Gi or No-Gi BJJ for Beginners: Which One Should You Choose?


Gi or No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu: Which One Should You Choose?

One of the biggest debates in modern Brazilian jiu-jitsu is whether to wear a uniform (gi) or not. Although there are a lot of martial arts that utilise uniforms, most of them have strict rules – for example karate, judo, etc. – pertaining to uniforms. In Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the debate is very important and we are going to be dealing with it in our article today.

Namely, we intend to explain to you what the gi is, how it works, what the advantages of each style are, and generally what you should consider when approaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu. So, keep reading to find out more!

What Is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) (Portuguese: jiu-jitsu brasileiro) is a self-defence martial art and combat sport based on grappling, ground fighting and submission holds. BJJ focuses on controlling one’s opponent, gaining a dominant position over him and using a number of specialised techniques to force them in to submission via joint locks or chokeholds. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was first developed and modified in the 1920s by Brazilian brothers Carlos, George and Hélio Gracie after Carlos was taught traditional Kodokan judo by a travelling Japanese judoka called Mitsuyo Maeda in 1917; the brothers later went on to develop their own self defence system named Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, which is not that different from traditional BJJ, but it’s still very distinctive. BJJ eventually came to be its own defined combat sport through the innovations, practices, and adaptation of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Judo, with governing bodies such as the IBJJF working worldwide, becoming an essential martial art for MMA.

Defining the gi in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Simply put, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu gi is the standard uniform for fighting and training Brazilian jiu-jitsu; it is adapted from the keikogi (), the uniform used in modern Japanese martial arts, especially kodokan judo. A gi, which literally means dress or clothes, is typically composed of a heavy, thick cotton jacket, a pair of reinforced drawstring trousers, and a belt which signifies the wearers rank and also holds the jacket together. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu gi is also sometimes referred to as kimono by non-Japanese speakers, which is a common confusion present in all Oriental martial arts, despite the fighting uniforms having nothing to do with the traditional Japanese kimono

If you’re using a gi, international competitions permit only one of these three colours – white, black or blue. In some jurisdictions this is relaxed to allow any single solid colour, but it is not a universal international standard.

The IBJJF has very struct rules pertaining to uniforms, and we are going to present some of them (from Article 8) to you:

  • The gi must be constructed of cotton or similar material and be in good condition. The material may not be excessively thick or hard to the point where it will obstruct the opponent.
  • Colours may be black, white or blue, no combined colours (white kimono with blue pants, etc.)
  • The jacket is to be of sufficient length down to the thighs, sleeves must reach the wrist with arms extended in front of the body. The sleeve should follow the official measurements according to IBJJF (this is measured from the shoulder to the wrist).
  • Belt width must be 4–5 cm, with belt colour corresponding to the practitioner’s rank. The belt must be tied around the waist with a double knot, tight enough to secure the kimono closed. An extremely worn/discoloured belt may need to be replaced before competing.
  • Athletes are not permitted to compete with torn kimonos, sleeves or pants that are not of proper length, or with T-shirts underneath the kimono (except for females).
  • A BJJ practitioner is not allowed to paint his/her gi. Exceptions can be made for team competitions.
  • Pockets of any kind are not allowed in a gi used at tournaments. 

A special gi checking tool is sometimes used to determine acceptable measurements and fit of a gi, but that is also not always present in competitions. This tool itself resembles a block of wood, measured at 3.5 cm x 2.5 cm x 15 cm, with a slit cut in the middle and it is used to measure the following: 

  • The jacket lapel must be 5 cm wide.
  • There must be at least 7 cm of room from the bottom of the competitor’s wrist to the bottom of the sleeve.
  • The jacket lapel must not be thicker than 1.3 cm.

As far as patches goes, Article 13 of the IBJJF code lists thirteen possible places (7 on the jacket, 6 on the pants) where they can be placed.

So, as you can see, the gi is traditionally an important part of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and there are strict rules pertaining to gi fighting. If a school or tournament doesn’t use or doesn’t even allow the wearing of a gi, we are talking about no-gi standards. 

