There is an age old discussion about gi vs. no gi. One of our readers sent in a question asking about how training in the gi helps ones no gi game. I’ll do my best to answer this question!
For starters, when I first started training it wasn’t in the gi, in fact I didn’t put a gi on until 2009 and I didn’t start training regularly in the gi until 2011 (I first started training submission grappling/bjj in 1999, and I took many years off in between.) Training in the gi elevated my no gi game in ways I never thought possible. I always thought “well if I’m trying to get good at grappling, why do I need a garment in between me and my opponent?”
Submissions are inherently tighter in the gi. This is a fact. Sweat, slipperiness, and simply explosive strength all make escaping submissions in the absence of the gi much easier. Therefore, if you get good at escaping submissions in the gi, your ability to escape those same submissions no gi will be greatly enhanced.
Simply put, the fact that there is added fabric creating friction is the main reason that training in the gi helps your no gi game. Gi forces you to be more technical, it forces you to acknowledge certain potential traps that opponents simply don’t have available to them in no gi and in doing that your mindset opens up.
I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine, Paul Rehbarger who is a BJJ black belt instructor at one of our area’s MMA gyms; he told me that he tells fighters that the gi can be a training tool. For example: when fighters hit a speed bag or mitts, they’re not doing the exact same thing as they would do in a real fight, but in doing those exercises they improve their reactions and their technique. Similarly, training in the gi may not directly be a simulation of the sort of grappling you’ll experience in a street fight or in MMA, but it sharpens the weapons that you’ll need for those.
There’s a reason the top no gi competitors in the world train in the gi. That reason is that training in the gi necessitates awareness and techniques that training no gi doesn’t. This isn’t to say that no gi is bad, or that gi is better. Any techniques that you can make work in no gi can also be made to work in the gi. In fact certain techniques that I have come to favor when training no gi have started to make their way into the gi. For example: I have, as of late, become partial to kimuras grips, they are super useful in no gi. I decided to start incorporating those grips in my gi training, and found that if I take a sleeve grip in lieu of grabbing the wrist I am able to manipulate the other person’s arm and can even use it to set up attack chains that were otherwise unavailable.
Train gi to help your no gi game. Train no gi to help your gi game. Train jiu jitsu, all of it, because it’s awesome.