Gi vs No Gi BJJ: How to Choose the Right One for You

To gi, or not to gi? That is the question because, for whatever reason, the gi vs no gi jiu jitsu debate is one of the most persistent arguments in grappling.

While I don’t expect to settle the matter today, I will explain the differences between the two types of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), discuss their pros and cons, and help you determine which makes the most sense for you to train.

What’s the Difference Between Gi and No Gi?

Let’s take a step back. If you’re brand new to the sport, you might not know what all the fuss is about. To clarify, the “gi” or “kimono” refers to the thick jacket and pants worn in many traditional martial arts, including gi BJJ, judo, and karate.

You can see some examples in the picture below. And yeah, they do look a bit like pajamas.

No gi jiu jitsu players train without the traditional uniform, usually in a rashguard and shorts with spats underneath. And because it sadly needs to be said, wearing spats without shorts is not cool. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Fundamentally, that’s the only difference between the two types of BJJ. However, in practice, their techniques, cultures, and rulesets have evolved in different directions, making the games very different.

How Does Wearing a Gi vs No Gi Change BJJ?

Now that you understand the difference between gi and no gi BJJ, let’s explore how wearing the kimono or going without it affects your training experience.

Training

There’s obviously a massive amount of overlap between gi and no gi BJJ, but the experience of practicing them can be surprisingly different.

When two BJJ players wear a gi, the speed of their grappling is inherently slower. Not only is there much more friction, but there are also infinitely more ways to grab each other and limit movement.

There’s much less friction between two people in a rashguard and shorts, especially once they start sweating. There’s also no meaningful way to grab onto your opponent’s clothing, and doing so is actually illegal in no-gi competitions.

This difference can make gi BJJ more attractive to older and less traditionally athletic people. Meanwhile, no gi BJJ may be more appealing to those who are younger, more explosive, or interested in a faster-paced workout.

Techniques

As mentioned in the previous section, there are many more ways to grab someone wearing a gi than a rashguard and shorts. As a result, you can perform a wider variety of techniques in the gi than in no gi.

For example, you can use the cloth around your opponent’s neck to strangle them with techniques like the cross-collar choke. You can also play guards from the bottom position that entangle your opponent’s sleeves like spider guard.

In no gi jiu jitsu, you don’t have the luxury of gripping your opponent’s uniform, so you can only use techniques that involve grabbing your opponent’s body directly. That reduces the sport down to only the most universally applicable moves.

In other words, if you can perform a technique in no gi, you should also be able to use it in gi BJJ, mixed martial arts (MMA), and self-defense situations, no matter what your opponent wears.

Competition

While some gi and no gi competitions have virtually identical rulesets, a few key differences show up pretty consistently. Here are some of the most significant ones to be aware of:

  • Grabbing your opponent’s clothing: In the gi, you’re encouraged to use your opponent’s uniform against them, but holding onto your opponent’s clothes in no gi is always illegal in competition.
  • Leg entanglements and submissions: No-gi competitions are usually more liberal when it comes to attacking the legs, especially with techniques that involve reaping the knee, like heel hooks. These are generally illegal in gi competitions, and the rules tend to be even stricter at lower belt levels.
  • Emphasis on the standing position: This is probably the least consistent difference, but no gi competition rulesets tend to reward wrestling more than their gi counterparts. For example, ADCC (no gi BJJ’s Olympics) actively punishes guard pulling with negative points.

Of course, these rules really only matter if you plan to compete in BJJ. If you don’t, they’ll only have a minor effect on your training experience. For example, you may encounter fewer leg lockers in a gi gym.

Culture

Interestingly, there tend to be significant cultural differences between the gi and no gi scenes. While there are no hard-and-fast rules because every BJJ gym is unique, some trends are pretty noticeable and consistent. 

Generally, gi BJJ gyms tend to be more traditional. After all, the kimono is the uniform worn by the original practitioners of the art, and it dates all the way back to BJJ’s connection to judo.

As a result, you may run into more things like the following at gi BJJ gyms:

  • Not being allowed to ask higher belts to spar
  • Having to bow when you enter or exit the mat
  • Being expected to address instructors by specific titles
  • Stricter uniform requirements, like white or gym-issued gis only

In contrast, no-gi gyms tend to be less formal. No gi has more in common with wrestling and MMA. That can make it feel more like a sport and less like a martial art (not always a good thing), especially if you train with people who also train in those other disciplines.

There’s also less emphasis on belt levels since no one actually wears one to training. When you can’t tell the white belts from the black belts at a glance, the hierarchy between them is less tangible.

Logistics

This is often a factor people don’t fully appreciate until they’ve trained both types of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but it shouldn’t be too surprising. The logistics of acquiring and maintaining appropriate uniforms for gi BJJ are, frankly, a major pain.

While they vary significantly in price, gis can be stupidly expensive. For example, Shoyoroll, a popular gi supplier, sells most of theirs for $250 (batteries not included, belts sold separately).

