Everything you need to know about the two clothing options within BJJ
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has come a long way since it was adapted from traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu in Brazil. In its earlier days jiu jitsu was practiced solely in a gi or “kimono”, which at first confused Brazilian spectators who were used to watching combat sports being fought by bare-chested fighters.
Now that BJJ has earned its place as one of the most popular martial arts within MMA, jiu jitsu without the gi, otherwise called “no gi” has also increased in popularity.
Gi BJJ is when both players wear cotton kimonos which they can grip to help submit or control each other. No gi BJJ is when both players wear rashguards and boardshorts, which they cannot grab during a match.
In IBJJF competitions, recent rule changes mean that no gi brown and black belt competitors can now use leg submissions not available in the gi such as heel hooks.
But back to the question of gi vs no gi. This is a fierce debate in the BJJ community, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer as to which is better.
According to experts like John Danaher, the best athletes in jiu jitsu should be effective in both gi and no gi. This is because ultimately jiu jitsu is about controlling the opponent and not their clothing, and gi and no gi may each have unique benefits.
In some cases no gi jiu jitsu might be more relevant for those learning BJJ solely for MMA, or those who aim to compete solely in no gi jiu jitsu competitions. Read on for the full guide.
Table of contents
- What’s the difference between gi and no gi jiu jitsu?
- How does the change of clothing affect the style of jiu jitsu?
- Gi vs no gi BJJ competitions
- Is gi or no gi better for beginners?
- Is gi or no gi better for self-defence?
- Is gi or no gi better for MMA?
- Are there any gyms that only teach no gi jiu jitsu?
- Gi and no gi pros and cons
What’s the difference between gi and no gi jiu jitsu?
As mentioned above, the key difference between gi and no gi jiu jitsu is the clothing. Traditionally in BJJ you’ll wear a cotton gi or “kimono” based on the traditional kimonos worn in Japanese martial arts such as judo since the 1920s. A gi is just a heavy cotton jacket with a thick collar, drawstring pants, and a cotton belt which is coloured to denote rank. There were over 120 gi brands the last time we counted, and there are BJJ gis at budget and premium prices, and for competitors.
In no gi, you’ll wear a “rashguard” top, plus a pair of board shorts very similar to what you’ll wear to a beach or pool. You might also wear spats or leggings underneath your shorts. No gi clothing is generally made from stretchy elastic materials like polyester.
How does the change of clothing affect the style of jiu jitsu?
When you practice jiu jitsu in a gi, you’re generally able to grab and use both you and your opponent’s gi including the collar, lapel, pants and sleeves in your techniques (within reason – there are still some rules regarding this in IBJJF for example).
In no gi, none of these clothing “handles” exist and you’re generally not allowed to grab your opponent’s clothing during your roll. Instead of using clothing to help control and submit your opponent, you’ll use body mechanics and techniques like overhooks and balance. So how does this actually change the style and pace of a regular jiu jitsu sparring match?
John Danaher, one of the most respected BJJ instructors in the world said in 2016 that the gi is useful for building defensive skills, and no gi is useful for building offensive skills. He said there are three main ways no gi changes jiu jitsu:
- There’s less friction in no gi. A gi creates plenty of friction when worn, especially when it becomes wet with sweat. This has the effect of slowing down matches, and forces you to wait for the right opportunity and then address each obstacle to your goal in turn. This means the sparring round is less like a scramble and physical speed doesn’t outpace tactics. Friction also makes it harder to use speed and strength to make up for lack of technique when wearing a gi.
- There are less grips in no gi. A gi has a thick collar, lapel, sleeves and pant legs you can grip to help control your opponent. According to Danaher, training in no gi forces students to improve the technical aspects of pinning and submissions because they can’t rely on the gi grips and friction to do the work for them. Instead they must use their body positioning to help immobilise their opponents when trying to submit them.
- There are less stranglehold opportunities in no gi. The gi jacket forces students to protect their neck from numerous strangleholds, so it has benefits for beginners learning the importance of defence. Once the gi jacket is removed, there are fewer stranglehold options and those that remain in no gi are less efficient than in gi. This feeds into Danaher’s point that no gi training is good for developing your offensive capabilities as your submission form must be better to combat not only the slipperiness and lack of friction but also the fewer options.
