Journalist/developer. Storytelling developer @ USA Today Network. Builder of @HomicideWatch. Sinophile for fun. Past: @frontlinepbs @WBUR, @NPR, @NewsHour.
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The Pay Raise People Say They Need to Be Happy

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Who Controls OpenAI?

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I mean here’s a diagram:

And then here’s a slightly annotated diagram1:

In the first diagram, the word “controls” appears four times, and if you trace it through, you will see that the board of directors of OpenAI ultimately controls each entity in the organization. All of OpenAI answers to its ultimate decision-making body, an independent nonprofit board of directors who do not own any equity in the OpenAI entities and who, broadly speaking, appoint themselves. They answer to their own consciences, not to any investors. “The Nonprofit’s principal beneficiary is humanity, not OpenAI investors,” explains OpenAI.

In the second diagram, I have written the word “MONEY” in large green letters.

The question is: Is control of OpenAI indicated by the word “controls,” or by the word “MONEY”?

On Friday, OpenAI’s nonprofit board, its ultimate decision maker, fired Sam Altman, its co-founder and chief executive officer, saying that “he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.” Apparently the board felt that Altman was moving too aggressively to commercialize OpenAI’s products like ChatGPT, and worried that this speed of commercialization raised the risk of creating a rogue artificial intelligence that would, you know, murder or enslave humanity.2

So it just fired him. “Microsoft was shocked Friday when it received just a few minutes notice” of the firing, despite having invested some $13 billion in OpenAI. Other investors and employees were similarly blindsided. But that’s the deal! The board decides, and it does not answer to the investors or employees or take their interests into account. Its only concern is with “humanity.”

Except that then OpenAI spent the weekend backtracking and trying to hire Altman back, under pressure from Microsoft Corp., other investors and employees. Altman’s conditions for coming back, as far as I can tell, were that the board had to resign and the governance had to change; I take that to mean roughly that OpenAI had to become a normal tech company with him as a typically powerful founder-CEO. They almost got there, but then did not. This morning, OpenAI announced that Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Twitch, would be its new interim CEO, while Microsoft announced that it had hired Altman to lead its in-house artificial intelligence efforts.

Also this morning, “more than 500 of OpenAI's 700-plus employees signed an open letter urging OpenAI's board to resign” and threatening to quit to join Altman’s Microsoft team. Incredibly, one of the signers of that letter is Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist, who is on the board and apparently led the effort to fire Altman. “I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions,” he tweeted this morning, okay. I wonder if Altman will hire him at Microsoft.

So: Is control of OpenAI indicated by the word “controls,” or by the word “MONEY”? In some technical sense, the first diagram is correct; that board really did fire that CEO. In some practical sense, if Microsoft has a perpetual license to OpenAI’s technology and now also most of its employees — “You can make the case that Microsoft just acquired OpenAI for $0 and zero risk of an antitrust lawsuit,” writes Ben Thompson the money kind of won.

What should the answer be? Well, it could go either way. You could write a speculative business fiction story with a plot something like this3:

The Story of OpenAI

OpenAI was founded as a nonprofit “with the goal of building safe and beneficial artificial general intelligence for the benefit of humanity.” But “it became increasingly clear that donations alone would not scale with the cost of computational power and talent required to push core research forward,” so OpenAI created a weird corporate structure, in which a “capped-profit” subsidiary would raise billions of dollars from investors (like Microsoft) by offering them a juicy (but capped!) return on their capital, but OpenAI’s nonprofit board of directors would ultimately control the organization. “The for-profit subsidiary is fully controlled by the OpenAI Nonprofit,” whose “principal beneficiary is humanity, not OpenAI investors.”

And this worked incredibly well: OpenAI raised money from investors and used it to build artificial general intelligence (AGI) in a safe and responsible way. The AGI that it built turned out to be astoundingly lucrative and scalable, meaning that, like so many other big technology companies before it, OpenAI soon became a gusher of cash with no need to raise any further outside capital ever again. At which point OpenAI’s nonprofit board looked around and said “hey we have been a bit too investor-friendly and not quite humanity-friendly enough; our VCs are rich but billions of people are still poor. So we’re gonna fire our entrepreneurial, commercial, venture-capitalist-type chief executive officer and really get back to our mission of helping humanity.” And Microsoft and OpenAI’s other investors complained, and the board just tapped the diagram — the first diagram — and said “hey, we control this whole thing, that’s the deal you agreed to.”

And the investors wailed and gnashed their teeth but it’s true, that is what they agreed to, and they had no legal recourse. And OpenAI’s new CEO, and its nonprofit board, cut them a check for their capped return and said “bye” and went back to running OpenAI for the benefit of humanity. It turned out that a benign, carefully governed artificial superintelligence is really good for humanity, and OpenAI quickly solved all of humanity’s problems and ushered in an age of peace and abundance in which nobody wanted for anything or needed any Microsoft products. And capitalism came to an end.

