Are you getting started with Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) and wondering whether you should be wearing the traditional uniform over your trendy gym outfit? This topic can generate emotional debates within the BJJ community.
No-gi BJJ versus gi training can be a tough decision, as they both come with their perks and drawbacks. Depending on what fighters are wearing, the techniques vary. Even the rules during BJJ competitions are slightly different.
After defining the fundamentals of what BJJ and a gi are, we’ve looked and assessed each method.
What’s a BJJ Gi?
Let’s pause for a moment as we begin with the basics. If you haven’t started jiu-jitsu yet, you may even wonder what these two sets of curious initials stand for.
BJJ stands for Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Although it may have originated from India, this activity is the national sport of Japan. Samurai warriors used to utilize jiu-jitsu techniques on the battlefield.
Helio Gracie is the man responsible for founding BJJ. After first learning judo, he developed his own style of judo, which focused on ground techniques. In 1925, he opened the first Brazilian jiu-jitsu school. In 1990, the Gracie family arrived in America, bringing BJJ along.
Today, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a widely popular sport, and present in UFC and other MMA — Mixed Martial Arts — competitions. Most MMA fighters need to grasp, at the very least, the fundamentals of this sport to have a chance of winning.
Gi or Kimono
A gi — sometimes referred to as a kimono — is the traditional outfit of a BJJ fighter. The uniform is worn loose and has to be made in black, white or royal blue cotton material. It’s composed of three parts:
To be fit for competition, a gi must conform to specific requirements such as detailed measurements, the thickness of the fabric and even the smell of the uniform.
If you’re new to BJJ and gi, this video provides a nice introduction:
Why a Gi BJJ?
Gi training differs from no-gi training. Fighters who learn in traditional BJJ gyms will find that there is no other alternative than wearing the uniform.
Perks of Wearing a Gi
A gi is another piece of equipment to acquire before starting BJJ. Why do fighters decide to wear one?
- Follow tradition.
- Gi grabbing techniques.
- Easy to transition to no-gi.
- More realistic fight.
As we previously mentioned, a gi was used in the origins of BJJ. For this reason, schools teaching traditional BJJ won’t go any other way. This is a way to honor this sport’s history and former fighters.
Gi Grabbing Techniques
A significant advantage of BJJ is that the uniform itself can be used to win a fight. Although it’s forbidden to reach inside your rival’s pants or jacket, grabbing it from the outside is allowed to pull and manipulate your opponent.
This method is often used to turn over or bring a rival down, using the collar, pants and sleeves.
- By the Collar
This grip can be achieved while standing or on the ground. For example, in a rear mount position, your arm moves across in front of the opponent’s neck, with one thumb inside the gi and the fingers holding the collar from the outside.
A cross collar hold is a powerful grip on the gi. If your opponent has you in a guard position on the floor, reach across them with either hand to grab their collar. This time, the thumb is on the outside while the other fingers grab the gi from the inside. From here, you can control their body position and move to a choke.
Here is what a collar grip looks like and how to get away from one:
- By the Pants
The pants grip — whether from the inner thigh or by the ankle — allows you to control one of your partner’s legs. This is critical in BJJ.
Remember that it’s against the rules to place your hand inside any part of the pants. Always grab the fabric from the outside.
Here is an example:
- By the Sleeve
Grabbing the gi by the wrist might be the most popular grip, as it provides better control over your opponent’s arm. Holding the uniform by the elbow or even the armpit are other common techniques.
The hook and pistol are typically the most common types of wrist grips. The hook holds the gi above the wrist with your four fingers facing down. The pistol grip, however, holds the uniform above or below the wrist, the fist facing left if you’re using the right hand.
Easy to Transition to No-Gi
Once you’ve trained with a gi, it’s generally easy to transition to fighting without one. De-learning the gi grips’ moves might be challenging at first and may require to learn new techniques.
After practicing these new skills, the transition to a no-gi BJJ is very smooth. You won’t have to bother with the additional fabric, which can be an immense challenge for no-gi fighters going the gi-way.
More Realistic Fight
Wearing a traditional uniform is similar to wearing regular loose clothes on the street. If you happen to be caught in a street fight, it’s unlikely that you’ll be wearing tight gym clothes or a rash guard. Or, even shirtless, at least to start with!
Some Inconveniences of a Gi
There are a few things to keep in mind when using a gi:
- The jacket comes off.
- Transition to no-gi BJJ may require further training.
Jacket Comes Off
The main argument of the no-gi fighters is the inconvenience of the uniform, especially the jacket. Even in the rare cases where the belt doesn’t untie during combat, the jacket itself is likely to open up under your opponent’s grip. The two sides of the jacket will then consistently come in the way during combat.
This can be frustrating and cause stops in a fight, requiring the gi to be readjusted so the fight can continue.
Transition to No-Gi BJJ May Requires Further Training
Once you’re familiar with gi training, grabbing the uniform will be part of your strategy to win. This means that without one, your performance can be greatly impacted. A gi black belt fighter can easily turn into a blue belt no-gi fighter.
To transition into no-gi BJJ, you’ll need to learn new approaches to replace every gi-grip.
Why No-Gi BJJ?
Other BJJ fighters prefer to fight without the traditional uniform. They typically wear a rashguard and shorts, with the top especially being tight to the body.
Benefits of No-Gi
Although no-gi BJJ carries the blame of not following the tradition, they carry many advantages:
- Fast pace.
- Suits MMA.
- Strength comes into play.
A gi can slow you down. The jacket gets in the way, and gi grips take longer to get away from. Without one, the game is much faster, which many BJJ fighters appreciate.
Not only is fast-paced combat more fun to watch, but it also provides fighters with more of a cardiovascular workout. Fighters also need to make swifter decisions in choosing what their next move will be.
Can Be Used in MMA
You can’t use a gi in MMA. Training without one will allow you to bring your no-gi techniques into an MMA fight. This opens up different training techniques and more options for fighting styles; not to mention exploring the varied world of the MMA fighting scene.
Strength Comes into Play
When you aren’t able to grab your opponent’s clothes, you need to rely on your power and strength. Although the same amount of techniques and skills are required, strength and speed will be the two major factors leading to a winner.
This isn’t something you might first think of; however, the best uniforms can be costly. In competitions, your gi should be impeccable, clean and without any tears.
Many BJJ fighters own more than one set, which is a piece of equipment you need to budget for.
A Few Limitations
No-gi jiu-jitsu also comes with its drawbacks:
- Harder submissions.
- Challenging for beginners.
Submissions Are Harder
In no-gi jiu-jitsu, dominating positions — such as a full mount — aren’t as easy to maintain. This is due to the fast speed and the type of techniques used — no grabbing. It’ll take you longer to lead your partner to submission.
Challenging for Beginners
Because of its fast pace, the no-gi approach can be difficult for novices. Slower gi BJJ can be easier to start with before transitioning to a no-gi method.
The Best Philosophy
There is no right or wrong answer for gi vs. no-gi BJJ, and it generally comes down to personal preference. Both types of BJJ make for great workouts and self-defense sports.
If you’re planning on using your BJJ skills in an MMA competition, go for a no-gi technique. You won’t have to learn how to transition from gi BJJ before a match. If, however, tradition is important to you, stick to the uniform.
Ideally, you’ll want to learn both methods. They each come with their advantages and limitations. Learning every technique available makes you a more versatile, versed and stronger fighter. Today, many gyms offer both types of training to accommodate all fighters and preferences.
See which one feels more natural and go for it. Don’t forget, although it may require time to adjust, you’re always able to switch from one approach to the other.