Gi vs. No Gi debate

Gi vs. No Gi BJJ | The Ongoing Debate

In this post I breakdown why No-Gi is better for self defense AND why the Gi vs. No-Gi dichotomy actually doesn’t matter.

This is my view as a BJJ white belt (I do feel it is worthwhile to mention here that I have a background in karate).

I’ll  explain how I understand the Gi vs. No-Gi debate by giving counter examples, using sports training principles, and real world examples.

I’ve recently started Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ). I have a second stripe white belt. While I currently train at a Gracie Jujitsu academy, I do want to switch to a No Gi only, or mostly No-Gi gym when I can. For now this is what makes the most sense in terms of what is available near where I live. I also like the really supportive environment, the other practitioners and instructors, the overall vibe, emphasis on safety, the self-defense focus, and the additional workshops they host.

I do like the Gracie Jujitsu system and am indebted to it and being able to learn at one, especially as someone with learning difficulties – the way techniques are taught is a big help. There are many things that I like about Gracie Jujitsu but just as with anything in life, there are arguments on both sides, and things that you will agree with and disagree with.

I disagree with the view shared on the Gracie University website that training with a Gi is overall better compared to training No-Gi.

I feel that this argument is outdated. (And if they have addressed this elsewhere, with a more updated view, then I feel that it’s only right that they update the video on their own site. Not doing so only serves to induct students into the Gi echo-chamber of misinformation.)

Now that that’s out of the way, lets talk Gi vs. No-Gi. 🥋

“…the division between these two modes of training ought never to emphasized too much. Ultimately the goal of jiu jitsu is to control the movements of our opponent’s body – not the clothing around it.

John Danaher, gi against no-gi 

The Gracie View – Gi or No-Gi?

One of the most basic and fundamental of all scientific sports training principles is specificity. This applies to any sport, whether you are training a martial art or powerlifting.

How you train must closely resemble how you perform.

On the Gracie University website, under the lesson “Gi or No-gi?”, Ryron and Rener Gracie make the following points about why – from the Gracie perspective – using Gi is better. They do raise some good points but overall I don’t buy them, when thinking about it deeper.

gi choke rnc

Their points are:

  1. Training in the Gi will refine your escapes and submission counters.
  2. Training without the Gi will refine your control and submission strategies.
  3. You can’t get a black belt until you master both.
  4. Training Gi is VERY realistic for the streets since a street opponent will almost certainly grab your clothing in a real fight and you must be prepared.
  5. One fun/challenging drill is to have one person wearing a gi, and the other person training no-gi. Let us know how it goes!

My thoughts about these five points listed are;

1. Training in the Gi will refine your escapes and submission counters.

Not necessarily. No-Gi is the most specific and efficient way to train escapes, for No Gi situations. Training with a Gi might make you better at escaping Gi, but properly training No-Gi escapes is likely all that is needed. 

As I mentioned above, for any sport – how you train must closely resemble how you must perform. 

Let’s take a swimmer for example. They are not going to train the majority of the time in board shorts for the extra resistance, in order to make them better when swimming in their standard costume. (They may incorporate it for a small amount of their training.)

In a fight, skill will be a more relevant variable than whether you are Gi trained or not.

You’re either good enough to lock on a specific submission or choke, or you’re not.

2. Training without the Gi will refine your control and submission strategies.

Yes, training No-Gi makes you have to get closer and introduces realistic aspects such as sweat of your partner/opponent and them slipping out of grips with ease.

“..No Gi makes your offense better and Gi makes your defense better” – Jocko Willink

3. You can’t get a black belt until you master both.

“In the end they become almost different sports” – Chris Matakas

You can’t master both. The same reason most Olympic pool swimmers aren’t the best ocean swimmers and vice versa. 

While there are people who may attempt to master two similar but different sports such as the ‘super-total’ athletes who compete in Powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, rarely are these athletes ‘masters’ of either. 

Most of us are simply in the middle of the bell curve and will be lucky to master one sport after a lifetime of dedication. So it depends on how you define master, but I’m a lot more reserved in my use of ‘mastering’ anything. 

More of one generally means less of the other (in terms of time, and other variables). An example is the seven conceptual levels that strength training and cardio compete with each other for.

strength training and cardio

As Bernardo Faria says, to be ‘well rounded‘ he recommends training in both (Gi & No Gi).  Well-rounded is still a very big stretch from ‘mastering’.

They say that you ‘must master both to be a black belt’. However, they dedicate a fraction of time to No-Gi but say that you must train both and be a master at both. I get that Gi has a much larger syllabus, so more time makes sense. But how many other things can you train in your life and ‘master’ when you don’t give them equal attention?

4. Training Gi is VERY realistic for the streets since a street opponent will almost certainly grab your clothing in a real fight and you must be prepared.

Yes, and training in No-Gi, as well as clothing like hoodies and jackets, and ‘normal’ clothes is realistic too. Arguably, more realistic. A collar of a shirt or jacket can tear whereas a Gi won’t. 

You ingrain a bad habit of reliance that is false. If you want to train with clothes, train with clothes that will react to grips and pulling the same as in the real world. 

