Gi Vs No Gi – Which Is Best? For BJJ, MMA & Self Defense

I train both gi and no gi BJJ and I love them both. And so I often get the question: should I do gi or no gi? I always answer: it depends. There’s some important differences between gi and no gi BJJ in techniques, rules and culture. Whether gi or no gi is better for you depends on your experience and your goals. Read in this gi vs no gi post what the differences are between gi and no gi BJJ and which is best for BJJ, beginners, self defense, MMA, and more. 

gi vs no gi BJJ

What is no gi BJJ?

No gi BJJ is a style of jiu jitsu where you don’t wear a traditional gi. You don’t wear the jacket or the pants, but instead you wear a rash guard and shorts. The main reason why people are switching to no gi jiu jitsu nowadays is the fact that no gi jiu jitsu is the style used in grappling for MMA.

What is gi BJJ?

The gi is a traditional uniform that was used by the jiu jitsu practitioners in the old days, and is still worn by many practitioners today. It’s similar to a judo gi but lighter. The gi also comes with formal BJJ belt ranks, like they have in other traditional martial arts such as Karate and Tae Kwon Do.

What is the difference between gi and no-gi jiu jitsu?

Gi and no gi jiu jitsu are similar in many respects, but there are also important differences. There are important differences between gi and no gi jiu jitsu in the following aspects of the sport:

  • Uniform
  • Techniques
  • Rules
  • Style
  • Culture
gi vs no gi fight

Gi or No Gi Uniform

The most fundamental difference between gi and no gi Brazilian jiu jitsu is that in the one you wear a traditional gi uniform and in the other you wear a rash guard and shorts. The differences in gi and no gi techniques, style and even rules and culture are a result of this difference in the uniform. This is because the uniform is both a physical impediment to many BJJ moves, and it’s also a cultural artefact that carries a lot of tradition and meaning.

Also read: The Best BJJ Gi 👑 The Ultimate BJJ gi buyer’s Guide (2023)

Gi techniques vs no gi techniques

Because of this, in gi BJJ there are many techniques that are specific to the gi, that won’t work in no gi. For example, collar chokes don’t exist in no gi. Another example is that open guard is more common in gi, because you can’t play collar sleeve or spider guard in no gi. In general, there are more BJJ guard positions in the gi than in no gi.

Gi and no gi BJJ rules

The rules also differ between gi and no gi BJJ tournaments. Arguably the most important difference is that heel hooks are legal in no gi competitions but illegal in gi competitions. Further, submission only tournaments are far more common in the no gi scene than in gi BJJ, and point systems vary widely.

Gi vs No Gi Grappling Style

There’s also a stylistic difference between gi and no gi BJJ. This is that in no gi the pace is higher, and strength and speed are more important. This is partly cultural (because of influences on no gi from MMA and wrestling) and partly because the gi can be used to slow down the game. And I think it’s also partly a self reinforcing cycle, because people that like the current no gi grappling style going mostly into no gi, and vice versa for the gi.

Gi and no gi culture in BJJ

The culture of gi and no gi jiu jitsu are also significanty different from each other. The most important difference is that gi jiu jitsu tends to bemore traditional and hierarchical, with bowing before class, respect for the sensei, and the traditional BJJ belt system. Gi schools are also usually more true to the traditional BJJ philosophy of ‘minimal effort, maximum efficiency’, whereas no gi BJJ values athletic traits such as strength, speed and endurance more.

Similarities between gi and no gi BJJ (Controversial opinion)

As BJJ athletes I think we often exaggerate how different gi and no gi BJJ are. We have these lively debates about gi vs no gi for grappling, street fights, etc. We talk about them being completely different sports. But we have to remember that to a non-grappling lay person, gi and nogi look 99% the same.

In fact, normal people can’t even distinguish between BJJ or Judo, or BJJ or wrestling. Honestly, they probably can’t even distinguish between BJJ or Karate. Let alone between no gi and gi BJJ.

Let me give you an analogy: Do you think that somebody that does ice skating, will also be good at regular skating? I think so. And do you think that somebody that does ice skating can sit down and tell you about the differences between skating and ice skating for 2 hours? I bet he can.

In fact, I Googled it and it took me 1 second to find an article about the differences between skating and ice skating. It mentions differences in history, mechanics, evolution, techniques, and more. Does that mean that skating and ice skating aren’t similar? Of course not. In both, all you do is that you make the same movements with your legs. They’re like 99% the same.

Maybe the difference between gi and no gi is slightly bigger. But let’s not forget how incredibly similar they are.

Is gi or no-gi more popular?

It used to be the case that everybody in jujitsu trained in the gi. Nobody trained no gi. However in the past few years no gi has gained popularity. This is partly because of an ongoing influence from MMA and partly because of some high-profile competitions and competitors hyping no gi through submission only tournaments.

In particular the Eddie Bravo invitational competitions and the Danaher death squad did a lot to promote nogi Brazilian jiu jitsu. This tournament was submission only and really refreshed the Jiu-Jitsu competition scene which was suffering from too many boring matches that ended in a win on points.

