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April 18, 2021

Gi or No Gi: What’s the Difference?

Morgan Shabani

Gi or No Gi: What’s the Difference?

A Short History of Gi and No-Gi.

Keikogi (稽古着) (‘keiko’, “practice”, ‘gi’, “dress or “clothes”), also known as dōgi (道着) or keikoi (稽古衣), is a uniform worn for training in Japanese martial arts.  You can add any name in front of “gi” to indicate the style of dogi for that martial art.  For example, Judogi, Karategi, Aikidogi, JiuJitsuGi, etc.

The gi was passed down to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from Judo practitioners, who brought the art of Judo over to Brazil’s coast in 1920’s.  Jigoro Kano, who originally developed Judo Japanese Jujitsu, was also the inventor of the gi itself and the sensei of Mitsuyo Maeda, who personally instructed the Gracies of Brazil.  Because of these traditional ties, the Gracies very much stressed the use of the gi in BJJ. 

So why was the gi invented in the first place?

Interestingly enough, Judo was the first martial art to incorporate the wearing of a dogi.  Martial arts like Karate and Aikido adapted the gi because of Judo’s incorporation of it.  Back in the day, Judo was considered a “classier” martial art, as historically it was derived from the fighting of Samurai. Karate, which was considered far more brutish and messy, was originally fought in street clothes. Martial arts, like Karate, adapted the gi for their martial arts – making it lighter weight to suit their art better.

Kano’s original intent for the gi was to mimic the armor of Samurai.  He also copied the style of the gi from Japanese firefighters, who wore heavy cotton jackets at the time. The gi was made to be thick and heavy, so that throws and locks, like one would perform against heavy armor, could be practiced.  Judo, developed from Japanese jujitsu, had its roots in the hand to hand combat of Samurai, so being able to use an opponent’s armor against them was a huge factor in the martial art.     

The judo-gi has three main parts:  the heavy cotton jacket (uwagi), the canvas pants (shitabaki or zubon) and the belt (obi).

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s use of the Kimono was actually quite the unique sight in Brazil, where the native population was used to watching their fighters go at it with bare chests and shorts or spandex.  Luta Livre was a very popular fighting style in Brazil at the time, and the Kimono wearing BJJ grapplers were constantly at war with these rival, half naked practitioners.  Many famous bouts went on between the camps, at some point leading to the defeat of one BJJ practitioner, Renan Pitanguy, because, ironically, a Luta Livre fighter, Eugenio Tadeu, used Renan’s gi to hold him down as he punched him to submission. 

After this event, it was common to see BJJ fighters take off the gi when grappling other fighting styles (for example, Royler Gracie vs Eugenio Tadea, which was done no-gi style). Modern day no gi tournaments were developed such as the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) where gis are allowed, but essentially all grapplers choose no gi style.  ADCC has also always allowed popular no gi attacks like heel hooks, which the IBJJF has deemed illegal until extremely recently (after much pressure to change).  There are even modern academies that focus exclusively on No Gi, like the famous 10th Planet academy – who boasts their own unique style of no-gi BJJ.   

What’s the difference?

So which is better?  Well, that all depends on what you are trying to get out of your martial art.  The war between which style is more effective has been going on for longer than I’ve been alive.  Ask any BJJ practitioner, and they will have their own (strong) opinion on why they like what they like. 

So what do you wear to each?

In Gi BJJ, the kimono is the primary uniform. Kimono come in a variety of colors, and depending on the academy that you attend, you can wear quite the colorful array of gis. IBJJF standards state that only white, blue and (more modernly) black are allowed for competition. Some academies who follow strict tradition only allow white gi’s on their mats.  White was the primary color for all original Judogi’s, until blue was later introduced into Judo for the purpose of differentiating athletes during a match.

There are many competitions nowadays, like Fight 2 Win and Grappling Industries, who are far more relaxed about what color of gi you can wear when fighting as long as it is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gi.

In No-Gi, practitioners generally wear rash guard tops, grappling shorts and/or spats on the mats, but no one would be shocked to see a no gi athlete wearing a t-shirt, biking shorts, or gi pants as well.  The rules aren’t as hard and fast in no gi about what you should wear, although athletes tend to prefer rash guard tops (both short and long sleeve), grappling shorts and/or spats (essentially yoga pants which area also made of rash guard material) because it makes them quicker and more agile.  There are some tournaments (like IBJJF) that require rank colored rash guards as the standard for their no gi fights.

Always consult with your specific tournament rules to see what is legal for you to wear when grappling.   

Gi may be best for learning defense.  

The fact that it is, by far, harder to get out of submissions and pins in the gi makes it very effective for learning defense.  Arguably, this is why newcomers are always encouraged to begin learning BJJ in the gi.  One’s defense has to be technically sound to escape well established gi pins and submissions, whereas in no gi the lack of friction can slip and slide you out of plenty of tricky situations.  An armbar has to be sunk in extremely well for a no gi practitioner to not be able to slide out of it, where in the gi it takes a lot more technical prowess to get yourself out of the lock.

No-gi may be best for learning offense.

