Every couple years, some famous guy makes a statement about Gi Bjj going away. I find this hilarious, only because I’ve heard the exact same arguments so many times. Both have a purpose, and help us to understand the game better.
Grips are the most often discussed change when you add a gi to the equation. Grips tend to create a little more space between the players, giving us a clear view of what is happening. Getting rid of a grip can be a lot of work, so we end up looking at positions for longer stretches of time. Once we are used to the patterns of the position, we learn how to deny specific grips before they become a problem. Picking grips is a bigger commitment than most hand placements in nogi, so they force us to look for clear reference points. Good nogi players learn how to look for comparable controls when training nogi. The addition of a gi also kills the slip factor, and forces us to escape positions and submissions with good technique. Personally, I am able to train more live rolls by adding the gi. The slower pace and reduced movement simply means less wear and tear. Gi is also where most of the interesting innovation happens in Bjj. Spider guard, berimbolo, and worm guard are all fairly recent additions that are continuing to evolve. Although I clearly prefer gi, we have plenty of reason to train nogi also.
In nogi, the slip factor forces us to tighten our attacking sequences. We learn how to move into submissions and controls instead of pulling into them. If you want to try a new passing sequence, starting in nogi is a great way to build confidence before using it in gi. The timing battle will involve more movements than grip fights, and will get us repetitions on transitions that would be difficult to reproduce in gi. Another huge benefit of nogi is that you learn how to hold guards and positions without relying on grips. When you switch back to gi, the grip is additional security instead of a lifeline. The stripped down nature of nogi makes it a good time to check our use of the basics, but we only realize that it’s stripped down if we train both.
We should always remember our individual goals when deciding our training routines. If you’re just starting out, training both gi and nogi will help you to understand each position more clearly. You will get more mat time and less injury than exclusively training one. Once you have a few years of experience, you can start adjusting for specific challenges.