Also the Danaher death squad showed the effectiveness of heel hooks to the world.  And because heel hooks are still illegal in the gi, many Jiu-Jitsu participants are now switching to no gi to learn these powerful attacks. Currently gi jiu jitsu is still far more popular than no gi jiu jitsu,especially with beginners. But the direction is towards more nogi.

Is no gi harder than gi?

No gi and gi BJJ are different – neither is inherently harder than the other. No gi is generally more fast paced – so if you’re slow, you might find it harder than rolling in the gi. In the gi it’s easier to get locked up because of the grips – so if you rely on speed and explosivity, you might find rolling in the gi harder. So it’s all about your personal style and personality and how these match up with the uniform you’re rolling in.

Is gi or no gi better?

Whether gi or no gi BJJ is better for you, depends on your goals, experience and personality. Below I’ll break down whether gi or no gi BJJ is better for different target audiences.  Just remember that it’s like that sorting head scene in Harry Potter – the hat takes preference into account. So if you really want to do one over the other, just go with that one!

Harry Potter with the sorting hat

No Gi vs Gi for beginners

Should you start with gi or no-gi? Most beginners start with gi BJJ. The only exception to this are people that already do MMA or wrestling and then come into BJJ – they often start with no gi. The reason that most beginners in BJJ start with the gi are:

  • The gi is traditional, and people recognize it as a symbolic attire for martial arts.
  • The gi is a universal outfit, so beginners don’t have to worry about which clothes they want to get – everyone wears the same thing.
  • The gi is thick and not revealing, which makes the intimacy of BJJ less awkward for beginners.
  • The gi comes with a belt, which is a token of progression and status, that appeals to beginners.
  • Most BJJ schools are gi schools.

So Should Beginners Start BJJ in the Gi?

Interestingly, none of the reasons above imply that it’s actually better for people to start in the gi – they just explain why beginners like the gi. However, because most beginners start in the gi, I always recommend people to start with gi jiu jitsu – because that’s where all the beginners are!

It’s a chicken and egg paradox and maybe it won’t be true 20 years from now, but for now I recommend beginners to start in gi BJJ rather than no gi BJJ.

No gi vs gi for self defense

It’s a common question to ask which is better if you want to use BJJ for self defense: gi or no gi jiu jitsu. People often say that no gi is more realistic because people don’t wear gis on the street. But there’s more to it than that. I’ll break down here whether you should train gi or no gi BJJ for self defense purposes.

GI vs no gi for self defense: pros and cons

Gi and no gi jiu jitsu both have their pros and cons for self-defense situations. I outlined the main pros and cons of each in the table below.

Gi vs no gi BJJ for self defenseProsCons
Gi BJJYou learn grip breaksYou rely on grips for attacking
No gi grapplingYou don’t rely on gripsYou don’t learn grip breaks

The main pros of no gi jiu jitsu are that you never learn to rely on gi grips. And of course in a street fight your assailant may not be wearing a gi (or similar clothing). However what everybody overlooks is that in no gi you rely on yourself not wearing a gay or similar clothing.

Therefore, if you only train jiu jitsu without the gi, you can get caught off guard in a street fight by somebody who starts grabbing your clothes and throwing you around. And if you watch videos from street fights you’ll see it’s extremely common for people to grab each others’ clothes.

GI vs no gi for self defense: the perfect solution

The perfect jiu jitsu style for self-defence would actually be to always wear a Gi yourself but to fight opponents without a gi.  That way you learn to break grips your opponent makes on you, but you don’t become reliant on making grips yourself. Obviously it would be weird to train this way so nobody does it.

But, what you can do instead is to train in the gi, but to still predominantly use no gi grips. So don’t grab the sleeve; grab the wrist. Don’t grab the collar; grab the neck. This is how I train, and I like it a lot.

So there’s no definite answer to the question whether gi or no gi is better for self defense. They both have pros and cons.

No gi vs gi for MMA

If you want to use jiu jitsu for MMA, then it’s better to start with no gi jiu jitsu. This is because right now, no gi jiu jitsu is the style used in MMA.

But, think about this: what if tomorrow the UFC made it mandatory to wear clothes during MMA fights? In that world, it would be much better to train Jiu-Jitsu in the gi for MMA.

So it’s only a coincidence that no Gi BJJ is better for MMA because of how MMA organizations currently set up the rules. There’s nothing that makes gi better than no gi or no gi better than gi for MMA, except the current rules.

No gi vs gi for law enforcement

If you are a law enforcement officer or a security guard, then your considerations are similar to those of people that want to learn BJJ for self defense. It comes down to the same pros and cons of gi and no gi: in gi people can grab your clothes, so you learn how to defend against that. And in no gi BJJ you learn how to approach people without gripping their clothes.

So it comes down to what you are personally more worried about: how to grab people, or how not to get grabbed yourself. I’d say that if you want to get better at grabbing people, no gi is better, because you learn how you could grab shirtless people. If you’re more worried about protecting yourself, gi is better, because you learn how to break grips and disengage.

