Creative work, remixes and ripoffs

Once, in 1997, I was in a bar with my drunk friend. Even while sober, my friend was kind of a holier-than-thou hater. After the whiskey started to flow, well, you can guess.

“Tubthumping” came on. You remember: “I get knocked down / and I get up again.” I still have a good deal of fondness for this song, and for Chumbawumba generally, so it was clear I was enjoying myself. True to hater form, my friend couldn’t have that. So during the breakdown, where they quote lyrics from the old Irish traditional “Oh, Danny Boy,” my friend started to rant.

“They’re ripping off Irish music!” his spittle-flecked hipster screed began. I rolled my eyes and ordered another beer.

It was, of course, a meritless criticism. This was a remix of a classic in the public domain, a reinvention of the familiar into something new and different. Even if it was a pure “quote,” jazz musicians have been inserting bits of classic compositions during performances forever. (Besides, as I should have pointed out: Johnny Cash also covered “Oh, Danny Boy.” Hipsters love Johnny Cash almost as much as they hate being called hipsters).

Which brings me to the real topic of the day: creative work in general lends itself well to what might be called remixing. Collage artwork draws on existing visual work. Mash-ups pull audio into new combinations. Andy Warhol certainly didn’t create the Campbell’s Soup logo when he drew on the can for pop art. Even parody of pop culture phenomena might be considered a remix of a sort.

It’s parody of pop culture that I want to talk about today, and creative work.

There is nothing new under the sun. That dope idea I had last week? Some ancient Greek already did it better. That genius concept I based an entire freelance project on? Some dude in Cleveland or Chicago or Constantinople might already be working on it.

This is especially true when you’re talking about making pop culture references. You’re not the only person who has seen Deadwood, or Doctor Who, or Daredevil. It’s a big world out there, and there are more clever people doing creative work faster than ever before.

Sometimes I see people angry when they see a meme that’s a lot like the meme they made. Worse, I see fans of brands — or brand owners, or brand staff — leap to the conclusion that a similar design done elsewhere is a result of someone directly copying them.

Rip-offs absolutely happen, of course. I’ve had my designs taken by random people on Teespring and sites like that. If you look, you’ll see the repeat offenders are out there. That’s sad and gross, but those people will make themselves known soon enough.

Generally speaking, though, I think it’s more productive to make generous assumptions about people, particularly creative types. Remixes happen when we are more free with access to ideas, and remixes and collaborations can be mindblowingly cool. I hate to see potentially productive creative relationships poisoned by hasty assumptions.

Simply put, if you think your style got bitten, it’s the best practice to just assume you drank from the same well as the other guy — and hope that it wasn’t the well my hater hipster friend drank from in 1997.


Gifts For Grapplers: 2015 Holiday Edition

With only a week left until Christmas, it’s finally time to start shopping. At least, it is if you’re me. Is this because I’m lazy, irresponsible, or because I’m distracted by training? Yes.

But you can benefit from my sloth! Behold the 2015 Dirty White Belt Grappler Gift Guide, featuring sweet ideas for presents that will benefit the jiu-jitsu practitioner in your life. Some of these are gear suggestions, which I wholeheartedly recommend. Because it’s so late in the game, I’ve also listed some gift ideas that don’t need to be delivered, so you can be sure to have something to stick into your beloved’s grubby, mat-burn-laden hands.

A lot of these are from Cageside Fight Co., which has a new website. That’s not only because it’s a great company that has supported me a lot throughout the years, but because I *know* they’ll take getting your order to you by Christmas seriously. Cageside and Toro BJJ get the uncritical endorsement, deservedly so.

That said: on with the commerce!



The first run of the Toro BJJ JS 2015 sold out super-fast. But they’re back in stock, and believe me, I’d be telling you that this is a great gi even if I hadn’t designed it. It’s been my primary gi since it came out, and I love the look, feel and fit. It’s the first gi I’ve designed for Toro, and we plan to do one each year. Please help me out and get a terrific value in the process.


Speaking of first runs, Toro also made its first Navy Blue gi, and man, does this thing look sweet. I’ve seen a few folks around wearing it, and it’s a striking color. If you’re more of a black gi person, the new Dark Horse is a killer gi, too. I haven’t seen the horizontal lapel embroidery style before, and I think it’s a very cool innovation.


Rounding out my gi recommendations: Meerkatsu’s Orchid Dragon gi is gorgeous. Blue gis are typically not my thing, but this is an artist who really knows what he’s doing.


The 8-Bit Jiu-Jitsu rashguard I designed for Toro BJJ was a pretty popular item when it was released, and we did a quick re-release for the holidays. At $23, that’s a steal, and it’s one of my favorite rashies I’ve ever done.

