5 Great Creative Gis

My name is Jeff, and I’m a gi addict. I make no apologies for this. The more gis I have clean and ready, the more opportunities I have to drill and roll — and because I train a lot and work a full-time job, reaching the bottom of the rotation happens a fair bit.

A good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gi is a functional piece of art. The function is most important, most would agree — the fit, the feel, the comfort and durability. If we’re honest, though, we have to admit that the art part matters as well. Clothing that looks good is more appealing than clothing that looks bad, whether you’re going to grip up on it or not.

I admire the way some designers are able to bridge the gap and make something that both looks good and works well. I thought I’d shout out five designs that I think are innovative without going too far afield, beautiful without being garish, and arty but still meeting the basic needs of the jiu-jiteiro.

Two caveats before I start: most of you know that I design gear for Toro BJJ, so I’m going to exempt Toro gis from consideration (even though I’m really stoked about the next Toro number, which we just got a sample of and will come out later this summer):

Coming soon to a fight shop near you.

Special preview! Coming soon to a fight shop near you. Get excited.

Second caveat: everyone has different taste. Some people rock tailored suits and some people opt for hoodies and flip-flops. I’m not a snob, and am a firm believer in letting people like what they like. My own tastes certainly influence this list. I hope and expect that people will post about great gis that I missed.

These gis I’ m about to list are all from different companies, were released at different times and have little in common other than I don’t own any of them (and, y’know, my birthday is in October). Friends of mine own each of these, though, so I got some insight into the quality of each release from them.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are five creative gis that I think are awesome.


5. “Furinkazan“, by Muae

It's bigger on the inside. Or at least better.

It’s bigger on the inside. Or at least better.

Printing directly on the inside of the gi is a bold innovation, and the image selection is terrific. It looks sharp at first, and on repeated washing, fades into a historical look. I’ve seen it on Ze Grapplez, and can testify that the art continues to pop long after the first time you roll in and wash it.

The decision to do this type of sublimated printing, coupled with the image choice, impressed me a lot when this gi came out. I still haven’t seen anything quite like it.


4. “The Wave,” by Scramble

Classic on the outside, a different kind of classic on the inside.

Classic on the outside, a different kind of classic on the inside.

If you want to talk about historically significant artwork, Hokusai’s “The Great Wave” has to be mentioned. This BBC podcast explains why: Hokusai’s magnum opus was really a metaphor for the changing  world, the fusion of culture that happened after Matthew Perry’s gunboat diplomacy forced Japan to open up to the West.

Plus, to this day “The Great Wave” is still visually striking. That’s why it was such an inspired choice for Scramble to modify the image for use on an internal rashguard. Not only does it look fantastic, like the original image, the Wave gi is a merge of the old (classic white gi) and the new (flashy gi with internal rashguard).


3. “The Heavenly Kimono,” by Meerkatsu



Your artwork doesn’t have to cover the entire inside of the kimono in order to make a statement. Witness this inaugural gi offering from prominent BJJ artist Seymour “Meerkatsu” Yang, whose offering is a worthy successor to his Heavenly Footlock and Heavenly Wristlock shirts.

Besides looking great, the thematic consistency between the differing types of apparel is really cool. (It’s also admirable how much of Yang’s work in this vein benefits charities).


2. “Wu-Tang Killa Bee Series,” by Enzo Kimonos



If you aren’t down with the Wu, I don’t even know what to tell you. Even if innovation in music isn’t your thing, the logo image is iconic, and placed on the front skirt of the gi like this adds the right amount of flash. It’s distinctive but not ostentatious. (Now, the interior of the gi, that’s a different story).

It’s also a cool idea to merge BJJ, a niche community with passionate devotees, with Wu-Tang, a defined subculture that has considerably more followers. As a proud nerd, I’m always interested in where unusual affinities collide (Doctor Who and jiu-jitsu, anyone)? Making this collision happen deserves some dap.


1. “The 47 Gi,” by Ronin

47 ... Ronin. I see what you did there.

47 … Ronin. I see what you did there.

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of John Smalls. I must confess I didn’t know he’d done the art for the 47 Gi by Ronin Brand until a friend bought it. Smalls illustrated 47 common techniques for the interior of this kimono, and the results are as nice as you’d expect.

One distinction I’d make between this kimono and the other interior-print gis I’ve listed: instead of one big art piece, this has smaller segments that serve a larger unified theme. That’s different, and different is cool.

There you have it: five gis that I think reflect thoughtful and creative design. A final note related to gi commerce: people at my gym are very fortunate, since we share space with Cageside Fight Shop. Not every school is lucky enough to have a local martial arts gear company nearby, and the good folks that work there are awesome about letting you try on a bunch of gis to see what fits you best.

Trying on a gi before you make the order is something I totally recommend. dangerous, in that it feeds the gi addiction, but also excellent, because there’s nothing worse than dropping $100+ on something you’re excited to train in only to find that it fits like rented suit. Support your local fight shop, folks.




