New t-shirt for Toro BJJ available now

I have seven or eight t-shirt designs in the works for Toro BJJ, and one of the first ones is out now! The best jokes are in-jokes, and this one hearkens back to the Gracies In Action videos.


Check it out, and watch an excerpt of the clip it’s based on here.


Tournament Schedule for 2014

It’s never too early to plan for next year. Assuming I’m healthy, I want to compete a lot again.

This is true for many reasons. I want to improve, obviously. I want to have competitive success, certainly. I also want to recruit lots of people for the Charity Challenge and try to raise a lot more money. And I want to see new places and revisit some old places I’ve been missing.

Everything’s better when you have your friends along, though. That’s why I’m publishing the tournaments I’m thinking about for 2014 now, so if anyone is interested in going to a particular tournament and splitting costs with me, we can get it planned well in advance.

Two caveats: First, I’ve listed the dates for 2013 unless the dates for 2014 have already been published. Second, and most importantly: no way am I doing all of these. Time, money, old man exhaustion and more are going to play a role in determining the schedule. But in case you’re interested in, say, road-tripping to Montreal, I want to know about as far in advance as possible so I’m not stuck going to something far away by myself.

Finally, a note: because I’m turning 40, I’m giving myself one major overseas tournament to compete in. Right now it looks like that’s going to be the Asian Open, which is right around my birthday and would let me visit Okinawa right after. There’s a chance a good friend of mine will be living in Germany next year, though, so if he is, I might do one of the European tournaments instead. I’ve bolded all of those tournaments, but I have to pick one.

Without further ado … the list:

3/2/2013 – US Grappling, Wake Forest, NC
3/20/2013: IBJJF Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championship
4/13/2013 – US Grappling Submission Only, Greensboro, NC
4/20/2013 — IBJJF New York Open
5/29-6/2/2013 – Mundials
6/22/2013 – US Grappling, Richmond, VA
6/28-29/2014 – IBJJF Paris Open
7/20/2013 – US Grappling, Henderson, NC
8/31/2013 — IBJJF Atlanta Open
9/28/2012: IBJJF Pan No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu Championship
10/5-6/2012: IBJJF Masters/Seniors Worlds
10/19/2013 – Pendergrass Classic US Grappling, Raleigh, NC
10/19-20/2013 — London Gi And NoGi IBJJF (*)
10/27/2013: IBJJF Asian Open 
11/2/2013: IBJJF NoGi Worlds
11/10/2013: IBJJF Munich Open (*)
11/16/2013: IBJJF Montreal Open
12/7/2013 – US Grappling Submission Only, Richmond.

See anything I missed?

Jiu Jitsu May Be Saving My Life. Really.

Generally, I shy away from hyperbole, so kindly forgive the subject line. It’s a claim I don’t make lightly.

Don’t worry, I promise that the post doesn’t get emo. But it must start with this basic fact: I’ve never known my biological father. This is just fine with me, but means that I lack knowledge about family medical history.

A few months back, a friend of mine in a similar situation decided to sign up for 23 And Me. 23 and Me is a genetic testing service that (in exchange for $99 and a copious amount of your spit) reports on your genetic traits, potential inherited conditions, ancestry and more.

My friend said that her results were fascinating. She also said that she accidentally ordered two of the “spit kits” that they use to collect your DNA, and could use someone to take it off her hands. Sold!

It's a commercial! 23 and Me needs to sponsor me. Hit me up for a gi patch, guys.

It’s a commercial! 23 and Me needs to sponsor me. Hit me up for a gi patch, guys.

Frankly, I was much more interested in the ancestry aspect of the service. Like I said, half of my genealogy is a complete unknown, and due to immigration and a rumored family name change a few generations ago, it’s nigh impossible to find out much of anything further back than a century or so. But genetic markers can tell us a lot about where we come from, and I was excited to see just how Neanderthal I am, among other things (3 percent, in case you were wondering).

As I write this, my ancestry results are still incomplete. I can’t say anything about that. The health results came in today, and my jaw dropped.

