Guest Article: The White gi as metaphor for blank canvas

 My friend Naushad Ali sent me this beautiful piece as a guest article. I hope you enjoy it.

"One of the senior belts at my gym was telling me how a BJJ Black belt was very discriminating on whom he let train at his facility.  His students were not allowed to have unclipped nails, neck tattoos, and definitely no coloured GIs.  While the first rule makes sense on grounds of hygiene, and the second rule may appear somewhat harsh, the third rule intrigued me. Given his place in the BJJ world then it is safe to say he can afford to be so judicious, but his insistence that a white gi be worn by his students no matter their rank, stuck furthermost in my mind.

I remember reading that Howard Liu (the man behind Howard Combat Kimonos), was inspired to create his now famous blue gi by noting that judo competitors at the world and Olympic level wore blue gis.  He correctly intuited that this practice may be one that the governing bodies of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu may choose to adopt.  Fast forward nearly a decade on and now we have gis that are black, red, yellow, even camouflage (when the invisibility powers of a ninja gi are simply not enough). Coming from a no gi background and preparing to become committed to studying Jiu Jitsu I asked my current coach Ed (Kone, head instructor at EK BJJ), as to what gis I could wear as a white belt.  He explained while it was up to me what I chose to wear but as his school was trying to be compliant with IBJJF standards he would prefer me to get a white or blue gi.  He told me I could get the ninja gi once I was promoted to blue belt. I did not like the idea of an all white ensemble, and since the bulk of my weekly wash was coloured clothing anyway I decided I was best off wearing a blue gi.

Recently Ed for some bizarre reason promoted me to blue belt, (along with someone else who deserved his blue belt much more than I did).  I began thinking about getting a new gi....... the ninja gi with matching shruiken and nunchucks. But as I started thinking about it, I starred contemplating what the white kimono with the white belt meant symbolically (to me if no one else). I then started seeing it a blank canvas on which a student can paint their own destiny.  A quest for knowledge whose zenith is where unbridled imagination meets unyielding effort. And while the colour of the belt we wear around our waist will change its final colour is a weird allegory to the space it cannot begin to cover.  While much has been learned in what was white eventually becoming black, the space it leaves uncovered represents the incredible amount yet to be discovered.  And while this knowledge is infinite, not just in Jiu Jitsu but in all things, just as the stitches of the kimono constrain the cotton, we who wear it are similarly constrained. But these constraints give shape and direction, allowing us to achieve infinitely more working with them and within them than we could ever hope to working against them." 


Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

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Anonymous said...

you could also argue that the student being able to wear whatever Gi he/she wants symbolizes the unlimited possibilities in JJ and people who chose to participate in a sport shouldn't be held down by 'rules' that other people deem necessary for no other reason than they deem their opinion and mind set more valid than yours.

Liam H Wandi said...

Hi Anonymous,

You raise a very good point.

"Unlimited Possibilities in JJ" is the quality we are trying to symbolise or encapsulate.

Some feel that that is best symbolised by everyone coming to class with a blank notebook

some feel that that is best symbolised by everyone coming to class with an individualised notebook with shapes and colours that express their individuality.

I don't think one is right and one wrong, but I personally feel blank notebook is a better expression of potential.

(having said that, I like to wear other people's creations too. The Pin-Up gi being one of my favourites :o) )

Once again, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the article.