Charity seminar in NC by Royce Gracie Black Belt Roy Marsh

Quickly: Roy Marsh is a good friend of mine, a great guy and a tremendous teacher of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. He has graciously offered to teach a seminar at the gym I attend to benefit two great charities. It’s a $20 minimum donation, which makes it possibly the best value seminar of all time.

If you have trained with Roy, you know how good he is. If you haven’t, you owe it to yourself. Come learn great stuff and help out great causes.


Suffrage, Jiu-Jitsu and a New Rashguard

I have a new rashguard design I want to show you. First, though, let me ask you two questions: how do you feel about bullies? And have you seen Mary Poppins?

Yes, these questions are related, and they’re also related to the new rashie I’m finishing up. It’s a tribute to Edith Garrud, the Suffragette Who Knew Jiu-Jitsu, and by extension the group of British suffragists she trained to fight around the turn of the last century.

Who was Edith Garrud? The short version: she was the ultimate anti-bully. A 4-foot, 11-inch woman who stood up to gangs of armed men twice her size using jiu-jitsu, and trained dozens of others to do so as well: how could I not make a rashguard paying tribute to a badass like that?

Back before women had the vote, the British government really pulled out all the stops to crush the suffragist movement. There were police beatings, brutal force-feedings of hunger strikers, and more grisly behaviors. Yes, the Edwardian era British crown was fully down with cracking the skulls of prominent women’s suffrage activists like Emmeline Pankhurst.

Nobody likes a bully, and the people trying to beat down women’s suffragists were kind of the exemplar of bullyhood. Fortunately, Mrs. Pankhurst had The Bodyguard, a 30-woman group of buttkickers trained by Edith Garrud. Quoth Lady Edith: “Women using jiu-jitsu have brought great burly cowards nearly twice their size to their feet and made them howl for mercy.”

The British newspaper punch published a cartoon paying homage to Garrud in 1910, dubbing her “The Suffragette Who Knew Jiu-Jitsu.” I used this cartoon to create a composite image as the basis of a new rashie.

This is the front:

I blended the classic suffragette cartoon with a historic Brazilian newspaper reading "Jiu-Jitsu Wins Again!" in Portuguese.

I blended the classic suffragette cartoon with a historic Brazilian newspaper reading “Jiu-Jitsu Wins Again!” in Portuguese.

This is the back:

That's Edith Garrud on the left, Emmeline Pankhurst on the right, and some actual text from the New York Times and a suffragist publication.

That’s Edith Garrud on the left, Emmeline Pankhurst on the right, and some actual text from the New York Times and a suffragist publication. (I thought about adding more newsclips referring to the “gang of Amazons,” but I think it’s best to keep it simple.)

Here’s the draft of how the whole works is going to look. This is a rough version, but the body of the rashie is going to mimic old-time newsprint.



When I was a kid, I watched Mary Poppins. Maybe you did, too. Maybe you remember this song, which name-checks the aforementioned Emmeline Pankhurst:

Of course, the movie offers a somewhat sanitized version of a rather gnarly part of history, which you can learn more about through this awesome Prezi, or by checking out some nasty contemporary visual  depictions of people who thought women ought to be able to vote.

But what got me thinking about Mary Poppins is the song’s refrain: “Our daughters’ daughters will adore us. And they’ll sing in grateful chorus: ‘Well done, Sister Suffragette!”

Those daughters’ daughters? That’s our generation. About 100 years ago, a bunch of tiny, fearless fighters stood up for themselves. That’s worth remembering and yes, adoring. We take the right to vote for granted today, but half the population has it because some extraordinary people put their asses on the line a few generation ago.

These stories fascinate me, and I’ve of necessity given short shrift to them. (For more, you can listen to a terrific BBC “In Our Time” podcast about this, and an episode of “A History of the World in 100 Objects” about a penny defaced by suffragists in an act of art sabotage).

This post could be thousands of words long, so I’ll cut it short by encouraging you to check out all the links (and of course to buy the rashguard when it comes out!).

We’ll wrap up by noting that the British government, as this article notes, honored Edith with a plaque in 2012. The last paragraph of the piece struck me:

But Tony Wolf cautions against romanticised images of suffragettes throwing officers around. “The bodyguard had some remarkable tactical victories using decoys and disguises,” he says. “But the grim reality is that they were heavily outnumbered by the police and were often injured.”

This premise is true but the conclusion is flawed. They were always outnumbered, and many of these women (Garrud included) wore layers of carboard under their dresses to cushion truncheon blows from police. They  were smaller, fewer in number, and hopelessly outgunned in terms of weaponry and resources. That’s undeniable.

But they fought. They were right, and they knew it, and so they fought anyway, often knowing they were going to take beatings. Doesn’t that make them even fiercer and more courageous than if they won every fight? I certainly think so.

Edith Garrud lived to be 99, and kicked enough ass for 99 lifetimes of that length. Well done, Sister Suffragette.