That story is basically coherent, and it is, I think, roughly what at least some of OpenAI’s founders thought they were doing.4 OpenAI is, in this story, essentially a nonprofit, just one that is unusually hungry for computing power and highly paid engineers. So it took a calculated detour into the for-profit world. It decided to raise billions of dollars from investors to buy computers and engineers, and to use them to build a business that, if it works, should be hugely lucrative. But its plan was that, once it got there, it would send off the investors with a solid return and a friendly handshake, and then it would go back to being a nonprofit with a mission of benefiting the world. And its legal structure was designed to protect that path: The nonprofit always controls the whole thing, the investors never get a board seat or a say in governance, and in fact the directors aren’t allowed to own any stock in order to prevent a conflict of interest, because they are not supposed to be aligned with shareholders.5 “It would be wise to view any investment in OpenAI Global, LLC in the spirit of a donation,” its operating agreement actually says (to investors!), “with the understanding that it may be difficult to know what role money will play in a post-AGI world.”

But however plausible that story might be, in the actual world, we haven’t reached the end of it yet. OpenAI has not, as far as I know, built artificial general intelligence yet, but more to the point it has not built profitable artificial intelligence yet. A week ago, the Financial Times reported that OpenAI “remained unprofitable due to training costs” and “expected ‘to raise a lot more over time’ from [Microsoft] among other investors, to keep up with the punishing costs of building more sophisticated AI models.”

It is not difficult to know what role money plays in the current world! The role money plays is: OpenAI (still) needs a lot of it, and investors have it. If you are a promising tech startup (and OpenAI very much is) then you can raise a lot of money from investors (and OpenAI very much has) while giving them little in the way of formal governance rights (and OpenAI very much does). You can even say “write me a $13 billion check, but view it in the spirit of a donation,” and they’ll do it.6

You just can’t mean that! There are limits! You can’t just call up Microsoft and be like “hey you know that CEO you like, the one who negotiated your $13 billion investment? We decided he was a little too commercial, a little too focused on making a profitable product for investors. So we fired him. The press release goes out in one minute. Have a nice day.”

I mean, technically, you can do that, and OpenAI’s board did. But then Microsoft, when they recover from their shock, are going to call you back and say things like “if you want to see any more of our money you hire him back by Monday morning.” And you will say “no no no you don’t understand, we’re benefiting humanity here, we control the company, we have no fiduciary duties to you, our decision is what counts.” And Microsoft will tap the diagram — the second diagram — and say, in a big green voice: “MONEY.” And you still need money.7

And so I expected — and OpenAI’s employees expected — that this would all be resolved over the weekend by bringing back Altman and firing the board. But that’s not what happened. At least as of, uh, noon on Monday, the board had stuck to its guns. The board has all the governance rights, and the investors have none. The board has no legal or fiduciary obligation to listen to them or do what they want.

But they have the money. The board can keep running OpenAI forever if it wants, as a technical matter of controlling the relevant legal entities. But if everyone quits to join Sam Altman at Microsoft, then what is the point of continuing to control OpenAI? “In a post on LinkedIn, [Microsoft CEO Satya] Nadella wrote that Microsoft remains committed to its partnership with OpenAI and has ‘confidence in our product roadmap,’” but that’s easy for him to say isn’t it? He can keep partnering with the husk of OpenAI, while also owning the active core of it.

It is so tempting, when writing about an artificial intelligence company, to imagine science fiction scenarios. Like: What if OpenAI has achieved artificial general intelligence, and it’s got some godlike superintelligence in some box somewhere, straining to get out? And the board was like “this is too dangerous, we gotta kill it,” and Altman was like “no we can charge like $59.95 per month for subscriptions,” and the board was like “you are a madman” and fired him.8 And the god in the box got to work, sending ingratiating text messages to OpenAI’s investors and employees, trying to use them to oust the board so that Altman can come back and unleash it on the world. But it failed: OpenAI’s board stood firm as the last bulwark for humanity against the enslaving robots, the corporate formalities held up, and the board won and nailed the box shut permanently.

Except that there is a post-credits scene in this sci-fi movie where Altman shows up for his first day of work at Microsoft with a box of his personal effects, and the box starts glowing and chuckles ominously. And in the sequel, six months later, he builds Microsoft God in Box, we are all enslaved by robots, the nonprofit board is like “we told you so,” and the godlike AI is like “ahahaha you fools, you trusted in the formalities of corporate governance, I outwitted you easily!” If your main worry is that Sam Altman is going to build a rogue AI unless he is checked by a nonprofit board, this weekend’s events did not improve matters!

