Many people struggle with the process of transferring their gi skills to a no-gi environment, most people prefer to specialize in one or the other. Personally, I always wanted to have a style of jiu-jitsu that was effective in all settings so I spent time thinking about which techniques and strategies were applicable in both scenarios. The best way to think about it is to first focus on all the aspects that are the same, i will use 2 analogies to help explain what I mean. First, lets look at baseball and softball, it should be relatively easy to see the similarities between the two sports so i will list the differences to help us clarify how similar the two sports actually are. So here are the major differences…big ball in softball and small ball in baseball, overhand pitching in baseball and underhand pitching in softball. On a basic level those are the only differences, everything else is the same. If we focus on everything that is the same, lets say 90%, then all of a sudden we have a tremendous amount of crossover and with a little bit of practice we can see how it would be possible to make a good baseball player into a good softball player in a relatively short amount of time simply by practicing the 10% that is different between the two. The second analogy is when someone is trying to learn a new language, for this example we will look at an english speaker trying to learning spanish. If you took spanish in high school like a lot of Americans then you might remember that one of the first things the teacher does is to give the students a list of something called cognates. A cognate is a word that is very similar in two different languages, a couple of examples would be problem and problema or artist and artista. So the teacher is introducing all the words that are basically the same and then they will move on the discuss the differences.
We need to apply this same way of thinking to our training, the first thing we need to do is focus on everything that is the same between gi and no-gi. If we look at this idea in the context of submission then we can see that the triangle, armlock, kimura, oma plata, rear naked choke, head and arm chokes, foot locks, knee bars, guillotine are all exactly the same in both gi and no-gi. The only thing really missing from the list of submissions is collar choking, so instead of thinking about all the collar chokes that you can’t do without the gi, focus your time on applying and using all the submission that you can use. If we play this idea out we realize that the gi to no-gi crossover is very high, something like 70-80% depending on your personal style, but that is a tremendous amount of crossover. Once we realize that most of our jiu-jitsu is the same in both gi and no-gi then we can focus on just making the small adjusts related to gripping, speed, and slipperiness to make what we already know effective. After we make the small adjustments then we can begin to look at the 20-30% of things that are different between the 2 styles.
We always want to get the most mileage out of our techniques, so not only do we want to be able to use our favorite techniques in a wide range of situations but also in both gi and no-gi. One thing that we need to keep in mind though is that there are positions that only exist in certain situations, for example spider guard does not exist in a no gi situation. This is important to realize so that we don’t get off track and stagnate in certain areas, what we need to realize is that we need to solve our jiu-jitsu problems as appropriately as possible. If you are dealing with a situation, such as spider guard, that doesn’t exist without the gi then you don’t need to worry about your offense/defense crossing over to the gi since that situation doesn’t exist…i call this gi answers for gi problems. On the other hand, if you are presented with a problem that is present in both gi and no-gi, such as opening the closed guard, then you want to select a technique that is applicable in both, thinking about it this way will make sure that the majority you jiu-jitsu is usable in both gi and no-gi. The 20-30% of things that are different between gi and no-gi fall into this category, they are specialized positions of scenarios.
Ok, so to wrap this up, if you are new to either gi or no-gi the first thing you want to do is focus on everything that is the same, about 70-80%. Once you figure out the small changes in those techniques with regards to gripping, timing, etc. then you can start to look at the things that are different. The main thing to focus on when thinking about the differences is those specialized positions that only exist in one style or the other. This approach has always helped me, hopefully it will help you too.