A bit about my life in BJJ
Brazilian Jiujitsu has been my main hobby for most of the past eight years. It’s rarely something that overlaps with my professional life, so I’ve never written about it on this site, but it’s something I think about almost every day. It’s an engrossing art and the best full body workout I’ve ever tried.
Tammi Willis recently interviewed a handful of BJJ practitioners, including me, about training with and without the gi. This is one of those niche-within-niche subjects that gets enormous attention within the sport and means nothing to those who don’t train, much like singles versus doubles in tennis.
It’s probably the most I’ve ever talked through my history with the sport, so I’m gathering up everything I said into a single post, lightly edited for clarity.
I’m currently training at All 1 MMA in Boston. It’s a tiny gym, all hobbyists, about half in our 40s. I started at Boston BJJ with Roberto Maia and got my purple belt in late 2019. That gym closed in 2020, and I took a year and a half off training, coming back in mid-2021.
I was 34 when I first started training for real. I’d tried jiujitsu and done a little judo before, and I trained Okinawan karate and American Kenpo in college and a few years after.
Boston BJJ was almost all in the gi. There was one nogi class a week, late on a Wednesday night, and I only went a couple times. Any time I trained nogi, it felt like a special occassion and made me realize how much I depended on gi grips.
When I came back in 2021, I started doing only nogi, but then the class switched to gi, and so I was back and forth for a while.
When I came back, the guy who now runs All 1 MMA, Paul Rosado, was teaching twice a week at a kung fu school down the street from me. He opened his own gym in March of this year, and when I moved over, I just decided I wanted to focus on nogi for a while. I only get to train two or three times a week, so I wanted to pick one and run with it for a bit.
My guard game has always been a mix of guillotines, triangles and armbars, sweeps from half guard or SLX and opportunistic foot locks. I didn’t lean too heavily on collar chokes or spider guard, so I didn’t miss those.
I found guard passing the hardest thing to transition, which surprised me. I was relying much more on pant grips, especially inside the knee, to get an angle to pass. I’ve never been a stellar top player in any sense, but without the gi to grip, I felt a little at sea trying to hold somebody down.
The gi is definitely a slower, more grinding game. It’s still fun, but it’s different. I might be the smallest guy at my gym and I find it easier to escape bad positions without the gi.
If I were starting over, I’d start with nogi and then add the gi later. I don’t think there’s anything that makes the gi more “fundamental” to jiujitsu or grappling, except that it’s more traditional.
The gi is fun, and people should train it if they like it. I still do a gi class if that’s what the schedule allows. I don’t moralize about which is “correct” or “self-defense” or whatever. It’s ok to do both, or just one, and they’ll teach you different things.
We’re in a sport that stubbornly refuses to agree on a standard ruleset or weight classes or what each belt means, and I’ve grown to like that. No one owns jiujitsu, so no one gets to say which is the one true way.