All about karate uniforms


A Karate Uniform is traditionally known as a KarateGi this is the formal Japanese name for a Karate uniform used for both practice and competition

Karate practitioners wear a cotton jacket and pants combination known as a “gi” or “doh-gi.” Say ‘g’ as in ‘game’ and pronounce the word “gee.” A karate gi is a de-evolution of the excellent uniform that judo requires its practitioners to wear.


Most karate uniforms are made from a light canvas style cloth because of its ability to stand up to considerable amounts of rigorous application and abuse without restricting the mobility of the karateka. Most Karategi's are white, with some brands like Shureido and Tokaido for example, the gi can look like a very light blue in some light (this is due to the quality of their fabric and dying process and is not a bad thing). There are some karate styles that use red, blue and black gis. Inferior karategi are often cut from a light fabric similar to that of a summer shirt. These karategi are easily ripped, and tend to adhere to the practitioner's skin, creating some discomfort after any extensive perspiration is experienced.

The three main cuts of karate gi are Kata, European and Japanese. 

The Japanese cut has short sleeves and trousers for less restriction. This cut also has a longer lapel that prevents it from riding up over the belt (obi).

The Kata cut is very rare. It has even shorter sleeves and is chosen more for aesthetic appeal.

European Cut has longer sleeves and trouser. The lapel is shorter. This cut again is chosen for aesthetic appeal. Karate uniforms come in a wide array of colours. Most Karateka still wear white.

Some clubs use a system of differing colours to differentiate students from instructors. Different styles of Karate have slightly different uniforms but they all share the same basic design only differing in leg or sleeve or skirt of the jacket lengths.

Karategi can be worn to practice other arts, such as jujutsu or judo, when the practitioners are young and can expect to grow out of the gi in a few years; in this case, their reduced durability in comparison to judogi is less of a factor, and buying karategi until the practitioner stops growing can be more cost-effective.


  • Wash after EVERY use – You might think you didn’t sweat in your uniform very much during that cold, winter training session, but you did, and you need to wash the uniform to get the bacteria you left behind out of the cotton to prevent it from smelling and rotting. Wash the uniform after each time you wear it and sweat in it. You should never wear your uniform to training sessions two times in a row without washing it.
  • Wash it quickly – Do not allow your karate uniform to stand before being washed. As soon as you return home from practice, it must go straight into the washing machine. If you allow it to stand overnight, it will smell in a way that few detergents can remedy. Use a cold water wash, hot water can cause shrinkage. For the ultimate clean – turn off the washing machine and allow your uniform to soak in the soapy water for at least 20 minutes. Then start the washer again and allow it to begin its wash cycle – you can program cycles on some machines. It’s OK to pre-soak your uniform in cold water overnight if it has any stubborn stains.  Use cold water, a stain remover AND fabric whitener. Do not wash it with any coloured clothes as the colours will run and change the colour of your uniform. However, can wash it with some other white items such as towels. 
        When the wash cycle is complete, hang your karate uniform to dry right away. Every moment it spends in the washing machine is another moment for it to mildew and yellow.
        Bleach – Using bleach on your cotton uniform will get it clean, but bleach is a strong base, so it can damage the material and weaken the uniform.
  • Drying your uniform – Your uniform must dry on the line or clothes rack. Sunlight helps remove stains and will keep the uniform white. That means that if you train every day, you will wash and dry a uniform every day. In humid environments, your karate uniform may require two days to line dry. You’ll need to purchase two or three uniforms in that case, because you should not wear it repeatedly without washing it. You can dry your uniform in a sensor clothes dryer (on the lowest heat settings). Never dry your uniform for excessive times, or on high heat settings in a clothes dryer.  Dryers often cause excessive shrinkage.
  • Fold Properly when dry – When your uniform has finished drying, you will find that it is usually quite wrinkled and that it looks like an unmade bed. You can iron your uniform, but I wouldn’t recommend going that far. Considering how your uniform will look after 15 minutes of training, you probably shouldn’t bother with the iron unless you are about to wear it to a competition. When your uniform is completely dry, not still moist, but totally dry, you may fold it (see over page).
  • Washing your belt – Yes, you can wash your belt – only not with your uniform unless you want your uniform to change colour. One secret of washing belts that only a few seem to be aware of is that belts will hold their colour longer if you soak them in salty water for a while then rinse them out well after the soaking. We have no idea why this is true, but colours hold to clothing longer after a bath in salt water. Make sure you avoid bleach. Your belt can probably go through the dryer, and it should be washed much less frequently than the rest of your uniform. If you don’t wash your belt, it will eventually begin to smell.



