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Why Does the Gi Rule No-Gi BJJ?

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Gordon Ryan Guard Passing Instructional

OCTOBER 2015. Wait, wait, hold your pitchforks! The intent of this article is not to downsize no-gi jiu-jitsu, but find the causes for the gi’s unlikely dominance over the sport’s no-gi events.

Although you may think that there is no truth to this claim, it is hard to fend off the facts. As it stands, the only true battlefield where the elite of both gi and no-gi meet is the ADCC. All others offer sub-par and often biased sets of circumstances that favor one style or another. Nothing against this, diversity makes this sport a pleasure to follow, but let us discuss this from level ground.

Recently there was a social media meme by the talented Scott Epstein of 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu claiming: “The only reason so many gi guys are winning so many no gi competitions is because they are simply beating other gi guys in no gi“.

This is almost 100% true when debating IBJJF events such as the No-Gi Pan Ams or the No-Gi Worlds, where the more recent rules enforced by the federation have closed the event’s doors to many big names of the grappling circuit. This is not, however, what the ADCC shows us.

We could go over the ADCC year by year to prove a point, but the data is pretty steady. This year (2015) there were at the very least 28 no-gi specialists competing in the men’s division. There could be more if we were to consider guys such as Jeff Glover or Vinny Magalhaes as no-gi experts, but given that they still compete with the gi on occasion, and both have gi backgrounds we have left them out of the equation opting to label them as “hybrid grapplers”.

28 is certainly not a dominant figure, the no-gi crowd is still a minority (44% to be exact). Not all the remaining grapplers on the show were 100% gi, as there were some with MMA and hybrid styles.

The tournament was dominated by gi competitors, we knew this already with Rustam Chsiev being the only no-gi specialist to medal (bronze at 88kg div.), but with such a disparity in numbers of athletes, the odds were against them anyway. We need to check the matches individually, particularly the ones where a no-gi stylist went against a gi specialist.

in 27 matches, where both facets of the game were paired up against each other the results were:


Gi: 23 wins; No-Gi: 4 wins – Please note these are direct wins between one style and the other, not overall wins of either. No absolute matches were accounted, as they would not be regarded as even circumstances. 

This is a pretty defining statistic, a tough one to challenge. Now, logic would be 100% against this stat. How is it possible to be better at something by focussing on another?

Let’s be clear. No one, not even the most religious gi fanatic, is preparing for a no-gi event of this magnitude by running a training camp with a gi. All took time out of their schedule to adapt to the tempo and grip changes involved in a no-gi contest. This still doesn’t make up for the fact that many others have been focussing on the no-gi for years on end without the same success.

What is the deciding factor?

For someone who has been following the sport for over 15 years, one factor stands out like a sore thumb in this debate: Competition.

The gi has year-round tournaments, matching up the top grapplers in the world consistently through an excellent network of challenges proposed by organizations such as the IBJJF, UAEJJF, Copa Podio and many other state circuits, particularly in Brazil.

We have all heard that old proverb “iron sharpens iron”. Although no gi’s proving grounds are growing in numbers – particularly it seems in the submission-only format, it still lacks consistency in quality and numbers. This is clear when we see grapplers such as Eddie Cummings (who is a total badass by the way) win sub-grappling event after event with one “game”. How many high-level gi competitors can afford to do this in a big gi tournament?

There are exceptions to this rule, but the vast majority we see time and time again start in the lower belts, consistently winning the top tournaments through the ranks with an “A” game, and as they reach the black belt division – struggle to succeed and opt to adapt/evolve. Even the headstrong berimbolo masters, Miyao brothers have added a serious passing game since arriving at the big leagues of jiu-jitsu.

Grappling is universal, if you put someone who is an absolute stud gi competitor, and take his gi away, it won’t take him long to adapt. The reverse will likely happen with a person who excels at no-gi. Much like, say putting a highly prized NFL running back playing as a center for a rugby team, he is almost guaranteed to reap great results.

The key differentiator between gi and no gi is that the gi athlete will have been thrown against the best consistently, pushed to the limit, tested and adapted to all sorts of other highly skilled competitors on a regular basis. The chances of that had happened with the no-gi specialist are fewer and far between.