Now, I’ve always been a healthy person. It’s extremely rare that I get sick and I’ve been fortunate in my life to avoid most major maladies. It sounds foolish — and it is foolish — but I think I started to take that as a given.

Then I saw this:

Two out of three Jeffs are gonna get heart disease. I'm trying to find something flippant to say and coming up dry.

Two out of three Jeffs are gonna get heart disease. I’m trying to find something flippant to say and coming up dry.

Whoa. I’m 150 percent more likely than the average person to have heart disease. More than 66 percent of guys with my genes will have coronary problems.

Look, coronary heart disease isn’t rare. It’s the leading cause of death in America for men and women alike. But when you see something that says two-thirds of the people with your genotype are going to get it between 45 and 79, well, you’re forced to take notice.

I turn 40 next year. You can see why that might be sobering.

What you might not see, as yet, is what this has to do with jiu-jitsu. Don’t worry, we’re there now.

I started training about three years ago. As I said, I’ve always been on-balance a healthy person. But I also enjoy the occasional beer and the temptation of dessert. I’d never have called myself fat, but when I walked into the gym, I weighed more than I ever had in my life: 167 pounds. I was exercising, but infrequently, doing yoga when I could find the time.

Three months after I started training, I had caught the grappling bug. I started training five times a week, more if I could. I have never been focused on weight in and of itself, since that’s not a good metric of health, but the pounds started to melt off. Fast.

X-rays of my body reveal changes in my mind's focus ...

X-rays of my body reveal changes in my mind’s focus …

There was more. My conditioning was improving rapidly, but I felt a ceiling there. I noticed that there were days when I felt better than other days, and those days strongly correlated with how well I ate, hydrated and otherwise took care of myself.

I started researching nutrition. Nobody wants to feel like garbage and perform like garbage during training, so I stopped putting garbage in my body. Plus, if I was going to compete — and I decided early on that I wanted to compete — I needed to get a handle on this aspect of preparation.

Soon I was eating several small meals a day composed mostly of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and grilled fish. I started drinking water constantly — a gallon a day on a standard day, more if a tournament was coming up.

I hadn’t been a real drinker in many years, and I found myself consuming alcohol very infrequently. Instead, I was drinking Acai and taking protein shakes, and supplementing those beverages with vitamins.

... and nutritional habits.

… and nutritional habits.

I felt great. Gradually, all the exercise in my life became jiu-jitsu training, and I worked into a cycle of training six or seven times a week, eating well, hydrating and getting lots of rest.

I wasn’t trying to “diet” — just to eat healthy. Still, I found myself naturally between 145 and 149 pounds. I knew that my new habits were healthier than my old habits, but that’s not why I made the changes: I just wanted to get better at jiu-jitsu.

This matters to the topic at hand because genes are only part of the story — 39-56% of the story, to be precise — in deciding someone will get heart disease. Your lifestyle matters a great deal, too!

Flash forward to yesterday morning. I get the news about my elevated heart disease risk. Shocked, I start researching what I could do to keep myself healthy. That included taking this questionnaire  from the Washington University School of Medicine about lifestyle and heart disease.

Let me hit you with some samples of the questions they ask.

* Do you eat fish 2 or more times per week?

* Do you eat 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day? 

* Do you eat 3 or more servings of whole grains per day?  

* Do you usually eat 3 servings of nuts per week?

* How many servings of alcohol do you have on a typical day? 

* Do you take a multivitamin or a B complex supplement on most days?

* Do you walk (or do other moderate activity) for at least 30 minutes on most days, or at least 3 hours per week?

The point, as I’m sure you’ve already noticed: I’d changed all of these things for the better, without thinking about it, just by virtue of training jiu-jitsu. When I finished the survey, it came out like this:

Keep Yourself Alive!

Keep Yourself Alive!

There are lots of things in your life that are out of your control. You can’t change your genes. You can’t change who your family is.

