When I first started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I wanted to have a clear answer on whether or not I should focus on training in the gi or without the gi. The answers aren’t clear-cut and require some clarity on your goals and preferences. After training for several years, speaking with many training partners, and doing some research I came up with this.
If you want a slower-paced creative grappling experience, you should prioritize training Gi Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. If you prefer a fast-paced grappling experience or want to map BJJ into your MMA training, you should prioritize no-gi Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
While on the outside it might look like the uniform is all that changes between gi and no-gi, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Each has different skillsets and overall differences in strategy that we will be going over in this article so that you can make your own decision on whether or not you should be training BJJ in a gi or without a gi.
Which Is Better: Gi Jiu-Jitsu or No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu?
For most people that are looking at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a hobby or a way to stay in shape, choosing to train BJJ in a gi is often a better choice since it is currently still more popular overall and tends to have less overall expectations of athleticism in training.
If you are looking to get into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in a gi and want to understand more about gi color choices check out Do Gi Colors Matter in BJJ? to get an overview of that topic.
The popularity of no-gi BJJ is on the rise however due to the increased presence of MMA through the UFC and Bellator and popular submission grappling tournaments like those hosted by the ADCC or Abu Dhabi Combat Club.
The primary difference between gi jiu-jitsu and no-gi jiu-jitsu is a matter of grips and an increase in friction due to the presence of gis in training. This results in the availability of options for slowing down opponents both in normal training and competition when you are training in a gi.
For people with wrestling backgrounds, it is easier to map your existing skills into the context of training without a gi. No-gi jiu-jitsu also tends to have more people starting standing and not pulling guard, which gives wrestlers an increased chance to use their wrestling takedowns.
For people with Judo or Sambo backgrounds, you can similarly map your existing skills into a gi jiu-jitsu environment. An experienced Judoka or Sambo athlete can really take advantage of the gi from the feet and often have good useful experience on the ground whilst in a gi.
Anybody with MMA aspirations should definitely prioritize training no-gi jiu-jitsu since most of the movements and many of the strategies, especially from top position, will map into an MMA context.
Training both no-gi and gi jiu-jitsu simultaneously is ideal for a beginner. However, if time constraints force a choice, an average adult beginner in a typical BJJ school should start their training in the gi. Fundamentals classes happen in a gi, and the overall athletic requirements are lower.
Take a look at the video below for a bit of a discussion from a respected BJJ figure Chewjitsu about the topic.
Is It Easier to Transition from No-Gi to Gi or from Gi to No-Gi in BJJ?
Transitioning from gi jiu-jitsu to no-gi jiu-jitsu is easier since the barrier of gi-specific techniques can be high for somebody transitioning from a no-gi background. Depending on the gi jiu-jitsu student’s game the transition can be quite easy.
If a gi jiu-jitsu player does a mostly spider guard which relies specifically on the presence of gi sleeves, they will have a larger adjustment period than one that uses a lot of butterfly guard or half-guard.
Generally speaking, individuals who are naturally athletic will have a better time transitioning to no-gi overall, and people who want to slow things down or have freakishly powerful hand strength will transition better into the gi.
Is Gi Jiu-Jitsu or No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu Harder?
No-gi jiu-jitsu is more physically demanding than gi jiu-jitsu due to the faster pace and explosive movements. In order to excel you have to work harder at building gross movement patterns and overall conditioning which is arguably tougher for most people training jiu-jitsu.
Gi jiu-jitsu can be harder when you think in terms of the overall breadth of techniques and complexity in the gi game, making it harder to attain high proficiency in all situations for gi jiu-jitsu.
Is Gi Jiu-Jitsu or No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu More Realistic for a Street Fight?
Both forms of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are realistic in a street fight, however, no-gi will apply to all situations, while gi might not transfer perfectly into situations without shirts like the beach. However, the presence of any clothing, but especially jackets, allows gi-style chokes and control.
How to Use Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in a Street Fight
If you cannot defuse or avoid a street fight, the next best thing is to brutally use your training to control and defeat your opponent. If you are trained in BJJ immediately establish control and work towards strangulation.
The first 3 steps for self-defense in a potential street fight situation are to pay attention, defuse the situation, and walk away if possible. If you need to fight then make sure you do everything you can to win it, which includes using weapons or anything else that is necessary to end the situation.
That being said, if there is an enormous skill advantage and you can simply control them until authorities arrive, it is a far simpler overall situation at the end of the altercation.
Can You Wear Gi Pants in No-Gi?
During normal training, most schools will allow you to wear gi pants at a no-gi class. This often happens due to gi and no-gi classes being adjacent time slots on a schedule. In competitions, however, there are different uniform requirements for no-gi tournaments that disallow gi pants.
For more specific advice on what to wear for no-gi jiu-jitsu check out What Should I Wear for No-Gi BJJ Class?
Depending on the school there may be stricter uniform requirements for no-gi classes, or requirements to wear a specific branded or colored uniform to denote your rank. This isn’t that common, and part of the reason why gi pants are allowed in normal training is that they are safe on the mats since there aren’t concerns with pockets or zippers creating safety concerns.
For some background information to understand the role of a rash guard in BJJ check out Do Rash Guards Matter in BJJ? to understand norms for rash guards in terms of color choices, as well as why you should opt to wear one regardless of if you choose gi or no-gi jiu-jitsu.
Is No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu Better for Self Defense?