GI Jiu-jitsu has been growing tremendously these past 4 years, and instead of seeing the gap between the two aspects of BJJ getting closer, the gap seems to be getting wider. This is also noticeable when reading the ADCC results. Just to give you an example, no-gi medalled 10 athletes in 1998, 11 in 1999, 7 in 2000 and 6 in 2001, and been losing terrain ever since. This is likely not because the submission grappling athletes have diminished in quality, but due to the leaps forward taken by gi jiu-jitsu in terms of volume and quality of its competitive outlets.

So the solution is simple, a more organized structure for no-gi specialists to test and evolve their skills, this is the challenge faced by the no-gi followers for the future.

Grapplers presented as no-gi specialists:

Eddie Cummings (66kg / No-gi jiu jitsu)
Geo Martinez (66kg / 10th Planet)
Tezekbaev Rasul (66kg / Grappling)
Asadulaev Surkhay (66kg / Grappling)
Nicolas Renier (66kg / Luta Livre)
Garry Tonon (77kg / no-gi jiu jitsu)
Vagner Rocha (77kg / no-gi jiu jitsu)
Enrico Cocco (77kg / Avellan grappling system)
Milton Vieira (77kg / Luta Livre)
Gamrot Mateusz (77kg / Grappling)
Abdulkadirov Magomed (77kg / Grappling)
Noh Young-Ahm (88kg / pro wrestling)
Pablo Popovitch (88kg / no-gi jiu jitsu)
Matt Arroyo (88kg / no-gi jiu jitsu)
Hidemi Mihara (88kg / grappling)
Rustam Chsiev (88kg / grappling)
Hidemi Mihara (88kg/ pro-wrestling)
Zbigniew Tyszka (88kg / no-gi jiu jitsu)
Jason Bukich (99kg / no-gi jiu jitsu)
Tom DeBlass (99kg / no-gi jiu jitsu)
Tomasz Narkun (99kg / no-gi jiu jitsu)
Yukiyasu Ozawa (99kg / no-gi / wrestling)
Adam Sachnoff (99kg / 10th Planet)
Leonardo Chocolate (+99kg / luta livre)
Rodrigo Artilheiro (+99kg / submission wrestling)
Dean Lister (+99kg / no-gi jiu jitsu)
Juskowiak Mateusz (+99kg / no-gi jiu jitsu)
Jason Lees (+99kg / no-gi jiu jitsu)

Other potential no-gi athletes:

Lukasz Michalec
Ben Henderson

Matches accounted for:

