Written by Michael “Patolino” Piccolomini

Mike “Patolino” Piccolomini is a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Matt and Nick Serra in Long Island, New York where he is the chief instructor and coordinator for all of the children’s classes. Michael also serves as one of the head instructors for both the ‘beginner’ and ‘advanced’ adult programs at the academy. Along with his BJJ prowess, Patolino also possesses a 4th degree Black Belt in Shorin-Ryu Karate. Mike also holds degrees in Special Education, Elementary Education, and Music. He currently serves as a Special Educator at a local public school district, along with his Martial Arts responsibilities.

One of the most common – and controversial – topics in Brazilian jiu jitsu is whether or not to train with the gi. The division between gi and no-gi advocates is comparable to the rift between Red Sox and Yankees fans.

It is widely believed that training with the gi cultivates a highly technical game more suitable for BJJ tournaments, while no-gi training employs speed and strength more suitable for…reality. Whether this is true or not, let’s try to understand both types of training a little more.

The technical aspect of gi training has to do with the fabric of the uniform itself. The gi is made of heavy- weight cotton, which absorbs sweat and adds a tremendous amount of friction when applying submission holds, making escaping extremely difficult. The gi also provides countless handles to secure limbs, assuring your opponent doesn’t just slip away.

While strength and speed are not the most important attributes in BJJ, they can certainly help. The lack of fabric in no-gi training makes absorbing sweat almost nonexistent, leading to a slippery match. This is one of the biggest differences in gi and no-gi training: submissions need to be spot-on to end a match; an opponent in a no-gi contest is more likely to slide out of a submission attempt and turn the match around.

Some of my gi-loving friends joke around when it comes to training no gi, saying, “no gi, no me.” I’ve also met students who, having trained for two years and never put a gi on, claim to be “at a purple belt level.”

From my experience, people who train exclusively in no gi claim that this type of training is more realistic in a street fight. To simply discount gi training because a mugger isn’t wearing a gi, however, isn’t credible. There will always be some article of clothing to utilize, whether it is a tee shirt or a winter coat.

Another reason for training exclusively no gi is the MMA aspect. Almost all MMA matches take place with minimal clothing. But take a look at some of today’s fighters; many of them are BJJ black belts, and Pan American, and/or World Champions. All of them are accomplished while wearing the gi. Matt Serra, BJ Penn, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Frank Mir, Demian Maia and Fabricio Werdum are just a few examples of BJJ practitioners turned successful MMA fighters.

Even if your goal isn’t to fight MMA, but rather to compete in a submission grappling tournament such as Abu Dhabi, wearing the gi can help you achieve victory. Marcelo Garcia shed his gi just weeks before the 2003 installment of Abu Dhabi, winning the 66-76 kg division and repeating the feat in 2005 and 2007.

I feel it is the instructor’s responsibility to present students with the opportunity to train both gi and no gi. When I first started training BJJ, Tuesdays and Fridays were designated no-gi days, regardless of the student’s rank (we were also fortunate enough to have a six day a week schedule). Time plays the most critical role in training. If you have very limited time to train and you can only do one or the other, remember any mat time is better than no mat time. Hopefully your gym or academy has open mat time when students can train on their own, which is another important component in helping expand your BJJ game.

One of my jobs as a chief instructor for Serra Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is to oversee the kids BJJ program. Every one of the children trains both gi and no gi. During the school year the students wear the gi and when it starts to get hot and humid toward the end of June, we change to no gi. The students love it and it helps change up the routine.

Personally, I love training with the gi more than anything, but living on Long Island, July and August can be brutally hot. After training in the summer, my gi can weigh an extra six pounds because of sweat! So when it’s hot, I’ll wear board shorts and a tee shirt and the other ten months you’ll find me with my gi keeping me warm.

Oftentimes, your schedule, your academy’s schedule, the weather and other factors will dictate how you train. While it’s ok to love one style of training more than the other, changing it up may help add a breath of fresh air into a stale practice session. With a little time, patience and an open mind, the benefits of training both gi and no gi will appear in your game.

To gi or not to gi? I say choose both.