Beyond that, it’s difficult to make fundamental, overarching changes on a number of issues all at once. If you tell someone they have to change their whole diet, and start exercising, and take vitamins, and pay attention to these other matters too … well, that can get overwhelming. And being overwhelmed can lead to paralysis of action. Ever had so many projects due you just feel daunted and take a nap? Same concept.

It’s better to find that one lifestyle change that fosters change in all the other stuff. I train because I love it, not because I’m trying to exercise. But training is exercise. And because I love to train, I drink lots of water instead of lots of booze, eat healthy snacks instead of donuts, and — all  since I don’t want to feel like death when I’m doing what I love.

Of course, it’s still possible that heart disease is how I will go. I’m at peace with that, and I’d still make the same decisions about diet and exercise even if I knew they wouldn’t make a difference in my health outcome.

I’ve found one component of my life that inspires me to make better choices in many other aspects of my life. For me, that’s jiu-jitsu. Maybe it is for you, too.

Be Prepared. Period.

Jake Whitfield, the black belt who heads Triangle Jiu-Jitsu Goldsboro, has an important new article out on the website. You should go read the whole thing, then come on back. I’ll wait.

… OK, this is the Internet, so no one reads anything in its entirety. You should, but if you choose not to, let me hit you with a quick summary: preparation is key to success, whether you’re talking about a jiu-jitsu class, a jiu-jitsu tournament, an MMA fight, or life.

One of the most overlooked areas of preparation is the simple preparation for each day of training. Everyone has had classes where they felt like they were on top of the world. Every sweep works perfectly and it seems like your training partner’s guard doesn’t even exist. Everyone has also had classes where it seems like everything you do is wrong. Often the difference between the two is the preparation you put in before class. Did you drink enough water throughout the day to give you sufficient hydration to make it through class? Or did you just chug a bottle of water in the car immediately beforehand? Or even worse, did you forget to drink water altogether before class? Did you eat healthy meals throughout the day and give your body time to properly digest your last meal before training? Did you provide yourself with adequate time to get to class on time without being rushed? Did you remember everything you needed for class? Did you properly warm up before class or did you rush in during the warm up drills, throw your gi on, and run out onto the mat while still tying your belt just in time to catch the first technique being taught? Every single one of these things has an impact every single time that you train.

This is exactly right. I’d like to add two things (a principle and a story) from my own experience.

First, these guidelines only increase in importance as we age. I’ll turn 40 next year. I’ve always been a prompt person: if I’m not someplace 15 minutes early, I feel like I’m late. But since immersing myself in jiu-jitsu I’ve tried to be as early as I can. This is partially because of something Jake talks about in the excerpt about: it’s important to warm up correctly to avoid injury, and getting some movements going early helps you have a productive, gradual warmup. This is more important for my body than it might be for a 19-year-old who is made of rubber (although it’s important for him/her, too!).

I also love being around to talk with the instructor and the other students before class. You never know when you’re going to hear a detail that you missed before, or something that helps you understand a position in a new way — or just some great stories from the old days. Like any practice, the more time you spend observing and preparing, the more likely you are to learn.

Preparation includes strategy formation of all types.

Preparation includes strategy formation of all types.

The story I’d like to tell involves me learning a lesson the hard way. These days it’s fairly rare when I drink more than the occasional beer. But when I first got my blue belt, my instructor started having me roll with all the new people. I think this is half because he knows I’m capable of being calm and gentle with the first-timers, but also that I’m capable of showing that jiu-jitsu works — and if a huge, beastly athletic dude gets dominated by a tiny, nerdy 39-year-old, they are usually forced to conclude that there is something to the art.

On this particular night before class, I choose to have three beers. Because my tolerance is low, this results in some dehydration and a mild hangover. Hey, that’s the price you pay. One of the benefits of jiu-jitsu training is that it’s a positive feedback loop: you train a lot and you drink less, because you want to be prepared for training. But sometimes you want to have a beer, and one turns into three.

