One subject of debate in grappling training is gi vs. no gi training. The purpose of this article is to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both methods of training. We will look at this discussion from several different points of view.
First, let us look at the training from the perspective of learning the art of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. The foundation of BJJ training is with the gi. This is where the basic fundamentals are learned and the technical details refined. The gi game is very technical. The options for attacks both submission and sweeps are numerous and as a result defense must be tight. The greater friction from the gi also makes control in a dominant position more difficult to escape from. This forces you to be more technical and efficient in your escapes. The gi training because of the more technical nature evens the playing field to some extent in terms of attributes. Strength, power, and speed provide less of advantage with the gi.
Second, from a sport perspective it is important to train the way you plan to compete. This is why we break our training up during the year. During the predominantly gi competitive season we train more predominantly gi and during the no gi season we train more no gi. This follows a basic principle from sport and exercise known as specificity of training. However, having said this I think the transfer from gi training to no gi competition is far greater than vice versa. If you look at the most prestigious no gi grappling tournament in the world, the Abu Dahbi , it has been won both in weight class and absolute divisions by athletes that train predominantly with the gi.
Next, from the perspective of preparation for mma competition both gi and no gi training are important. The gi training is important for practice on the fundamentals. One of the most successful mma schools in the world is American Kickboxing Academy (AKA). They have such well known fighters as Josh Koshchek, John Fitch, and Mike Swick. Dave Camarillo, who is there BJJ coach, has these guys training in the gi at least once a week. If you can maintain posture in the guard, avoid being swept, avoid being submitted, and escape from bad positions all while wearing a gi then these things should be easy when you take the gi off. As far as training without the gi it is important for the same reason as it is in sport competition that is for training specificity. Also, no gi training helps develop the transition speed and helps you work on tightness in submissions and control of positions either by staying tighter or learning to flow better.
Lastly, for purposes of self defense the question of the gi training sometimes comes up with people saying if you are attacked on the street your attacker will not be wearing a gi. This is true but most often they will be wearing some type of clothing that can be used much like a gi. For instance a shirt or jacket can be used against your attacker to choke them.
Overall, I think training with both the gi and no gi are important for your development in BJJ. However, I think training with the gi is most important. Again it helps you become more technical and exposes chinks in your BJJ armor which can be strengthened. If you only train without the gi you are missing a great opportunity for improvement.