The Gi vs. No-gi Debate (Part II)


The Judogi or gi, as it is commonly referred was developed by Jigoro Kano in 1907. Since that time it has been adopted of by many other styles of martial arts. There is some debate, however, as to whether the gi has a realistic application. One common consensus seems to be that the gi is good for sport but is not entirely realistic in a self-defense application. Inevitably, the argument against the gi culminates with the gold standard of realism: the UFC, Vale Tudo, etc.  Without digressing, I do not think this is a fair comparison as each is a sport in its own right. Undoubtedly, this is an issue Kano must have considered carefully.

 To simplify the debate let us entertain this hypothetical situation: Two grapplers have decided that they want to train in a realistic environment and agree to eliminate the gi from practice. Not wanting to forfeit any advantage they begin in the Greco-Roman tradition – shirtless and pantless.  As neither can recollect any situation wherein they have defended themselves against such a scantily clad assailant, they immediately realize that in terms of realism they have only gone from one extreme to the other.  Wearing rash-guards, tee-shirts, shorts etc. their training regimen evolves. After some time both parties conclude that it would be very unlikely to encounter a person who would be wearing less clothing than they are currently training with, and in the spirit of authenticity it is only fair they be allowed to grip the clothing and use it when possible to their advantage. After all, this is precisely what would happen in a self-defense situation.  Training in this fashion, it readily becomes apparent that many of the techniques they had used with the gi are applicable, in fact, many throws, chokes, arm-ties and other techniques are applied with astonishing ease. When wearing polo’s, sweat shirts, or heavier materials, there appears to be even less difference.  Unfortunately, after several rounds of grappling, the lighter weight fabrics must be replaced, and in many instances cut into the skin, making training both painful and costly. Both parties conclude they now need a uniform that is both realistic and durable, and, via reductio ad absurdum, decide to recommence training with the gi.

Robert Burge, MA

Contributor Bio – Robert is a judo nidan, Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, and has a master’s in mental health counseling. He is the head instructor of the University of Kentucky judo club and an assistant instructor at Valhalla Grappling Academy.

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