Intro Series: To Gi or Not to Gi? What is the Difference?
Updated: Aug 13, 2022
I have been practicing BJJ for 3 years and obtained my blue belt before ever attending my first NoGi class. I can attest that NoGi lends itself towards speed and cardiovascular conditioning. Apparently, I have neither of these. At slightly chunky and nearly 40, I had a bit of a challenge rolling with a former MMA competitor who is significantly smaller. I won't deny my frustration as he spun around me like the Tasmanian Devil and submitted me with no fewer than 4 triangle chokes! Like really?! I kept getting caught in the SAME choke!!
I couldn't figure out how to control this man. I had no cloth to grip. I was having difficulty controlling his legs. I got so focused on how different Gi and NoGi are I was barely able to recognize how to transition from one position to another before I found myself in a triangle.
I like to think that I'm in shape. I've spent the last year lifting weights, eating better, losing inches if not weight. But damn! I don't think I've huffed and puffed that hard in a long time. Impotence is a word that comes to mind. Challenge is another. I will say that in the following week I did my darndest to recognize when and from where a triangle choke is feasible. I was not going to get embarrassingly caught in another! With that confession of a much better Gi fighter than not, shall we begin?
This is a post of all of the beginners trying to figure out what in the world Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is and decide how to even begin. Once you learn the basics of Jiu Jitsu and move beyond the beginner classes, you will be faced with the question of Gi vs NoGi to further your training. Both are fabulous and valid work outs, and I find that most practitioners continue with Gi without question. But before you venture into the NoGi class I hope to give you a peek about the other side of Jiu Jitsu...
The obvious difference between the two styles of Jiu Jitsu is outfit. In traditional Gi Jiu Jitsu the attire consists of a Gi jacket, pants and belt which indicates rank. Hopefully, your opponent also has on a rash guard, but it is not necessary. The Gi is similar to a Karate or Taekwondo uniform, however the weight is much heavier. You cannot substitute another martial arts Gi for BJJ because it isn't just attire; it becomes a part of you. The Gi is used to gain grips, control your opponent, and submit your opponent. If you try to use another discipline's Gi it will rip under the pressure of rolling. (See my blog on how to choose a Gi for more information.)
In NoGi BJJ, the attire consists of a rash guard and grappling shorts or a tee and shorts, if you don't want to invest in more clothing right away. There is no material to use to gain grips or control. This lends towards a very different game, one that lends more towards natural strength and speed initially. NoGi is typically a faster, more explosive game for several reasons. The most obvious reason for increased speed is the inability to grip the Gi and slow down your opponent. I believe the NoGi style is a must if you are training for mixed martial arts competitions as the grips are inherently different than those in regular BJJ. This means the take downs and submissions also differ as there are no sleeves or lapels to grip. This is also great cross training for wrestlers, as the movements are similar and neither uniform allows for gaining grips.
Unfortunately, many practitioners are taught that "you just change the grips, and you are ready for no Gi". That isn't necessarily true! NoGi is its own game where one must learn how to use pressure differently to control his/her opponent. The transition from Gi to NoGi transfers well typically. Once you learn the basic BJJ positions and submissions, they can easily be parlayed into the game of NoGi. As NoGi is a less technical game, it will allow you, as a practitioner, to build speed of movement and cardiovascular strength versus musculoskeletal strength and technical skill.
Also be aware that there are several rule differences in Gi and NoGi. Heel hooks are a technique that are still allowed at some NoGi competitions, whereas they were banned by the IBJJF. It is important to familiarize yourself with each tournament's rules, while you are training to compete.
So with this glimpse into NoGi are you ready for the transition? Most articles that I have read while preparing to write this, advocate for training both Gi and NoGI. They describe that Gi provides significant opportunities to learn a solid defense, whereas NoGi helps to build your offense. I must say that in my very limited practical experience, I can see where the experts are coming from. I fully intend to try to get at least one NoGi class in a month, and slowly increase my class time from there. This is me putting my promise in the world to hold me accountable. I know once a month doesn't seem like a ton, but it's a start. A start is all we can ask of ourselves, right? Are you ready to join me?
Let's do this together!