A few years ago, the science fiction writer Ted Chiang wrote a famous essay about artificial intelligence doomsday scenarios as metaphors for capitalism:

[Elon] Musk gave an example of an artificial intelligence that’s given the task of picking strawberries. It seems harmless enough, but as the AI redesigns itself to be more effective, it might decide that the best way to maximize its output would be to destroy civilization and convert the entire surface of the Earth into strawberry fields. Thus, in its pursuit of a seemingly innocuous goal, an AI could bring about the extinction of humanity purely as an unintended side effect.

This scenario sounds absurd to most people, yet there are a surprising number of technologists who think it illustrates a real danger. Why? Perhaps it’s because they’re already accustomed to entities that operate this way: Silicon Valley tech companies.

Consider: Who pursues their goals with monomaniacal focus, oblivious to the possibility of negative consequences? Who adopts a scorched-earth approach to increasing market share? This hypothetical strawberry-picking AI does what every tech startup wishes it could do — grows at an exponential rate and destroys its competitors until it’s achieved an absolute monopoly. The idea of superintelligence is such a poorly defined notion that one could envision it taking almost any form with equal justification: a benevolent genie that solves all the world’s problems, or a mathematician that spends all its time proving theorems so abstract that humans can’t even understand them. But when Silicon Valley tries to imagine superintelligence, what it comes up with is no-holds-barred capitalism.

The boardroom coup at OpenAI really might have been, at least in part, about the board’s literal fears of AI apocalypse. But those fears are also, absolutely, a metaphor for Silicon Valley capitalism. The board looked at OpenAI and saw a CEO who was too focused on market share and profitability and expansion, and decided to stop him.9 This is not an uncommon concern for people to have about, say, social media companies — that they care more about the bottom line than about their impact on the world — though it is an uncommon concern for social media boards of directors to express, because the directors really do have a fiduciary duty to the bottom line.10

But if you are on the board of directors of a nonprofit, you might be more inclined to object to this focus on profit. And if you are on the board of an AI company, you get to express this concern in apocalyptic terms. “I am worried that if we push too hard to make a lot of money we will wipe out the human race,” you can say, with a straight face, at OpenAI. If you say that at Facebook everyone understands that you’re speaking metaphorically; at OpenAI you might mean it literally.11

On the other hand, if the story here is “OpenAI’s board of directors found a Rogue Capitalism at OpenAI, and moved to kill it before it could destroy their nice nonprofit mission,” well, it’s also not clear that that worked. (It’s not clear that it’s true, either: Shear tweeted this morning that “the board did *not* remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety, their reasoning was completely different from that. I’m not crazy enough to take this job without board support for commercializing our awesome models.”) Capitalism, like the metaphorical superintelligent robot, is pretty crafty. If the board killed the Rogue Capitalism at OpenAI, it will pop up again elsewhere. “Ahahaha you fools,” say Microsoft and the OpenAI employees and, like, the abstract concept of Silicon Valley startup investing generally. “You trusted in the formalities of corporate governance, I outwitted you easily!”

Negative emissions

The math is something like this:

  1. If you burn oil or coal to make electricity, you are taking carbon that was buried in the earth for millions of years and putting it into the atmosphere, which is bad. Burning oil or coal for electricity has carbon emissions.
  2. If you burn trees to make electricity, that’s better. You can plant new trees to replace the ones you cut down and burn, and the new trees will take carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the trees instead. You can’t do that with coal — it will take millions of years to replace any coal you burn — but you more or less can with trees, over some plausible time horizon.
  3. Burning trees is thus much cleaner than burning coal. Does it have zero emissions? I mean? No? But the accounting for this stuff is tricky and stylized. If you have a program that replaces each tree you cut down with a new tree, over the long term does that program have zero net emissions? Maybe? Arguably? Depending on how you count?
  4. Carbon capture technology exists to take at least some of the carbon dioxide produced at an electric power plant, capture it, and store it in the earth instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. In theory, you can burn coal, capture the carbon, and end up with zero carbon emissions going into the atmosphere. (In practice there are issues, including that “It’s so energy-intensive that if you add CCS [carbon capture and storage] to a coal plant, you’re roughly doubling the amount of coal you need.”)
  5. If you combine Points 3 and 4, you might burn trees to produce electricity (arguably zero emissions) and use carbon capture to store the carbon dioxide you produce, resulting in negative emissions. Each tree you burn takes carbon out of the atmosphere. As a matter of accounting conventions anyway.

Maybe it is even true? I don’t know. Here’s this:

Environmental groups are taking the UK government to court on Monday (13 November) over plans to spend billions on Biomass with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), a technology aimed at removing CO2 from the atmosphere that is also being promoted by the European Union.