No-gi jiu-jitsu is a better overall choice for self-defense because it is not reliant on a gi to execute techniques. Additionally, quality no-gi training includes wrestling-style takedowns and standing techniques and an emphasis on maintaining a top position that keeps you safer.
Generally speaking, self-defense is more about controlling the situation to make sure it doesn’t devolve into a fight, but if it does, managing your distance and establishing control is paramount, and both of these skills can happen in either sub-discipline of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
However, training additional hours in a gi will serve you well if you have an eye on self-defense as well since most movements and techniques can carry over. That’s right, even the “gi only techniques.” After all, shirts, jackets, and pants all can be grabbed in a similar way.
Two of my favorite BJJ YouTubers had a video where they used gi jiu-jitsu street clothing to debunk the claim that a BJJ Gi is too unrealistic to be useful. I recommend taking a look below to see some of these things in action.
Should I Train Gi or No-Gi for MMA?
For an MMA context, there is no substitute for training in a strong no-gi jiu-jitsu program. No-gi has almost all of the same gripping standards and a greater emphasis on training good standing techniques, which is important for MMA.
That being said, gi jiu-jitsu still has good transferability if you design your personal game to have more carryover in terms of techniques that are trying to execute. If you are training a rear-naked choke, it will work in an MMA context even if you are training in a gi.
Also, if you are not getting enough grappling training time, including gi BJJ time might be your best option to grow your grappling for MMA purposes.
Another thing to keep in mind is that no-gi will also introduce you to all of the leg locks and techniques that are allowed in MMA, while gi jiu-jitsu omits some of these techniques when competing in a gi.
Can You Train Leg Locks in Both Gi and No-Gi?
Both gi jiu-jitsu and no-gi jiu-jitsu feature leg locks, but the number of leg locks that are legal at the highest levels is more expansive in no-gi jiu-jitsu. If you want to fully enter the leg locking game you should prioritize training no-gi jiu-jitsu due to its ruleset.
If you are looking to put leg locking into your MMA game plan, going into it using no-gi jiu-jitsu classes and tournaments will be more beneficial than working them into the more restrictive gi jiu-jitsu rulesets. Keep in mind that the risk to reward ratio of leg locking is a bit different when people can strike you, so when you are practicing try to simulate that situation when training.
Is There Value to Training Both Gi and No-Gi BJJ at the Same Time?
Most experts believe that training both gi and no-gi jiu-jitsu simultaneously is ideal. Both types of jiu-jitsu provide value to the other, so it is never a waste of time to train one if you want to get better at the other. Each subdiscipline adds value to the other in different ways.
ADCC Champion Andre Galvao of Atos Jiu-Jitsu believes that each type of jiu-jitsu is important and sharpens different aspects of your game. He goes on to say that no-gi jiu-jitsu gives you better pressure and reflexes due to the nature of the no-gi jiu-jitsu game. He also outlines that gi jiu-jitsu gives you strong grips, excellent escapes, and deeper technical knowledge.
Ultimately everybody is going to have a preference based on their goals and personality for which type of jiu-jitsu they are going to prioritize. I would humbly suggest that you keep them both in the mix, and just slant towards the one that you favor so that you can bring all the advantages of both to your grappling game.
Design Your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Game for Both Gi and No-Gi
One of the easiest ways to increase carryover between gi and no-gi is to try to design a game plan that is applicable to both types of jiu-jitsu. That means favoring guards, positions, and moves that are executable in both gi and no-gi jiu-jitsu.
Generally speaking, there are interchangeable grips and ways to make use of the gi for all kinds of techniques. For instance, you can do Ezekiel chokes in both gi and no-gi with some minor adjustments. Arm triangles and traditional triangles also work the same way. The same goes for rear-naked chokes etc.
If you build the base of your game with an eye on keeping all your moves interchangeable between gi and no-gi jiu-jitsu you will have far more opportunities to fine-tune your game because you’ll have more repetitions in the same situation for every primary movement in your game.
Is Gi Jiu-Jitsu or No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu More Fun?
Both gi and no-gi jiu-jitsu can be fun. Which type you will favor will have a lot to do with your own personality. If you favor creativity then the myriad of options that the gi provides will make it more fun than no-gi. If you like reversals and more gross movement, no-gi might be more fun to you.
For many BJJ students one of the biggest factors in how much fun we will have when training jiu-jitsu is actually which BJJ schools and even specific classes have training partners that jive with how we like to train and in some sense, finding good social compatibility.
I train both gi and no-gi, but ultimately I find that the most fun training that I can have is actually dependent upon which training partners I am working with on any given day. Also, each type of jiu-jitsu tends to attract a different crowd than the other.
If you prefer a more chill environment, you are somewhat more likely to find that in people that like putting on a gi for training. But if you want something more competitive you’re more likely going to get more of that when you train no-gi, especially when you are training in a school that is heavy on training takedowns and starting from the feet.
Choosing gi or no-gi Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu really comes down to personal preference. You will get plenty of benefits from doing either one, and the transfer between the two types is pretty good outside of niche gi-grip-dependent techniques and guards.
In my opinion, I think it is a good idea to train both in some capacity. I personally incorporate both, but which one I tend to favor with my training hours changes from time to time.
If you are an enthusiastic hobbyist like me I would encourage you to go ahead and train whichever one is the most fun, for whatever reason that is, but switch it up sometimes because you might learn something new that can come back over into the other format.
For more check out How Many Martial Arts Can You Learn at the Same Time?