To Gi or No Gi… That is the Question
While Jiu Jitsu has exploded in popularity over the last decade, the sport has split in its approach to training between the traditional gi, and newer no-gi style. With two obviously different looks, some BJJ students are left to wonder where they should place their focus, as everyone seemingly has a different opinion on one being better than the other.
While the purpose for training becomes the pivotal question for each individual, today I wanted to take some time to look at the pros and cons that exist in three areas of training Jiu Jitsu - both with and without the gi.
Now, at the outset it should at least be mentioned that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is traditionally practiced with the gi because Jiu Jitsu is a Japanese art, and the kimono originally worn in training was essentially the same outfit people wore daily in public. It simply made sense to train in the academy wearing the same clothes that someone might find himself wearing during a street altercation. Obviously, times and fashions have changed and very few people walk around today wearing kimonos. But that’s not to say that many people do still wear clothes that can be easily gripped and used against them in combat.
So to break this down, lets look at three components of training Jiu Jitsu: Gripping, Defense, and Positional Control.
Gi: When training with the gi, the lapel grips are incredibly effective in breaking down an opponent’s posture and balance. The uniform can also be pulled and used to throw your opponent from the standing position as demonstrated in the sport of Judo. In a self-defense situation, even a basic understanding of gripping strategy can provide a huge advantage, as most conflicts will offer clothing to grip.
It is important, however, not to become dependent on the powerful gi grips as some Jiu Jitsu practitioners find themselves lost without having a collar, lapel, sleeve or leg to grip, which goes against the purpose of self-defense. This dependence of gi grips is, by far, the worst side effect of gi training.
No-Gi: Without the ability to grab clothing in no-gi training, an major benefit is found in learning the alternative grips that are always present in both gi and no-gi training. These no-gi grips (collar ties, under-hook and over-hook grips, single and 2-on-1 grips, etc.) are very powerful and can be used universally and not just situationally with the uniform.
Gi: The defensive awareness that is gained training using a gi can’t be understated. Recognizing that the gi offers an opponent a potentially huge advantage over your balance and posture, your defensive skills, by necessity, must greatly improve to overcome this threat. If you have ever trained with a master Judoka, the first thing you will feel is how solid their balance and posture is. Really excellent Judo players are extremely difficult to move and off-balance no matter what grip is applied. Years of training and being thrown in the uniform have battle-tested both their standing posture and takedown defense.
No-Gi: There is a different style of defensive approach that must be learned when training no-gi. When athletes solely train with the gi, it becomes easy to get used to having opponents try to control you primarily using the uniform. This is different from no-gi controls, which feel like a vise when applied properly. Without training no-gi, it is possible to never experience these unique hold-downs, that require unique defensive approach.
Gi: Learning how to control opponents using their clothing as an extra tool can be very beneficial to understand - especially when there is a size/strength disparity. The ability to combine both the use of grips on an opponents clothing paired with effective body positioning to gain/maintain control can set an athlete up for greater success.
No-Gi: A major benefit to no-gi training is the increased positional control required to pin your opponent down without the use of gi grips. The first thing many notice when training no-gi is how difficult it is to hold controlling positions. Not having the option to cling to clothing forces players to use their body weight more effectively, develop tighter grips, encourage more transitional movement, and use lower body pressure more often.
Clearly we can see there are both pros and cons to training BJJ with and without the uniform. However, depending on your goals and time available to train, there may be a benefit in choosing one over the other. So what should you do?
It all depends on your goals and your schedule.
If you are interested in solely sports BJJ and want to progress through the belt system, I would suggest training both gi and no-gi. However, our curriculum at Paragon designed in such a way that it is important to be present for at least 2-3 lessons each week to retain the material in class. So, if you plan on learning in both gi and no-gi classes, you should plan on training 5-6 days a week to retain info from both lessons. Otherwise it might make sense to stick to one or the other. If, on the other hand, your plan is to train MMA and/or add boxing and wrestling classes into your weekly schedule, then I would suggest focusing primarily on no-gi Jiu Jitsu.
No matter which way you decide to go, it’s import to keep an open mind, as you never know what skill may end up giving you a huge competitive advantage when you need it the most.