Also, Guard-Zilla is loose! I’ve been wearing this one around and getting lots of nice compliments on it. I’m stoked to have mine, and your grappler pal will be stoked to get theirs, too.


Scramble is doing a pre-order of a killer new rashguard that will benefit Paul, and I just ordered mine. It looks sweet, and it’s a great cause, so buy it and leave a “look at this awesome rashie I ordered you” card under the tree.



There are many great aspects to private lessons: you can learn directly from a tremendous teacher, you can tailor your training to what you need most, and you can use it basically any time you want. Plus, you don’t have to worry about delivery.

To give one of these as a gift can be simple — you can just buy a private for your grappler from her or his instructor. Everybody can benefit from personalized attention.

Or, to go that extra mile, find the one person they’ve always wanted to train with and buy them a private with that person (if they’re local) or during the time when they’re coming through town for a seminar. Watch their eyes light up, and thank me later.



Want to make your grappler happy — and not worry about the present arriving in time? Get them a subscription to an online site!

I’ve been watching fewer instructional videos these days, but I’ll always recommend two online sites based on my experience with them. Marcelo Garcia’s site is the OG on the block, and has an incredible library of techniques being taught and implemented during live rolling. You can’t go wrong.

But my personal favorite site is the Mendes Bros. You get tremendous instruction, drilling suggestions, technique breakdowns and amazing sparring sessions featuring the best in the world. And it’s delivered right into the privacy of your own home.

Finally, consider a subscription to FloGrappling. I have one, and have generally positive things to report. If you like to watch your friends compete (and, y’know, the big names, too), it’s a great thing to have in your pocket.

Let’s be real: I could go on forever with the wish list. In the interests of time and in the interests of being light on your wallet, I’ll stop there.

One item I’ll leave you with: if you know me in person, you know that I’m always thinking of new charity projects. I have a very exciting one that might come together soon, so if you want to save a little money this season with the intention of helping support that … just keep it in mind.

Thanks for reading. Happy holidays to all!

New shirt and rashguard for Toro

Hi folks! A couple of longer posts are in the works, but for now I just want to do a quick one announcing a couple of new offerings from Toro BJJ.

I haven’t been doing a ton of design work lately, since I’m organizing Toro’s first card of local BJJ superfights (more on that later). There’s a new shirt out today, though, and it hearkens back to those innocent days of getting up early to eat cereal and train:


I’ve been leading a 6 a.m. drilling group for a while that has now morphed into an early morning fundamentals class, and I firmly believe training is the best way to start the day — hence the shirt.

You can buy it here, and if you use the discount code “free15” you’ll get free shipping.

I’m also really excited about a forthcoming rashguard. You can’t buy this yet, but it’ll be available soon and I can’t wait to share it. (If you’re really psyched to get early previews of new gear, you can always follow me or Toro BJJ on Instagram: most of the works in progress get shared there first).

This one was inspired by the era where, in the words of Vast Aire, “when every video game was 8-bit / and you get popped in your mouth for …” … well, you know the rest.

There are some details I want to tweak, but here’s the gist:


And the close-up view, featuring inside jokes about the De La Riva guard:


Thank you for putting up with these commercial messages. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled programming.

New Comic About The Journey to Blue Belt

Hi folks! Haven’t had much time to post lately, but lots of big things are happening behind the scenes (I’ve been busy with work, training, planning my 40th birthday party on Saturday, preparing for a Royce Gracie seminar on Monday and getting ready to leave the country on Tuesday).

But! I made a new comic that I hope you like. I’ll be posting it to the Toro BJJ Facebook tomorrow, but hey, blog readers get a sneak peek.

Oh, and I might just have a big jiu-jitsu-related announcement soon. I think you’ll be interested. At least, I hope you will. Happy training.


Your First Day Of Jiu Jitsu

Here’s a comic I posted to the Toro BJJ Facebook page a while ago. I’ll try to be better about remembering to cross-post these here, but generally I’ll post to the Toro Facebook first. So kindly like the page if you haven’t already!

Without further ado: some first class dos and don’ts. As always, feel free to tell me what I missed (or add your suggestions for future comics) in the comments.

Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

5 Great Creative Gis

My name is Jeff, and I’m a gi addict. I make no apologies for this. The more gis I have clean and ready, the more opportunities I have to drill and roll — and because I train a lot and work a full-time job, reaching the bottom of the rotation happens a fair bit.

