I get asked frequently what the difference is between Gi and no-Gi training. Does one have advantages over the other? Is one more useful for self-defense? Or is it better to train both?
The fundamental difference between the two styles involves control options, friction, and finishing options.
The no-Gi game is a much tighter game. You don’t have cloth to grip so you must stay closer to your opponent in order to control them. No-Gi training teaches you to use hooks and wrestling-style grips, while Gi training teaches you to use a wide variety of cloth griping options. With a Gi it’s possible to control your opponent at a greater distance, by enlisting your legs to push against your opponent while you pull them with your hands.
The lack of friction in no-Gi grappling makes it easier to escape a bad position, even if your escape mechanics are poor. In a Gi, your escape sequences must be much more precise to overcome the friction and greater control that cloth allows.
There are significantly more control and finishing options when you wear a Gi, from chokes, to setups, to takedowns and throws, to defensive options.
I view both styles as being highly complimentary because each has strengths and weaknesses. No-Gi training tends to reward athleticism while Gi training rewards precision. No-Gi training teaches tight control using hooks, while Gi training teaches control at longer distances using cloth grips. Gi training will make your no-Gi escapes much better because your mechanics must be more precise when there’s friction. And in a self-defense encounter against an opponent wearing a coat or jacket, Gi techniques give you far more options and the ability to exert much greater control at longer distances.
If you only train one style, then switching to the other is often challenging. If you’re a Gi player who has gotten used to all the gripping and control options, you’ll likely feel lost when you try no-Gi for the first time. The same is true in the other direction; your no-Gi game won’t prepare you for the unique aspects of Gi training. It’s my view that the combination of the two will make you a better grappler than either by itself.
The only people for whom it makes sense to stick with one style or the other are the competitive specialists. If you only compete in IBJJF tournaments, then training solely in the Gi might make sense Or if you are purely an MMA athlete or no-Gi competitor then it might be more advantageous to only train no-Gi. Most of us, however, train for the fullness of the art, so training both styles makes the most sense.