5. One fun/challenging drill is to have one person wearing a gi, and the other person training no-gi. Let us know how it goes! (more fun)

Not fun for me personally.

I’d rather just get better at No-Gi…Jujitsu is challenging enough as it is, I don’t need to add a superficial layer of complexity with Gi to make it more ‘interesting’, it’s interesting enough. 

I don’t think No-Gi Jiujiteiro are bored with their training. I can understand spicing things up every once in a while. But overall, I’d prefer just training in rash-guards.

In terms of the augment of what is more fun, I find No-Gi a lot more fun to watch.

I’d rather watch the ADCC than one of the big Gi tournaments.

It also seems like where all the fun is at, No Gi seems to have more interesting and exciting characters like New Wave Juijitsu and 10th Planet Juijitsu and YouTubers like Jedi Does Jiujitsu, among others, than it is to watch Gi. 

If you are claiming that training mostly with the Gi is superior and people are doubting, the burden of proof is on you to prove it. If training no Gi most of the time was the best way to train skills for an opponent without a Gi then where are all the ADCC champions who spend most of their time with a Gi? Where are all those easy wins?

While the ear-biting Vale Tudo days are passed, what happened to silencing doubters IRL? The same way that the Gracies took down doubts of the applicability of BJJ in MMA and actively sought out matches. Isn’t that the Gracie way?

An argument for No-Gi

If I have to sum up the Gi argument in a meme it would be;

via GIPHY

This is how hardcore advocates for Gi sound to me. Going on about MORE friction is better for escape game, how MORE grips make you better because of MORE *potential* grips in the streets, and MORE of this MORE of that…

There is a reason that No-Gi competitors DON’T use Gi to improve their No-Gi skills…

If Gi is so transferable and offers additional benefits as we are told, then it would be used in competitive No-Gi spaces where every one is desperately looking for the edge over the competition. Every single technique modification, supplement (legal or not), recovery modalities, and equipment, and training philosophies, are considered to improve performance. 

If Gi was this amazing tool to improve your No-Gi overall, every MMA gym would be using it. Why aren’t they?

Show me an MMA fighter who spends most of their time training with heavy boxing gloves and I’ll show you a McDojo. Training mostly Gi when your goal is simply to have ground game against an attacker in the street (who isn’t wearing a Gi) doesn’t make sense to me.

If there truly is the transference of Gi to ‘real world’ clothing, then let’s see the next IBJJF championship competitors wear hoodies, jeans, baggy pants, v-neck jerseys, and golfers. etc to compete in, and see if things go just as smoothly as with Gi.

gi vs. no gi

“…I want to try to get my Juijitsu to work in as many situations as possible…” – Yuri Simoes

When it comes to self-defense, it is about more than what you are wearing when training.

You’ll come across people – who only train Gi – talk about how they had to defend themselves against someone in the street, and they were able to beat their attacker. And then attribute this to having trained Gi specifically.

I only train Gi. I was able to defend myself against this guy who tried to attack me, therefore Gi works.

If the person in the street was unskilled or a white belt then yeah, of course you managed to beat him. It doesn’t automatically mean that you beat him because you trained in Gi. You may have beat him because you were more skilled than him.

If I out-lift an untrained guy in the streets in a deadlift competition after training with my wife hanging on my back, does it mean deadlifting with someone on your back is superior for powerlifting training? No. So why use this kind reasoning?

While experiential data is important, there could be other factors at play that you might not have considered. And as I pointed out already, in the street there are more factors that have a bigger impact. 

“…No Gi translates to Gi, but Gi doesn’t translate to No Gi as well, there’s a lot of things that from Gi we can’t take to No Gi but everything from No Gi we can take to Gi”

Eddie Bravo

At the end of the day your situational awareness, de-escalation skills, how street-smart you are, your experience pressure testing your techniques, understanding how to use and defend against weapons and disarms and pressure testing those too, your body-language and confidence, and how to handle situations with multiple attackers, are all things that will have a BIGGER impact and will be far more important than whether you’ve been training Gi or No-Gi.

The guy in the street likely won’t be a trained martial artist. Gi trained BJJ martial artists effectively defending themselves in the street has more to do with those other factors and the skill gap between them and their attacker than any Gi magic.

A Journey of a thousand submissions

Most BJJ coaches seem quite charitable and suggest training both Gi and No-Gi in the beginning to find what you really like, and then to narrow down and specialize in one. This is good advice in general.

The right answer for you, will depend then on what you prefer and what your goals are, and whether you are a beginner or an expert.

“…I think there are really important lessons that the Gi has to teach and there are really valuable lessons that the No Gi has to teach”

Chewjitsu

For the average man or woman who is purely wanting self defense and not interested in competing in Gi, it seems fair to say that Gi should be a slight fraction of all of your training. 

gi or no gi

I’m not saying there is no benefit to training Gi, but rather that it’s inefficient for MOST people and their everyday contexts to spend most of their time training Gi.

I’ll rather wager my bets on the views of MMA coaches doing what is working in the octagon, as that is far more reliable of a predictor for self-defense than someone basically telling me trust them and that is will apparently work.

