Whether you have studied martial arts in any of its forms for some time, or you are a big fan of old-school karate movies, you probably know that the majority of practitioners wear a gi or a uniform.
These clothes come in a large range of colors, but do these colors mean anything?
In some forms of martial arts, the color of your gi—whether black, white or another color—has a special meaning.
In other instances, it’s more a question of the instructor’s or student’s aesthetic preferences.
Some styles train without any type of gi, at least for a portion of the time. This is referred to as “no-gi.”
Let’s take a look at what a black gi and a white gi mean for those who wear them, as well as why people wear gi’s in the first place.
What Do The Many Colors Of Gi Represent?
How could a new student or parent make sense of anything with so many colors of gis now available?
Are the colors that instructors wear supposed to mean something?
Or does it all come down to personal choice? The right answer combines the two options.
Some students, instructors, and fighting styles place great emphasis on the color combinations of their gis.
Others have deeper, more philosophical meanings.
In recent years, there has also been an upsurge in the number of colors supplied only for their aesthetic appeal.
In many schools, the color of the gi is selected by the head teacher or the creator of the school.
This may be done to preserve continuity in the classroom or to convey a traditional meaning.
Many schools employ the color of the gi or uniform to represent a particular skill level or membership in a program.
The reality is that gis are a very new invention. A little more than 100 years have passed since they first became commonly used.
The bulk of current uniforms are either direct adaptations or styles of clothing that were widespread in Asian civilizations throughout that time.
In the previous century, the most common hue was often white or beige, depending on the sort of material that could be bought for the least amount of money.
On extremely rare occasions, black or gray may have been used.
In the past, the price of cleaning and dyeing clothing caused the majority of people to wear gray and beige hues.
Because it’s so easy to get material that has been dyed and bleached in the modern-day, students and teachers choose colors based on the system used in the school, what is currently popular, or their tastes.
There’s a vast assortment of colors to pick from, ranging from traditional colors, such as white, to vivid hues, such as pink, and blue.
With all of these colors to choose from, the most prevalent ones are categorized into four groups.
Some trends or educational systems give each color a specific meaning, such as showing how skilled the fighter is, similar to the color ratio system used in karate belts.
Black Gi Meaning
We have all seen the depictions of Ninja made by Hollywood, in which they wear black gis and stalk through the woods or a dark alley.
Those familiar with martial arts are also aware that instructors often wear black gi tops, trim, and stripes. So why is this?
In some cultural situations, the meaning value of the black gi is more important than other colors.
This might sometimes have a sense of national politics, but it can also show that the fighter is more skilled than the rest of those around them.
However, in some places, there’s no meaning placed on black gi’s.
Since their introduction to the world of martial arts, black gis has been associated with stealth, higher rank, and cultural significance.
In reality, Ninja did not originally wear gis, teachers did not initially wear all-black attire, and cultures have only recently learned to adopt black as part of their national identity.
Even though these are more recent interpretations that have been connected to the black uniform, many students and instructors continue to place a great deal of importance on them.
There are several types of martial arts, like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and American Karate (see also ‘Is Karate Chinese Or Japanese?‘), in which the color of the gi has no significance.
In so-called “dojo fashion fights,” the black gi is just one of several colors worn.
Before you or your children wear that brand-new black gi, you should confirm with your instructor that they have not assigned the color any additional meaning.
In the recent past, the cultural meanings behind wearing black gi’s are most commonly found in South and North Korea.
Instructors of traditional-minded Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do have historically associated the color black with North Korea as well.
Recently, there has been an increase in the quantity of grey gis sold in BJJ dojos.
Even though it’s a kind of black, most people choose it for its aesthetic appeal rather than any special or practical meaning.
White Gi Meaning
Although this is more frequently relevant to belts (see also ‘Can You Skip Belts In Karate?‘), the gi’s colors can also have importance.
Because the original designer of the system competed in a white gi, it’s not unusual for a white gi to be required for competition.
In other situations, it performs a philosophical role. The white gi is the one that may be interpreted the most for the variety of styles.
It’s typically viewed as a sign of purity and modesty.
When referring to the typical colors worn, this is often the first color of gi a new student will wear.
It’s even possible for all ranks to wear white to communicate the same message and to make the group feel more cohesive.
When it comes to wearing a white gi, various teachers and schools will place a different emphasis on each of them.
It depends heavily on the guidelines provided by the original creator of the style, as well as the level of freedom allowed to instructors and institutions today.
Whether the color of the gi’s worn in schools has any meaning or not typically depends on the school where you are learning.
Some places use it as a ranking system, with white being at the lowest rank and black at the highest, while others just want everyone in the school to have the same uniform.
You may even learn at a school that does not use these colors at all.