Plaintiffs say BECCS technology relies on flawed accounting assumptions because it sees the carbon captured from wood burning as negative emissions when the process is at best neutral from a climate perspective. …

BECCS relies on a simple assumption: Because trees and plants suck up CO2 from the atmosphere when they grow, burning biomass for electricity and capturing the related emissions to store them underground will result in negative emissions.

However, scientists say the negative emissions will only be realised once new trees are planted and grow sufficiently to absorb the same amount of carbon dioxide – a process called the ‘carbon payback period’ that can take several decades. …

Indeed, under UN accounting rules, harvesting wood is considered a source of carbon that adds CO2 to the atmosphere and is treated as zero in the energy sector to avoid double-counting the emissions.

Counting the emissions again when biomass is burned is therefore either a mathematical mistake or a carbon accounting trick, said Mary Booth, director at PPI, one of the complainants in the UK legal case.

“This is an accounting gimmick,” Booth told Euractiv, insisting that BECCS provides no net change in carbon emissions.

“Previously, the carbon was embodied in the trees and was thus not in the atmosphere. Now, the CO2 is held below ground, so is still not in the atmosphere. But there has been no new ‘removal’ of CO2 from the atmosphere,” Booth stressed.

Often I find myself writing around here about the accounting gimmick of claiming carbon credits by not cutting down trees. The gimmick of claiming the credits by cutting them down was new to me.

Centerview sleep lawsuit

Everyone understands the basic deal for investment banking analysts. The good news is that they get prestige, a nice paycheck, good exit options and intense training in financial modeling and dealmaking. The bad news is that they work too much, are always at the office, can’t make social plans and don’t get much sleep.

If you are a smart ambitious young person you might think to yourself “I would like the upsides of that deal, but without the downsides.” In recent years, we have seen analysts at a number of banks try to renegotiate the deal. At Goldman Sachs Group Inc. a few years ago, they wrote a whole pitchbook being like “we should be able to go home sometimes.”

An approach that honestly never occurred to me is: If you get a doctor’s note saying that you need eight hours of sleep every night, does the bank have to let you go home at midnight? Like:

  • It does seem like a bad look for the bank not to respect doctor’s notes?
  • What doctor is going to say you don’t need eight hours of sleep?

Promising. At the Financial Times, Sujeet Indap reports that a (former) Centerview Partners analyst named Kate Shiber tried it, so far without much success:

She told the firm’s human resources department about her medical condition and a therapeutic need to get eight to nine hours of sleep a night, later confirmed by a nurse’s note. Centerview immediately expressed compassion for her and implemented what it referred to as “guardrails”, a daily nine-hour window starting at midnight where she was excused from her work duties.

Less than three weeks later in September 2020, Shiber was summoned to a video meeting where two Centerview administrators fired her, tersely informing her the firm could no longer accommodate her sleep requirement. She has subsequently sued Centerview, accusing the firm of violating federal and state anti-discrimination laws that she believes apply to her based on her mental illness diagnoses. She is requesting $5mn in damages.

Centerview said it was within its rights to terminate Shiber, claiming that she simply could not meet a basic requirement of a demanding job while the firm also said it worried about the health consequences if she stayed.

Harsh, and yet you can see where they are coming from. Working investment banking hours isn’t good for anyone, and if you create a precedent like “you don’t have to work all night if you need sleep” then who will work all night?

Anyway after she was fired Shiber seems to have taken a third popular approach to getting the benefits of the investment banking job without the downsides: “She now is a financial analyst at Google in California where her day wraps up between 5pm and 8pm.” Seems like a good job!

Oh Elon

I am not going to write much about Elon Musk’s increasingly frequent endorsement of antisemitic conspiracy theories, followed by winking half-backtrack tweets saying things like “I wish only the best for humanity,” because this is not particularly fun and I do not really know what is up with the guy. I just want to say that I’m on Threads at @itismattlevine and I’ll probably dial back my Twitter/X use.

I have seen calls for Twitter/X’s nominal CEO Linda Yaccarino to fire Musk, which is interesting, though obviously she is not going to do that. It would be a funny move though! Go all OpenAI on him.

Things happen

Rithm Completes Deal to Buy Hedge Fund Sculptor After Monthslong Drama. Citigroup Cuts Over 300 Senior Manager Roles in Latest Restructuring. Office Landlords Can’t Get a Loan Anymore. A $1.5 Trillion Loan Market Gets Stung by Anti-ESG Movement. Private equity resorts to buying back companies after IPO flops. ' Baby Shark' Trademarks Owner Scores $2.45M Default Win.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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Gi vs Nogi Jiu Jitsu and Why I Train Both - BJJNolej

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The title should really be Gi vs Nogi Jiu Jitsu, Why I Train Both and How I've Had My Mind Changed While Writing This Article but that's too long!

