White, Blue, Red, Black Or No Gi: Martial Art Uniform Guide

If you have looked into or studied the martial arts in any of its forms for very long, you will know that a gi or uniform is something most have. They come in many forms and several colors. Is there a meaning behind wearing a certain color or wearing a gi at all?

Wearing a red, blue, white, or black gi has meaning in some styles of martial arts. In others it is more of an instructor or student aesthetic preference. There are also some styles that practice at least part of the time not wearing any form of gi at all.

I will dive into all of the aspects of the subject for you so you will know which gi, color, and option is best for you or your children. In some instances it will be up to you and in others tradition or instructor preference will dictate the choices. Let’s find out how you will know what applies to your situation.

Do Gi Colors Mean Anything?

With all of the colors of gis available today, what is a new student or parent to make of it all? Does each of the colors have a meaning or is it just a choice based on aesthetics? The answer is a mixture of both.

Gi colors have meaning to some individual students, instructors, and styles. Some stand for the ranking of the student, while others have more philosophical meanings. In recent years, there is a growing number of colors available that simply are aesthetically based.

In many styles the color of the gi is set by the master instructor or the system’s founder for uniformity in class or some traditional meaning he wished to convey. There are some styles that use gi or uniform color to connotate special rank or membership in certain programs.

The honest truth is, gis are a rather new invention. They have only been around just over 100 years in popular usage. Most of the uniforms we see today are derivatives or styles of clothing in Asian cultures from that time.

A century ago, the color was usually a white or beige depending on the cheapest material that could be acquired at the time. On rare occasions black or grey would be available. Due to the cost of bleaching and dyes in times past, usually clothes were on scales of greys and beige.

Today, with the ease of obtaining dyed and bleached fabric, students or their instructors choose colors based on the guidelines of the system, the current fad, or simple preference. There are a wide range of colors available, from those considered traditional like white to bright colors like pink and even camouflaged.

With all of these colors, there are four main popular hues. With each color, some styles or schools place meaning on their use. Let’s look at these main colors and see what they mean in some current systems.

What Does A White Gi Mean?

There can be a meaning behind gi colors even though that mostly applies to belts. Sometimes a white gi is mandated simply because of tradition and it is the color the founder of the system used. Other times it is used for a more philosophical purpose.

The white gi is the one that can have the most meaning for most styles. It usually signifies purity and humbleness. It is normally the first color of gi a new student will wear pointing to both of these. White can even be worn exclusively by all ranks to show the same attributes.

Different systems and instructors will place one of these on wearing a white gi. It really depends on the way the originator of the style set it up in the beginning and how much leeway instructors and schools have now.

Looking for white gis for kids or adults?

I recommend these popular and cost effective choices in white from Amazon.

What Does a Blue Gi Mean?

The blue gi came about in response to a need in sport competition and the gain popularity in hybrid styles as usable in regular training. Other than its pragmatic usage, does the blue gi have specific meaning?

Blue gis were developed for pragmatic reasons and do not carry any specific meaning in most styles that use them. They are used to distinguish between competitors in styles like Judo, Jiu jitsu, and Sambo. Blue gis have become popular because of this even in hybrid martial arts systems.

If a blue gi is used in regular class or private practice, it is usually out of preference for the aesthetics. It is not uncommon to see them in BJJ, Judo, or American Karate classes. Many Judoka for instance will wear white gis to practice and have a blue ‘competition gi‘ in their bag.

Students should make sure to check with their instructor for rules and preferences in their specific dojo or school.

I would recommend one of these blue gis for their price and sturdiness…

What Does A Red Gi Mean?

Red gis are more of a fringe color in most styles and systems. They are sometimes used exclusively by instructors to delineate them from students. Yet, there is another reason red has become more common.

Russian Sambo competitors commonly use red kurtkas or wrestling jackets for competition and training. It is a national connection to Russia’s traditional color, red. When other styles have students or instructors wear red gis, it is more for the look than the meaning.

