No Gi Jiu Jitsu: An In-Depth Guide To Modern BJJ

By Tsavo NealBJJ Gear, Learning BJJLeave a Comment

no gi jiu jitsu leg attacks

What is no gi jiu jitsu, and how is it different from traditional gi BJJ?

No gi jiu jitsu (aka No-gi BJJ or just “no-gi”) is Brazilian jiu-jitsu practiced without the traditional uniform known as the gi — hence the name “no-gi.”

No-gi is growing in popularity and is considered a more modern version of jiu-jitsu.

Competitors like Gordon Ryan and Craig Jones only compete in no-gi competitions.

Although there are many similarities between gi and no-gi BJJ, there are important differences between the two.

In this article, I’ll explain everything you want to know about no gi jiu jitsu — and help you become a more effective no-gi grappler.

Everything I bring to no-gi class in my Gold BJJ Backpack

No Gi Jiu Jitsu: Quick Links

History of No Gi Jiu Jitsu: How It Grew In Popularity

No-gi BJJ can be traced back as early as the 1920s in Brazil. BJJ fighters like Rickson Gracie would use submission grappling in Vale Tudo (Portuguese for “everything goes”). These bouts were fought without the gi.

rickson gracie using no gi jiu jitsu skills in a vale tudo bout

As Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) became mainstream in the mid-late 90s with the inception of the UFC, the popularity of both gi and no gi jiu jitsu began to rise. Royce Gracie, in UFC 1, submitted 3 opponents. He was wearing a gi, and his opponents were not. Technically speaking, the UFC began with a BJJ player winning using his no-gi BJJ skills.

BJJ practitioners, keen on using their skills in MMA, had to adapt to fights where their opponents would not be wearing a gi.

One of the significant figures who popularized no-gi BJJ is Eddie Bravo. Eddie Bravio, like Joe Rogan, is a black belt under Jean-Jacques Machado. Bravo founded 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu, a system dedicated to no-gi training. With 10th Planet, Eddie’s goal was to help MMA fighters and BJJ grapplers utilize BJJ techniques and submissions that would work inside of the cage.

Bravo’s no-gi system and philosophy expanded the boundaries of traditional BJJ. He made headlines in 2003 when he competed in the prestigious no-gi grappling competition, the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC). Eddie, using his innovative no-gi move — the infamous rubber guard — eventually submitted Royce Gracie with a triangle choke submission. Using this non-traditional no-gi move to submit a Gracie symbolized the advancement of no gi jiu jitsu, and brought more prominence to the art.

As MMA and no-gi grappling competitions continued to grow, so too did the popularity of no-gi BJJ. MMA athletes with a BJJ background, like Georges St-Pierre, Demian Maia, and Fabricio Werdum, used their no-gi skills to dominate MMA fights. It became mandatory for MMA fighters to have at least a moderate understanding of no gi jiu jitsu if they wanted to be competitive fighters. 

No-gi jiu-jitsu continues to evolve and grow with athletes regularly creating new techniques and strategies. Competitions like the ADCC and the Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) have become hotbeds for innovation, where grapplers like Gordon Ryan and coaches like John Danaher display the effectiveness of no-gi BJJ at a high level.

tom hardy in a ranked rash guard

Actor Tom Hardy practicing No-Gi Jiu Jitsu

BJJ practitioners worldwide have increasingly integrated no-gi training into their programs, recognizing its benefits and its growing importance in the broader landscape of martial arts. Many schools offer both gi and no-gi classes, and some offer only no-gi classes.

It seems to me like no gi jiu jitsu will eventually become the primary form of BJJ, but time will tell.

Gi Vs No Gi Ji Jitsu: Key Differences

So, what are the key differences between Gi vs No-Gi BJJ?

Here, I’ll outline the seven differences between the two variations of jiu-jitsu.

1. Gear

From a practical perspective, one of the primary differences between gi and no-gi is the gear.

In the gi, you obviously wear a gi and gi pants.

In no go, you wear a rash guard, shorts, and spats.

gi vs no gi bjj gear

Gi uniform vs no-gi uniform for BJJ

The difference in gear changes the way the sport is practiced, which I’ll expand on below.

But outside of the mats, many grapplers prefer no-gi because it simply makes doing laundry easier. You can throw your rash guard in with your other laundry, wash it as if you would other clothes, and you’re good to go.

You can’t say the same about BJJ gis. It’s best to wash them cold and hang dry them, which takes more time.

Rash guards are also much cheaper than BJJ gis. You can get good-quality rash guards for $30-$50. Good-quality BJJ gis will run you at least $100.

