When you begin jiu jitsu , the first thing you will want to get is a Gi. The Gi is a 2 piece garment that typically comes in white, black or blue consisting of 2 pieces and tied with a cloth belt that indicates your rank within the sport. Jiu Jitsu Gi’s were adapted from common Judo uniforms. The top is a heavyweight cotton (typically a double weave) kimono style jacket and the pants are a lighter weight, ripstop fabric with a drawstring closure and reinforced knees. Typically, new students will purchase a Gi from their gym so that they can hopefully try on a few to get the correct fit and get the cool gym logo/patches. Most people also have a “backup” Gi to wear on laundry day or for traveling with. For competition, Gi’s must be all one solid color, have no rips or tears in them, sleeves must reach the wrists when your arms are extended and pants should touch just above the ankle bone. Belts should be double knotted and the tails no longer than 6 inches.
Speaking of belts….one of the most potentially confusing topics within Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is belts and rankings as it is a completely different system from any other martial art. Regardless of age, a white belt is what you begin with. For children 15 and under the progression goes from white to gray then on to yellow, next orange and finally green. Students stay at each belt and are awarded stripes by their professor as they demonstrate the skills, discipline and dedication required to progress. There are NO automatic belts in Jiu Jitsu based on time/age/finances. Every belt is a reward for doing the work in class and showing your professor you can exhibit the skills and maturity required of each belt level.
Now comes the tricky part.
Some schools will further divide the belts with a white or black stripe horizontally down the center of the belt. For example, once a white belt has been awarded their 4th stripe- a small piece of tape wrapped around the end of their belt to indicate that they are progressing-, some schools would promote that student up to a simple gray belt. Others will promote that student to a gray belt with a white stripe down the center as they are “beginners” (ie: a white belt) in that belt level. Then when that student got to 4 stripes on that gray/white belt, they would move to a solid gray belt. Once they earn their 4 stripes with that solid belt, they would move up to a gray belt with a black stripe down the center as they are now “advanced” at that belt level. When they get to 4 stripes on that belt, they would move up to a yellow belt with a white stripe.
To further complicate things, there are age ranges associated with the colors of belt, but it is up to each professor to decide how closely they observe those guidelines. White belts are for any age when they begin. Gray belts are associated with ages 4-6, yellow with ages 7-9, orange with ages 10-12 and green with ages 13-15.
Confused yet? As you stick with the sport, you learn how your professor awards belts and it all just starts to make sense.
Adult belts are different and vastly more simple. Once you turn 16, the belt structure is as follows: white to blue, then purple, next is brown, then black and finally red. There are no center stripes and in many gyms, the professor does not award actual stripes, but rather keeps track of your progress and will promote you when they feel you are ready. There are no ages associated with specific belts as an adult, but there are time minimums (typically 1-1.5 years) before one can be promoted at the discretion of your coach. There are no time maximums. Black belts have their own ranking system called “degrees” which correlates to age, time spent at previous belt as well as skills, accomplishments and teaching experience. Black belts can only be promoted by other black belts.
In addition to the Gi, there is also “No-Gi” clothing which consists of rash guards (tight, compression type athletic shirts) and either compression shorts/pants or MMA style shorts. Occasionally Gi pants can be worn with a rash guard during training. Students often wear rash guards under their Gi as well, to… prevent rashes and chafing, but most gyms also offer classes where the training is done specifically without the Gi, or in these “no-Gi” clothes. When competing in the No-Gi division, athletes may not grab the clothing of their opponent which differs from grappling in the Gi and requires adjustments to certain techniques that many students enjoy training in.
Hopefully this answered any questions you may have had about Gis, belts and rankings. Feel free to stop in to speak with Professor Joel at Embrace Martial Arts for more information or to sign up for a free introductory class!