Gi vs no gi BJJ competitions: Are there rule differences between gi and no gi jiu jitsu?
As mentioned above, the two key rule differences between a gi and no gi competition match is that:
- In gi matches the clothing can be held and used within reason, and in no gi the clothing cannot be held.
- In IBJJF no gi competitions at brown and black belt levels, additional leg submissions are allowed including heel hooks, and toe holds that apply outward pressure on the foot.
In terms of available competitions for both styles, there are plenty of opportunities for both.
One of the largest BJJ competition organisers around the world is the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF). Most IBJJF competitions have gi and no gi brackets, so there’s usually no shortage of competitors in either style. The same goes for other large competition organisations like Grappling Industries.
The IBJJF also runs annual world championship events in both gi and no gi too.
There are also other organisations which run gi-optional events. The most well known of these is the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) which was started by Sheik Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The ADCC World Submission Fighting Championships take place every year, and there are also national and qualifier events around the world each year. In this ruleset the gi is optional, and therefore no gi clothing tends to be what most fighters wear.
Organisations and competitions can have key rules differences which encourage certain techniques over others. For example, the ADCC does not ban heel hooks like the IBJJF ruleset in the gi does, which has meant that these leg lock submissions have flourished in no gi style competitions like ADCC.
Is gi or no gi better for beginners?
This is difficult to answer without knowing your reasons for starting jiu jitsu in the first place.
As mentioned above, many gyms will offer classes in both. This means it’s not difficult to regularly train in both, which is what many experts like world champion Bernardo Faria recommend below.
Again, John Danaher came to a similar conclusion in the post mentioned above. He thinks that training in a gi as a beginner is useful to learn defensive principles such as neck defence. On the other hand, no gi training is great for beginners to develop better offensive skills because they can’t rely on grips to pin opponents and finish submissions.
If your sole reason for starting BJJ is for MMA reasons, world-class MMA coaches like Firas Zahabi have in the past said to prioritise no gi training (more on that below).
Is gi or no gi better for self-defence?
There are differing opinions on this. Some say that jiu jitsu was originally taught in a gi specifically for self-defence reasons.
Regardless, since jiu jitsu was introduced to Brazil in the mid 1800s/early 1900s, street clothing has changed, and some now think the gi is unrealistic for self-defence situations. One example is Eddie Bravo, the founder of the no gi jiu jitsu organisation 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu. He claims no gi is more realistic for self-defence. You can read more about Eddie’s unique approach to jiu jitsu below.
Others like Chewy from the excellent Chewjitsu YouTube channel say the gi is basically just a jacket and pants, and is actually more realistic than the spandex worn in no gi.
Is gi or no gi better for MMA?
Firas Zahabi is one of the most respected MMA coaches in the world, and in the past he has recommended prioritising no gi if you’re training in MMA. His main reason is that many gi-specific techniques don’t translate well into MMA, and the time spent learning these techniques could be better spent perfecting the many other aspects of MMA like wrestling, boxing, muay thai and clinching.
He does think the gi is good for learning escapes and guard pass prevention though. Watch his AMA video from 2017 to hear his full answer.
Are there any gyms that only teach no gi jiu jitsu?
Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu organisation trains solely no gi jiu jitsu at locations around the world. In this introductory video he explains why he decided to remove the gi from his style of BJJ:
“I did this to focus on developing a jiu jitsu style based on clinching your opponent rather than yanking and pulling on your opponent’s gi, which I feel was taking the art into an unrealistic tug-of-war dimension”
“This makes the art of jiu jitsu more effective when strikes are involved, making it better in street and MMA situations…”Eddie Bravo
Eddie has also pioneered a guard specifically for his style of no gi jiu jitsu called the “rubber” guard.
Gi pros and cons
- Additional sweeps and submissions are available in gi
- The gi might help build better defensive skills because increased friction and grips make it more difficult
- Many gyms offer more gi classes than no gi classes each week
- Increased friction in gi can be used to make up for sloppy submission techniques
No gi pros and cons
- No gi might build stronger offensive skills because the lack of friction and grips forces you to develop better body positioning skills
- More relevant to MMA training
- Might not build defensive skills as well as gi because there are less grips and friction
- Not many gyms are no-gi only