UFC Welterweight contender Rory MacDonald was awarded a black belt in no gi Brazilian jiu jitsu on Sunday night. The man who awarded MacDonald this honor was his original MMA coach, David Lea of Toshido MMA in Kelowna, British Columbia. The distinction of "no gi" means that MacDonald has not trained in the traditional uniform of jiu jitsu or judo that is based off the Japanese kimono.
Now Lea is himself a black belt in no gi jiu jitsu, having trained under Chris Brennan, an MMA fighter who trained under the Gracies in the mid-90s. Brennan is a black belt in traditional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, meaning he has trained in and out of the gi.
Many in the BJJ community are critical of "no gi" black belts as training in the gi is seen as a critical aspect of the art. The gi provides grips for both fighters that causes action to slow and it is argued that this forces students to become more technical and thus better grappler, at least in a jiu jitsu context.
Most no gi systems of grappling sprung from Catch-As-Catch-Can Wrestling, which has no belt system and thus many no gi grappling schools do not award them but there are exceptions. Xtreme Couture head grappling coach, Neil Melanson trained in both catch wrestling and jiu jitsu awards belts for his no gi system. Rolles Gracie famously awarded Rashad Evans a no gi jiu jitsu black belt, citing that Evans would be able to compete at that level in competitions, and was mercilessly criticized for it, even by his own family. And of course Eddie Bravo awards belts in his 10th Planet system.
Whatever you think of the idea of no gi belts, there is no doubt that this is an milestone in MacDonald's career that reflects a great deal of hard work and time put in on the mat.