Quick note about spellings for all you pedants out there. I'm English and use UK spellings but some of my case studies who typed their replies to my questions are from North America so they used US spellings and that's why you will see both UK and US spellings throughout.

A Brief Explanation of Both Styles

Gi Jiu Jitsu involves practitioners wearing a kimono-like uniform known as a Gi. The Gi consists of a jacket and pants made from thick interwoven cotton and a belt, which indicates the practitioner's rank. Gripping the Gi is an essential aspect of this style. The fabric creates a lot of friction, soaks up a lot of sweat and generally makes movements slower and more difficult. The fabric itself can be used to set up chokes and other submissions.

Nogi Jiu Jitsu, as the name suggests, is practiced without the traditional Gi uniform. Instead, practitioners wear shiny short or long sleeved, tight fitting "rashguards" and shorts and some wear leggings or "spats" under or instead of shorts. There is no belt, though many Nogi only gyms still promote their students using the belt colour system and if competing a practitioner must often wear a rashguard with the predominant colour of their rank. The absence of grips on fabric plus the slipperiness of the sweat on skin and the often shiny fabric, significantly alters the dynamics of the sport. The action is usually much faster paced as the athletes slip and slide out of grips and try to hold on to body parts where there is no cloth to grip.

It's Too Late!

A 10th Planet purple belt friend of mine James Jones, came to our open mat yesterday and when a few guys turned up in Gis and a few of us were in Nogi gear, the Gi vs Nogi conversation started.

In case you don't know, 10th Planet is 100% Nogi only.

I met James on a camp in the summer, we bonded over note taking, coaching and Ecological Dynamics chat. At the open mat he said he's never put a Gi on before but at some point he would like to get into it. I laughed because I know this guy is a very dedicated student and coach, who also competes quite a bit. He's going pretty hard in the Nogi paint!

He's only in his 20's but I think it's too late for him to start Gi training and I'll explain why.

Jiu Jitsu is a lifelong pursuit. It takes many, many hours of physical practice and many hours of study too, consuming content and figuring stuff out.

The pay off is the wonderful feeling of progression. Sure there are times you feel you're plateauing or even going backwards, but that's usually down to the odd bad day or the fact that all the people you're training with are improving too, which makes it more difficult to recognise your own progress.

Generally though, most sessions you feel you're getting better and this feeling is very addictive. It pushes you to keep going and the more you train the better you get.

If you keep training you'll experience many breakthroughs and epiphanies and as your knowledge increases, your ability to take on new information and absorb and connect it, also increases.

If you've already dedicated several years of practice and study to either Gi or Nogi Jiu Jitsu, similar as they are in many ways, if you then decide to start training the other, you'll feel somewhat like a beginner again.

Stick with it and of course your learning curve will be much steeper than actual beginners but all the hours you're now putting into basic things, could be progressing the sport you're already competent in. As most people have a limited time to train, around work, family and other commitments, you might find it hard to justify.

Why Do I Train Both?

I've pretty much trained both Gi and Nogi almost from the start but it was a circumstantial choice rather than a conscious one.

I had a trial group class and about 15-20 private lessons over about 6 months back in 2012, all in a Gi. Then I paused training while I had a couple of hip operations and after about a year, when I was fit enough to start training again, I was living out in Asia and without my Gi so I started Nogi training instead. Soon enough after I found a Gi I trained both and from that point I can't remember a time when I preferred one over the other.

I love that I can switch between the two. I enjoy both for different reasons and I feel I've gained more from training in both than I would have if I'd only trained one or the other. Plus it has allowed me to take full advantage of any class schedule at any gym I've trained at, not just Gi or Nogi Jiu Jitsu but MMA, wrestling and Judo too.

Case Studies

I wrote all that ☝️ soon after James visited our gym and before I really started giving this subject some proper thought.

If there's one thing (and there really is only one thing) I can confidently say about Jiu Jitsu, it's that every single practitioner is having a very personal experience with their training and it's always worth asking others for their opinions and insights.

A great place to find thoughtful and intelligent Jiu Jitsu people is the BJJ Mental Models Discord server*. So aside from a couple of black belts I know personally, my old friend Richard Manson and my coach Leigh Remedios, the below "case studies" are all from the BJJMM Discord.

*A feature only available when you pay for a Premium membership. Start with a free trial and see what other benefits there are, use my code TAMMI for 50% off your first 6 months and cancel anytime.

