While everyone has their preference, the constant question of whether to spend more time training Gi or NoGi will probably never go away. To be honest I personally believe both have a lot to offer and ignoring one will leave a huge hole in your game. That said, there are benefits and disadvantages to both. The following is a summary of a few issues and things to consider when planning your training.
Let’s face it, the clear majority of people who study BJJ do it for fitness and fun. So, if you enjoy Gi more do it more. If you enjoy NoGi more do it more. That is a very simple way of looking at it, but it’s ultimately what’s going to keep you interested. Neglecting one over the other may eventually develop weaknesses in your game, especially if you want to compete, but at least in the beginning doing what you enjoy most will encourage you to continue.
I will go over some of the more commonly discussed differences between Gi and NoGi, but the most obvious is the clothing. NoGi BJJ uses skin tight clothing and shorts which is applicable to real life only if you spend the majority of your time at the beach. Gi BJJ uses the traditional kimono top and bottom of thick cotton, which approximately simulates clothing such as jackets and pants. Cross collar chokes, lapel grips, and a number of other techniques are all dependent on the use of a Gi. A great example of this is this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HFsyBG95rg) showing the benefit of a basic BJJ technique in real life.
Style and Strategy
The most obvious difference between Gi and NoGi is speed. Because Gi grappling uses grips and the garment causes things to slow down. NoGi is faster because there are only so many ways to stall or control an opponent. I personally find breaking grips in NoGi a lot easier than in Gi.
In addition to the speed of grappling, the tactics are different. Many submissions in Gi are set up or executed using grips on the Gi. Lapel chokes, collar chokes, spider guard, and a variety of other techniques are all executed using the Gi. Control in NoGi is limited. This is an over simplification, but to the novice there are fewer techniques as well.
Because a Gi allows people to use grips, natural aspects such as speed and strength can be countered through patient and exact application of techniques. You often hear that BJJ uses the proper application of leverage, force, and technique to subdue opponents. Well, the Gi makes many of those techniques possible.
NoGi grappling also has several exacting techniques, but there is a greater possibility of using natural attributes such as speed and strength to move from position to position. Even positions that are considered highly dominant like full mount is limited in the number of submissions, but the margin for error is much lower in NoGi, which means control and proper execution of technique becomes very important.
Why do you train?
While there are common reasons for training like fitness, and interest in the martial arts, or self-defense there are also reasons such as the desire to compete or preparing yourself for another sport. The reason you train should be considered when planning your training. If you are primarily looking at fitness as a motivator you can be more flexible. Take what you want because you will likely get a great workout doing either one. If you are interested in competing in grappling tournaments you should probably study both as there are divisions for Gi and NoGi. If you are training to become an MMA fighter you will probably want to focus on NoGi as it is going to translate to MMA better.
So, Gi or NoGi?
Probably not the answer you were looking for, but my answer is both. There are definitely benefits to one over the other depending on your goals and what you like, but there are also benefits of training in both. One of the greatest grapplers of all time, Marcelo Garcia, has been quoted as saying he trains every day in the Gi and once a week NoGi. He also believes that Gi training builds better technique. So, if you like to train NoGi fit in a few Gi classes. If you enjoy Gi the most you may want to fit in some NoGi. Ultimately, getting on the mat and training regardless of whether you are wearing Gi or not is the most important thing.