A good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gi is a functional piece of art. The function is most important, most would agree — the fit, the feel, the comfort and durability. If we’re honest, though, we have to admit that the art part matters as well. Clothing that looks good is more appealing than clothing that looks bad, whether you’re going to grip up on it or not.

I admire the way some designers are able to bridge the gap and make something that both looks good and works well. I thought I’d shout out five designs that I think are innovative without going too far afield, beautiful without being garish, and arty but still meeting the basic needs of the jiu-jiteiro.

Two caveats before I start: most of you know that I design gear for Toro BJJ, so I’m going to exempt Toro gis from consideration (even though I’m really stoked about the next Toro number, which we just got a sample of and will come out later this summer):

Coming soon to a fight shop near you.

Special preview! Coming soon to a fight shop near you. Get excited.

Second caveat: everyone has different taste. Some people rock tailored suits and some people opt for hoodies and flip-flops. I’m not a snob, and am a firm believer in letting people like what they like. My own tastes certainly influence this list. I hope and expect that people will post about great gis that I missed.

These gis I’ m about to list are all from different companies, were released at different times and have little in common other than I don’t own any of them (and, y’know, my birthday is in October). Friends of mine own each of these, though, so I got some insight into the quality of each release from them.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are five creative gis that I think are awesome.


5. “Furinkazan“, by Muae

It's bigger on the inside. Or at least better.

It’s bigger on the inside. Or at least better.

Printing directly on the inside of the gi is a bold innovation, and the image selection is terrific. It looks sharp at first, and on repeated washing, fades into a historical look. I’ve seen it on Ze Grapplez, and can testify that the art continues to pop long after the first time you roll in and wash it.

The decision to do this type of sublimated printing, coupled with the image choice, impressed me a lot when this gi came out. I still haven’t seen anything quite like it.


4. “The Wave,” by Scramble

Classic on the outside, a different kind of classic on the inside.

Classic on the outside, a different kind of classic on the inside.

If you want to talk about historically significant artwork, Hokusai’s “The Great Wave” has to be mentioned. This BBC podcast explains why: Hokusai’s magnum opus was really a metaphor for the changing  world, the fusion of culture that happened after Matthew Perry’s gunboat diplomacy forced Japan to open up to the West.

Plus, to this day “The Great Wave” is still visually striking. That’s why it was such an inspired choice for Scramble to modify the image for use on an internal rashguard. Not only does it look fantastic, like the original image, the Wave gi is a merge of the old (classic white gi) and the new (flashy gi with internal rashguard).


3. “The Heavenly Kimono,” by Meerkatsu



Your artwork doesn’t have to cover the entire inside of the kimono in order to make a statement. Witness this inaugural gi offering from prominent BJJ artist Seymour “Meerkatsu” Yang, whose offering is a worthy successor to his Heavenly Footlock and Heavenly Wristlock shirts.

Besides looking great, the thematic consistency between the differing types of apparel is really cool. (It’s also admirable how much of Yang’s work in this vein benefits charities).


2. “Wu-Tang Killa Bee Series,” by Enzo Kimonos



If you aren’t down with the Wu, I don’t even know what to tell you. Even if innovation in music isn’t your thing, the logo image is iconic, and placed on the front skirt of the gi like this adds the right amount of flash. It’s distinctive but not ostentatious. (Now, the interior of the gi, that’s a different story).

It’s also a cool idea to merge BJJ, a niche community with passionate devotees, with Wu-Tang, a defined subculture that has considerably more followers. As a proud nerd, I’m always interested in where unusual affinities collide (Doctor Who and jiu-jitsu, anyone)? Making this collision happen deserves some dap.


1. “The 47 Gi,” by Ronin

47 ... Ronin. I see what you did there.

47 … Ronin. I see what you did there.

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of John Smalls. I must confess I didn’t know he’d done the art for the 47 Gi by Ronin Brand until a friend bought it. Smalls illustrated 47 common techniques for the interior of this kimono, and the results are as nice as you’d expect.

One distinction I’d make between this kimono and the other interior-print gis I’ve listed: instead of one big art piece, this has smaller segments that serve a larger unified theme. That’s different, and different is cool.

There you have it: five gis that I think reflect thoughtful and creative design. A final note related to gi commerce: people at my gym are very fortunate, since we share space with Cageside Fight Shop. Not every school is lucky enough to have a local martial arts gear company nearby, and the good folks that work there are awesome about letting you try on a bunch of gis to see what fits you best.

Trying on a gi before you make the order is something I totally recommend. dangerous, in that it feeds the gi addiction, but also excellent, because there’s nothing worse than dropping $100+ on something you’re excited to train in only to find that it fits like rented suit. Support your local fight shop, folks.