It is not to disparage anyone’s choice to say that a red gi is more for martial fashion than for philosophical ideologies. There are times that red gis or uniforms look amazing with many students wearing them for demonstrations.

The point is that Russian Sambo students and instructors are primarily the ones wearing them with some form of intrinsic meaning behind it. All others usually are just enjoying the look.

What does A Black Gi Mean?

We all have seen the Hollywood depictions of Ninja donning black gis and skulking through the forest or a back alleyway. Those in the martial arts also know of black gi tops, trim, and stripes usually worn by instructors. What are we to make of some of the meanings associated with black gis?

Like with the white gi, the black gi has more meaning in certain cultures than other colors. This can be nationally political in some instances or simply a connotation of advanced rank. Then again, some styles have no ascribed meaning to black gis at all.

Black gis have been associated with stealth, advanced rank, and cultural significance since they first made their way onto the martial arts scene.

The truth is, Ninja in fact didn’t wear gis, instructors originally didn’t wear all black, and cultures adopted black only recently as their national identity. Though these are more recent meaning placed on the black uniform, they none the less are important to some students and instrucors.

There are some styles like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and American Karate that have zero connotation universally placed on gi colors. The black gi is simply one of many colors applied in ‘dojo fashion wars’. Some instructors may attach their own meanings to them so be sure to check before you or your kids don that new black gi.

The cultural aspect is most pronounced in the North and South Korean cultures in the recent past. I will touch on this later on when addressing individual styles and gi colors. It should suffice to say here that traditional minded Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do instructors have seen black as associated with North Korea in the past.

There is another special mention here. Recently a surge in grey gis have popped up in BJJ schools. Though this is a shade of black, it is usually simply a choice based on the look rather than any intrinsic or applied meaning.

If you need a black gi, then I recommend one of these…

Gi Vs No Gi: Why Some Wear A Gi And Some Don’t

The Judogi or Karategi has been symbols of the martial arts for nearly 100 years. Though they have several forms today, they still bare a very striking similarity to those worn in the early 20th century. So what is meant by No-Gi training and why has it become so popular?

No-gi as opposed to gi training in many styles is a popular response to martial arts techniques that require certain types of clothing for techniques to be effective. In self defense situations, no-gi applications do not rely on one’s attacker being clothed in particular ways.

The popularity and proliferation of no-gi style training came about much farther back than many realize. Most see it as coming from the more recent ‘cage’ or “No Holds Barred’ matches made popular by the Gracie® family and their production of the now infamous UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship™).

Yet, no-gi training is as old as humankind. One example is in the first Olympic Games held over 3000 years ago. Not only were the first Olympic wrestling matches held without ‘gis‘ (which weren’t around until thousands of years later) they were conducted completely in the NUDE!

Jacket wrestling is a rather new invention as a sport which now has popular tournament circuits in Judo, Sambo, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Yet, even these techniques were around in military training for millennia.

The wisdom of the ancients still rings true…

What has been is what will be,

 and what has been done is what will be done;

 there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9, (NRSVACE)

To read some more articles I wrote answering student and parent questions about the martial arts, see some of these…

Which Gi Color Should I Choose?

For beginning students to advanced black belt candidates, uniform options can change depending on style. There is also a different set of uniforms in most cases for beginner students even if the upper level students only have slight options for differentiation.

Let’s look at some of the more popular styles of martial arts so you can get a feel for the martial arts attire landscape for your kids or even yourself.

Note: It may come as a surprise to some, but uniforms or gis are not consistent in the martial arts in material and color. Some of this is due to specific usage, but much of it comes down to preference either by instructors in the past or students in the present.

Karategi Colors

The most popular color for Karate students in the beginning stages by far is a white gi. This is seen as a traditional color and most styles don’t change even in the upper to master rank levels. Of course, this is referring to some of the main systems of Japanese Karate.

When we are looking at hybrid or American Karate derivative systems, this rule book is thrown out the window. In many of these newer offshoots blue, red, black, and even green or pink gis can be found.