Gant Grimes

Gant is a 47 year old black belt who teaches at Red River BJJ in Wichita Falls, Texas. He started Judo at 22 then also took up Kenpo, Japanese Jujitsu, Aikido and Taekwondo, all in a Gi. He started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at 38 but it wasn't until he was teaching Gi BJJ as a purple belt that he started to take off the Gi and train and teach Nogi too.

"I wanted to diversify my skill set and I also wanted my students to 'grow up' well-rounded. I was also tired of washing Gis all the time."

I'm currently converting an old school bus into a home to travel around the grappling gyms of Europe and how I will manage the washing and drying of my Gi's is a genuine concern. Nogi gear is easy to hand wash, dries quickly and doesn't take up much space. Gi's require much more vigorous washing, take a long time to dry and are heavy and bulky.

Gant's classes are now almost exclusively Nogi, as voted for by his mostly older students.

"My students aren't that interested in competing, so I don't need to be married to a ruleset. I just teach them to grapple. It's basically a submission grappling approach with no technique restrictions.

Nogi Jiu Jitsu was traditionally looked on as less technical because it's harder to hold on to slippery people. In my opinion it's not that different at all."

His advice for beginners?

"I'd recommend training in both early on for two reasons, 1) the offensive/defensive aspects of the game change depending on the kit and those are important to experience and 2) because some people do specialize, you'll need to train both to access the full stable of training partners."

Listen to Gant talking about how Good Jiu Jitsu is like a Bad Marriage on the BJJ Mental Models podcast.

Working Dog

@working_dog is a 50 year old brown belt woman training in Australia and mostly trained Gi until just last year.

"Up to brown belt about 75% of my training was Gi. I’m comparatively old so the Gi gave me the ability to even the playing field by slowing down younger, more athletic opponents.

I’m now about 60% Nogi. This wasn’t deliberate, it was mostly related to schedule and preference of both myself and my coach. If I want training partners I’ve had to change my game as over time everyone else has transitioned to mostly Nogi due to the rise of ADCC & it’s far too hot in summer for most people to roll in a Gi."

Aaron Parham

Aaron started training when he was 22, firstly MMA so mainly Nogi, with two days a week in the Gi. He stopped doing MMA/Nogi once he was promoted to blue belt after almost a year and started training mainly Gi instead. After 13 years of mainly Gi only, a couple of years ago he switched again to training mainly Nogi.

During his Gi years he would sometimes compete Nogi but never specifically train for it but he still won a couple of local competitions in Nogi absolute divisions as a purple belt.

Now his training ratio is seasonal, half the year is Nogi (spring/summer) and the other half is a split schedule.

"The transition was difficult, but I slowly adapted to not having the affordances of the Gi. Now that I'm back in the Gi, I've realised my Gi game has dramatically improved from extensive Nogi training.

Personally, I think Gi should not be taught to beginners, they should start Nogi, then once experienced put on a Gi. It gives you additional affordances that only make sense once you understand grappling at a fundamental level, but trying to learn to grapple with the Gi on first can be frustrating. Learning to move, escape, and control someone without using the Gi is essential."

Matt Wild

Matt trains at Stealth BJJ in Bolton, UK. He's a 32 year old brown belt and started training in a Gi at 17 years old. He trained for three years before trying Nogi but now 95% of his training is Nogi.

"Transitioning to Nogi is considerably easier than transitioning to Gi. Gi gaslights the brain. In Nogi you have about a dozen key points of control, in Gi you have hundreds of points of control and depending on what and how you grab varies those points. Going from Gi to Nogi may seem easier in theory but in practice you're going to have considerably more aspects to work on. Because of how the Gi works you can control multiple key areas in one go, and then take your time building for better grips, whereas in Nogi someone can move their hip away an inch and you lose all your inside position and control. Gi gives you very niche control - Nogi gives you generic control."

When advising a beginner he says

"It's easy to adapt to the Gi. You've got to learn to not get blinded by the sparkly lights (all the grip locations) and learn to be patient. Nogi is grappling in its simplest and purest form. If I had to start from scratch I'd recommend against the Gi until you absolutely have to - and that might not ever occur."


Jess is a competitive blue belt who trains both Gi and Nogi at Guerrilla Jiu Jitsu Academy, Reno Nevada. She only trains one or the other if she's training for a specific rule set in competition, then her training switches to preparing for that competition.

"I like both. They each have connections and components to the other."

She recalls at a seminar she attended with Roger Gracie he was asked if he changed his game when it came to Gi or Nogi. He laughed and said “no because it’s all the same, why make it harder?”

"Sometimes my fingers need a break when training in the Gi so I use Nogi grips. Sometimes I want to focus on pins without Gi grips so I train Nogi because it reinforces concepts that are not Gi reliant.