There are naturally less submissions in no gi because you don’t have the lapels to work with.  Because of this, the few submissions that you have in no gi must be perfectly executed to sink in.  Athletes need to learn how to have immaculate control of their opponents in order to pin them and initiate submission attempts. The inability to use someone’s clothing for submissions and sweeps also teaches the practitioner better grips and body positioning to obtain what they want. Developing control as an attacker can absolutely be best honed in no gi.  Where no gi loses in lapel attacks, it gains in leg locks.  Because a variety of leg attacks are illegal in the gi due to friction (it is extremely hard, for example, to get out of a heel hook if you are wearing pants – resulting in dangerous knee injuries), they have exploded in use in no gi. 

The difference in pace.

One of the things that practitioners will immediately notice about gi and no gi is the difference in pace.  Where gi athletes can grab nasty grips which hinders their opponent’s movement, no gi practitioners are forced to move quickly, engage in scrambles, and essentially rely more on their athleticism. 

Gi allows for a weaker opponent to engage a stronger one with a labyrinth of grips and lapel play; wrapping their opponent up like a spider would its prey. This allows for slower transition between positions, and a lot more time for you to think about your next move.  There is more of an ability to stall in gi, and use the friction of your gi to lock guards and pins into solid place.  Because of the grips, gi BJJ can be harder on the wrists and fingers, as you are constantly tugging heavy material and having your grips stripped by your opponent.  

In no-gi, you must rely more on your quick wits, moving from position to position like a surfer riding a wave.  Because it is harder to lock pins and guards into place, no gi athletes are forced to flow a lot faster.  Scrambles are a huge part of no gi Jiu Jitsu; where you quickly chain one move to another by instinct in order to get into a dominant position over your opponent.  Because of the lack of grips, you focus more on body positioning and transient grips like Russians, wizzers, underhooks etc, to fluidly move around your opponent. 

What’s better for self defense?

This question has caused quite the uproar in a lot of circles.  What truly is better for self defense?  You have some in the no gi camp that joke that no one wears a kimono when you are fighting them on the streets.  Then the gi proponents will come back with the fact that everyone is wearing something, be it jeans or a jacket or a t-shirt, and you can use these things against them if you are practiced. 

No gi practitioners will also stress that no gi makes you prepared for any situation. You can’t rely on the fact that a person will be wearing clothes that you can manipulate.  Gi practitioners will tell you that it is extremely important to learn how to deal with the friction of clothing when it comes to being pinned in self defense situations.

In the end, when it comes down to it, a mixture of both styles would be best suited for self defense purposes. 

How about if you want to train Mixed Martial Arts?

It is pretty much unanimous consensus that MMA fighters should train No Gi.  The time that an MMA fighter uses to train in the gi could be far more usefully spent training in another style of martial art to compliment their fighting. There are no clothing grips in MMA, fighters are extremely slippery and the pace is fast and brutal.  No gi is absolutely more suited to help mixed martial artists reach their goals in their ground game. 

Some opinions from Easton Training Center BJJ students:
“What do you like best, gi or no-gi?”

“Always no gi! I hate people grabbing my gi.  It’s stalling. Dirty stallers!”

“Gi!  I like all the grips!  In no-gi, I forget what to do with my hands.”

“No-gi.  I go in phases, honestly. The last few years it’s been a no-gi phase because I’m fast and strong and I can break your legs easier. I like tangling up people in the gi, but I love breaking legs.”

“No-gi, because I don’t like being hot. Also, I have more of an MMA base.”

“I like gi. Mostly because I’m still pretty new and having gi grips gives me a little more time to “hang on” while I’m running things through my head.”

“No-gi. Doing no-gi is good prep for wrestling and beating up my friends. Plus I’m more slippery.”

“Depends on what cool move I see on Youtube, so I go through phases.”

“I struggle with gi. It’s not that I prefer one over the other so much, but I started BJJ in a self defense curriculum. So when I’m at blue belt level and I see other blue belts that started in a sport environment doing their fancy lapel chokes and lasso guard, I get insecure that I’m not where I should be. So I tend to be drawn to no gi because it challenges me less and it makes me feel better about myself, haha!”

“Gi, because if feels more pure and traditional.”

“No gi, but it fluctuates. I love Gi almost as much, but no Gi is probably my favorite because I like the pace and I enjoy the emphasis on leg locks. I like heal hooking fools!”

“I like Gi!  Someone said to me the other day that the GI is the great equalizer. Which is great as a smaller woman going against men or larger opponents, it helps to have the grips and extra choke options.”

“No gi. Nobody can grip me as easily!”

“I like no gi better for shallow reasons. I feel frumpy and slow in my gi. I feel fast and powerful in no gi!”

Ready to Get Started? 

Easton Training Center’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program has classes for students of every level. Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned brown belt, you’ll find training at our academies to be fun and challenging. 

Our Fundamentals program teaches the essentials of offense and defense from the foundational positions. You’ll learn self-defense techniques for real life situations. From there, you’ll start to build your own game in live training, or Randori. In our advanced classes, you’ll learn the finer points of sport Jiu-Jitsu from the best instructors in Colorado. 

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