Of course, I’m not going to skip class over it. Of course, this is the day that a huge former college wrestler comes in. Of course, I have too much pride to tell my instructor “um, Seth, I got a little awash in liquid amusement last night.” Of course, I’ve got to roll with the guy during the night’s first spar.

Usually, my philosophy in rolling with brand new people is not to hunt for submissions at all, but merely to take what is given when they make fundamental errors. That way, you can show them both the philosophy and effectiveness of jiu-jitsu (besides, every new person makes fundamental errors). Now that I’ve been training for a few years I also have a better sense for who is going to approach the roll in an open-minded, learning way and who is going to try to kill you.

This guy was clearly in the “going to try to kill you” camp.

He jumps onto me, and I collar choke him in about 5 seconds. He desperately does not want to tap, but does so after his face turns purple and he nearly passes out. Usually, this is enough to give even the most kill-faced person some pause. But this never seems to happen when you’re hung over. He just keeps coming. And about halfway through the roll, I really start feeling tired.

Now, at no point during the round was I in any trouble. He was throwing me around, though, and this is normally the type of behavior that I would correct as gently as possible with certain tactics. But I wasn’t at my best, and I didn’t have the control I needed to have, and hence couldn’t employ those tactics.

This made the round unpleasant for me. Having a college wrestler on top of you when you’re hung over is not an experience I recommend. But that’s not the worst part. I just wasn’t apply to apply techniques in the way I had become accustomed. At one point I just let an armbar go because I was afraid he flat-out wouldn’t tap until I broke his arm. Without the precision to apply the technique properly, I was forced to either let go or risk injuring a new person. This isn’t a choice I should have been forced into, but my lack of preparation made it so.

That happened well over a year ago, and it’s still one of my most vivid memories of jiu-jitsu — and one of the blessedly few moments I’m really embarrassed of. I didn’t prepare myself properly, because it was just another night of class. Because I didn’t prepare myself properly, I wasn’t able to represent myself of the art in the way that I would have liked to. I also am a firm believer that the way you represent yourself reflects on your teammates and instructor, so I’m always disappointed in myself when I don’t do things the right way.

I take pride in being able to show people both the benefits of jiu-jitsu and my love for it. the chance to roll with a new person is major opportunity to make that happen, and it’s one I don’t want to miss again.

It’s important to be prepared for many reasons. One is that you never know when a moment like that is going to happen, and you want to be able to put your best self out there when the occasion demands it.

Final Tally For The Charity Challenge

When the year began, I knew I wanted to compete a lot. Competition makes you better, and you get to travel with your friends, and getting high-quality matches against guys you don’t know is fun.

A little extra motivation adds something, though. Before the first event of the season, I decided to donate $10 for every match I win this year to the Women’s Debate Institute, and an additional $10 to a second charity that blog readers could select. The winner of that vote was anti-cancer charity the George Pendergrass Foundation.

Now, the year isn’t over. I could conceivably still do Montreal, or Miami, or the No-Gi Worlds. For two reasons, though, I decided to wrap things up this weekend. First, I’m old and tired. I also have a few nagging injuries I’d like to let heal.

Every year, the Pendergrass twins — both black belts who have a great school, PAMA — hold benefit tournaments with US Grappling where proceeds help support the foundation. As it happens, the fall tournament was this weekend. It seemed like perfect timing to finalize the results and hand them a check.

That was all planned. What wasn’t planned was me getting sick the week before the tournament. As it happens, me getting stuck in a house for several days + Theraflu = me making an absurd giant novelty check. But then, how often do you get the chance to make an absurd giant novelty check?

Note: there is no "First National Bank of Berimbolo." Yet.

Note: there is no “First National Bank of Berimbolo.” Yet.

I want to thank the awesome folks who offered to match my donations to one charity or the other. Your generosity meant that every win this year was worth $45 to charity. I want to thank the Pendergrass brothers for doing great work to fight cancer, and for being great sports about my goofy check. And I want to thank everybody in the grappling community for the support, and in advance for your support next year.

Without further ado: the results.

