The argument over gi or no-gi is probably the most debated subject amongst BJJ enthusiasts. Most people have a preference, usually based on which one they are more comfortable and familiar with and what their training goals are. As far as which one is better, the short answer is: it depends.
Both offer different challenges to their practitioners. Gi training is typically slower paced, more methodical, easier to get submissions, and more difficult when it comes to escaping bottom positions.
No-gi is faster, cardio intensive, usually has more transitions, and requires the practioner to be tighter with body control as well as with transitions and submissions.
In the early 1900’s a Japanese Jujutsu master immigrated to Brazil and taught Gastao, Helio and Carlos Gracie his art. In those days the kimono was worn traditionally by the Japanese during the day as well as during exercise. They didn’t have board shorts and rash guards as we do today. As Carlos and Helio developed their version of jiu-jitsu they continued the tradition of training in the gi as they had learned.
Today as the world has evolved, many aspects of BJJ have as well, but perhaps in the wrong direction. BJJ exploded in popularity in the 1990’s after people saw its effectiveness in the no-holds-barred arena of the early UFC by Royce Gracie. They walked into their first BJJ school to learn how to defeat a bigger, stronger opponent in a real fight, not to learn how to score points in a tournament. I feel many are sidetracked into learning “sport jiu-jitsu” instead. Students are not being taught techniques that would be efficient and effective in a real fight or self-defense situation.
Here are a few points to this argument:
- Nobody wears a gi in the street. Most clothing is not as heavy as a BJJ gi and will rip.
- If standing collar and sleeve grips are used to control, throw, or takedown an opponent, you are leaving yourself vulnerable to get punched, elbowed, kneed, or kicked and likely knocked out.
- Collar and lapel grips from guard tie up your hands and put you in perfect range to get hit.
- The pace of a fight is fast and aggressive; gi training is slow and methodical. The extreme change in pace will deteriorate your technique if you are not used to it as well as greatly affect your cardiovascular abilities since you will not be conditioned for it, much like a marathon runner would not be conditioned for a 100 meter dash.
- When using the gi effectively, it helps to control your opponents posture, arm control, and balance. When you are in the heat of the battle and all of a sudden you are lacking your familiar grips, you will lose control and technique. The gi can be a huge asset to control an opponent and lead them into a submission. You can be a little sloppier with technique and still have enough control to hit a submission or sweep. In no-gi this wouldn’t happen. You must be tight on your transitions and technique or your opponent will simply slip out.
I commonly hear from gi practitioners that they like the tradition. This is fine but “tradition” also infers it to be non-evolving. I personally am always trying to refine my techniques to be more effective and efficient. Traditional to me means outdated.
I’ve also heard many times that if you don’t wear a gi it’s not real jiu-jitsu. I’ve always responded that if my martial art requires me or my opponent to wear a specific clothing garment in order to implement my techniques effectively, it is not an effective martial art.
Finally one of my favorites is “There’s no reason to have a belt unless you train in the gi.” A belt should be used as a personal achievement marker of your understanding and efficiency in your art. You don’t need a belt. You can tie a rope around you or even an elastic band, either of which would probably fall off less than your belt if its purpose is only to hold your gi together.
Here’s my final conclusion:
Train the way that makes you happy and helps you reach your own personal goals. If you want to compete in gi competitions, then train sport jiu-jitsu in the gi. If you want to compete in no-gi competition, be an MMA fighter, or focus on self-defense, then it would be wise to primarily train no-gi. Both have their benefits and their drawbacks, like anything else.
At my academy, we focus on no-gi for self-defense and MMA, but also offer gi classes so students will have complete knowledge of BJJ. I have students first focus on understanding the fundamental core knowledge of BJJ as a self-defense, and the sport version as a fun and beneficial bonus of BJJ.
Scott “TNT” Tannenbaum
Owner / Head Instructor of TNT MMA Training Center (Phoenix, AZ)