28 Jan 2011

Gi Review: Howard Combat Kimonos (HCK) Competition Lite

By guest reviewer James Carey...

So those of you who read my last article for Meerkatsu’s blog ("Confessions of a gi addict" PART ONE and PART TWO) will know of my eternal search for the perfect fitting gi, and that with the Fushida Mantis I pretty much found it. But you can’t keep a good gi addict down...

The HCK Competition Single Light has been on my radar for a little while, so when Budovideos were offering 15% off purchases on Black Friday I decided to take the plunge. However because HCK use a different sizing system I contacted Mr HCK himself, Howard Liu for advice. Howard was very prompt with his replies, and while ordinarily I would have liked to have ordered from HCK directly, with the discount Budovideos were much cheaper. From the size chart, size 4 looked the best for me, but Howard recommended a size 3 gi for me after I explained how I prefer my gis to fit (as he put it – “The Pee Wee Herman Look”). So the order was placed with Budovideos, and less than a week later I had the gi.

First Impressions – Straight out the bag I was immediately struck by the HCK logos embroidered onto the shoulders. The stitching is very exceedingly well done, with not a single loose thread, and the rich red colour really looks crisp against the white of the gi. IMO it’s a great take on the classic HCK logo, mixing the larger logos that many brands use without looking gaudy or over the top. It definitely made me think I’d made a good choice My other first though on handling the gi however was that it really reminded me of one of my cheap single weave Adidas Judo gis, in terms of the weight and feel of the gi itself. And that’s not a bad thing, in fact if it wasn’t for the Judo style sleeves on the Adidas it would be pretty much my perfect gi. And on first trying on the HCK I was again reminded of my Adidas Judo gis (For the record, my Judo gis are on the small size, and are not the huge baggy things you might be imagining). Both the jacket and pants fit perfectly, and I would have been completely happy with it staying that way. But as the HCK isn’t pre-shrunk I knew it wouldn’t stay that way, which is absolutely fine as I wasn’t buying it to be my comp gi. Knowing that I could expect a couple of inches of shrinkage I threw it in the wash at 40°C which is how I wash all my gis. You can see the shrinkage (plus comparisons to 3 of my other gis) in the chart below.

HCK Comp Lite
(Brand New)
HCK Comp Lite
(After 3 washes @ 40°C)
Shoyoroll Batch #6 Ripstock (A1)
Fushida Mantis
Koral Light

I possibly could have minimised some of the shrinkage by cold washing the first 2-3 washes, but as I knew it was going to shrink beyond IBJJF regs I didn’t bother. As a note regarding the comparisons, the Koral Light listed there has been worn at 2 IBJJF comps, and is one of my very best fitting gis in terms of length and width.

Jacket – The jacket is a 3 piece construction of light single weave fabric. The top half is made of 2 sections joined vertically at the spine with a wide seam of 7 rows of setsugi stitching, like you would see on a Judo gi. This is then joined to a skirt section, also made of single weave fabric. The collar is thin, only 4cm wide and 0.7cm thick. This compares to 4.9cm x 1.1cm on the Fushida, 5.5cm x 0.9cm on the Shoyoroll, and 5cm x 0.8cm on the Koral. The collar is relatively stiff, but is rather strangely attached – the jacket doesn’t smoothly transition from fabric to collar, but rather there is a pronounced edge, almost as if the collar had been sewn on top of the gi fabric, rather then wrapped around it. None of my training partners have mentioned it however, so it’s not causing them any issues. The inside of the cuffs are taped with 4 rows of stitching, as is the seam between the skirt and top sections of the jacket. The bottom of the skirt isn’t taped, but the side vents are, as is the inside seam between the collar and jacket body, and a large panel of fabric covers the inside of the rear vertical seam. The attention to all these details reminds me of my Fushida and Toraki gis – both BJJ gis made by Judo manufactures.

Pants - Very well constructed, made from cotton twill and feel both soft and pretty indestructible. But again, these pants feel just like standard Judo pants – a single belt loop and flat fabric drawstring. While I’m not a fan of the super stretchy cord used by Shoyoroll, a similar cord here would have been nice, as would at least one more belt loop. No taping on the hem of the pants, but 3 rows of stitching. A good solid if unremarkable pair of gi pants.