Total Matches Won For The Year: 16
Total Raised For Pendergrass Foundation: $480
Total Raised For Women’s Debate Institute: $240
Grand Total: $720

This money isn’t going to change the world, of course. But it’s the end of the year, we did some good, and because I stashed the cash a little at a time, I didn’t miss the money. I just thought of it as additional entry fees. I plan on doing this again next year, too — and you can get involved! More on that below.

Another cool thing about the tournament this weekend: my first two t-shirt designs for Cageside MMA came out. It was fun, and kind of surreal, to see people walking around wearing my shirts. Surreal in an awesome way, kind of like making a giant novelty check while hopped up on Theraflu.

One of the shirts, the “Just Train” shirt, you can see me wearing above. The writing inside the shirt consists of common excuses people use for not training. The other is a reference to this part of the old Gracies In Action tapes:

In-joke shirts for grappling nerds are the best.

In-joke shirts for grappling nerds are the best.

Finally, I want to say this: I had such a blast doing the charity project this year that I plan on doing it again next year. Again, I will be donating $10 for every match I win to the George Pendergrass Foundation and the the Women’s Debate Institute.

The only difference: this year I’ll be actively soliciting more people to match either some portion of my donation or all of it.

In the next month or so, I’ll be posting the tournaments I plan to attend next year. That way, if you’re interested in splitting costs for a tournament we can travel to together, or if you’re interested in donating to support the cause — or both — you can get in touch with me and we can set it up.

Thanks for reading. Let’s do this again next year.

Datsusara Gear Bag Core Review

I love gear bags. A great bag is the ultimate marriage of function and form.

When my trusty Cageside mesh bag (a perfect fit for me, since I could use it for scuba diving as well) finally gave up the ghost this fall, I was in denial. I kept lugging it around until I almost lost several pieces of gear through the ever-growing holes. That bag was tough: I’d carried it around the world, exposed it to saltwater, and generally beat it up until it finally couldn’t take any more.

The timing turned out to be perfect. Because I needed a new bag right before the Pans, my mom got me the Datsusara Gear Bag Core, one of two new releases from the company, for my birthday.

If you feel like exploring all there is to know about the Core, check out Datsusara’s 5 minute video tour. If not, let me give you the capsule summary: this bag is fantastic. It’s huge, but light, well-organized, and versatile — it’s not just a great grappling bag, it’s luggage you can take on vacation, jiu-jitsu or not.

Let me take a step back. For just going to class, maybe the bag you select isn’t super-important. You can always just tie your gi up in a belt and sling it over your shoulder. But when you train a lot, and when you travel to train, it makes life a lot easier to not worry about how you’re going to fit that extra gi, where your mouthguard is, or where you set your nail clippers.

The Core solves a lot of problems, all in one. Let me list them in order.

1. This bag will fit all of your stuff in it. This thing is so huge that I’m curious about the demographic that buys the larger version, the Pro. I mean, I’m a little guy, but look at my attempt to re-create some of the stuff I took to the Pans in this photo.

In case you can't decide between your white, black or blue gi ...

In case you can’t decide between your white, black or blue gi …

Look at all of that! It includes three complete gis and vale tudo shorts for wearing under said gis; belt; three complete no-gi uniforms, including full spats; bathroom scale; Sambazon smoothie and protein bar (no fresh fruit in the house today, sorry); water bottle; ibuprofen; notebook and pen; mouthguard; Leatherman tool with nail clippers; headphones, media player and e-reader for those boring times between matches.

That’s plenty to meet your needs when you travel for a big tournament, go on vacation and want to have plenty of gear, or do a training camp where you have three sessions a day. Right? Well, the Core doesn’t just fit all of that stuff, it fits all of that stuff easily.

No stuffing required.

No stuffing required.

All of the major gear fits in the main pouch without any effort whatsoever. I’m talking about no rolling, no stuffing — you just set your mountain of gear in there and it fits easily. also notice that there are two large side pockets that I didn’t have to touch for this: for vacation trips, that’s where your boring real-world clothes can go.

