If you are new to Jiu jitsu, martial arts, or grappling in general then you are probably wondering “what would I wear in class? Is it like those karate uniforms?”. The short answer is “yes, and no”. In Brazilian Jiu jitsu, we call our uniforms Gi. They look a lot like the karate style uniforms everyone has seen, but they are thicker and a little heavier because we don’t want them to rip when we grapple. Those are tied with belts which we use for ranking our students based on skill level and knowledge of art. We also do Nogi, which is just the Jiu jitsu communities peculiar way of saying “no gi”, as in without-the-Gi. Its Not the most creative name, but it gets the point across haha. Nogi usually involves grappling specific board shorts and some kind of top, like a rash guard or Tshirt.
So, what’s the difference? Well, there can be a lot of difference, or little difference at all, depending on your grappling style.
Picture this: You are walking down 2nd street in Old city Philadelphia and you stumble upon a street sign that says “The Jiu Jitsu Company”. You say to yourself “what amazing and clean lines there are on that graphic. And the subtle, calming blue was really a great choice of color for the background....” and then you follow up with “dang, I have really been meaning to learn some self defense. There’s some crazy stuff going on in the world right now and I would feel a lot more comfortable learning to be able to protect myself...”, so you walk up the stairs.
If you did that in the winter, then you are probably used to seeing people bundled up in heavy jackets on the street. So, when you walk up the stairs at The Jiu Jitsu Company for self defense classes, you are going to have to think about grabbing and being grabbed and manipulated by clothing. That is one virtue of training with a Gi on. You develop gripping skills and clothing manipulation skills that have value in protecting yourself.
If you walk up the Jiu Jitsu Company stairs in June, then you are thinking about lighter clothing. This is where Nogi training has value. You practice the skill of controlling another person without the handles which jackets provide. You learn to control the body and limbs of your training partners directly. In some ways, it’s like the difference between trying to carry your cat around the house vs guiding your cat down the street on a leash. (Yes, we have a leash for one of our cats, Ravioli. It’s ridiculous, I know).
At a basic level, practicing Gi and Nogi Jiu jitsu are more similar than not. You still learn to control an attackers body, and apply submission holds which would then stop or limit their ability to hurt you. In the gi, you will learn to use clothing as a tool, in addition to direct control of your partners body and work around the friction that extra clothing provides. In Nogi, you will learn to control another person directly without excess cloth getting in the way and creating friction.
So, the great debate in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is “which is better for self defense?”. Our thought is that neither is better. Both simply are ways of training which offer useful skills in their own context. So we practice both! For the sake of brevity, I’ll save the discussion about Gi and Nogi Jiu jitsu in the sportive aspect for part 2 of this article. In the mean time, when you are walking down 2nd street in Old City Philadelphia, as you pass by Insomnia cookies you can look around the street to see what people are wearing and look up at the second floor to see where you will be practicing Brazilian Jiu jitsu!