Picking out my first gi was as daunting as choosing my wedding suit. I needed to impress; make people realise that even though I’d never done this before, I belonged. I had to feel comfy (I guess), but far more importantly, I had to radiate the confidence of a man with everything figured out. A lot to ask, I know, but you’ve got to aim high.
I opted for a pragmatic approach and picked out a gi before my first class. I mean, come on, I was obviously going to gain brownie points for having the right kit before I’d even stepped on a mat. For context, we’re talking over nine years ago and options were limited, but I managed to track down a traditional jujitsu kimono on the Internet. It was simple in design; plain white in colour, a little flimsy, but it did have two stickmen grapplers embroidered onto one of the trouser legs – an obvious purchase. Having a gi under my arm en route to the academy made me feel like I’d already taken the first steps in the sport. I was committed, no matter what.
As fate would have it, my first gi trousers were literally ripped off my legs inside three hours of being on the mat. An embarrassing experience? Yes, but the optimist in me recognised opportunity beckoning, so it was time to source the second jiu jitsu gi of my career.
The second gi purchase is a telling one. You’re ‘in the club’ now, you’ve been OK’d, so what does that mean for your future choices when picking out grappling attire? I used to play football when I was young, and it took a brave kid (or a ridiculously talented kid) to wear anything other than black boots, unless they wanted to be kicked all over the pitch. Back then, it was the same with jiu jitsu; you wore plain white gis – deviate from this at your own peril. Of course, I opted to deviate.
My instructor had told us mystical tales of grapplers who chose to wear blue kimonos – BLUE! My logic was that I’d been to three classes, I’d tried to stand-up in guard, so I was ready for the blueness; bring on gi purchase number two.
The second gi was an absolute delight – my first love – ‘Super Blue’. Truth be told, she was a judo gi, but we never said that out loud. My club logo was sewn onto her chest; the old Gracie triangle on a leg and, despite being hideously ill fitting, she was as tough as old boots. No matter how many kimonos I’d end up bringing into my life, Super Blue was always going to have a special place in my heart.
This brings us on to purchase number three: the ‘second rotation’ gi. By now, I’d fallen for the sport and was training my nuts off, so hygiene dictated that I added more armour to the closet. Super Blue was my ‘cool’ kimono, but now I needed a ‘competition’ kimono.
Number three didn’t bring the same spark of excitement as number two, but I welcomed its arrival with open arms. In my continuous effort to be an individual, I’d made sure to spend a ludicrous amount of money importing this one from Japan; a student had to spend his hard-earned loan on something. It was a big buy, but it seemed to quench my thirst for kimonos and would keep me content on the mats for the foreseeable future. They were simpler times.
Soon after purchase number three everything went a bit hazy. No matter how hard I try, I can’t remember any of the gis that were in my life during the next couple of years. Much like my dating attempts as a younger man, it’s not that these gis weren’t important to me, because they always were; life just moves on and sometimes experiences blur together.
Let’s fast forward a few gis, shall we?
For the sake of argument, let’s call this one gi number 7: ‘The Lifer’. Purchased upon the sad death of Super Blue, and one of my constants throughout my jiu jitsu journey, this gi was supposed to be the one that would last a lifetime. The jacket was sturdy, the cut fit me perfectly and the collar would chafe my neck when it was bone dry from the wash. After years of looking, I’d found my soul mate.
Fast forward to present day and The Lifer is still with me, though treated a little bit like a forgotten third child. I’m proud to say she still gets pulled out of the closet for a few sessions a month, despite smelling like sweat even after going through the wash. One of the perks of running Jiu Jitsu Style means I get to test a lot of gis, but there’s something special about bringing out The Lifer, or any of the other kimonos I bought over the years. It always makes me smile.
I guess this is all kind of stupid; you wear a gi to train in, and that’s the extent of it. This may be the case for some people, but not for me. I’ve always enjoyed the vibrant kimono culture within our community, and love looking back at my purchases in the same way I reminisce over bad haircuts. Talking about gis, baby, is just another part of my love affair with the gentle art.