The bottom is wide enough to accommodate even larger scales, so you can bring your own weight-check apparatus when you travel to compete. Believe me, this is a major help, and even if you’re habitually on-weight, your teammates will thank you.

2. The pockets make it easy to organize your stuff. If you’re like me, you don’t like having to dig through everything to find out where the rattle of your ibuprofen bottle is coming from. Don’t worry: there are tons of pockets with intuitive size and spacing, so there won’t be problems designating where your mouthguard, nail clippers, media player and other stuff goes.

Four pockets on the side.

Four pockets on the side.

Even if (like me) you’re Obsesso The Clown in terms of tourney prep, this bag will cater to your crazy. There’s probably a pocket for that stupid good luck charm you have that doesn’t work. There certainly is for your notebook, pain reliever, snacks, mouthguard, clippers, and whatnot. Especially the whatnot.

Easy access mesh pockets on the end for beverages.

Easy access mesh pockets on the end for beverages.

3. You don’t have to worry about getting your gross wet gear mixed up with your fresh gear. This is huge, and is actually the best part of the bag for me. I’m chronically prepared to train, so I like keeping  extra gear everywhere. But it sucks to step out of an excellent session and have some sweaty gear that either must sit open in your car, smelling up the joint, or go back in your bag, contaminating your fresh gi.

The Core comes with an internal Dry Bag where you can stash your stanky stuff. Also, this is cool: it has a gi bag-style design, so it’s easy to wear as a mini-backpack. At the Pans I used the main Core to house all of the gear I’d need for the weekend and the Dry Bag as my day pack, where I put my wallet, keys, ID, mouthguard and whatever else I thought I’d need in the bullpen.

De-stinkifying my gis since last month.

De-stinkifying my gis since last month.

A tiny quibble is that the Dry Bag is really only big enough to fit one gi and related garments, so if you’re training a couple of times a day without going home, you might have to pack it in or leave some nastiness out of the bag. But in that case — or if you’re a huge human who wears an overcoat or something when you roll — you can always designate one of the side pockets for spillover.

4. It’s the little details. I haven’t said anything about the fact that the bag is made of hemp, which is durable and has anti-microbial properties. It’s not that I don’t think that’s important — I pre-ordered The Green Gi, after all — but the other stuff actually impressed me enough that the fabric is relatively low on my list of things I like about the Core.

Another nice touch: a lot of larger bags skimp on the shoulder strap, which makes the bag no fun to carry. Not so here. I lugged this thing all over New York City, and it was very comfortable every step of the way.

[Arnold voice] "Strap in." [/Arnold voice]

[Arnold voice] “Strap in.” [/Arnold voice]

Convinced yet? Great! … I probably should have mentioned that the first run is sold out. But Datsusara says “there is another larger batch coming later this month and should be shipping by the first week of November.”

Note: I’ve never worked for Datsusara in any capacity, freelance or otherwise, and this is actually the first of their products I’ve used. I just dig the bag.


PRODUCT: Datsusara Gear Bag Core
PRICE: $109.95
ON A SCALE OF 1-10: 9.5 (I’d give it a 10 if the Dry Bag was a little bigger).

Toro Gi Preliminary Sketches

Yesterday was my birthday. As a present to myself, I spent the evening pulling together some concepts for the new Toro BJJ gi. I’ve kicked around ideas with a trusted friend or two. Before I get too far down the road, I want to put some out for people to see and talk about.

Hence: I’d love to get feedback from you, whether in the comments or on Twitter, Instagram (where I’ve posted earlier drawings) or via email.

THE CONCEPT: The gi is going to be inspired by Okinawan art and culture. Okinawa is my favorite place on earth, a beautiful area with a rich history and the kindest people I’ve ever been around. As the birthplace of karate, it also has a rich martial arts history, so this seems like a natural fit. (There’s another piece that makes the fit perfect, as you’ll see below).

