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Is the Gi Really Dead?
How I really feel about gi vs. no-gi debate.
When I started Jiu-Jitsu, I was told that I had to train in the gi.
I didn’t like it, but I did it anyway because that was what I thought you were “supposed to do”.
I thought everyone who was good at Jiu-Jitsu trained gi and no-gi, and that there were no exceptions to this rule.
I forced myself to become pretty good at the gi, especially for a wrestler who initially hated wearing it. I learned the rules. I swallowed my pride and practiced double guard pulls and butt scooting. I became proficient at a super niche gi-specific guard (worm guard) in order to have an edge over my opponents. I competed in every gi tournament I could for years as a blue, purple, and new brown belt.
Then, a few years into Jiu-Jitsu, I noticed something that made me feel slighted a bit: there has been a lot of specialization going on.
All of a sudden, I looked around and the Jiu-Jitsu world was filled with gi people, no-gi people, leg lockers, bolo guys, lapel dorks (hi, it me 😬), and even steroid-juice-head-MMA-grapplers who specialize in can-openers and snap downs.
Now, in competitive Jiu-Jitsu especially, the specialization has become more serious. It’s becoming really, really hard to do both gi and no-gi at an extremely high level.
But is the gi really dying? Or is it all a meme?
Let’s talk about it:
Gi-focused athletes make less money. This is a fact.
If you win an IBJJF black belt world title in the adult absolute division (the premier title in gi Jiu-Jitsu), you will win $10,000 in prize money.
If you win a black belt world title in your weight class in the adult division, you can earn between $4000-7000 depending on the size of your division.
All it takes is some basic addition to realize that even if you win double gold at IBJJF black belt worlds, you will not make $20,000 in prize money.
On the other hand, if you win your weight class at ADCC, you will make $10,000.
If you win the absolute division at ADCC, you will make $40,000.
When Gordon Ryan won double gold at ADCC a few years back, he took home $50k in prize money, and his brand took off to a new level.
To quote a friend of mine: “ADCC can change your life.”
Many times, I’ve heard people justify the gi’s lack of prize money by saying that “gi fighters can make their living teaching off of the clout that they earn from winning titles”.
But is this even true?
Currently, 8 out of the 10 all-time best-selling BJJ instructionals on BJJ Fanatics (the premier instructional website in the sport) are no-gi-focused. 7 of these 8 are from former or current members of the Danaher Death Squad. 3 of these 8 videos are leg lock videos.
The truth is that you can make a lot of money off of selling instructionals as a no-gi grappler, and it’s probably more money than a gi athlete would make.
Furthermore, as no-gi increases in popularity, the market for no-gi instructionals and seminars is only going to increase. Mainstream Jiu-Jitsu media (Flograppling) has shifted to focusing on promoting primarily no-gi events, meaning there will be more exposure for no-gi athletes.
Last fall, Flograppling held the inaugural “Who’s Number One Championships”. There were 5 divisions of 8 grapplers, each division had a grand prize of $30,000.
More importantly for the professionalism of the sport, there were also cash prizes for second and third place ($15k and $7.5k, respectively).
There has never been a grappling event in history that has offered that much money.
The gi is also less exciting.
Watching the finals of the IBJJF gi world championships can be a snoozefest.
I’ve literally fallen asleep watching two massive men on steroids see-saw each other back and forth in lapel 50/50.
I’ve literally pulled my hair out after losing matches where nothing happened except for me sitting in lapel 50/50.
This doesn’t mean that gi Jiu-Jitsu is inherently boring. It can be very exciting. Some of the most exciting matches in my career have been the gi.
I’ve had exciting gi matches and boring no-gi matches, but usually, it’s the other way around.
The problem isn't the attire, it’s the athletes and the rules.
However, for people who don’t watch Jiu-Jitsu, the gi is very confusing. I mean, imagine trying to explain worm guard to someone who’s never even worn a gi before.
It’d be like explaining calculus to a Labrador.
On the other hand, imagine watching someone like Garry Tonon in any match he competes in. There’s a reason Garry prefers to compete in no-gi—it allows him to be more exciting.
This doesn’t mean that no-gi is never boring, either.
Watching Tye Ruotolo vs. Mica Galvao last year at the WNO finals was the most boring 30-minutes I’ve watched since my college lectures. It was boring as fuck.
However, on average, no-gi matches are more exciting than gi matches.
How many of the IBJJF black belt world finals did you watch last year? Unless you’re a BJJ die-hard, probably not that many. I watched all of them, and I’m still here writing this article about how the gi is struggling.
Gi is exciting if you train in the gi, but to a casual, the gi is confusing, weird, and most importantly, kind of difficult to relate to.
But is the gi REALLY dying?
Despite the fact that the gi is objectively less professional than no-gi at the moment, the gi is not actually dying.
This is because the average BJJ practitioner does not plan to compete at WNO, ADCC, or EBI.
The average BJJ practitioner doesn’t really compete much at all.
The average BJJ practitioner trains both but probably prefer the gi because they’ve got this idea in their head that the gi causes fewer injuries.
Let’s about that really quickly.
Warning: Tough love below…
The average BJJ practitioner is scared of leg locks, scared to wrestle, and thinks that no-gi is dangerous because they don’t know it.
People fear what they don’t know.
Leg locks are no more dangerous than any other form of joint locks, besides the fact that leg locks are not taught effectively in the average Jiu-Jitsu academy.
The 2 reasons that people get injured from training leg locks are lack of knowledge and elevated ego.
Food for thought.
One form of grappling is not more dangerous than the other. If you train either form of grappling intensely, you will probably experience some injuries. If you train hard, you’re gonna get hurt sometimes.
Welcome to combat sports.
The thing is, if you’re trying to become a professional grappler, it seems to be a little easier (for lack of a better word) to make money through becoming highly proficient in no-gi.
The gi isn’t dead, but at the professional level, it is years behind no-gi. This is for almost no other reason besides the fact that there is more money in high-level no-gi Jiu-Jitsu than high-level gi Jiu-Jitsu. Unless you plan on opening a successful gym, winning 6 black belt world titles, or creating a revolutionary new system of attacks, it’s difficult to make a living in the gi game.
Master Worlds is the largest BJJ tournament in the world right now. You can’t win any money at Master Worlds, but it’s the biggest tournament out there. Right now, the gi is kept alive by the master’s divisions.
Think about it.
Right now, I’m personally more focused on no-gi Jiu-Jitsu for the reasons above, but that does not mean that I have completely retired from the gi.
Training gi Jiu-Jitsu (or competing in submission-only gi matches) is really fun because both athletes are encouraged to push the pace and win the fight.
Submission grappling is fun, sport Jiu-Jitsu (under most rulesets) is not as fun. Submissions are fun, advantages are lame. I’ll die on this hill.
At this point in my career, it’s just hard to get fired up about fighting for advantages, especially if there’s nothing but a plastic medal on the line.
I still train and teach in the gi every week, but for the first few months of 2022, I’m focused on no-gi when it comes to competition.
I’ll be back in the robes one-day soon though, I promise.
Unless, of course, if the gi dies for good.
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