a common gi color in Brazilian jiujitsu. Black looks pretty cool and fierce, but only the traditional blue and white are allowed in competitions.

Some of you may be thinking about Cobra Kai and why they wear black gi’s. All we can say is they like to live on the edge, and while black isn’t traditional, it all depends on the dojo. Some dojos are strict with the rules, but others allow various colored gi’s. Cobra Kai definitely wants to look cool and edgy as they are portrayed as the “no mercy villains’ of the show, so going with black is fitting.

We like to stick with tradition, but we understand why fighters would prefer different colored gi’s, because it’s less likely to get dirty.

What Materials are GI Made of?

Gi’s have to be lightweight and comfortable for a fighter to move naturally. The material in a traditional gi is light, breathable, and cool, so going for single-weave materials is best during the summer months.

There are also ones made of double-weave, which makes the gi heavier and stiffer (but still comfortable), and these are preferred in the wintertime. The color and the material will impact the maintenance of your gi, which brings us to the next section.

Tips for Maintaining Your Gi

How do you maintain your gi and make sure it’s always crisp and clean?

1- Wash Your Gi More Often Than You Think

Remember to wash your gi after every session. It may sound counterintuitive as most of us think the more we wash something, the greater the wear on the fabric. If you have a white gi, not washing it after every use could leave yellow sweat stains once the sweat has settled, and since you can’t bleach gi’s, it will look forever dirty.

2- Don’t Bleach White Gi’s

Speaking of not bleaching your gi’s, we say this because the bleach can harden the fabric and make it stiff and crisp – which isn’t comfortable at all. If you have color on parts of the gi or accidentally wash it with your colored belt, you’ll end up dyeing the rest of your uniform.

3- Cold Wash Your Gi

Always cold wash your gi because warm water tends to bleed colors. Not only that, but your gi could shrink depending on the material you choose.

4- Do Not Tumble Dry Your Gi

Lastly, always lay your gi flat to dry or hang dry because using the dryer could shrink your gi, especially if you used a warm water wash prior. The best way is to hang dry your gi, and it’s okay if it’s a bit wrinkled; just lay it out as flat as you can, but the movement from when you’re practicing martial arts will hide the wrinkles.


Who knew that there was so much background to the gi? It’s not just a white 3-piece set that people wear for practicality, but there is history and tradition behind it. It is important to pick the right materials, know the right colors, and get the right size when you look for a gi. It’s important to adhere to tradition, respect the material art rules, and feel comfortable when practicing. Don’t forget that maintenance is just as important as selection, so take care of your gi’s!