Names I’m considering for the gi include the Toro Uchina (the name for Okinawa in the indigenous language, uchinaaguchi), the Toro Ryukyuan (before it was colonized by Japan, Okinawa was known as the Ryukyu Kingdom), or the Toro Haisai (“hello” in the Okinawan language). Right now, I’m leaning toward the Toro Uchina, so let’s go with that for now.

To start with, I drew a ton of artistic elements. Although I want the final gi to be simple and uncluttered, I wanted to have a lot of different options to choose from.

Here are a couple of preliminary sketches I posted to Instagram of the gi’s proposed layout:

gi concept drawing Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 6.11.05 PM

I like the traditional look of a white gi, so that’s what we’re going with. It’s going to be a 450 gram pearl weave gi in the Toro style. That much is just about decided. But what art we use and how we situate that art is what we’re in the process of deciding.

Let me show you a few things, and tell you a little bit about what I’m thinking for each of them.

THE BACK EMBROIDERY PIECE: This is just a quick rendering for a back piece. It’s two bulls locking horns in Okinawan style bullfighting, with the kanji for TogyuOkinawan style bloodless bullfighting.

Okinawan bullfighting is like sumo in terms of both rules, moves, and that the grand champion is called a Yokozuna, so there’s a grappling connection. More importantly, there is a “Bull” connection. Obviously, Toro means “bull,” and is reference to both the bullfighter pass and the fact that Toro is based in Durham, North Carolina — the Bull City. All of this seemed to indicate what the main piece of art should be.
Here’s a preliminary rendering, without text:

We will  probably put the Toro slogan in the circle around the piece (“Live to Roll, Roll To Live”). We could also do something else specific for this gi, like the slogan in kanji or katakana.

[You might notice that the bulls locking horns forms a third bull’s-head shape as well. Could do something with that.]

I drew another bull design that was a little more abstract, but it wound up looking like Ferdinand. I’ll post it if anyone wants to see it.

THE COLORS: You might ask: why these colors? They are taken from the Kingdom of the Ryukyus’ flag, which will also have a place on the gi:


It’s also a cool flag, no? I love the iconography, so I plan on putting a treatment of the flag in at least one place on the gi, most likely the front of the skirt below the belt.

Two other notes about this: there will be grip tape around the skirt of the gi that draws on the red-and-black bottom part of the flag. I think this will give the gi a simple but elegant color scheme. And I plan on contrast stitching using the blue.

SHOULDER EMBROIDERY: All around Okinawa, you see guardian shi-sa dogs.  These lion-dogs are protectors of the home. Aside from being culturally significant, they’re visually very cool.

Traditionally one of the dogs has its mouth open and another has its mouth closed. I’d like to have one shi-sa on each shoulder, facing forward. I took a common design and tweaked it a little:

ShiSaopenmouth Shisamouthclosed

I was considering doing a full-bodied shi-sa doing a horizontal pose like you see here, but I like the faces. What do you think?

THE PANTS: I do want to keep the pants simple, and there are two possibilities I’m kicking around. I’d like to do a stylized map of the Ryukyu Islands and incorporate that into either:

* A rectangular Toro logo at the top right portion of the pants; or

* Just an outline of the islands that would be placed at the bottom right shin, so it would be distinctive but still IBJJF legal.

This would be similar position to the embroidered Toro logo on the company’s “Blue Steel” pants offering. Note also the contrast stitching on this model. I’d like for the Uchina to keep some consistency with the existing design of Toro, but also break out into a few new directions.

The island outline will probably be the next drawing I do and post for reaction.

FINALLY, I WILL PROBABLY NOT GET TO DO THIS, BUT: Sublimated printing on the interior of a gi is expensive to do. However, I really like what some companies have done in this vein. Putting art pieces on the inside of a gi keeps the gi looking clean and uncluttered outside, but provide art opportunities for inside. It’s like having a secret. Plus, you get to add fun elements without having the gi look too busy.

