Enhance No-gi training with the Gi
The title may seem counter intuitive but stay with me. No-gi jiu jitsu is my preferred method of grappling. The controls in no-gi cross over into gi, into MMA and for self defence.
A lot of gi specific attacks cannot be performed in a real life defensive situation, which is what a lot of people start a martial art for. No-gi has techniques that would be outright dangerous for yourself if done on a concrete walkway, so it has its flaws in pure street defence.
However, the gi can enhance your no-gi and street defence skills because of one simple component: friction.
This is where the gi comes in handy. The friction caused by the woven material of a gi keeps limbs in place. Now that you can't rely on a slippery surface to escape, what do you do to free yourself? In this way the gi makes you think your way around an issue. If I can't move the arm I want to, then what can I move to help free up space and reduce friction so I can extract my trapped limb?
A gi is bulky, retains heat and wears you out quickly. So adding gi training into your no-gi routine will help improve cardio and stamina. It's also a great place to show off your belt.
The reverse is also helpful, that of using no-gi to enhance your gi jiu jitsu. Many gi only students I know have a hard time transitioning to no-gi. Without something to grab onto they lose a large part of their game. This is mainly due to the difference in leverage.
In gi jiu jitsu, it is easy for a novice to grab a sleeve thus trapping an arm. They are controlling the wrist and, due to the limited movement, also have partial control over the elbow, shoulder and chest. In no-gi, only controlling the wrist doesn't necessarily control the entire arm. To illustrate this difference, grab your right wrist with your left hand. Now pull your right arm straight back, aiming to get your wrist to your ribs. Without straining too much you should notice how your right arm moves freely in that direction, and your torso begins to twist as your left arm is pulled around.
Now repeat the process, but this time gather your right sleeve at the wrist so there is no slack inside it. With minimal effort your right arm will be trapped in your garment and the left shouldn't move much. So if you rely only on gi grips for control, when you get to no-gi people will escape easier.
By utilising deep hooks, such as linking arms at the elbow, using the gi you can gain tremendous control through hooks and friction. You only need to use gi grips when it enhances your no-gi control.
Let me repeat that in another way as the point is crucial. There is no need to grab the gi unless it improves your position, tightens control or makes your submission more effective.
This skill alone can take a while to master, so if you are in doubt ask yourself a simple question: could my control be better without using this gi grip?
If you are unsure, release the grip anyway and try for something else. This is why we train and free roll at the gym. We can experiment with a live partner with realistic resistance. If something doesn't work we try something else. That way when it matters, such as in competition or on the street, we know what works and don't have to try something new.
All good BJJ schools should be teaching control without relying on the gi. Sure there are gi only submissions to try out, and grips to enhance position, however you should be able to take the gi off and be just as effective.
Putting the gi on should be the signal to attack a problem from a different angle. At the gym, allow yourself to get trapped and use your favourite or most successful escape to free yourself. See if it still works with the gi on. Assuming it doesn't, play around with variations until you figure out a new avenue to freedom. Your coach can always help if you get stuck.
When you return to no-gi you'll have a new weapon in your arsenal.
Please hit the comments with your own experiences and suggestions when cross training with gi and no-gi.