Gi or No Gi?
The other day, I got an email from Hazmat asking about whether I’d like to post my thoughts on the subject of Gi vs No Gi. The email went something like this (paraphrasing):
You seem to wear that gi a lot. You’re ugly and your mama dresses you funny.
Okay, so it was nothing like that. But the tone was explicit. He was calling me out. I had no choice but to accept. So, read on. And after you’re done, don’t forget to check out Matt’s article where he writes about why he prefers to train without a Gi.
Before I get into why I really prefer to train in a gi, I want to give a little background. For those of you who don’t train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, there are two schools of thought: training with a Gi or training without a Gi.
I did an article called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gi 101. Check it out to learn about what we’re talking about when we refer to a BJJ Gi.
Here’s an example of BJJ in a Gi. This is BJ Penn, called “The Prodigy” because it took him only three years to earn a Black Belt in BJJ (where mortals like me will be lucky to get one shy of a decade):
No Gi guys will often roll in board shorts and a rash guard. Here’s a classic example of No-Gi BJJ. Eddie Bravo vs Royler Gracie. While this may not be the most exciting match, I think it’s one of the most important No Gi matches, historically. Eddie Bravo broke through a lot of barriers with his new approach to training, and has revolutionized No Gi BJJ. This is about as technical as it gets, and Eddie Bravo is a stud.
Perhaps the most vocal champion of No Gi training is Eddie Bravo, the famous owner of 10th Planet (operating out of Legends Gym) and I believe long time subscriber to High Times magazine. Eddie Bravo trains exclusively no-gi.
Hazmat goes into his arguments in favor of No Gi, and he’s very convincing. I’ll do my best to address some of his points and add a few of my own.
With that, I present to you my…
Top 10 reasons training in a Gi is better than training No Gi:
Reason Number 10: In a Gi, your offense has to be technical.
With a gi on, you won’t be able to replace solid technique behind a flurry of activity, strength and athleticism. Skipping steps leads to opportunities to counter, because the gi provides grips. You can’t slide through an opponent’s guard, sit through to a scarf hold, then around to north/south, back to side mount, etc, without at some point getting caught. Your opponent will get a grip, slow you down and work a counter.
So, in order to pass guard, you have to do all of the little things correctly. To transition from one position to another, or from one submission to another, you have to understand the details and account for the defense. There isn’t an opportunity for Shock and Awe. You can’t count on slipperiness or a lack of grips to get you through.
Reason Number 9: Your defense has to be technical, as well.
As was true for offense, you have to do everything correctly. My opponent has more tools with which to submit me. He’s got my gi. There are lapel chokes. There are also chokes that take advantage of the skirt of the gi. He’s also got his own gi.
Also, because there is still friction, even when we’re sweaty, I have to be more technical in my defense against almost every submission. A simple armbar from guard will be much more likely to succeed in gi than No Gi. This leads to good habits: stack my opponent up, get my back leg in a good position and counter the submission… correctly. How many times have we seen a UFC fighter (i.e., a top tier professional) STAND UP and extend his arm when his opponent locks on an armbar from guard? It makes me crazy! These are bad habits born from being able to substitute strength and athleticism for proper technique.
Take guys like Marcelo Garcia. He trains almost exclusively in a gi, and yet does VERY well against guys in No Gi competition, even against guys who are significantly stronger and larger than he. The skills translate. Going from training in a gi to training No Gi is really more about limiting your tools than anything else.
Conversely, I’ve run into several guys who are lost in a gi. They train almost exclusively No Gi and in tournaments, in a gi, they get smoked. Based upon my unscientific, completely anecdotal experience, I believe that it’s actually more difficult to transition from No Gi to gi than vice versa.
Reason Number 8: Flair.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can get WAY more patches on my gi than you can on your board shorts.
Reason Number 7: Pacing.
In a gi, the pace of a match is slower. I’ve mentioned gi grappling being more technical, and I believe this is true. There’s also an opportunity to think… to strategize. This is particularly useful if you’re working on new technique.
Matt Thornton refers to the three I’s of training: Introduction, Isolation and Integration. In No-Gi, because the pace is so fast, there is often a barrier to effective integration. You try to work a sweep from guard, and, fwoop, the guy literally slides through. You’re a new guy trying to work on your armbar from guard. No sooner do you turn your hips and, fwoop (yes, that’s the sound it makes), the guy slides around and is in side mount. Sure it can be done, but it’s easier to do it right when the pace is slower and there’s less room for masking poor technique with explosive athleticism.
It’s not uncommon for people to compare BJJ to chess… with pain. I agree, and this aspect is a large part of why I am addicted. No-gi is more like speed chess, more about quickly recognizing patterns and quick reflexes than contemplation and applied strategy.
Reason Number 6: Self Defense.
I want to be clear, I’m not training for self defense. I don’t anticipate being jumped by 9 ninja in a dark alley. (Quick aside: plural of ninja… is it ninjas or ninja… or ninjai?)
But even though I don’t train for self defense, training in a gi represents a more realistic training environment. Unless, that is, I’m defending myself from several ninja while sunbathing. Chances are, in any encounter, I’ll have a shirt, jacket, or something else to use against my would be assailant.
Reason Number 5: Chicks dig the gi.
Okay, I’ll admit I have no idea whether this is true or not. Actually, if I’m being honest, I suspect that it’s actually not true at all. But I don’t care. I’m going with it.
Reason Number 4: Fat guys sweat more.
If losing weight is your goal, put on a gi. My gi weighs about 6 lbs before class. I swear it weighs at least 50 lbs after. Or maybe it just FEELS like it weighs that much.
Reason Number 3: Training in a gi is Traditional…
… and that matters to some people. I get a kick out of the discussions about Traditional Martial Arts vs. MMA (or other “Non-Traditional” styles). BJJ is a style that has a lot of tradition, even if it’s not as formal as some. I’ve written before about some of the traditions that appeal to me in BJJ. Most of them are without pretension.
I like that our stripes are little strips of athletic tape. I like that the gis are often garish and tacky, that there is little uniformity. I like how the art respects and encourages individuality. We’re students of a martial art, not soldiers. I like the traditions.
While training at a BJJ school may not be anything like training at the local Karate Dojo, these traditions are still important, tying what we do today with what was done by Helio, Carlos and the rest of the Gracie family, as well as Luiz Franca and Oswaldo Fadda back in the first half of the 20th Century. Anyone who suggests that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is without history or tradition just doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in its present form is arguably older than modern Tae Kwon Do, just as an example. A terrific summary of the history of BJJ can be found at AustinJJ.com.
Reason Number 2: It’s a better value at tournaments.
Many tournaments offer discounts if you roll in both divisions. The best tournament around in the Seattle area, The Revolution tournaments, hosted by Jeff B’s Liberty Events* offer a discount if you register in the Gi AND the No-Gi divisions.
And as I said before, picking up no gi from gi is easier than going the other direction.
And finally, Reason Number 1: Because I said so.
All kidding aside, I have been thinking about No Gi more and more. I’ve been training almost exclusively in a gi since I started, and I need to work on expanding my game. I would like to add a No Gi class to my training schedule. It would be relatively simple to do, if I can work it out. But do I want to? I’ll have to think about Hazmat’s article for a while, and I guess we’ll see.
So, where do you fall? Gi? No-Gi? Somewhere in between?
*Jeff, I’ll accept kickbacks for the free advertising in the form of cash or in-kind payment.