Examples of this include the Scramble Wave, which uses an internal rash guard, and the Muae Furinkazan, which just prints on the inside of the gi. I’d prefer to do something like Muae gi, for two reasons: I personally don’t have a lot of experience with internal rash guards, and the Muae print looks very cool as the color fades (check out the pictures in that link). I think either of my ideas would look good after fading as well.

My two ideas: either a growing banyan tree (found throughout Okinawa’s forests) or a coral reef scene (the Ryukyu Islands are some of the most biodiverse in the world, and contain more than 400 types of coral and all manner of fantastic aquatic species).

Again, this stuff is pretty expensive, so I probably won’t get to do it. Unless, you know, the people demand it. If you’d like to see what the banyan tree or reef scene would look like, I could draw and post those, too.

FINALLY: Other potential ideas for design elements included drawings of some Ryukyuan castles, which are beautiful and diverse in appearance; a stylized rendering of an Okinawan proverb about food being medicine for life, but applied (of course) to jiu-jitsu; and numerous cool indigenous animal species like the Okinawa dugong, Yanbaru kuina and Iriomote yamaneko. At this point, I haven’t found a place for any of these, and probably won’t, because I want to keep the design simple. But I wanted to mention them in case they spark any ideas. (I might try to work one into a re-design of the Toro embroidered patch on the jacket lapel)

Also, nothing is really set in stone. I really love thinking about this gi, and would love it if I could get some help from you. So let me know what you think, whether it’s in the comments, on Twitter, on Instagram or in person. Thanks for reading.

I Am Designing a Gi

Folks, I have great news. I get to design the next gi release from Toro BJJ!

This is something I’m very excited about. I’ve done a lot of writing in my life, but I’ve only focused on the visual arts over the past few years. New ground is always exciting. I’ve been having a blast thinking up concepts for this kimono.

Besides, I’m a huge fan of my Toro gis. I have both the “Blue Steel” and the “White Gold,” and they’re durable, comfortable and stylish. Toro is a relatively new brand, but one that already has some quality products. It’s gratifying to have the opportunity to explore what the next step for the Toro line looks like.

Here’s the upshot: I’m going to need your help!

I’m going to be posting concepts and drawings here and on my Facebook page. I’d love your feedback on what you like, what you don’t, what you think generally makes a great gi, and what specifically you’d like to see out of this one.

To get the party started, I’ll spill the tentative plan. The gi is going to be inspired by my favorite place in the world, a place I used to live: Okinawa. It’s a place with a rich martial arts history, of course, but also one with an incredibly rich culture, environment and history. You can’t capture all of that in a gi, so you have to make visual choices — which is where y’all come in.

I’ll keep you posted with the specific elements that may go into the gi. In the meantime, think about what makes a great gi! If you need some visuals of your own to guide your hand, Meerkatsu had a design-a-gi contest that has templates. But you could also just look at your own gis and figure out why you like the ones you like and hate the ones you hate.

I’m grateful to the Toro folks for giving me the chance to do this, and couldn’t be more enthusiastic about getting started. I’ve already started drawing: watch for some design ideas here soon.



This Video Will Get You Fired Up To Train

… at least, I hope it will. I made it for Toro BJJ with that intention. As a bonus, if you train in North Carolina or parts of Virginia, you will probably know someone  in at least one of the clips.

That’s Seth Shamp doing the music and voiceover. The script is down below if you want to read it afterward.


It starts today.

You will roll just one minute longer.
You will get another round in.
You will drag yourself out of the gym exhausted.
You will. You will. You will.
It starts next week.
You will train more than ever.
You will hit that new sweep.
You will submit that guy you’ve never been able to tap.
You will. You will. You will.
It starts next year.
You will get that gold medal.
You will get that weight off.
You will get to where you want to go.
And people will ask you. And people will ask you. And people will ask you.
What is your secret? What’s the trick? What is your gimmick?
Your gimmick is you take a gi with you wherever you go.
The trick is being the first one on the mat.
Your secret is being the last one to leave.
It starts today. It starts tomorrow. It starts next year.
This is your life. It never stops.
This is your world. Train jiujitsu in it.