This article was written by 3rd-Degree Roger Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Nicolas Gregoriades.
For several years now a debate has been raging within the grappling community over which style of ground-fighting is better – gi or no-gi.
To me, the answer is “both” and “neither”. The two are not diametrically opposed nor are they mutually exclusive. Many grapplers dogmatically limit themselves to training exclusively with or without the gi. This is a detrimental practice because they are denying themselves access to the benefits of the omitted style. Personally, I began my training in the gi when I did judo from the age of 8 to 15. Then at age 20, I began training no-gi submission grappling which I did exclusively for the next couple of years.
When I moved to London and began to train with Roger Gracie 10 years ago, almost all my training became gi-based. For me, my sub-grappling background accelerated my learning of the gi game. Also, these days, when I return to my no-gi training, I find that the pure kimono-based BJJ training has massively improved that too. I've identified the benefits of training in each style and listed them below. Training with and without the gi is recommended as both are complimentary.
Improves upper body strength
The constant gripping of your opponent’s sleeves, lapels and trousers greatly strengthens the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the hands, forearms, upper arms and back – all of which are used in both styles of grappling.
Slows the game down
Because the kimono keeps you and your opponent relatively dry and creates friction it results in a slightly slower game than submission grappling. This removal of an amount of speed from the equation results in a more technical, methodical approach while fighting. This is good for those who are over-reliant on explosiveness and brute strength to implement their movements.
Promotes better escapes
As the collar on your neck puts you in danger of strangulation from many angles, it promotes a greater overall defensive awareness. Also, escaping hold-downs and submissions when your opponent has tight grips on your gi is much more difficult than no-gi. It is much harder to pull a cloth-enveloped limb out of an arm or leglock by relying on speed and explosiveness, and so you are forced to use a more technical approach instead.
Promotes better hold-downs and control positions
Learning to hold down a perspiring and slippery opponent is far more difficult than holding down someone who is wearing a gi. When you have learned to control an opponent who is not wearing a gi it will become easy to control someone who is.
Increases the speed of the game
The reduced importance of the grips and reduced friction in the no-gi game means it almost always moves at a faster pace. Practising at this higher speed improves reflexes and assists in the development of a reactive, free-flowing movement which is crucial during positional scrambles.
So instead of buying into the dogma of 'my style is better than yours', instead ask “do I want to limit myself"