BJJ Training: Gi or No Gi?
The bottom line is that you should train both Gi and No Gi--if you can. There are advantages and disadvantages that come with each style, and each will make you a better grappler. For the most part, you shouldn’t commit yourself entirely to one style vs. the other, and the people who do this are only limiting their growth (more on this later).
Don’t Overthink Training Gi vs. No Gi
When you first start training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you might be wondering to yourself, “Should I train Gi or No Gi?” This might seem like an important question when you first start training, but you shouldn’t overthink it. At the end of the day, what’s important is that you’re on the mat, you’re learning, and you’re making progress toward your goals. For some people, the goal might be to train six days a week and compete in both Gi and No Gi tournaments. For others, the goal might be to train two days a week and make it to whatever class happens to fit their schedule for that week--whether it’s Gi or No Gi. Whatever your situation is, just make sure you’re getting in as much training as you can, as both Gi and No Gi are important for your BJJ development.
Why You Should Train in the Gi
1. Real World Application for the Gi
Believe it or not, there is actually a “real world” application to training in the Gi. You may be thinking to yourself, “But no one walks around wearing pajamas. How does the Gi translate to the real world?” If you have to wrestle someone outside of the gym, and they are wearing jeans, the grips you use on Gi pants are most definitely going to translate. Similarly, if someone is wearing a coat, sweatshirt, or even a t-shirt, the grips you use on a Gi jacket will also translate. Granted, you may only get one shot at collar choking someone in a t-shirt before it rips--so just make sure you make it count. Obviously, if you engage in a physical encounter with someone on the beach or at the swimming pool, your No Gi training will be more applicable.
2. The Gi can Slow Down the Game
If you are older, smaller, or find yourself at some other disadvantage, the Gi has the potential to equalize the situation. The extra friction of the Gi fabric and the ability to get good grips can allow for much more control in the Gi. It may take you some time to develop the techniques required to make it an equalizer, but you will find it easier to hold down and control a larger, stronger opponent in the Gi. This can be a blessing for older or smaller grapplers who are looking to match the younger, stronger, and larger opponents.
3. The Belt System and Promotions
There are certain gyms and systems that will allow you to progress without training in the Gi, but most gyms will require you to train in the Gi in order to get promoted. This may not matter to everyone, but a belt promotion is an acknowledgment of progression for the individual, as well as a symbol of status within the community. If you dream of one day becoming a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you’re going to need to spend time training in the Gi. Does this mean you should abandon your No Gi training? Of course not. Training in No Gi is just as important to the development of your overall game.
Why You Should Train No Gi
1. Real World Application for No Gi
As noted above, No Gi becomes more applicable in a real world scenario when both parties are wearing less clothes. Depending on where you live, you may spend most of your time walking around in shorts and no shirt. If this is your reality, then No Gi training will translate better in a self defense scenario when your only option is to physically engage in an altercation. Even if you spend most of your time fully clothed in jeans and a coat, you never know when you’re going to need to defend yourself. You may need to grapple at the beach, at the lake, or while out for a run. These situations would apply to No Gi as well.
2. You Can’t Always get the Grip You Want
Even in the Gi, you aren’t always going to be able to get your ideal grips. Perhaps your opponent has a better hand-fighting game, or maybe you just can’t seem to settle in a position long enough to get your favorite grips. Whatever the reason is, sometimes you have to make do without a Gi grip. By training No Gi, you will figure out how to better control people without using the fabric. Your cross-face will improve from cross-body side control. You will distribute your weight better from north-south. Most importantly, you will learn how to adapt to each situation, regardless of whether it is Gi or No Gi.
3. Your Grips will Actually get Better in the Gi
One of the best reasons to train No Gi is because you will likely see an improvement to your Gi grip game. All of the Gi and No Gi grips translate back and forth to each style. However, in No Gi, you can’t rely on the strength of gripping the fabric of the Gi. Instead, your grip game has to become much more dynamic. You will find yourself getting better at small adjustments and fine-tuned articulations to maintain control, instead of relying on raw grip strength. Once you have started making progress on your No Gi grip game, you will find that your Gi grips become even better.
When You Should Train Only Gi or Only No Gi
Most people should focus on training what they can, when they can, and not overthink the Gi vs. No Gi preference. That being said, there are exceptions.
1. Preparing for a Competition
If you are participating in a BJJ competition, you may only want to compete in Gi or No Gi. Not all people will want to do both, as it is both exhausting and tedious. Tournaments are rarely on time, and you will end up with a lot of downtime waiting for your bracket to start in between Gi and No Gi matches. If the tournament is large enough, Gi and No Gi may even be spread across multiple days. In the event that you decide to compete in Gi or No Gi, you will want to prepare for that by training primarily in the style you will be competing in.
2. Focusing on a Technique
There will come a point in your progression when you need to buckle down and focus on a single technique, series of techniques, or concept. Perhaps your coach has been eyeing you for a promotion, but they have been critical of your Gi grips from a specific position. In this event, you will likely want to show up to only the Gi classes for a period of time while you work on that. Similarly, perhaps your takedowns need work. You may only want to show up to the Wrestling class, which is typically No Gi. During these times, it is still productive to focus on only one style.
3. Nursing an Injury
Even when you are injured, you should still try to train, even if it’s in a very limited capacity. During these times, it can safer to train in the style that you are most comfortable with. Be very open and communicative with your coaches and training partners about your injury, and make sure you that are training light and keeping your injury protected. Do not let your ego get the best of you and re-injure yourself. It is incredibly important to know your limits. The purpose of training while injured is to keep your mind active, do what you can, and get the maximum efficiency out of your limitations. When you come back from your injury in a full capacity, you will be surprised to find that your game has not become stagnant.