To gi or not to gi, that is the question.

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Gunnar Nelson versus Jeff Monson at Abu Dhabi

Over the years I have always advocated a balanced approach when it comes to training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. By balanced I mean one that incorporates training with the gi, without the gi, with strikes (MMA), and with self-defense in mind. Those of you who’ve trained with SBG or followed our work know that our thesis is that once you’ve grasped the core fundamentals of the delivery system, traveling between those four areas of the Art should be more than feasible. In other words, if your game falls apart the moment you put on a gi or the moment you take one off, then you have a problem with your foundation. Likewise, if after some adjustment you find yourself unable to cope on the ground when strikes are allowed, then you are missing something large as it relates to the core delivery system.

In a recent talk with one of our top coaches, he offered up the interesting idea that the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu simply hasn’t evolved that deeply yet, that when it does, things will become so nuanced that gi players will find themselves unable to adapt to no-gi, and vice-versa. You wouldn’t see the same names competing in the Mundials as you do in Abu Dhabi, like we do now. Instead it would be more bifurcated. By way of example he mentioned track and field, to paraphrase:  “You don’t see the same medalists winning the 50 meters that you do the 100 meters, and BJJ given time, would be much the same.”

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I have to admit feeling some sense of irony in hearing this. My experience has been that the more a coach and athlete truly understands BJJ, the deeper their knowledge of it, the simpler their movements and mechanics become. Though it’s a bit cliché, it truly is akin to the process a sculptor goes through, chipping away at the extraneous motions until one is left with the core the principles that make the whole thing work the way it does; the things that make BJJ both functional and efficient. The irony came in having this coach, who is excellent, display that exact process earlier in the day when he showed me some great fundamental principles, all of which translate across the different arenas and environments that BJJ is played in, gi, no-gi, or MMA.

After thinking about this more, and discussing it with another Instructor, I think the analogy to track and field is flawed. In the case of track and field, the core mechanics of the delivery system, in this case running, have not changed. What has changed is the nature of the conditioning, strategy, tactics, and therefore training an athlete will go through.

A good way to translate that to BJJ would be to think about time limits. Let’s say that all of the sudden the sport went to three minute matches. A certain type of athlete and a certain type of very aggressive game would evolve. Change that to 30 minutes, and again a whole different style of play would develop. The type of conditioning engaged in, and the strategy the players adopted would adapt to the time change. If both types of competitions became popular I could easily see, given enough time, two different ‘types’ of athletes evolving for those two different sports. However, the core delivery system of BJJ would in my opinion remain the same. In this case the fundamentals of escaping, holding and submitting wouldn’t really change, given that these are based on physics, only the strategy used by the players would.

As I wrote in:    If we think in terms of evolution, the delivery system is the gene, the organism which carries that gene is the player, and the adaptation within the sport occurs according to the selection process those players are put through.

If we allowed all forms of leg locks back into the IBJJF, you can bet that would change the way the game is played (I think that is a bad idea, I am using it solely as a thought experiement). Likewise, if the main Mixed Martial Arts events switched to one 30 minute round with no stand ups, you can also bet that would have a dramatic effect on the strategies fighters used in the cage. However, and this is the main point, the core delivery systems of stand up, clinch and ground would remain essentially the same.

Given that, if you train solely for the purpose of winning an IBJJF tournament, then ‘your’ Jiu-Jitsu, given enough time, will surely change. The mechanics, the physics of ‘why’ Jiu-Jitsu works effectively would remain the same, but your selective application of those mechanics will have adapted to the environment you’re concerned with, in this case an IBJJF tournament. The same could be said for any particular ‘environment’.

However, if you focus on the core movements which make Jiu-Jitsu the efficient Art it is, you too should be able to transcend the various environments, take the gi off, put it on, work in a little MMA, and never really skip a beat. The game will become simpler, not more complex. And as such, questions like whether you should train with a gi, or without a gi, don’t really hold much weight.

And that is exactly what SBG style BJJ is all about.