The American Karate systems especially use a Bruce Lee concept and take from many forms of Karate, Taekwondo, Judo, and Jiu Jitsu to form their own style. This also goes for gi types and colors. They can be more plain for beginners like simple white or black, but with advanced memberships or rank can open up to a variety of gi colors.

I recommend this karate gi from Amazon for its cost and durability.

Judogi Colors

Judo has been the leader in belt and gi colors for the past century. In fact, belt colors as rank started with Jigoro Kano (the founder of Judo) wanting to easily differentiate between his students in their sport Judo skill. Later as the sport grew, blue gis were introduced alongside white gis for international competition to tell competitors apart in a match.

This is where the situation has remained up to today. The international sport rule systems has kept this fairly consistent over the years. with most Judo clubs wanting to be a part of the main organizations, and these groups wanting uniformity in their competitions, everyone used white or blue gis.

I even had a reversible gi that had white on one side and blue on the other. Let me tell you, that was the hottest, thickest gi I have ever worn. I won’t be wearing one of those again. It is better to simply have two gis and change when necessary.

For a great, light weight Judo gi I recommend the Fuji Judo Gi from Amazon.

Japanese Jujitsugi Colors

The vast majority of the Japanese Jujutsu systems and styles base their clothing on modernized versions of Samurai clothing worn for ceremonial purposes or under wooden armor. Furthermore, the styles are directly related to empty hand defense against weapons wielded by soldiers clad in wooden armor.

The pants are usually the noticeable difference from the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu kimono, Judogi, or Karategi. They are worn over a traditionally white gi and are nearly always black in color. They are called hakama and resemble the wide legged pants worn by sword wielding samurai in centuries past.

The hakama nearly always designates some level of instructor status with students simply wearing the white gi top and pant. Much of what traditional Japanese Jujutsu practitioners do is ceremonial, culturally, and aesthetically based. So, their uniforms made up of white gis and black hakama make perfect sense.

To get a great usable hakama I recommend this one from Amazon that actually comes in many colors.

For a good white, thick Judo style gi to serve as the base of a traditional Japanese Jujitsu uniform I recommend this Fuji brand from Amazon.

Aikidogi Colors

Much like the inspiration of techniques that informs Aikido practice, the uniform and style of this ‘gentle’ art shadows traditional Japanese Jujutsu. The white gi combined with the black hakama is worn by advanced students and instructors whereas novice practitioners wear all white gis.

Mobility is for the most part centered around large movements based on swordplay. Angled, jumping, or kicking movements aren’t employed so the flowing attire is appropriate for Aikido training.

Though this is primarily a grappling art with no striking, it does not employ fully resisted wrestling. This also allows for larger amounts of material to be worn.

A nice hakama I recommend is this one available from Amazon.

For the base of the Aikido gi I recommend this gi from Amazon.

Kendogi Colors

The uniform in Kendo goes by specific names and also includes wooden armor, padded gloves, and specifically designed helmets.

The jacket is called a keikogi and is usually blue in color, but sometimes can be see in black. Its thickness resembles the woven feel of a double weave Judogi.

The Kendo hakama is similar to, if a bit thicker than, the ones worn by traditional Japanese Jujutsu and Aikido artists. Instead of only black in color, the Kendo version can either be seen in a dark blue or black.

The Kendo armor (Bōgu – armor or kendōgu – Kendo equipment) usually has a black lacquered wooden chest plate with dark blue gloves and dark blue helmet.

For a good Keikogi for Kendo practice I would get this one from Amazon.

For the pants I this is the hakama I recommend available from Amazon.

To get a set of Kendo armor check out this Kendo Bogu Set from Amazon.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Gi Colors

With Brazilian Jiu Jitsu being a fairly newer style forming from the also more recent sport and art of Judo, it is no wonder that traditional leanings to one specific color of gi would not be as strong as other arts. BJJ has several popular colors that their kimonos or gis come in.

The colors have no specific meaning. Save some ribbing you will receive if you wear a hot pink or bright purple gi, there is rarely a rule in training or even competitions that dictate specific colors.

