This is literally one of the craziest questions that still gets asked. Its pretty straight forward, in BJJ neither Gi or No-Gi are superior unless you are training for a specific purpose and even then, it can be difficult to categorically state one is better. There are pros and cons to training both and every sensible person will advocate training with and without the Gi.
Here you will find out all the information you need to get on board with the most sensible opinion being offered in the Gi vs No-Gi debate. If you’re thinking of switching or just wondering which one to get started with you should come away with the answer you have been looking for and a little extra too!
What is a Gi
Alright let’s take it right back to basics, the Gi is a traditional training uniform that was first used in Japan by Ju-Jitsu practitioners. The Gi was designed to replicate the clothing worn in Japan at the time so its basis was entirely practical. When Jigoro Kano created Judo in 1882 he continued to use the Gi as the training uniform.
Without going into too much detail Judo was exported to Brazil and from this BJJ was founded. The original founders of BJJ decided that they wanted to keep the Gi and that is how BJJ became a Gi based art. So, when we look at it from this perspective it is apparent that there was no theory behind the use of the Gi in BJJ, it was and is just a continuation of a tradition.
However, you would be wrong to think the Gi is an irrelevance today because of its origins.
What is No-Gi
No-Gi training in the simplest terms is training in BJJ without the traditional Gi jacket and trousers. No-Gi training typically takes place in a rash guard and short or spats. There is a strong movement in BJJ lead by figures such as Eddie Bravo who have been trying to move BJJ towards No-Gi.
This drive towards No-Gi is often supported by those who believe effectiveness of BJJ fighters in MMA contests has somewhat weaned over recent years. The top level BJJ fighters are no longer enjoying as much success finishing MMA fights with submissions and those like Bravo believe this is due to overtraining in the Gi to the detriment of there No-Gi game.
What are the differences between Gi and No-Gi
Alright so as you might have suspected there are several differences between training in and out of the Gi. To a seasoned Jiu-Jitsu player these will be fairly obvious even if you haven’t thought about it before, you will have noticed this when training or observing.
Firstly, the Gi offers up endless opportunities to establish a grip on an opponent. The collar, sleeves and bottoms can all easily be gripped by both players which offers much more opportunities to set up techniques than it’s No-Gi counterpart. In No-Gi the focus is on controlling parts of the body such as writs or head but without the ease of grabbing at the clothing.
Secondly, movement between the two players tends to be slower in Gi. Wearing a Gi slows the pace of a fight as there is more drag, this makes Gi less prone to rapid and explosive transitions that are common place in No-Gi. Another factor that plays into the friction between players is sweat. In No-Gi the two competitors will become drenched in sweat and as a result become very slippery, the Gi is good at absorbing this sweat so there is a lot less slipping out of position in Gi.
Thirdly, when training in a Gi you are literally wearing a weapon that your opponent can easily turn against you. There is a long list of submissions that utilise the Gi the most common type being collar chokes. These are some of the most common finishes that are utilised when training in the Gi and they can be executed from a wide variety of positions. Obviously in No-Gi you don’t face these challenges as the clothing can’t be used in this manner.
What impact does this have
One of the often-sighted benefits of training in the Gi is improved defensive habits. With the constant threat of an opponent attacking your neck those who train predominantly in the Gi have a tendency to be better at protecting themselves from chokes. Because of this Gi tends to be much better at developing the defensive side of your game than No-Gi.
The greater levels of friction that are provided by the Gi mean that students have more time to think about their next move. They can’t rely on overpowering or slipping out of a technique in the same way that you can get away in No-Gi. This means that students are forced to think of technical escapes rather than trying to muscle out of a position. Having a good technical game is always advantageous as its unlikely you will always be able to muscle or slip out of a position even in No-Gi.
Movements between positions are more arduous as the Gi provides greater opportunities to slow down or impede transitions. Students of the Gi must find the most efficient ways to move between positions and can’t rely on their speed and reflexes. When trying to advance position it is important that individual moves are chained together to move in the most efficient way, thus students of the Gi tend to be better at this. This is not to say No-Gi players can’t transition quickly and effectively but in the Gi this is essential to success.
