To the casual observer, the uniform, or gi, typically worn in Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) may appear to be the expected attire worn while practicing a traditional marital art. To one skilled in the art (patent pun intended), however, the gi can be an invaluable addition to the arsenal of weapons granted to the practitioner over years of training, including skill, agility, timing, and fundamental understanding of body mechanics. The gi may act as a shield, a net, a handle, or in some instances, as a lifeline to cling to in an effort to avoid being dominated. As the popularity of BJJ has grown dramatically over the last decade, so has an interest in developing innovative gis designed to give the wearer an edge over their opponent.
Originally, BJJ gis were very similar to traditional judo gis, made of heavy stiff cotton that was ideal for judo throws. As BJJ developed in Brazil under the renowned Gracie family during the early 1900s, the BJJ gi also began to evolve into the gis commonly used today. The sleeves and pants became narrower, the jacket became more tapered and a lighter weave for the gi was favored in order to provide the juijiteiro with better grips and less restriction for the scrambling often involved in BJJ.
Currently there is a plethora of BJJ gi companies providing practitioners of BJJ with seemingly endless options for gi design. So how may a company produce a gi that stands out? Some companies have opted for innovations in the gi fabric. Modern gis vary in the way the fabric is woven, producing various types of weave such as single, double, gold, ripstop, pearl, honeycomb, platinum, etc. The type of weave may deliver specific effects such as stiffness so grips are difficult to maintain, a balance of stretch and durability, and weight which is important in competition. More recent novelties in gi construction have focused on incorporating different materials into the fabric, most notably bamboo, hemp, and Kevlar.
It is surprising how few patents have been published related to BJJ gi design, considering the numerous developments that have transpired over the last decade. One such patent is by Thompson (Lime Enterprises Ltd) in U.S. 2016/0143374 A1, disclosing an anti-grip kimono with reinforcement panels.
The panels are placed in areas of the gi jackets that are typically grasped by opponents, enabling the easy release or breaking of the grips. Sanabul, a maker of gear for various combat sports, markets a gi using patented Santec fabric that is preshrunk with a rough exterior but smooth interior. A line of gis (patent pending) reinforced with Kevlar® fabric and stitching has been released by War Tribe with great reviews. Considering how recently these designs were granted patent protection, it seems the interest in intellectual property protection for BJJ gis is in its infancy. As the popularity of BJJ continues to grow, so will the effort to improve gi design and produce gis that meet very specific needs. Technological advances in athletic gear have had important roles in raising standards in numerous competitive sports and it will be fascinating to see how the continued evolution of the gi may change the face of competitive BJJ.