This is not to say that some instructors won’t have standards or limitations of their own for class or team cohesiveness. This also goes for the rather huge patches that sometimes can completely cover a BJJ gi. It is usually all up to preference of the student unless a coach or instructor takes a particular view one way or the other.

In the market for a BJJ gi? I recommend this one from Amazon…

Sambo Kurtka Colors

Russian Sambo is another style that is a descendant of Kano’s extremely successful Judo art. Like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Sambo sprung from Judo’s roots and had various influences as it added its own blend of techniques to the art. The initial focus was on improving Russian military hand to hand combat.

The red kurtka and shorts that are common in the sport of Sambo reflect these national ties that the art and sport have. It was developed by Vasili Oshchepov and Viktor Spiridonov who independently surveyed the strengths of other systems finding elements of Judo, wrestling, Jujitsu, and others.

There are two main colors of the Sambo Kurtka and short: Red and Blue. This is also another nod to the influence of Judo on the sport and art.

Instead of the traditional white gi, the Russians opted for the gi color that has become synonymous with Sambo: Red. Along with its signature ‘winged’ shoulder, the kurtka has become the forerunner in red grappling gis as well.

Here is the red Sambo Kurtka I would suggest…

Taekwondo Dobok Colors

Taekwondo is one of the most uniform and practiced arts around the world by all ages. One reason is because of its centralized governing body. Though there was a split early on, with the Kukiwon headquarters for the WT in Soul South Korea, Taekwondo has reach heights of participation never before seen in a martial art.

With this uniformity comes standards in gis or doboks as is its name in the Korean language. The vast majority of doboks remain white in color, even if patches and colored trim is added. There are very few exceptions save specific competition teams and today there are even WT endorsed blue and black doboks.

There is also the American Taekwondo Association that breaks with many of the traditional color and style delineations of the WT or ITF.

A special note on the use of black gis in Korean culture. To many older, traditional Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do masters the black dobok is a national symbol of North Korea and not to be worn by those studying systems based in other parts of the world. This has mostly changed as more relaxed views of material and color are entering the Korean arts.

To check out my recommendation for a Taekwondo uniform, see this one on Amazon…

Kung Fu/Wushu Uniform Colors

If you know anything about the history of silk, then it will be no surprise that many uniform types in the many versions of Kung Fu/Wushu have a wide and wild array of colors and adornments. There is everything from the drab to the spectacular.

Not all of these training clothes are made of silk and today there are as many variations to the un-uniform styles of training attire as there are techniques. With many variations and no centralized government for the systems, the taste and style of geographical regions, styles, instructors, and even students come into play.

As well, the theatrical tendencies of the movements in the arts are mimicked in the sometimes fanciful clothing with texture and color. These outfits can come with tassels, intricate embroidery, and a plethora of other embellishments.

Searching for a Wushu uniform? Amazon has this one in several colors and styles…

Bleached Cloth Vs Dyed Gi Construction

If used correctly, bleached cloth can last nearly as long as unbleached or dyed material. Yet, properly means with every wash and as we all know, laundry time in most houses tends to be a ‘shotgun’ approach. Guess-timations occur more than measuring and proper timing.

With chlorine bleach, fabric in clothes such as gis can become thin and lose strength with repeated washings. Oxygen bleach is softer on material, but has less whitening power. Dyed material in gis won’t have the same strength problems, but will inevitably experience fading over time.

Another option is the no wash option. I know, right? But this is a real thing in Judo dojos in Japan. The gi jackets are hung in a portion of the dojo to air dry in traditional schools. This could help with the fading or fabric strength issues, but finding a training partner becomes harder and harder.

The Gi Color – No Gi Takeaway…

Hopefully this explanation helps you understand the differences in many of the color options of martial arts gis available on the market today. Though ‘gi‘ is a Japanese word, the influence of the uniforms and terminology has spread to most every martial art style on the planet.

For the most part, it is up to the student with some basic restrictions imposed by practicality, the style, and the instructor. A good gi can make training much more enjoyable and once techniques have been mastered, better to watch as well.

Here are some other articles you will like…

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

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