Traditionally, BJJ training uses the gi, or also known as the kimono in Brazil. Back in the early days of the UFC, Royce Gracie also won the tournament using the gi because there was no rule about MMA uniform back then.
Using this rule leniency, Royce was able to utilize the gi to his advantage. For example, he choked out Ken Shamrock using the ezekiel choke, a submission that requires the sleeves to be locked in.
MMA rules then developed to give each contestant a fair game and the gi was banned. Nowadays, MMA fighters fight using only shorts/tight spats with gloves, giving BJJ practitioners who want to compete in the cage a reason to spend time training BJJ without using the gi, or popularly known as no gi BJJ.
I have been training in the gi and in no gi for about a year now. I take part in gi classes twice a week and once in no gi. My BJJ gym, Arena MMA Jiu Jitsu, is affiliated to the Alliance Jiu Jitsu team under Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti, which is more heavy on the traditional side and therefore, there are more gi classes than no gi.
Some BJJ gyms are more heavy on the MMA side and offer more no gi classes than gi. In nearby Jakarta, some of these gyms are The Pitbull Academy and BSA Martial Arts, both of which are in south Tangerang.
From my experience so far, the differences between training in the gi and in no gi are massive. The approach and strategy during sparings are completely different and a lot of techniques need a lot of adaptation from one side to another. To explain more about the differences, here is my take on them:
Gripping, grappling and clinching
The gi, obviously, gives a lot of options when it comes to gripping. The collars, sleeves, lapels, pants and even the belt are available to be gripped, whether for attacks or defense.
Both the gi and no gi also use a lot of grappling on the wrists, ankles or other joints. In the no gi, however, the grappling aspects are more prominent because no fabric is available to grip or control.
The no gi also emphasizes more on clinching techniques to compensate the missing grip techniques available in the gi to break the opponent’s posture or to control them. Training in no gi also requires more wrestling than in the gi.
Guards and passes
I personally feel that it is a lot harder to play guard in no gi than in the gi. It is a lot harder to play open guards in no gi because there is no sleeve or collar to grip. The worm guard, which uses the lapel, is definitely unavailable in no gi.
While the passes also have limited grips in no gi, there is somehow a bigger advantage to play on top in this type of BJJ. Unlike in the gi, guard passers in no gi have easier time to maintain their posture and put pressures from the top because they do not need to worry about grips on the collars or sleeves. The guard player can always grab on their heads or wrists but these are easier to break than a grip on the gi fabric.
The gi, on the other hand, allows more guard and pass techniques because the fabric also comes into play. The gi gives practitioners a lot more manipulation options to break the opponent’s posture for attacks or pass the guard to get dominant positions from the top.
Submissions and attacks
The gi gives a lot more options for submissions and attacks because the sleeves and lapels are available to be used as an extension of your body to attack or to submit your opponent. The friction of the fabric also makes it easier to lock joint submissions, such as the armbar. In no gi, the sweat of your opponent often helps to slip away from a submission attempt on the joint.
Leg lock submissions are more dominant in no gi, particularly for those who like to pull guard. The legs are the closest limbs to grab when you sit down to pull guard in no gi, so it is comes natural that the first submission attempt is on the lower part of the body.
Neck cranks, guillotine chokes and front head lock based submissions such as the D’arce are also more common in no gi because the absence of fabric allows practitioners to slip their hands under their opponents’ throats a lot easier than in the gi.
As of now, the IBJJF only recognizes belt promotions that are obtained from the gi training. No gi BJJ gyms, such as Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, also offer belt promotions, but these are not recognized by the IBJJF. If your goal is to become an IBJJF recognized instructor, then training in the gi is mandatory.
Some like to argue that no gi is more realistic than the gi or vice versa. I say, this depends entirely on the context.
If you are training for self defense on the streets, the gi is more realistic because the traditional kimono mimics jackets and pants commonly worn by people every day. The gi also trains you to utilize your everyday clothing materials, such as the sleeves, as a weapon to submit attackers.
On the other hand, if your goal is to fight in the cage where no fabric except the shorts is allowed, then spending a lot of time training in no gi is what you should be focusing on. Training in no gi gives you more time to work on wrestling, on how to take your opponent down and to get on top.
So, train gi or no gi?
Why not both? The gi and no gi complement one another. Training in no gi gives you more time to work on wrestling and take downs so that you can get on top, which will also help you a lot in street fights because pulling guard to the ground is never a wise decision when strikes are involved.
Most of the time, people who argue that the no gi is better or more realistic than the gi or vice versa are those who never train anyway. So, they really do not have any idea on what the heck they are talking about.
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