Is It Better To Start Training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu With Or Without The Gi?

Purists and traditionalists in BJJ believe that to develop the sharpest technique, one must train in the gi. Multiple time World Champions who have later branched off into MMA insist that their earlier foundation of training with the kimono was instrumental in their success.

Modern day MMA requires that fighters discard the gi and train exclusively no-gi in preparing for professional level fights. Tristar Gym head coach Firas Zahabi is both a BJJ black belt and professional MMA coach who believes that even though he loves training with the gi, it has little usefulness when it comes to training MMA fighters.

Surprisingly, Professor Zahabi believes that beginners should start their study of jiu-jitsu without the gi.

This goes against jiu-jitsu orthodoxy. My first jiu-jitsu instructor from the powerhouse Carlson Gracie Team in Brazil, Master Marcus Soares, believed that all students should learn jiu-jitsu in the gi. No-gi training was seen as a more specialized type of preparation for a no-gi tournament. If you were looking for an MMA fight, the expectation was to earn a blue belt before thinking about fighting in a cage!

The idea was that the fundamentals of BJJ were better learned with the gi. More advanced students could move onto no-gi training after getting their basics down in gi class. This was the accepted wisdom.

In the accompanying video Professor Zahabi breaks tradition and says the opposite: that the new student should start by learning the no-gi controls of underhook, over hook, collar tie, and various no-gi grips before learning the more varied grips that involve the kimono.

Zahabi feels that the grips and methods of control are all transferable from no-gi to gi, but the opposite does not hold true. He recounts seeing many instances of black belts training primarily in the gi and then having their game fall apart when they switched to no-gi, as they were suddenly deprived of their favorite collar and sleeve grips!

Grappling guru John Danaher shared much the same opinion in one of his famously wordy social media posts on gi vs no-gi.

My own opinion leans towards the traditional approach that beginners should start training in the gi. The rationale being that the gi grips are easier to grasp (yes, pun intended!) for new students who are already overwhelmed with learning how to move their hips, remember moves, and not be so tense. To control a slippery, resisting opponent with a collar tie and biceps tie is much more difficult and possibly discouraging than that handy sleeve or collar grip. I’ve seen a ton of students come in to try a no-gi class, have an enthusiastic training partner grab a hold of their neck in a guillotine, and get tapped. After rubbing their stiff neck they wonder what the heck they have gotten themselves involved in, and then they never return. Training in the gi mitigates some of those sore necks where a training partner spent the class cranking on your neck.

Of course, if your goal is to compete in a form of competition that is no-gi, then training exclusively no-gi might be the way to go.

What do you think? Should beginners start learning BJJ no-gi or with the kimono?


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