Many no-gi players find it easier to prepare for class wearing athletic gear instead of an entire uniform and belt.

2. Grips

In the gi, you are allowed to grip any part of your opponent’s uniform: their sleeves, collar, pants, belt, etc.

This makes gi BJJ far more grip dominant. Grips are easier to get and harder to break. As a result, yes-gi is slower-paced.

No-gi, on the other hand, is less grip centric. You aren’t allowed to grab your opponent’s uniform. As a result, grips are weaker and easier to break.

Gi grapplers tend to prefer gi because it’s more technical and you can use gi grips in creative ways.

No-gi grapplers tend to prefer no-gi because grip fighting is easier, making it more athletic and dynamic.

3. Positions

Because of the grips available in the gi, yes-gi has more unique positions.

Some examples of this are spider guard, lapel guard, collar-sleeve guard, and other guards based on gi grips.

These types of guards are either impossible or far weaker in no-gi because you don’t have the same grips and leverage.

4. Submissions

Due to the differences in the uniform, submissions are different in gi and no-gi.

In the gi, you have many ways to submit your opponent using their gi or your own. The cross-collar choke, paper-cutter choke, and loop choke are examples of strangles you can only do in the gi.

In no-gi, leglocks (submissions involving your opponent’s legs) are more prevalent and effective. You don’t have the same level of control over your opponent’s head and upper body. So, no-gi players tend to spend much more time on leglocks. Leglocks are also harder to escape in no-gi because you have fewer grips on the attacking player.

No-gi submissions are also more relevant to MMA. If you’re training no-gi, then most of what you learn can be applied to an MMA fight.

BJJ hobbyists who are into the self-defense aspect of the sport also find that no gi jiu jitsu is more useful for self-defense. However, gi players argue that you can use gi-like grips on attackers who are wearing clothes.

5. Standup

When it comes to the standup portion of jiu-jitsu, there’s a clear difference between gi and no-gi BJJ.

Standing gi, you tend to use more judo. You and your training partners are wearing the same uniform as judokas. Thus, you’re able to use judo throws and t takedowns.

Standing in no gi, you tend to use more wrestling. You don’t have a gi to grip to initiate throws and takedowns. So instead, you rely on freestyle and folkstyle wrestling moves.

6. Recovery

Because grip fighting is so important in the gi, it increases your risk of hurting your hands and fingers.

Most grapplers find that no gi jiu jitsu tends to be easier on the body, especially your hands and fingers.

However, others argue that there are more injuries in no-gi because it’s faster and has more scrambles.

Personally, I feel a bit more roughed up after training in the gi. But pain and injury can be mitigated with strength training, stretching, proper recovery protocols, and supplementation.

7. Culture

Gi BJJ tends to be more conservative and traditional.

When it comes to competition, there tend to be more rules about what moves you can and cannot do.

Gyms like Gracie Barra often have certain customs like bowing, gi patch requirements, etc.

No-gi tends to have a more relaxed culture with fewer rules and traditions.

However, culture ultimately depends on the specific BJJ gym that you go to.

Keep in mind that there are more similarities than differences when it comes to gi vs no-gi BJJ. Which one you decide to train more comes down to your goals and preferences.

Neither is better. They’re just different. Train both!

No Gi Jiu-Jitsu Gear: 5 Must-Haves

In my What To Wear For No Gi Jiu Jitsu article, I listed 5 pieces of recommended gear for no-gi BJJ.

1. No-Gi BJJ Rash Guard

A rash guard is an athletic shirt made of spandex, nylon, or polyester. As the name implies, they protect you from rashes and mat burn.

origin rash guard front view

Me wearing an Origin rash guard

They typically fit tight to your body. Their tight fit helps prevent fingers and toes from getting stuck when rolling.

I tend to prefer tight t-shirt rash guards in the summer (or when rolling outdoors), and long sleeve rash guards in the winter. Rash guards come in many different styles, and they are much cheaper than BJJ gis.

My Recommendation: XMARTIAL Rash Guards

2. No-Gi BJJ Shorts

No-gi BJJ shorts are athletic shorts without drawstrings or pockets. This prevents your training partner’s fingers or toes from getting stuck during a roll.

gold bjj fight shorts stretching

Me wearing the Gold BJJ Fight Shorts

Technically, you could wear any athletic shorts to no-gi class. However, if your gear can help keep you and your training partners safe, then you should wear that gear.

So, when purchasing new shorts for no-gi, look for shorts that have no drawstrings or pockets (or zippable pockets).

