May 15, 2012

Howard Combat Kimonos: Fall from Grace?

HCK used to hold a special place in my heart... they were cheap, plain, and indestructible. I used to look at the construction and marvel at how well it was put together. Their complete sales strategy was to put out a superior product, at a fair price... Their products were so admired that Mizuno and Adidas directly copied HCK designs and marketed their own gi's based on them....

Here is Howard recounting that story...

In 1996 I was on a business trip to Hong Kong, looking for a martial arts uniform sewing factory to sew some BJJ uniforms of my own design. I stumbled across the factory that sews for both Mizuno and Adidas (as well as a few other high end Judo gis) At the time I was the very first to bring them a BJJ concept.

HCK took off, and has become universally acknowledged as the World’s finest grappling uniform (numerous consumer report articles in Martial Arts and Sports magazines around the World verify this). In 2000 the Hong Kong sewing factory, behind my back and without authorization, shared my design, construction and fabric secrets, and specifications to both Mizuno and Adidas. The Rickson Gracie Mizuno gis AND the Jean Jacques Machado Adidas Signature gis are made off of my designs. So, I am actually the creator/origin of both of these lines.

When I found this out I fired the Hong Kong sewing factory. I then discovered another factory in Southern China, that is actually a superior sewing factory to my original Hong Hong source. My uniforms have been made in Southern China since 2000, so there is no longer a connection between HCK and the factory that sews for Mizuno and Adidas.

I still get correspondence from the Hong Kong sewing factory seeking advice on improving the Mizuno and Adidas BJJ line (there is a lot of current irregularities and inconsistencies within these lines that I hear a lot of complaints about). But since both Mizuno and Adidas got their BJJ start illegitimately, I refuse to help.

On a side note, I helped John Ouano when he had ideas on making a BJJ gi back in the day. He came up to me at an event and told me he was going to start a BJJ gi company and if I would help with any design, construction, manufacturing advice. I like him, and respected his straight forward approach. So I consulted him and gave him some advice.

Now you know the whole story of HCK.

Howard Liu

So then, with all of this storied commitment to quality and value, WTF is this shitty sub-par gi I hold in my hands right now?

First the back story...

I had a Howard bought for me for my birthday in March of 2012. It was a single weave in blue. I was surprised to see that Howard had reduced the quality of his gi's in their thickness and collar. Comparing it to my unbleached single from 2009 (which is still going), it is definitely thinner with a less thick and stiff collar.

The pants were a complete shock, in that he has bizarrely added an elastic waistband to them. They now resemble a karate gi bottom,  with a thin drawstring that quickly broke after wearing the pants twice and then disappeared deep inside the waistband (never to be retrieved)...

Ahhhh.... better days... back when the drawstring was still visible.

Gone is the classic subdued "Howard Combat Kimonos" logo. It has been replaced with a over-the-top stylized HCK on both sleeves.there was something so "old school bad-ass" about the old logo, that this new one just will never look right.

old logo on the left, new one on the right

After a few washes of the jacket, the dye has significantly faded to the point of making the gi look old and worn. I personally love this look as it signifies a practitioner that has spent some time on the mat, though the fact it was "machine induced" makes me feel a bit like a poser

The final groin kick, is the price.....HCK has skyrocketed their pricing. my 2009 HCK unbleached single gi was purchased for $60... they are currently $95 dollars, for a gi that isn't even a distant cousin to the original...

Howard...  I am afraid my love affair with your gi's is dead and gone, you have turned your manufacturing to the dark side....



  1. i wouldn't blame them on the price thing the cost to make gis have skyrocketed in the last few years, together with the shitty world economy gis have gone up in price while the materials used in the gis have got thinner at the same time. If you noticed in the last few years a huge drive for marketing lightwe weight gis. Back in 2006 a 550gram gi was a light weight gi now that same gi would be almost considered heavy by many as so many gis are running between 300-420 grams in weight. When companies were forced to go lighter they did a great job marketing the benefits of lighter gis forcing a trend for the public to want to go with lighter gis. this new trend has made heavier more durable gis obsolete i have KONG euro cut judo gis that barley sell anymore cause no one wants a geavy gi anymore.

  2. Just came across your blog. Do you have any recommendations for good quality, affordable gi's for beginners?

    1. Gorilla Space Ape available here

  3. My howards is f__ing indestructible and heavy had it since 07. I would actually prefer a lighter Gi. People mess up there drawstrings all the time on various draws string products. Every colored Gi fades I don't think you are being fair to howard.

  4. Hi,
    How are you? We at WOG Jiu-Jitsu manufacturing high quality Jiu-Jitsu Gi / Kimonos And MMA Clothing according to customer needs.

    Our preponderance is: provide good quality product and service at a very competitive price, even small order would be accepted.Our production department will deeply work thoroughly on your requirements to come at this point.

    We Can customized the Gi in your required colors logos and embroidery patches and direct embroidery, woven patches. How we can add in your supplier list. Before all deals if you want to test our samples we can provide you.

    For any customization of BJJ and MMA Clothing feel free to contact with us. Our prices are very competitive for all BJJ ’ club academy, trainer and whole seller, retailer.

    You also can get more informations from our website and for prices feel free to ask on phone or email.


    Kamran Janjua

  5. can't blame him for price increase, thats happening to everything. I am 50/50 on the elastic waistband. I have lost one of the strings and cannot add a replacement, but, at least they stay up B/C of the elastic and I never have to readjust them.
    I too feel they arent as thick as they used to be.
    but, there is no gi with attention to detail when it comes to the seams, all the seams, than an HCK. the stitching is straighter & the taping is unparralelled.
    they still last longer than any other gi in the market excluding the occasional defect.

  6. I used to train with Howard and bought from him directly. His were the only GI's I had for years. I took some time off and let's just say I got a little bigger so my GI's don't fit anymore and when I tried to order they were out of stock. I'm looking for an alternative