  • Use the Floor – The first step to properly folding a gi is to get on your knees on the floor. Lay the jacket out with the back down to the floor. Spread the sleeves out so that they point straight out to the sides in opposite directions.
  • Fold One Side Over – Fold one sleeve and a quarter of the torso of the jacket over toward the other sleeve. Like any part of your jacket that was on the floor is folded in, brush it off with your hand to get anything that stuck to it off. Also, this brushing action helps you to creaseyour uniform neatly.
  • Fold the Sleeve Back – Fold the sleeve back on itself to get it out of the way.
  • Fold the Other Side – Now fold the other side in and that sleeve back the same way.
  • Fold the Jacket Up– Two more easy folds and your jacket is folded into a nice square.
  • Now for the pants – Lay the pants out on the floor and brush them off to flatten them. Fold them in half, bringing one side over the other.
  • Fold the Top Down – Now fold Top half of your pants down and continue folding them so that your gi is rolled up in folds in three motions.
  • Tie a Bow – Now place the jacket and pants together, making sure that the loose ends are inward on both items. Wrap the belt around the package, and tie it off. You’re done!


Some people are very proud of their yellowed and torn karate uniforms as if they are a sign of seniority. I think this is very similar to the urban legends surrounding the need to never wash a karate belt. Some people seem to extend this belief even farther to include their uniform, and they continue wearing a uniform even though it has long outlived the point beyond which it should be burned to prevent it from stinking up a landfill somewhere. Senior karate experts may own many uniforms of varying ages, and I wish we would do a better job of getting a new uniform when it is time. To me, a yellowing, stinky karate uniform is a sign of poverty, nothing more.

Another foolish notion is the one that says you should never wash your belt. I have been doing karate for a long time. I wash mine regularly, though not daily or even weekly. If you wash your belt, which should be no problem at all for it, just make sure you avoid bleach and allow it to soak in soapy water for a long time. Your belt can probably go through the dryer, and it should be washed much less frequently than the rest of your uniform. If you don’t wash your belt, it will begin to smell like urine, it will rot, and every time you or anyone touches it, you are risking an infection from the dangerous bacteria growing within it. Putting on a two-year-old belt that has never been washed and then rubbing your eyes with the same hands? Your mother taught you better than that. Wash your belt. But don’t wash it with your uniform unless you want your gi to change colour. One secret of washing belts that only a few seem to be aware of is that belts will hold their colour longer if you soak them in salty water for a while then rise them out good after the soaking. I have no idea why this is true, but colours hold to clothing longer after a bath in salt water.


There are a variety of brands available to choose from that are radically different from one another. Shotokan experts tend to prefer moderately expensive heavyweight cotton uniforms with 3/4 length sleeves and 4/5 length legs. Beginners should probably not invest in expensive uniforming until they are sure that they enjoy the practice of karate. Very inexpensive karate uniforms are available from almost every manufacturer and retailer of karate supplies and equipment. Belts also come in a variety of flavours.

You need to choose a Gi, that fits you well and is comfortable to wear. Try and get the best quality material for your money, not all fabric is equal there are many brands that have invested in much higher quality materials that you can still buy for a very reasonable price. It is not unusual for a martial artist to feel better cooled when using a heavier karategi (10 - 16oz), compared to the cheaper karategi. Naturally, heavier suits will be more rigid. This rigidity increases ventilation within the suit. The heavier gi also has a more pronounced sound (snap) when a move is executed. Despite the extra weight of the heavier fabrics, most experienced practitioners prefer them due to their durability, and the ability of the thicker fabric to wick away perspiration.

If snap during technique is important to you - look to buy a densely (tightly) woven fabric. it may even be lighter 10oz fabric but it will have the same heft and allow for snap during technique. A cheaper fabric will never give you snap. 

Wearing an expensive high-quality karate uniform can be a great psychological boost for your mental state. It is important to note that expensive uniforms and belts do not make your kata more beautiful or your kumite stronger. However, if you competing and striving to be the best at either kata or kumite, to enhance performance perhaps getting a expensive or custom-tailored uniform is an excellent idea. The price tag for a custom-made uniform will probably exceed US$300.00. For kumite there are now karategi's that are extremely lightweight and can offer a much greater range of movement, Arawaza is currently the leading brand for these uniforms, however many other brands also offer very lightweight uniforms of exceptional quality.

Colour belts are usually pretty standard, although there are noticeable changes in quality from one brand to another as far as colour tone, cloth, cut, and stitching. Black belts come in a variety of styles and materials. The most common belts purchased are heavy-duty cotton belts that last for decades and the silk/satin covered kind. Cotton belts wear out more slowly, but silk belts are prettier when new. Also, the silk belts wear out gracefully and have better movement and presentation quality when performing a kata in front of a crowd. 

If you are competing in a WKF competition it is important to note that you do NOT require a WKF approved uniform. You do however need to purchase WKF approved body protection, mitts and shin pads.

If you do want to buy a WKF approved uniform, please make sure you visit their website and confirm that the brand you are about to purchase is in fact officially approved. There are many companies selling uniforms with the WKF logo on them that are not approved by the WKF.