My Recommendation: Gold BJJ Shorts

3. No-Gi BJJ Spats

Spats are long-sleeve compression pants. Think of them like “leggings for men.”

gold bjj spats

Me wearing Gold BJJ Spats

You wear spats under your BJJ shorts, and they protect you from getting rashes and burns on your legs.

I like the feeling of compression that they give my legs. They keep my legs warmed up and ready for action. They also help keep my kneepads in place.

My Recommendation: Sanabul Compression Base Layer

4. Mouthguard

When you train in the gi, you should wear a mouthguard — and the same goes for no-gi. Wearing a mouthguard is mandatory for BJJ because it prevents you from losing your teeth.

I wear my mouthguard when I’m doing positional sparring and standard sparring rounds. However, I don’t wear it when I’m drilling.

Bringing your mouthguard to class every day keeps the dentist away.

My Recommendation: SISU Mouthguard

5. Kneepads

In no-gi BJJ, you tend to scramble and wrestle a bit more than you would in the gi. That’s why you should invest in kneepads.

You don’t need “BJJ” kneepads — volleyball kneepads are just as good and often cheaper.

Kneepads will help cushion the blow and keep your knees protected from the mat and your training partners.

With kneepads, I can afford to be more aggressive with my takedowns because they give my knees a cushion.

My Recommendation: Rawxy Volleyball Knee Pad

With these 5 pieces of no gi jiu jitsu gear, you’re ready for class!

How To Speed Up Your No Gi Jiu Jitsu Progress

Are you primarily a gi player who’s looking to get better at no gi?

Here are some ways to speed up your progress.

1. Practice Solo Drills

When was the last time you brushed up on your solo drills?

Solo drills are a great way to become competent at the underlying body movements that make up no gi jiu jitsu.

John Danaher teaches a free instructional on no-gi solo drills.

Since there are fewer grips to deal with in no-gi, movements like bridging and shrimping are more effective and helpful for escaping.

guard passing on a bjj dummy

No gi guard passing drills on my Grappling SMARTY

Therefore, it’s important to master these solo drills so you can take advantage of the reduced friction and grips.

2. Master Survival & Escapes

Generally, it’s easier to survive and escape bad positions in no-gi. There is less friction, fewer grips, and grips are less powerful.

That being said, you’ll still have to practice your survival and escape skills. It’s a faster, more dynamic game for both the top and bottom players.

In New Wave Jiu Jitsu: A New Philosophy Of Positional Escapes, John Danaher teaches how to survive and escape from any position in no-gi.

And the more confident you are in your escapes, the more aggressive you’ll be when hunting for submissions.

Why? Because you know if you get pinned, you’ll have an easier time escaping.

3. Understand The Leglock Meta

In no gi jiu jitsu, there are fewer rules when it comes to lower-body submissions.

It’s also much more difficult to escape leg locks because you cannot use pant or gi grips to help you escape.

Therefore, leglocks are far more prevalent in no-gi. If you want to get better at no gi, you’ll have to start spending more time on your leglock defense and offense.

John Danaher is known for revolutionizing the leglock game in no-gi. His instructional, Leglocks: Enter The System is where most BJJ players start when learning about leglocks.

4. Train Both Gi & No Gi

If you want to get better at no-gi BJJ, train more no-gi.

However, remember that there are more similarities than differences between gi and no-gi. 

By cross-training both variations of BJJ, you’ll become better at both.

Unless you are a specialist competitor who trains only no-gi, you’re better off training both — and benefiting from increased time on the mats.

Sure, no gi jiu jitsu has its own unique nuances. But the more time you spend doing jiu-jitsu, the better you’ll get at it.

Personally, I love both of them equally. I train in the gi twice a week, and no-gi twice a week. And training both has helped me improve my skills at both.

Takeaway Thoughts

No gi jiu jitsu is incredibly fun, highly relevant to MMA, and most importantly, doesn’t require so much damn laundry.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes the dominant form of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Do you prefer gi or no-gi? Why?

And is there anything I missed in terms of the history of no-gi BJJ, differences, or no-gi gear?

Leave a comment in the section below. I’d love to discuss more about no-gi.

Happy no-gi rolling. 🤙

tsavo neal

Tsavo Neal

Tsavo is the founder of BJJ Equipment, an assistant BJJ instructor at InFighting, and a BJJ purple belt. He's a passionate hobbyist and BJJ gear/equipment aficionado. He launched BJJ Equipment in 2022 to make it easy for grapplers to find the best BJJ gear so they look, feel, and perform at their best on the mats.

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