Fit and Wear – After 3 washes the top feels a lot snugger in the body, and the overall length of the both the body and sleeves has reduced by quite a bit. The snug body fit is perfect for me though, with the armpit area in particular actually being pretty high up into the armpit, as opposed to sitting at a mid rib level. Anyone who’s worn a Fushida will know that feeling. Personally I much prefer that fit, as I dislike gis that have a lot of excess loose fabric in the torso (an issue I have with the SYR gis). As you can see from the pics, the sleeves are definitely too short for IBJJF regs, but haven’t lost too much in width so my training partners won’t be cursing me too much. The pants have shrunk up as well, but still fit fine and are immediately amongst my most comfortable.

I’ve now worn it 3-4 times and neither the jacket nor pants have been constrictive or uncomfortable in anyway despite the apparent snugness of the fit. In fact, due to the lack of extra fabric in the jacket I feel a lot more mobile. The lightweight single weave fabric breaths very well, and I’ve not seen any great number of loose threads, no more than I’ve had with any other gis. The light weight is also a bonus in terms of quick drying after washing, and for carrying around in my kit bag. Many people at training have complimented the look of the gi and enquired about it (HCK is relatively unknown on the UK scene, and is it’s a rarity to see a Howard gi at a comp). The only minor negatives I’ve come across so far is that the single weave fabric is very prone to bobbling (exactly like my cheap Adidas gi), and that the drawstring on the pants exhibits that classic behaviour of getting stuck when damp after training. But neither of those are deal breakers really.

Conclusion – What can I say; I’m very happy with it. The HCK Comp Light has very quickly pushed its way into the top echelons of my collection, based on the quality of the construction, great weight, and most personally for me, the fit in the torso. And it’s a great looking gi too. A simple classic white gi enhanced with the sharp red of the HCK logo, I love the look of it. It’s pretty much everything that I look for in a gi, and if I could add a couple of inches to the jacket length without changing the torso fit and it’d be my comp gi too.
But if you asked me to describe it, I’d say it’s a tweaked Judo gi, rather than a gi designed from scratch for BJJ. Now there’s nothing wrong with that at all, I think many BJJ companies should look to Judo gis for improvements in quality of construction, but for £105 (that’s including shipping, Customs, plus Fed Ex’s handling fee) it’s a hell of a lot of money for what doesn’t seem much more evolved then a Judo gi I can pick up for less than half the price. And that’s considering that I got 15% off in a sale and that Budovideos are cheaper than buying from HCK direct in terms of both the gi itself and shipping. If I could pick one up here in the UK or get it delivered for £80 then I wouldn’t complain in the slightest, but I think the only way I’d stump up the cash for another is if I was in the US and it was on sale again. I’d love to see one in blue too, but again I’d struggle to justify the cost, especially as blue gis are generally more expensive too. Great gi, but when you add on all the costs to get it to the UK, unfortunately it’s just the wrong price.

About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


Liam H Wandi said...

Great review bro. I feel that Jiu Jitsu is becoming more of a vehicle for me now. A vehicle for many things.

The gi, I find personally, has become a vehicle for me to support local industry and commerce and that's why I'm much more inclined to by British make (now that I live in Britain)

And, I love the weave that Tatami used on their old competition gi's. I gave private session to someone last week who was wearing their new basic gi and it looked and felt awesome!

Georgette said...

Couple questions:

How do you like the texture of the fabric? (Do you machine dry it or air dry it?) I ask because HCKs are sometimes banned at tournaments here in the US because they're so darn rough, they're almost like sandpaper. I sent mine back because of it (and I hadn't even washed it once yet.)

Second, it's the "competition lite" model but how much does it weigh? could you compare it to the weights of your other gis?


James said...

PTG - Thanks for the kind words! I would also like to support the UK industry more, however I can't stand the look of the Tatami or Black Eagles, and the Faixa Rua wasn't a great fit for me. I'd love to see more UK companies selling overseas brands though to make it easier for us to get hold of them.

Georgette - So far the texture of the fabric is still nice and soft, and I don't see that changing, especially when compared to my Adidas Judo gis which have the same feel. I air dry all my gis, and the HCK still feels good, unlike my old Koral Classic which has that sandpaper feel.

I haven't got a set of scales accurate enough to give a proper measurement, but I would say roughly about the same as my Batch #6 SYR, and just slightly heavier then the Koral Light. Hope that helps!!

Jadon Ortlepp said...

I bought a Howard BECAUSE it was like sandpaper leather, made a training partner nigh unchokeable pretty much.

Im quite fond of its tough durability. Only major issue is I really dislike wearing it without a rashguard.


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