Whether you practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for sport, self defense, or as a casual hobby, training without the gi is essential at all stages of your development. It is the philosophy of many BJJ black belts that their students start out training in the gi, and then slowly transition to no gi. Or worse, that their students train exclusively in the gi.
Training without the gi is a huge reality check. A few things that you will notice as you begin your no gi journey:
1. "My A-Game is useless without the gi" Your spider guard is dead. Your fancy lapel chokes have been thrown out the window. And now the sweaty, athletic new student is slipping out of your poorly sharpened no gi attacks and getting the better of you. This can be a huge bummer for the seasoned practitioner. If you find yourself having a hard time handling these setbacks, you might also notice.......
2. "My ego might be out of control." The reality is, a young athletic college wrestler can be a nightmare for even a seasoned BJJ black belt without the gi. And nobody wants to get beat by the new guy. So instead of dealing with the reality of a different grappling style, the black belt is dominated by their own ego. They shy away from training without the gi, and insist that all of their students do the same. This is destructive thinking on the mat, and in life. You should embrace new failures on the journey to learning something new.
3. "I never train without the gi, so I can't do no gi competitions" This one is pretty self explanatory. You will get smoked if you enter a no gi tournament without having trained for it. Yes, there are outliers like Roger Gracie, who takes his gi off just a week before competition and destroys everyone. But guess what? YOU'RE NOT ROGER GRACIE.
4. "I might get my ass kicked in the street." It's cute to say "Hey we live in Cleveland man. Everyone has a heavy jacket on." It's partially true, and I've said it myself. But people wear a variety of clothing throughout the year, in a variety of different settings. And I'm assuming that you occasionally travel to warmer climates. So be prepared for an attacker/opponent wearing a gi, wearing no shirt, wearing a sweat shirt, wearing a dress, anything! Training both gi and no gi is the best way to cover all of your bases.
See you on the mats!