To avoid the eternal shame of being the stinky dude, you also have to wash them after every use. As a result, you’ll need more than one to train multiple times per week unless you’re willing to do laundry after every class.

Speaking of laundry, cleaning your BJJ gis is also tedious. They take up much more room in washing machines than other types of clothing – often requiring their own load – and you typically have to hang them up to dry to prevent shrinkage.

Pro-tip: Your significant other will get annoyed if you constantly drape your damp gis over the backs of your living room chairs.

In contrast, there’s usually no specific uniform requirement for no-gi classes. Most people wear shorts and a rashguard, but you can probably get away with the gym clothes you already have.

Eight years into my training, I’ve never bought no-gi-specific apparel, and even if you do need to buy a few new rashguards, you can get them for dirt cheap on Amazon. And, of course, washing and drying them is much more straightforward.

Is Gi or No Gi BJJ More Practical?

It probably doesn’t surprise you that the gi vs no gi debate has never been settled because there’s no universally correct answer. Which one is most practical depends on you – your preferences and circumstances.

Let’s look at some common situations in which people get torn between one or the other to help you make your decision.

Gi vs No Gi for Beginners

Assuming you want to train BJJ primarily for fun, there’s really no reason to lean one way or the other as a beginner. Both gi and no gi can be equally enjoyable and rewarding. Your choice should come down to personal preference and circumstances.

For example, you might opt to train no gi BJJ if you wrestled in high school and feel more comfortable with that grappling experience. Alternatively, you might prefer gi BJJ if you’ve always loved The Karate Kid and like the idea of a more traditional martial arts vibe.

By the way, if you’ve just started training BJJ and want advice on which techniques to study first, check out my recommendations for the best jiu jitsu moves for beginners.

Gi vs No Gi for MMA

If you’re planning on competing in MMA, this is a no-brainer. Train no gi. Don’t bother putting on the kimono unless it’s necessary to get mat time. While it’s certainly better than nothing, it’s pretty inefficient.

When you hop in the cage, your experience is infinitely closer to no-gi training. Some claim that gi BJJ is better because it forces you to slow down and learn technique, but I find that a pretty weak argument.

Too much of gi BJJ is useless in MMA, and the experience of grappling in the kimono is too dissimilar to what you’ll experience in the cage. Plus, you can emphasize technique just as easily in no gi.

Gi vs No Gi for Fitness

Gi and no gi BJJ are both great workouts, and if you just want to be more active and lose a bit of weight, you can’t go wrong with either one. However, they present slightly different physical challenges, with no gi generally offering a more intense cardio workout.

Gi training tends to be more of an isometric exercise with greater emphasis on using your hands and forearms to grip your opponent and slow them down. No gi allows for much more freedom of movement, lending itself to more dynamic, fast-paced training.

Gi vs No Gi for Self Defense

If you’re primarily interested in training BJJ for self-defense reasons, it probably doesn’t matter too much whether you train gi or no gi. If you need an answer, there may be slightly more benefit to training whatever is closest to the clothing people wear near you.

For example, you might want to train no gi in southern California, the land of shorts and t-shirts, and gi BJJ in Boston, where winters are colder than your mother-in-law’s heart.

However, the aspects of grappling that matter in street fights are mostly takedowns and positional work. You’ll learn these in gi and no gi BJJ pretty equally. It’s more dependent on your gym than anything.

How to Choose Between Gi vs No Gi

Even after learning about the differences between gi and no gi BJJ, you may not be sure which one is right for you. Maybe you’re a prospective hobbyist and still can’t tell which sounds more fun.

In that case, just take action. Start by making a list of all the BJJ gyms you could attend. Do a quick Google and Yelp search for the “best BJJ gyms near me” and see what you find. Reddit is also a fantastic resource for getting the inside scoop.

After all, your ability to train gi or no gi is dependent on the gyms around you. If you can’t find somewhere that offers the style of jiu jitsu you want, it’s a moo point. Like a cow’s opinion, it just doesn’t matter.

Once you find some gyms with a reasonable commute, take a look at their schedules. Most BJJ gyms list their classes on their websites, and you can get a feel for whether they emphasize gi or no gi more.

Next, go ahead and give each style a shot. Both gi and no gi jiu jitsu gyms usually offer free trials. And don’t bother buying a gi beforehand. You should be able to borrow one from the gym, though you may have to pay.

If you’re ready to get started, check out my survival guide for your first BJJ class!

Be Open to Training Gi and No Gi

Most people have a preference for gi or no gi BJJ (no-gi gang represent), but the need to pick is really a false dichotomy. You might train more often with or without the gi, but most people end up training both.

With no gi becoming increasingly popular, most BJJ gyms have multiple sessions of each style weekly. Even if they don’t, you can always take your gi off at the end of class or show up to open mats and get some no-gi rounds in.

Don’t think your decision to train one or the other is final, either. I practiced no gi almost exclusively for the first six years of my training, but now put on the gi several times a week after moving to a city with fewer no-gi gyms.

In other words, try not to overthink things. Just get on the mat and start training!

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