Why train gi? Why train no-gi? Should you do one or the other? Or perhaps both?
Of course this depends on your goals. If you only want to do Judo and gi BJJ competition, you could train solely in the gi. But if you want to do no-gi grappling competition or MMA, or if you are considering the self defense aspect of BJJ, the answer is not so obvious.
Common sense would lead one to believe that if you want to MMA or no-gi competition, that you should train exclusively in no-gi. However, the empirical evidence does not seem to support this, particularly for no-gi grappling competition. What seems to be the case is, if you want to develop the best grappling skills, you should spend more time in the gi than no-gi, even if your primary objective is to be good at no gi! And, when you examine this issue more deeply, a reasonable argument to support this arises. Of course for self defense, you need to be good at gi and no-gi, as your opponent may or may not be wearing a shirt.
This debate has been going on for some time. Currently, the overwhelming majority opinion seems to be that even for no-gi competition and MMA, it is important to train in the gi also. Further, most are of the opinion that you should spend the majority of your training time in the gi, especially as a beginner. I agree with this, and here are the reasons why.
The Empirical Evidence
The vast majority of high level successful no-gi competitors developed their skills training in the gi, and still spend a very significant portion of their training time in the gi.
Three time ADCC (no-gi World Championships) World Champion Marcelo Garcia (who is probably the best pound per pound jiu-jitsu player in the world) said in his Arte Sauve interview that although he trained every day when preparing for these tournaments, that he only trained one day per week in no-gi. (Marcelo Garcia Quote: "I train every day in the gi, and once a week with no-gi. It is crucial to train with the gi to have the finest technique. An athlete who wants to be good in no-gi, must also train in the gi")
Even Eddie Bravo, who is probably the most vocal proponent of abandoning the gi and training exclusively no-gi, received his black belt from Jean Jacques Machado training in the gi. He also advocates that his students train in gi pants, to facilitate getting techniques in his system.
In the past, some have argued that the reason that the vast majority of no-gi champions were those whose training was primarily gi based, was because gi training had dominated jiu-jitsu for so long, that the vast majority of the best guys came from the gi. Further the argument went, that as no-gi spreads as a training modality, and has time to produce high level guys, that these no-gi guys will start to dominate the no-gi tournaments. Although there are many many places now doing primarily no-gi training, and although they have been around for quite some time now, this domination of no-gi guys in no-gi tournaments simply has not materialized. This fact weakens the no-gi side of the argument considerably.
The Slower pace of Gi Sparring Provides Several Benefits:
Safety: When you compare gi and no-gi sparring, it becomes apparent that gi sparring has a slower pace than no-gi sparring. This is because the gi provides grips and friction that slow down the game, This makes the sparring safer for beginners, because the slower pace results in fewer injuries. It is also easier for the more advanced player to control the action against a less experienced player in gi sparring, which also provides additional safety for both participants. This is because beginners have not yet learned how to grapple in the safest manner, relying instead on athleticism and explosive movement, which is somewhat dangerous when utilized by an inexperienced player.
A Calm Mind That Promotes Safety and Better Learning: The slower pace of the gi also means that there will be fewer accidental elbow, knee, and other strikes. This leads to calmer minds, which not only provides a safer sparring environment, but also promotes the players to stay focused on learning, instead of all out competition in training.
A Technical Game and the Mindset of a Technical Problem Solver: In no gi, it is often possible to avoid bad positions and submissions by explosive movement that is based more on athleticism than on technique. The handles and friction of the gi, make this sort of "escape by spazzing" game much less effective. This means that to be successful in the gi, you must learn technical answers for escaping bad positions and submissions. These technical answers will also make your no-gi game much better.
The Gi Allows Complex Techniques To Be Learned, That Are Difficult to Learn Doing Only No Gi: There are many sweeps and other technical movements in jiu-jitsu that are extremely difficult to start to learn in no-gi. This is due to the extremely fast pace of no-gi training. However, these sweeps can be learned easily in gi due to the grips and slower pace of the game. Then, once you have mastered the mechanics of the sweep or movement, you can then easily transfer these moves to a no gi game. Usually, this just involves minor adjustments of the grip.
No-Gi Sparring Should Also be Practiced
Since the friction and handles of the gi are not available for no-gi sparring, your submissions and pins must be much tighter to work without the gi. So, no-gi work will improve this part of your game for both no-gi and the gi. Also, you will need to learn how to use different griping strategies in no-gi. Our curriculum is designed such that the very large majority of the techniques have a no-gi version, with only small adjustments in the grips