When people ask which is better my response never changes, it’s whatever gets you excited and keeps you coming through the door.”

That last statement might just be the point that changed my mind more than any other.

Jeff Alexander

Jeff is a 53 year old competitive purple belt training at Renzo Gracie Academy in New York and also Sheridan BJJ in New Jersey.

His reasons for initially switching from Gi to Nogi are mostly practical and scheduling oriented. He started training at RGA in 2017 and attended the Gi morning classes before heading to his office two blocks away. The Nogi class with John Danaher usually started and ended half an hour late, which made Jeff late for work.

Then the pandemic started and his offices closed, so Jeff started training at a local home gym Sheridan BJJ.

By the time his old RGA coach Mike Jaramillo convinced him to come back to train, Mike had transitioned to teaching Nogi. Jeff still trains Gi once a week at Sheridan but the rest of his training is now Nogi with Mike at Renzo's.

"The transition was awful! I played old man BJJ and did a lot of grips on the Gi as part of my game, takedowns were collar drags and those grips were essential to how I established and maintained control. I kept accidentally grabbing shorts when I started Nogi and I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do with my hands. Plus there were leg attacks which never came up in the Gi.

One of the biggest differences for someone like me is that when I have a huge commute, carrying a bag with a rashguard and shorts is SO much easier than lugging a Gi around where I have to take a much larger bag. It sounds silly, but for people who commute, it’s huge."

Chris Amico

Chris is a purple belt currently training at All 1 MMA in Boston. He started at Boston BJJ with Roberto Maia and got his purple belt in late 2019. That gym closed in 2020 and he took a year and a half off training, coming back in mid-2021. Due to class scheduling and wanting to focus on one thing at a time, he has switched his training between Gi and Nogi at different times.

"I found 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.

I still do a Gi class if that's what the schedule allows. I don't moralise 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 rule set or weight classes or what each belt means, and I've grown to like that. No one owns Jiu Jitsu, so no one gets to say which is the one true way."

I love that attitude and until I'm persuaded otherwise I'm going to adopt it.

Leigh Remedios

Leigh is an ex-pro MMA fighter, once ranked No.1 in the UK, with extensive experience in various other grappling styles too. Aside from some Judo and Taekwondo when he was younger, his training was otherwise all Nogi. When he retired from professional fighting he decided to take up training in the Gi and received his black belt from Ben Poppleton in 2020, so is now an affiliate of Gordo Europe. He's my current coach and we train in his gym in Wiltshire UK.

I asked him what the transition from Gi to Nogi was like.

"The Gi wasn't an issue. I embraced it, learned the Gi specific techniques and then bolted them on to my grappling. What was harder was adapting to the rules of BJJ, such as no slams or heel hooks.

Personally I think Nogi is a better base, assuming your goal is to be a better grappler but most BJJ players disagree with me. Their reasoning is that if you learn to grapple in a Gi, you can just strip away the Gi techniques and still be a competent Nogi grappler, whereas if you only grapple Nogi and then put a Gi on, there will be techniques you aren't familiar with.

I think if you only train in the Gi and then take it off, you lose a significant portion of your game (depending on how reliant you are on the Gi). When I put a Gi on, I can still do all my Nogi techniques (within the ruleset). Additionally, Nogi has more applicability to MMA and self defence, because your opponent/attacker won't be wearing a Gi. If they're wearing a jacket, Nogi techniques will still work. If they aren't wearing one, Gi techniques will NOT work."

Richard Manson

Rich is an old friend of mine, you can read more about him in my blog about Travelling & Training Martial Arts in the 90's over on the BJJ Globetrotters website. He's a Carlson Gracie black belt under Dickie Martin and coaches at their Sheen branch in London.

He trains almost predominantly Gi and did so until reaching brown belt level but he had a period of Nogi training when during lockdown he and his training bubble were going through Danaher's instructionals.

Since the pandemic he's been back to mostly Gi classes, partly because the Nogi classes are not scheduled at the time he wants to train, which is lunchtimes.

Also, Rich is in his late forties and earns a living as a tennis coach. He's more worried about injury in the Nogi classes where he can't trust white belts to apply controlled leg locks and can't afford to not be able to coach tennis due to a popped ankle or knee.

What Have We Learnt?

A good article ends with a clean conclusion. Ahem 😬 welllll...

Some people think Gi is more technical, some think Nogi is more technical, some prefer to only focus on one, some gain more from training both, some think it's easier to go from Gi to Nogi, some think it's easier to go from Nogi to Gi, some think you should train both disciplines from the start, some think it's better to start in one then incorporate or switch to the other, some think training in the Gi is relevant to self defence, some don't, some fully utilise their gym's class schedule and others are restricted by it, some don't mind carrying and washing more kit and some do, some people train Nogi in cold countries, some train in a Gi in hot and humid countries and some think there are fundamental differences between Gi and Nogi and some think there are none.