So far so good for the Gi so what exactly does No-Gi bring to the table that causes so many to argue its superiority so vociferously. Well in No-Gi is where you learn how well you are actually utilising a technique. With reduced friction maintaining position and achieving submissions is all about body positioning. In No-Gi if you don’t quite secure the position then your opponent will find it relatively easy to slip away with the reduced friction. If your positioning isn’t up to scratch, you can’t rely on grabbing at the uniform to buy a little extra time to properly secure the hold or submission.
The faster pace of No-Gi suits those who have dedicated a long time to learning Jiu-Jitsu and have committed the mechanics to the subconscious. They will not require the time to assess the situation and move forward which training in the Gi offers. Theoretically in No-Gi a less experienced grappler should be exposed quicker as they would struggle to capitalise on opportunities at the same speed of a more experienced counterpart.
There are far less submission opportunities in No-Gi as there is no clothing that can be used to assist a submission. The submissions that are available are drilled a lot more frequently because of the smaller pool to choose from. It is likely that a No-Gi grappler would be more effective with these attacks than someone who has trained a variety of submissions but each one less frequently.
All the techniques that can be utilised in N- Gi can be taken back to a Gi class and utilised but not all Gi techniques carry over into No-Gi. This essentially means that No-Gi is universally applicable where as Gi is more specific to a smaller range of situations. This is one of the key points that is highlighted by those strongly in favour of No-Gi.
Can you switch between the two
It used to be the case the vast majority of BJJ classes were Gi but over recent times No-Gi has seen a steady growth. As you would expect the growth in No-Gi means that more people than ever are crossing over to train without the traditional jacket. Many of the techniques will carry over with the exception of those that require gripping the uniform.
By training in both disciplines a BJJ player is likely to take their game up a level as both can have a positive impact in closing common holes that those who are firmly committed to one camp or the other may have in their game.
If you’ve only ever training in one style you have defiantly been missing out on learning some valuable lessons.
Which is better for self-defence
This is one of the areas where there can be some heated exchanges over which style is the most effective. In a self defence situation your unlikely to encounter an assailant that is wearing a Gi or skin-tight clothing either so to focus on the clothing alone is to over simplify the matter.
The fact in No-Gi you are fully reliant on controlling the opponent without grabbing their clothes does mean its techniques should be useable whatever the assailant is wearing. Those who have trained in the Gi however could possibly be able to find more opportunities by utilising clothing grips to perform techniques.
If a practitioner has reached a high level in the jacket or not you would expect them to be able to handle the situation on the ground regardless of what style they have trained. Favouring one over the other for self-defence should not be a concern for new starters. And if you’re a seasoned Gi trainer I wouldn’t be worried about underdeveloped self-defence.
I don’t particularly agree that BJJ is a great self-defence option in most situations anyway. Being on the ground leaves you venerable particularly if there is more than one attacker, which is not always apparent. If you have self-defence goals I think there are better options than BJJ, this is not so say that BJJ is not useful its just a very risky option to rely on in a dangerous situation.
Which is more realistic
I will address this issue quickly as it gets thrown around a lot when people are discussing Gi vs No-Gi. Its common for people to cite No-Gi as being more realistic in its application because of the lack of a traditional uniform. But more realistic in comparison to what exactly?
Both have their pros and cons and the idea that one is more realistic than the other is nonsensical. Sure, there are some martial arts out there which are fake, but I don’t think either of these two come anywhere near some of the rubbish that is unfortunately being taught.
If you are looking for realism surely two people trying to choke and manipulate joints is about as realistic as you can get in any martial art sparing. All of this can be found both in and out of the Gi.
Far too big a deal is made about this issue. Whilst its understandable if you have trained in a particular way and seen success you are going to campaign hard for it as the superior discipline, its just not the case. In practical terms Jiu-Jitsu is not about controlling the clothing or utilising the lack of it to slip away. The goal of Jiu-Jitsu is to control an opponent, and this can be achieved though good technique in both forms. If you have a specific target in mind for instance an MMA fight or a Gi tournament, training in the style that most closely reflects the competition would be the most effective option.
If you live in an area where you can only access Gi and it’s not your preferred choice its absolutely worth your time just to give it a go. This equally applies if you were set on training No-Gi, you might be surprised by how similar both styles really are. If your fortunate to train at a gym that has both Gi and No-Gi classes, you should be sure you try out both if you haven’t done already.