The Differences Between gi and no-gi

Now that we have explained what the gi actually is, let us see the main differences between gi and no-gi Brazilian jiu-jitsu, based on several aspects:

  1. Clothing – this is, obviously, the main difference between gi and no-gi. In the latter, while grappling you normally wear a rash guard and shorts. In gi grappling, you wear a traditional uniform that can be used for your advantage while rolling, as it provides for more protection and is not a strain on you. The gi is generally very thick, which is why we could deduce that no-gi is more realistic, because it imitates a real-life condition better, as you will probably not be fighting someone in a thick jacket in real life, while also wearing one. 
  2. Training – this aspect mostly concerns the technical differences in grappling between gi and no-gi fighting. No-gi training is much faster and more high-paced than your usual gi training, which relies more on traditional approaches. This is because in no-gi there aren’t as many ways to hold or stall an opponent while rolling, because of the nature of the fighting without additional clothes. Breaking grips is here much easier to do than in gi training because you’re purely relying on the strength of your grips rather than the technique of a lapel grip, like you do in gi. In addition to the difference in speed between the two approaches, there are also various tactics that can be used between the two. Many submissions in gi are executed by using various grips on the lapel and collar, something you cannot do in no-gi training, because you don’t have the necessary prerequisites. This is obviously impossible when in no-gi as there is no lapel or collar to hold, because there is no gi, which is only logical. Not only can the gi be used for submissions, but it can also be used to completely control and dominate your opponents’ movements, because it allows you to hold him like a puppet, if you have the right technique. Using a gi to control your opponent is using their own clothing against them, an advantage you can’t use when training no-gi.
  3. Technique – this aspect concerns the necessary technical abilities you have to possess in order to fight successfully. In gi, technique is very important and you’ll rely on it more than on sheer strength. The use of proper technique in a gi is much more useful than natural your abilities, such as strength and speed. Jiu-jitsu is certainly martial art that, regardless of the style, emphasises a strong technical approach, however in gi training, those types of techniques become even more powerful and emphasized. Natural abilities such as strength and speed won’t be as useful in gi training, where techniques are more advanced and complicated. On the other hand, no-gi grappling allows those natural abilities to be of better use if you want to succeed, when compared to classical gi training. In no-gi, strength and speed are a huge advantage that will allow you to easily move to a more dominate position and subdue your opponent. However, the downside to this is that these dominant positions in no-gi aren’t nearly as dangerous and potentially decisive as they are in gi. It’s much harder to secure a submission from a full mount in no-gi when compared to that same position in gi.
  4. Rules – there are also some differences in rules in gi and no-gi fighting. For example: heel hooks are a technique that has been banned from official gi competitions sanctioned by the IBJJF, however they’re allowed in many no-gi competitions. There are different rulesets for each type of competition, but we can generally state that gi competitions are generally stricter when it comes to certain types of moves and techniques. 

The Advantages of Both Approaches

In this section, we are going to deal with the main advantages of both gi and no-gi training. As you will be able to deduce, what is the advantage of one is the disadvantage of the other and vice versa, which is why we won’t be analysing those aspects separately. Let us continue:

The advantages of gi

The main advantage of training with a gi is that it is fully interchangeable with no-gi training, meaning – if you start off with a gi, you can easily take it off an continue without one without any problems. This rule, on the other hand, doesn’t work the other way around, because you’ll have to adapt to gi training to master the use and learn the importance of the lapel and the collar in a fight. Using the lapel and collar is something that takes a long time to master because there are many different technical aspects you have to master, and you can only do that in classical gi training. Another great thing about gi training is that lapel grips will increase the strength of the muscles and tendons in your hands, arms, and chest. Training in a gi will also allow you to improve your techniques much faster than classical no-gi training. Gi training is generally slower and based on different tactical and technical approaches and is more similar to a game of chess than no-gi training.

The advantages of no-gi

Because no-gi training is much more fast-paced, you’ll have a cardiovascular advantage when compared to those who train gi all day long, which is why no-gi is a better form of cardio exercise than your regular gi training. No-gi training will sharpen your mind and allow you to make decisions much quicker than in the slow-paced gi training. No-gi uses techniques that are more often seen in wrestling and MMA, because you don’t have any clothes restricting you, similar to how a wrestler only wears a singlet or an MMA fighter wears nothing. Takedowns are an ability that must be learned in no-gi because you can’t just grab your opponent’s collar and pull guard and then use it to your advantage. The biggest advantage of no-gi training is that it translates well to both MMA and real-life situations.

Conclusion – Which Is Better?

There is actually no definitive answer to this question, so sorry to disappoint you. While it would be, in our opinion, best to try out both styles – both gi and no-gi – this is only a recommendation. Such an approach will give you the “best of both worlds”, and you will certainly learn more if you learn both. But, the ultimate decision on which style to pick lies in your hands and your ambitions. Namely, if you want to use Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a starting point for an MMA career (which is certainly a good one), then we advise you to pick no-gi training, because it is better suited for MMA conditions. On the other hand, if you want to remain in the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, then gi training would be a better option, because most sanctioned competitions use the gi format. Gi is more focused on technique, while no-gi focuses on your natural abilities. So, if you want to make a good choice – decide what you want with your careers and then make the final decision. 

This covers our analysis of the topic for today. For more information, keep following us and stay tuned for more of the same.

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