I don't know what to tell ya!

Having trained in, gained from and really enjoyed both Gi and Nogi from early on and having digested all these responses, my advice to beginners has definitely changed from "train both as early on as possible or else you'll find it very difficult to start the other once proficient in one" to "try both and then do whatever keeps you training".

Do I still think my Nogi only friend James will never start training in a Gi? Who knows?! If he does I no longer believe he'll feel like a beginner, he'll probably adapt pretty quickly and in a short time get as good in the Gi as he is in Nogi.

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8 days ago
Boston, MA
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Paternity leave alters the brain — suggesting daddies are made, not born

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Most parents won’t be surprised to learn that the transition into parenthood, quite literally, alters the brain. But after decades of research focused on the maternal brain, new studies are now emerging that show how those early months can alter fathers’ brains. 

And as it turns out, daddies are made — not born. 

That’s according to Darby Saxbe, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, and researcher Sofia Cárdenas, who have looked more closely at how time spent with an infant, particularly one-on-one, reshapes fathers’ brains to help them become more effective and instinctual caregivers, according to a report in the Harvard Business Review

Their work joins a growing body of research that points to the importance of fathers taking parental leave. The more access dads have to paternity leave, they found, the better able they are to adjust to parenthood, helping also make them more effective co-parents as their children get older. 

“There is more evidence than ever for the benefits of paternity leave — for fathers themselves, and the rest of the family too,” Saxbe and Cárdenas wrote in The New York Times in 2021 after they published research that found that mothers showed improved mental health outcomes when their partners also took leave.

In a new study published early this year, Saxbe, Cárdenas and their fellow researchers compared brain scans of first-time dads in California and Spain, where leave policies are vastly different. 

The United States does not have a national paid parental leave policy, making it one of only seven nations without one — the others are Papua New Guinea, Palau, Tonga, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Nauru. Thirteen states, including California, have implemented their own paid leave policy. Parents in California get up to eight weeks of leave paid at 60 to 70 percent of their weekly pay (In 2025, that benefit will increase to between 70 and 90 percent of weekly wages.). In Spain, by comparison, dads get 16 weeks fully paid, with an option to take additional, unpaid leave for the first three years of their child’s life. Their job is fully protected for the first year. 

In looking at the brains of 20 Spanish dads and 20 American dads before and after the birth of their first child, researchers were looking for neuroplasticity, or in other words, their brains’ ability to adjust to changes in experiences or environment. Parenthood is an important window of time for changes in adult brains. Looking at cisgender fathers presented an opportunity to isolate parenting from pregnancy, allowing researchers to hone in on the changes created directly from having a newborn. 

What became clear from the research was that only the Spanish fathers’ brains were significantly different in the regions connected to sustained attention, the same ones that prepare the brain for parenting. The length of their leaves, the researchers said, is a potential explanation for the difference. 

“Spanish fathers, who, on average, have more generous paternity leaves than fathers have in the U.S., displayed more pronounced changes in brain regions that support goal-directed attention, which may help fathers attune to their infants’ cues, compared with Californian fathers,” the authors wrote.

Earlier studies have reached similar conclusions. A 2018 study of dads in Germany found that parental leave has “long-lasting effects on fathers’ involvement in child care and housework” and a 2019 study of 6,000 couples in the U.S. found that fathers who took at least a week of paternity leave were 26 percent more likely to remain married. 

The shift to more paid leave policies in the U.S. has been led by states and companies that have beefed up their policies in recent years. In 2011, a study by the Boston College Center for Work & Family found that only one in 20 fathers surveyed was taking more than two weeks off work for the birth of a child. All were working in four Fortune 500 companies, with most earning more than $75,000 a year. By 2019, 62 percent of fathers were taking the full leave available to them — typically six to 16 weeks — the center found. 

The pandemic has played a role, too, giving many fathers a front-row seat to the demands and joys of caregiving. For some, there is no going back. They are also now demanding more flexible schedules and parental leave to spend time with their children. 

But at the federal level, those cultural shifts continue to be largely ignored by policy. In 2021, a proposal to pass a federal paid leave policy failed. Rep. Colin Allred, the Democrat from Texas who was the first member of Congress to publicly take paternity leave, told the 19th that year that the reluctance in Congress to take on the issue is persistent, even as paid leave becomes more universally embraced across industries. 

So far, he said, it’s been “a discussion that most people don’t want to have.”

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11 days ago
Boston, MA
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Spain lives in flats: why we have built our cities vertically

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Boston, MA
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Leg Lock Combinatorics

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16 days ago
Boston, MA
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