Under The GI: Tattoo in BJJ

bjj tattooThe astonishing increase in the popularity of Jiu Jitsu has transformed the movement worldwide into a lifestyle with its own share of rituals, jargon, communities, iconography and more. The tribe of BJJ is growing. Compared to the olden days of wrestling, BJJ definitely has the right appeal and underlying philosophy that appeal to modern sensibilities regarding martial arts and fitness.

Talking of tribes, tattoos have been the unique way of associating oneself with a tribe. From the Incas and the Native Americans to the Maori, tribes have had tattoos on their warriors as a mark of unity in death and the fierceness expected from them. Many fighters, like those in Muay Thai, believe the tattoos to be a kind of armor that protects them from harm.

Fast forward back to the modern world of martial arts, once upon a time a cauliflower ear was the only badge of honor that you’d carry around if you were a wrestler. Needless to say even if that got you major props among your wrestling buddies, for the rest of the world it’s not exactly the most aesthetically pleasing thing to see. Take a look around. Fight wear, Gis, Belts, sippers to slippers, tees are some of the things that the growing tribe of BJJ is adopting to proudly proclaim its dedication to and association with the martial art. In this post, we are going to take a closer look at the phenomenon of tattooing in the BJJ world and help you understand the prevalent standards and themes of Jiu Jitsu tattoos. If you have been looking to get a Jiu Jitsu inspired tattoo, read on and find out what connects the best with you.

Japanese Irezumi

The Japanese art of Irezumi is a form of tattooing that has an aura of mystery and subtle ferociousness. The popular yet somewhat misplaced notion of Yakuza gangsters covered all over in intricately designed tattoos has also influenced the perception of such tattoos. When it comes to the modern world of BJJ and MMA, it has become an accepted practice to have an Irezumi tattoo that covers the shoulder and the arms. Many respectable and well known fighters have been inked with this art form. This form of tattooing makes use of imagery that subconsciously appeal to martial artists and warriors: ferocious beasts like dragon or tiger, waves, clouds, beautiful damsels and the likes.

fabricioFabricio Werdum has a tattoo of a dragon that covers his shoulder and arm. Eddie Bravo also has an enviable set of tattoos that cover his entire arms.

Team/Academy Tattoos

A lot of BJJ practitioners are faithful and loyal when it comes to the academy or team they train with. Since they view Jiu Jitsu as a way of life and something that has changed the way they live, a great deal of emotional importance is placed on one’s loyalties. Many world champions openly credit their academies or coaches with turning around their life and giving it a meaning. It is perhaps not surprising that many choose to tattoo the logo of their teams or academies to underline their lifelong connection.

Gracie Barra was one of the first teams to popularize this trend with many of their star athletes sporting the logo tattooed mostly on the inside of their arms. Other schools and teams that have gained such tattooed loyalists are Alliance Jiu Jitsu, 10th Planet, Carlson Gracie Jiu Jitsu and Checkmate among many others.

Animal Tattoos

The ferocious pit bull dog image was perhaps the most infamous of the animal inspired tattoos that contributed to BJJers’ bad boy image of indulgence in violence and street fighting. But it has been long since Jiu Jitsu has come out of the shadows of a few trouble makers and the animal inspired tattoos have gotten more sophisticated with time.

Paulo Filho was a promising talent who used to train at the Carlson Gracie academy in Copacabana. He was very fond of his pit bull (strangely named Hitler) and after its death, he got a tattoo of it on his shoulder.

The Octopus has become the recent favorite among animal inspired BJJ tattoos. It is a sea predator that has innovative ways of dealing with threats and prey. It is a natural fit for the modern version of Jiu Jitsu that features novel moves like the Berimbolo, 50/50 Guard, Worm Guard. The mercurial Eduardo Telles can be said to be responsible for the widespread adoption of the octopus as the unofficial animal mascot when it comes to Jiu Jitsu tattoos.

Old school Jiu Jitsu Script Tattoos

The one kind of tattoo that will never go out of fashion in BJJ is the simple yet powerful phrase Jiu Jitsu, whether it is in the Kanji or English script. The back or the arms are the preferred locations for such tattoos.

Belt Tattoos

BJJ practitioners often tattoo a series of belt outlines on their forearm or calf and they fill in the colors as they progress through the ranks. It is surely a wake up call every time you feel discouraged and lacking in motivation and then you take a look at a bunch of empty outlines on your arm. Time to get back on the mat and live to tell that tales of glory to your grandkids.

New School Abstract and wacky Tattoos

Tattooing is a highly creative profession and medium and new styles and motifs keep coming up. The subculture of Jiu Jitsu tattoos is no different. For example, now we have multi talented artists like Seymour Yang aka Meerkatsu who bring varied artistic influences in their designs/artworks which end up as inspirations for tattoos. Meerkatsu recently posted an entire album on Faebook of tattoos inspired by his artwork – https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.505520202841719.1073741828.145197825540627&type=3

Good, now that I know so much about tattoos – Where do I place mine?

Most athletes, as already mentioned, wear tattoos as a symbol and a badge of honor, pride and to reinforce a sense of belonging to the community. So the most common places on the body to place a Jiu Jitsu tattoo are the arms, forearms, fingers, calves and ankles. But then again some also prefer to keep their tattoos on their torso or back, under the Gi, as they consider them highly personal and sacred and not screaming advertisements.

The only thing that matters in such considerations is that you should feel completely aligned with the decision to choose a body part for your tattoo. A feeling of invulnerability and a raised spirit is not uncommon for those who mentally associate the image of their tattooed body to that of a primal archetype of a warrior going to battle.

If you are going for animal tattoos, for example, you’d already have an image of an animal in your mind that suits your particular traits in Jiu Jitsu. It doesn’t even have to be serious and broody all the time. Maybe you take your rolls playfully and wouldn’t mind having an otter as a tattoo. Or you might feel like a bear cub (not full grown!) and you decide that suits if you had to describe your style of top game. If you are an aggressor you might find the silverback gorilla or a tiger much more appealing.

Essentially, look at tattoos as an extension of your personality and inherent talent. You might even connect with a style of tattoo that is not yet popular in the world of BJJ. Never underestimate the psychological impact a tattoo can have on your opponent and yourself. Choosing a tattoo childishly means you can get stuck with something that will cost you a great deal of money and/or pain to get it removed or modified, not to mention the constant pangs of regret that will haunt you for a while. Run by your ideas on social networks like Pinterest, Reddit and online forums of MMA/Sherdog etc to take some helpful feedback and hopefully even get some improved designs from other tattoo artists that also happen to be BJJ enthusiasts. Go ahead and ink yourself as the warrior you have always envisioned.

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