WinnerLooserGiNo GiNull  
Dean ListerLee HyoungxO99KGRD1
Orlando SanchezJanne-PekkaxO99KGRD1
Rodrigo ArtilheiroLeonardo ChocolatexO99KGRD1
Jared DoppGabriel LucasxO99KGRD1
Rodrigo CavacaHideki Sekine1O99KGRD1
Abraham MarteJuskowiak Mateusz1O99KGRD1
Joao RochaJason Lees1O99KGRD1
Vinny MagalhaesRodrigo ArtilheiroxO99KG1/4F
Orlando SanchezDean Lister1O99KG1/4F
Joao RochaAbraham MartexO99KG1/4F
Jared DoppRodrigo CavacaxO99KG1/4F
Orlando SanchezVinny MagalhaesxO99KGSF
Jared DoppJoao RochaxO99KGSF
Vinny MagalhaesJoao RochaxO99KG3RD
Orlando SanchezJared DoppxO99KGF
Joao AssisTomasz Narkun199KGRD1
Kamil UminskiTom DeBlass199KGRD1
Alexandre RibeiroYukiyasu Ozawa199KGRD1
Felipe PenaRoberto Alencarx99KGRD1
Jimmy FrederichLukasz Michalecx99KGRD1
Cassio FrancisTobias Gx99KGRD1
Rodolfo VieiraAdam Sachnoff199KGRD1
Hector LombardJason Bukichx99KGRD1
Felipe PenaJimmy Friedrichx99KG1/4F
Alexandre RibeiroHector Lombardx99KG1/4F
Rodolfo VieiraCassio Francisx99KG1/4F
Joao AssisKamil Uminskix99KG1/4F
Rodolfo VieiraAlexandre Ribeirox99KGSF
Felipe PenaJoao Assisx99KGSF
Rodolfo VieiraFelipe Penax99KGF
Romulo BarralCraig Jonesx88KGRD1
Neiman GracieEzra Lennonx88KGRD1
Pablo PopovitchZbigniew Tyszkax88KGRD1
Yuri SimoesRicardo Mesquitax88KGRD1
Rafael LovatoHidemi Mihara188KGRD1
Rustam ChsievMatt Aroyox88KGRD1
Keenan CorneliusJesse Urholinx88KGRD1
Claudio CalasansMike Perezx88KGRD1
Romulo BarralNieman Graciex88KG1/4F
Keenan CorneliusClaudio Calasansx88KG1/4F
Yuri SimoesZbigniew Tyszka188KG1/4F
Rustam ChsievRafael Lovato188KG1/4F
Yuri SimoesRomulo Barralx88KGSF
Keenan CorneliusRustam Chsiev188KGSF
Rustam ChsievRomulo Barral188KG3RD
Yuri SimoesKeenan Corneliusx88KGF
Otavio SousaAJ Agazarmx77KGRD1
Vagner RochaMilton Vieirax77KGRD1
Davi RamosYoung-Ahm177KGRD1
Garry TononDillon Danis177KGRD1
Lucas LepriGamrot Mateusz177KGRD1
Abdulkadirov MagomedBen Hendersonx77KGRD1
Gilbert BurnsLachlan Gilesx77KGRD1
Gabriel RolloEnrico Cocco177KGRD1
Otavio SousaVagner Rocha177KG1/4F
Davi RamosGabriel Rollox77KG1/4F
Gilbert BurnsAbdulkadirov Magomed177KG1/4F
Lucas LepriGarry Tonon177KG1/4F
Lucas LepriOtavio Sousax77KGSF
Davi RamosGilbert Burnsx77KGSF
Gilbert BurnsOtavio Sousax77KG3RD
Davi RamosLucas Leprix77KGF
Bruno FrazattoMark Ramosx66KGRD1
Rubens CharlesTezekbaev Rasul166KGRD1
Eddie CummingsAsadulaev Surkhayx66KGRD1
Gianni GrippoGabriel Marangonix66KGRD1
Augusto MendesNicholas Renier166KGRD1
Jeff GloverDaniel Hortegasx66KGRD1
Renan SancarYuto Hiraox66KGRD1
Geo MartinezAlexandre Vieira166KGRD1
Rubens CharlesGianni Grippox66KG1/4F
Augusto MendesEddie Cummings166KG1/4F
Bruno FrazattoRenan Sancarx66KG1/4F
Geo MartinezJeff Gloverx66KG1/4F
Bruno FrazattoGeo Martinez166KGSF
Rubens CharlesAugusto Mendesx66KGSF
Augusto MendesGeo Martinez166KG3RD
Rubens CharlesBruno Frazattox66KGF

Cover picture by Flo-Grappling.

Bernardo Faria BJJ Foundations


  • wrestlejitsu says:


  • Darren says:

    Great article! This pointless arguement has been going on forever, but people gotta be realistic and understand that it isn't an even playing field yet, so arguing about this topic is really lame.

  • Mike Americano says:

    Another interesting art leg to post would be about how 90-95% of the top MMA fighters are No-Gi or wrestling practitioners. Go competitors win grappling competitions always due to the high volume of competitions as mentioned above. The problem when translated to MMA is, gi players have no qualms with playing off of their backs, and using closed guard, a great way to get punched in the face. They also tend to favor Judo over Wrestling for takedowns. Those of us who practice and train in both realize that a NCAA wrestler vs a Mundial level BJJ player would get tapped most of the time in a grappling match. The pendulum swings to the opposite style when punches and elbows are allowed. If you want self defense and grappling, train BJJ and No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu. If MMA is your goal, focus on wrestling and No-Gi.

    • bjjheroes says:

      Not sure how you would quantify this Mike. Wrestling isn’t jiu jitsu but for jiu jitsu’s biggest MMA representatives, the majority built their BJJ careers in the gi: Demian Maia, Ronaldo Jacaré, Fabricio Werdum, Charles Oliveira, Rafael dos Anjos, Jose Aldo, Jussier Formiga, the list goes on.

  • Charlie says:

    It would be GREAT to see these statistics re-done now in 2020 (5 years later). The no-gi world has certainly exploded since then and I am sure many people would be very interested to see if these statistics have changed! What do you say guys?

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