Kama Juijitsu explains that what Hickson Gracie and Dave Kama did, was to use Gi/No Gi seasonally to have experience with both.

The view that resonates the most with me is that of Coach Zahabi from Tristar Gym.

Here I’ve summarized the main points from Coach Zahabi in his video “Gi or No Gi for MMA and More”;

  • People who only train Gi, when in a ‘ground and pound’ situation, their technique falls apart
  • There’s different styles of Gi (how good is your instructor at No Gi and how does he teach Gi?)
  • Don’t waste your time too much with technique that you wont use in MMA (or self-defense) – there is already too much to remember and work on, there is no need to work on things that won’t help you.
  • Gi can help refine escapes, learning guard pass prevention etc.
  • Beginners should start with No-Gi (better carryover)
  • Comfort-zone still exists Gi or No Gi (train both)

I found this interview on the Sonny Breakdown with Chris Brennan – who started the first No-Gi Jui-jitsu school in America in 1998 quite interesting, you can listen to it here.

“…You don’t have to be dogmatic and only wear that Gi every single time” – Ramsey Dewey

And as the guys over at BjjBrick Podcast say – if all the best grapplers at your academy have Gi and want to train Gi then it makes sense to do Gi as training with people better than you is the best way to get better. 

They also have the following analogy of Gi compared to No-Gi that I find really intuitive;

The gi game can be described like a game of 5 vs 5.  More technical and slower pace.

  • More difficult to escape
  • Grips make a huge difference
  • More techniques

The no gi game is like a 2 vs 2 basketball game.  Fast pace and lot more hustle.

  • Underhooks and overhooks are the “grips “ of no-gi
  • Leg locks become a big factor
  • More scrambles

“…if you rely upon the uniform and you don’t have the uniform, now 80% of your tools are gone, so I think it’s good to do both, it’s normal to prefer one over the other”

Dean Lister

The future of Gi

I think as the sport evolves, Gi will be seen as the costumes of early strongman competitions – outdated taste. To the extent that I think it will be preserved I think it will be small pockets of the BJJ world by traditionalists for posterity, and I admit there is a beauty in that.

Eugene Sandow strongman
1894 poster for the Sandow Trocadero Vaudevilles

If you enjoy Gi and want Gi that is ok and I don’t judge you, I only have a problem being told that Gi is better for self-defense, when that isn’t necessarily the case. And that I for my own needs must spend most of my time training Gi.

I don’t see how gi will remain forever. Aspects of a martial art will be forgotten over time – this is a natural progression. The channel Chadi does a good job of documenting techniques that were used several decades ago that for the most part are forgotten.

 

I think Gi will loose popularity slowly and become less and less a fixture of the martial art/sport. Just look at Mauy Thai – most people are wearing clothes that several decades ago were never were worn in Mauy Thai fights.

“…when starting out training or when focusing on defensive prowess, a preponderance of gi training makes sense. When looking to make progress with offensive elements of the sport and sound basic mechanics and habits have already been learned, no gi training will lift the technical level of your game. note that these are general rules that apply in most cases, not universal rules that apply in all cases.”

John Danaher

Have I spoken to my school about it?

No. I don’t think its my place but I also don’t think anything productive will come of it. They only have one No-Gi class a week from what I can tell and that says a lot about their priorities and views. After all it is a Gracie Jujitsu school and I accept that.

Rolling to a close

Just because you train, are good at, and evangelize Gi, it doesn’t make Gi better for everyone for practical reasons.

I know, if I don’t like Gi I could just leave, but why? Why leave something that has and is providing value? Ideally, the element that is subtracting value would be removed. 

The videos I share below are some of the most useful that I’ve come across as I’m trying to understand this topic. Many of them have valuable insights in the comments sections too that may be worth reading and digesting.

To clarify I have nothing but respect for someone who is a decent person and who has put in tons of sweat, blood, tears and sacrifice over many years to master their preferred way of BJJ training, Gi or No-Gi.

This post is only addressing the real-world applicability and efficiency of training Gi vs. No-Gi.

So, if you’re looking at doing BJJ to improve your self-defense skills, or to augment a stack of stand up skills, the question isn’t as clear-cut as “Gi vs. No-Gi?”, but rather “How much Gi in relation to No-Gi?”

“…the Brazilians were already fighting no gi…Royce is like the millionth guy to fight – but he was the first guy in the UFC  and the UFC was the first taste of it. So you had all these Brazilians, ALL of them fighting No Gi, they’re not fighting in the Gi and then they get mad if you want to train No Gi. They fight No Gi, everybody fights No Gi, No Gi, No Gi and then you train No Gi and you’re a traitor?! It’s ridiculous.”

Eddie Bravo, 10th Planet Jui-Jitsu

Gi or No Gi for MMA and More – Coach Zahabi AMA – #002

GI vs. NO GI – Gracie Jiu-Jitsu

Should Beginners Train Gi or No-Gi? | Dean Lister’s Thoughts

Should Beginners Focus on Gi or No GI BJJ (Is the GI Unrealistic)

BJJ Gi vs. No Gi Jiu Jitsu | Chris Matakas

Gi vs. No Gi? What Should We Focus More?

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