For fans of MMA, few images are as iconic as Royce Gracie stepping into the octagon at UFC 1 in 1993. Although his first opponent, Art Jimmerson, would also strike quite the unforgettable profile—he was a boxer who insisted on wearing one glove—few people took the man seriously who decided to wear a gi (the traditional uniform for martial arts like karate, judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu). Even more memorable, though, is what the guy dressed like the Karate Kid did to everyone in his way.
The Move Away from the Gi
Despite the fact that Royce would continue competing—and winning—in a gi for years to come, many BJJ practitioners began moving away from using it. For those who wanted to step into the cage themselves, it simply felt very impractical. After all, no one wears them in MMA fights anymore, so what’s the point?
Well, there are still some very good reasons for training with one on a regular basis, even if you only care about MMA.
It’s Great for Beginners
The gi is an excellent training tool for beginners, as it gives them easy mental queues for where to put their hands.
For example, if you’re trying to get out of guard, you can grip the other person’s belt to hold them in place and give yourself a foundation to push off from. Without the gi, you’d still want to put your hand right at their waist in a number of situations. The same can be said for where you’d put your hand on the thigh or knee when trying to break open your opponent’s guard.
It’s Less Forgiving
In no gi, you can be a bit more lenient about where you let your opponent place their hands. For example, if they wrap their forearm around your neck, you still stand a pretty good chance of shrugging it off.
This isn’t the case with the gi. Notice how hotly judokas compete for grips. That’s because they know that once their opponent grabs their collar, they’re going to have a terrible time trying to get free.
With the gi, you can’t take any of your opponent’s moves for granted. Not only will you have a tough time breaking their grip, but getting a hold of your gi could put them within a split second of submitting you.
Also, it can level the playing field a bit. By slowing down the action, lower belts aren’t as easily victimized by opponents who can tear through their rookie defense with ease.
It’s Great for Building Stamina
If you don’t have good grip strength, jiu-jitsu is going to be unnecessarily challenging. While there are a number of ways you can build that strength, if you’re already training, why not throw on a gi and give yourself some extra exercise?
Likewise, as we mentioned a moment ago, the gi slows you down a lot. It is definitely more difficult—especially in warm weather—to train wearing the jacket and pants which can help build your endurance considerably. The moment you take the gi off to roll, you’ll notice an immediate difference.
The Gi Is More Realistic
No, people aren’t walking around wearing gis. However, they do walk around wearing jackets, hoodies, belts and pants. If you are ever unfortunate enough to find yourself being attacked by someone, understanding how these features can be used against your opponent can make for a quick—and safer—fight.
Although no one wears the gi inside the cage anymore, there’s no reason to give up training with it entirely. As we hope the four reasons above have made clear, this piece of traditional clothing still provides plenty of modern benefits.