In my opinion, it really comes down to this – do you train Jiu Jitsu as a martial artist, or not?
What fascinates me is learning the techniques that work for different situations, and this is what I instill in my students. You should be able to hold your own at your belt across various situations. If you can’t, then you need to fill the gaps in your learning as a priority. Otherwise, you’ll be limiting your skills as a martial artist.
Sure, you can tend more towards one than the other. As I write at this point in time, I’ve really been enjoying no-gi, but this will change and has many times in my 25 years of training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
There have been many times that I’ve had black belts come to my gym, refusing to train either gi or no-gi. As a professional Jiu Jitsu instructor, I must train in and be proficient in all aspects of the martial art I’m teaching. The same goes for my students. Even though they have their own preferences, they must be proficient in all aspects of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, otherwise they do not get the grade.
When a student first begins training, the gi is very important. It slows the pace down in grappling, and allows you to develop better controls and learn to more efficiently create pressure. After a complete beginner has spent at least one year in the gi, then no-gi can be introduced. After this length of time, they understand the movements and would less likely be doing anything crazy where they can hurt themselves or their training partners.
After this one-year adjustment and development of skills, I recommend that everyone trains and competes in both gi and no-gi. In my opinion, you should only start to specialise in gi or no-gi once you’re a brown belt. Even then, your training should be distributed as 70% of one and 30% the other, this way you’re still in touch and never lose the skill and feel of the one you’re not specialising in. If your goal is MMA then I would recommend 90% no-gi and 10% gi. Once you slow down or stop training MMA, then increase your gi sessions.
I have brown and black belts that specialise in self-defence, takedowns, leg attacks, chokes and the list go on. But the one thing they all have is a solid foundation on which to build on. If I don’t teach them this foundation, I would be responsible for their lack of skill and I would have failed at my job, which would have disastrous consequences for both the student and our club.