Should I compete in gi or no-gi?

Competitions often allow you to enroll in either the gi division, the no gi division, or both. A lot of competitions offer a big discount if you do both gi and no gi, and in those cases I would always take that option.

Even if you’re only training in one or the other, one of my competition tips is still to compete in both because it’s extra experience for relatively cheap. And at our level (I mean: not adult black bel world championships) nobody really cares whether you win or lose. Your only consideration should be how much experience you gain from it. 

Gi vs no gi injuries

No gi definitely leads to more injuries than gi jiu jitsu. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, people roll harder in no Gi than in GI BJJ. As I explained earlier this is partly because the gi can be used to slow down the game a bit and partly because of cultural influences from wrestling and MMA in no gi.

Secondly people that practice nogi usually focus on takedowns way more (again, because of influences from wrestling and MMA). And takedowns are by far the thing that leads to the most injuries in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. This doesn’t mean that no gi grappling isn’t safe.  but you just have to be a bit more cautious. and if you want to try extra heart to prevent injuries just skip the rolls against the people that roll very hard and and pull guard instead of starting on your feet.

My personal experience with gi and no gi BJJ

When I started BJJ I did it in a gi. After a year I also started training no gi. I am now a brown belt and I train mostly in the gi, but I also train no gi.

I like gi and no gi equally. Like I said, I think they’re 99% the same sport, with only subtle differences between them. I’m definitely better at gi, especially at standup because I practice more judo throws than wrestling takedowns. But that just motivates me more to get my no gi game up to par.

Why I prefer gi over no gi BJJ

I do both gi and no gi BJJ, and I want to keep it that way. But if I had to choose between gi and no gi BJJ, I would choose gi, for cultural reasons. I don’t know why, but I feel like all no gi BJJ schools are overrun with people that want to only do leglocks.  And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with leg locks – I really like them, I practice them, you need to.

But doing only leg locks is both boring and super ineffective. If you look at all the high level leg lockers (Gordon Ryan, Lachlan Giles, Craig Jones, etc.), they all have amazing back attacks and other attacks as well. But if I go to my local no gi school, there’s a few people that can do an outside heel hook, and absolutely nothing else. 

The problem with this is that it’s super easy to defend, and I don’t get to practice my guards and escapes because all they’re doing is falling back on my legs. And the only reason they keep rolling like this is that it works, but it works until you get to a certain level.

Obviously I’m not saying that everyone in no gi BJJ does this, but I bet that if you’ve trained no gi BJJ before, you know who I’m talking about. And because of this common mindset in some no gi jiu jitsuka, I would choose gi over no gi jiu jitsu.

Does rolling in the gi help your no gi game?

Yes! But, not as much as rolling without the gi helps your no gi game. It’s a common myth – or at least it was – that you have to roll in the gi in order to become better at no gi. This is kind of nonsense.

Of course you still get better at no gi if you roll in the gi – because there’s huge overlap between the two. But there’s nothing better for getting better at no gi grappling, than actually training no gi grappling. I don’t even think I need to explain that any further – if you want to get good at a thing, do that thing!

Does no gi help gi?

Yes. Again, not as much as rolling in the gi, but there’s definitely value in cross training. One important thing is that if you only ever roll in the gi, you won’t realize how dependent you are on your gi grips. I have it too. If I roll no gi, I occasionally find myself reaching for a collar that doesn’t exist.

Another valuable thing is that the no gi culture is a little rougher, because there’s a lot of people in it that also do MMA. It’s very instructive to roll with a meathead (no offense), who uses a lot of explosive power.  As a good grappler, you need to learn how to deal with powerful people.  And it can be hard to learn this against gi people, because they’re so focused on using proper technique.

Should you train gi and no-gi?

Yes! At least, that’s what I do. They’re both really fun, they’re 99% similar compared to other sports, and they both make you better at BJJ. And if you have the chance to do gi and no gi at two different BJJ schools, you’ll also get to meet and roll with more people, which is always nice.

In my opinion, you should never get to a spot where you’re really good at either gi or no gi BJJ, and really bad at the other. You could get embarrassed in the one you’re bad at and you don’t want that. So make sure that you practice a bit of both. You can have a main one (for me it’s gi), but make sure you don’t suck at the other one. 

Combining gi and no gi BJJ: Universal techniques

A helpful concept if you want to combine gi and no gi BJJ is that of universal techniques. These are techniques that work in both gi and no gi jiu jitsu. Examples of universal techniques are:

  • triangle choke
  • wrist grip
  • rear naked choke

Examples of techniques that aren’t universal are:

  • lapel guard
  • bow and arrow choke
  • heel hooks (because of rules, but still)

I always try to focus on universal techniques because I feel like otherwise I’m only getting 50% value for my training time.

Conclusion: Should you learn gi or no gi BJJ?

I hope you liked this article about gi vs no gi BJJ. I think that gi and no gi jiu jitsu are both very valuable, they’re 99% similar compared to other sports, and if you can you should strive to combine them.

What do you think about gi vs no gi jiu jitsu?

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