The Gi vs. No-gi Debate and the Philosophy of Use
Gi vs no-gi, at times, a hotly debated question in the grappling world. There are many traditionalists that can list the advantages of training with the gi on, Marcelo Garcia among them. There are many “detractors” who point to the realism of no-gi, Eddie Bravo probably the most outspoken. One sharpens offense, one sharpens defense, one is more realistic, etc. There are pros and cons for each. I have certainly weighed the issue in my mind throughout my martial arts journey. I started as a wrestler, and was much more comfortable in the no-gi world. I felt it was more realistic, or at least I told myself it was, perhaps because I was better at it. As I got deeper into the world of grappling, I have found a home in the gi as well, taking the advice of my instructor and “sharpening both sides of the sword”.
However, as I get further into my martial arts training, it is a question that interests me less and less. I feel it is a secondary question that should be considered within a larger context. In retrospect, I have come to the question out of order. I feel that one should consider their own philosophy of use in order to determine what sort of training they should focus on. One of the beautiful aspects of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or submission grappling, is that there are thousands of moves and millions of combinations, and that the art can truly be made your own. This can also be daunting, and one could spend years developing a certain position and certain sequences, only to find out later that the sequence does not, in fact, fit within the context of their own philosophy of use.
One of the most important aspects of martial arts is self-reflection. However, many practitioners begin their journey without examining why they truly want to pursue a particular art. In general, people go about their lives without asking why they are doing what they are going. I encourage all practitioners to ask themselves, “Why am I doing this?” This question will make all the difference in your training, and give you a road map to follow throughout your journey and throughout your life in general.
For example, many people joined BJJ gyms throughout the world based on the fact that they had seen Royce Gracie fight in the early UFC tournaments. Many new practitioners are still lured by the popularity of MMA. It has proven itself effective in the cage. If you want to be a cage fighter, then the answer is no-gi, right? They don’t wear gis in the UFC. However, most of us will not become professional fighters. Perhaps it is self-defense that drew you in. Are you planning on getting in a fight with a rash guard, in your bare feet? People wear clothes in most public settings, so maybe you should at least train with gi pants, and maybe some shoes. God willing, and statistically speaking, you probably won’t get assaulted in the street either.
The point is, there can always be logical argument leveled for or against any particular uniform, or position. Is De La Riva guard the best for the street? Probably not. Strictly speaking, you probably don’t want to be pulling any kind of guard in the street if you can help it, especially if you are fighting more than one adversary. Closed guard when they have a knife? Bad idea. However, that doesn’t diminish their effectiveness in their respective situations. I spent years of my life lifting doing bench press and curls without ever asking why I was doing it. Perhaps it was some sort of vague notion of getting stronger. If we’re talking about functional strength, we don’t go around in life doing isolated curls, or laying on our backs and bench pressing things very often. But it’s also okay to want a nice chest and arms, as long as you know why you are doing it.
When you develop your own personal philosophy of use it can help you determine why you are doing things and how much time you want to spend doing them. A huge limiting factor in life is time. We only have so much of it to spend. It is our most precious commodity, so you should at least know why you are spending it the way you are. BJJ is notorious for having a random curriculum, subject to the whim of the instructor. If your instructor is driven and organized, then count yourself lucky. If you’re like most other practitioners, then you need your own filter and measuring stick. Do you want to be a cage fighter? Do you want to win BJJ tournaments? Do you want to protect your family on the street? Do you just want to challenge yourself physically and mentally? When you find your philosophy of use, then you can use it to help find a school that closely resembles your own. Do they produce tournament champions? Do they have a strong fighting stable? Are their students mindful and respectful?
So, bottom line, think for yourself. Statistically speaking, you probably won’t be a cage fighter, and you probably won’t have to fight for your life in the street. Statistically speaking, you’ll be more likely to die of poor diet, or being overweight. So maybe your jiu-jitsu journey is about finding yourself, or being more active, and developing a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps it is simply about examining yourself, to see what you’re made of, to polish your spirit. Whatever your philosophy of use turns out to be is fine, there are no wrong answers, but you have to ask the questions.
Contributor Bio – Ryan Foster started training in Jeet Kune Do in 2005, and quickly gravitated towards the grappling techniques. He soon found a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor to follow. He is currently a brown belt under Michael O’Donnell and Carlson Gracie Jr. He travels extensively and has trained with some of the best BJJ practitioners in the world.