White Belt Fever - Gi or No Gi?

Many, many moons ago as a young impressionable white belt I wrote a series of articles for Jiu Jitsu Style magazine based on the perils of being a white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. So they didn't get lost in the depths of the internet, I thought it would be nice to revisit them here, as a few people told me they were useful over the years.


So here's the first one, discussing the differences between Gi and No Gi Jiu Jitsu.


Rick Baker is a white belt, and we all know white belts are people too. In this first instalment of ‘White Belt Fever’, Rick outlines his thoughts on training gi vs nogi and what complete newbies can expect.

Welcome to the first edition of white belt fever. It can be a confusing World out on the mats for us white belts, with many questions and very few answers in your first few months of training. Here I aim to break down some of the challenges and nuances that you may find in your day to day training. I hope to make your transition from white belt noob to white belt warrior a slightly less bumpy, more informed journey.

Gi or Nogi?

There are two forms of BJJ. Gi, and Nogi. The Gi refers to the clothing you may have seen people wearing while training, a pair of cloth trousers and a matching jacket top. Similar in look to a karate suit. Nogi can generally just be done in shorts and a T shirt, although people opt for rashguards and branded shorts sometimes. Here we’re going to look at the inherent principles, advantages and disadvantages of both forms.

Training in the Gi

Traditionally, BJJ was practiced in the Gi (or Kimono), this consists of a long sleeve jacket with a thick lapel and trousers, tied with a belt. The colour of the belt signifies the grapplers experience and skill level. The belt ranks are White, Blue, Purple, Brown and Black. You will start out as a white belt no matter your experience in other martial arts (though some clubs promote judo black belts straight to blue belt in BJJ). The main difference between gi and nogi is that you can use the Gi to your advantage. You can use the lapel, collar, sleeves, trousers and belt all to gain on your opponent. There are a million different examples and combinations of how to use the Gi to attack or control your opponents, you can also grab your own to defend from certain positions, submissions or transitions. Many purists will state that Gi is the best way to practice jiu jitsu, as it is it’s most traditional form.

Nogi really started to gain traction as a viable form of the martial art through the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts. Pioneers like Eddie Bravo, who created 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu (a form of nogi only BJJ that awards belts in the same way traditional Gi BJJ does) really put together an exceptional form of nogi BJJ effective in MMA and in strict jiu jitsu rules. As you can’t wear a Gi in MMA many of the chokes, sweeps and holds don’t translate over to the sport. This is one of the key reasons No-Gi BJJ has become increasingly popular.

There are an endless amount of arguments and debates online about which is the more effective form of the art. The truth is, that each have their pros and cons. I trained nogi for about a year before putting a Gi on to see what all the fuss was about. I started out kickboxing, got into MMA and wanted to know more about the ground game. What I found when I put a Gi on was that people could hold me in certain positions by controlling parts of the Gi and choke me from positions that when in nogi, I didn’t think I was in any real danger. While I was slightly overwhelmed at the thought of re-learning a ton of stuff, it was also rather exciting, as it opened up a whole new world of pain. What I have found while training both, in nogi my defence has become a lot tighter. The Gi forces this upon you because if you leave any slight exposition in your position there will be a way in the Gi to expose it. I feel you can get away with a bit more in nogi by using explosiveness and strength to get out of situations because your partner, due to lack of grips, has slightly less control over your body. This also means, that you have less control over theres, and I have found myself sometimes training in No Gi searching for trouser leg or collar grips that aren’t there.

My suggestion would be to try both, and see what you find brings out the best in you, and is most enjoyable. If you want to go down the belt route straight away I’d suggest starting in the Gi, whereas if you wish to dip your toe into the MMA scene and you are thinking of taking on fights, I’d maybe stick to nogi for now as it may be more useful for your end goals. Have a think about what your actual goals are, and go from there. Many people train both because they find them equally enjoyable, and this is obviously fine too!

If you are a bit wary about the cost of a Gi someone at your academy will most probably borrow you one, and most BJJ outlets sell beginner Gi’s so you don’t have to splash out a fortune. However, if you get the BJJ bug, you will most certainly end up spending more money than you ever thought necessary on what are essentially super comfy pyjamas used to choke you unconscious. That comes with time though.

I hope that was of some use, and if you have any further questions or want to know more get in touch.

Rick Baker

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