The Value of a Gameday Gi
Competitive jiu-jitsu is abundant with uncontrollable variables. It’s impossible to predict, for example, what time you’ll step on the mat for your match and how that relates to your training, eating or sleeping schedule. You have little control over the referee and how he or she will interpret the rules. And it’s rare to know your opponent’s strategy and how it will match up against your own.
There are a few factors you can actually control, so it’s important to maximize those within your reach. One such factor is your wardrobe. While it may seem inconsequential, the gi you choose to wear can dramatically impact your confidence and focus going into competition. In my experience, the best approach is to pick a single kimono and dedicate it as your competition uniform.
While it’s not apparent that a specific gi will give you an advantage over your opponent, it may give you the upper hand in the equally important battle against the environmental stressors of competition.
Nearly every competition has rules regarding how your gi should fit, what colors are allowed and how clean it should appear. Promotions such as the IBJJF will measure your uniform to ensure it fits within their guidelines. Gi checks can be nerve racking. One violation and you’ll have to scramble to find another uniform that passes or you’ll be disqualified.
If you have a go-to gi, you can eliminate all of the anxiety that comes with passing an inspection. It can also help with the stress of making weight for outfits like the IBJJF which require you to weigh in with your gi on. Once you’ve established how much your competition gi weighs, you’ll never have to worry if your gi will inadvertently put you over the threshold.
Taking stress off of the gi-check process can give you more time and energy to focus on your gameplan, strategy and mental condition.
Dedicating one gi for competition can also help to bring you into the right state of mind before you step on the mat.
When I played high school football, my coaches always forbade the team from wearing gameday uniforms on the practice field. As a result, our practice jerseys were always tattered, but our game jerseys were fresh save the scars of previous games. There was a sort of ritual in putting on the gameday blues. The jerseys were tighter, harder to fit over the shoulder pads than the practice pinnies. So it required a bit more attention to put the uniform on.
As a group, before leaving the locker room, my team didn’t look like the usual group of scrubs in dirty, tattered gear. We looked — and felt — sharp, ready for anything.
If you set aside your gameday gi as one that you only use for competition, it can become a totem that triggers a switch in your mindset to focus or to execute your gameplan. The key is to assign one kimono as your competition uniform, and to treat it with reverence. As you build a routine around putting on that gi, it will become more powerful.
I have taken this process to the upper limit. My gameday uniform is not just a gi. I have a separate belt and I use different tape on my fingers than I do for regular classes. I listen to a specific playlist when I’m getting dressed. Through this ritual, I try to narrow my vision so that I focus only on what I can control.
Win or loss is out of your control. But you can attend to your focus, your ability to manage stress, your ability to stick to your process and not deviate from the plan, your ability to stay positive and confident.
When picking your competition gi, the best way to choose is to pick one that feels comfortable and that fits within competition regulation. But you also want to pick a uniform that makes you feel sharp. You want to be able to envision yourself on the podium in your best looking gi every time.
It may not impact the outcome. There are too many variables to predict with any certainty how you will place in a competition. But your gi can affect how you feel, how you think, how you perform. And if you pay attention to those personal components of competition, the uniform you wear can make all the difference.
Corey Stockton is a brown belt at East Coast United BJJ in White Plains, NY under Jojo Guarin. He competes more often than is healthy, and spends the rest of his free time writing about other, far superior competitors for FloGrappling.