We all do jiujitsu. We’ve all felt like the nail — hammered down, beaten up, bent into virtual uselessness. We come back, though, We get up and keep going to class. This is what we do. This is the only way.
This is what I was thinking of when I designed the new gi for Toro BJJ. Here’s how it looks:
Here’s what it means: the gi is themed around one of my favorite places, Okinawa, and one of my favorite Japanese proverbs, 七転び八起き. It’s pronounced nanakorobi yaoki in Japanese, and you might have heard it in English as: Fall seven times and stand up eight.
This is a lesson that applies to all aspects of life, but especially to jiujitsu. You’re going to get smashed. That doesn’t matter. What matters is how you respond to it. The proverb (along with a symbol I’ll explain in a minute) is stitched into the lining around the skirt of the gi jacket:
The first part of the proverb goes on the outer flap of the jacket front, with the reminder to “get up eight” on the back flap, for when you’re flat on your back.
I lived in Okinawa during 2006-2007, and it’s one of my favorite places on earth — a gorgeous gem of an island chain populated by a kind, resilient people with a unique culture. Okinawans are Japanese in the same sense that native Hawaiians are Americans — they’re ethnically distinct, speak a different language and have their own rich culture. Before it was colonized by Japan in the 19th century, Okinawa was the Ryukyu Kingdom. (We could get into Okinawan history here, which is fascinating, but that’s all you need to know for now).
The symbol of the old Ryukyu Kingdom was the hidari gomon, which is the three-part design in the middle of the modified Toro logo on the pants and rear of the jacket. This symbol is a variant of an abstract shape called a tomoe (巴) — and yes, that’s the same word that exists in the tomoe nage throw (巴投), so it works there as well.
There are a few stories (all probably apocryphal) about where the three-segment symbol comes from. The one I like best: it represents three warriors who gave their lives for the greater good of the Okinawan people in a conflict with the lord of Kagoshima. It symbolizes service, diligence and sacrifice, and highlights a culture and place that I’ll always love.
When I make something for Toro, I want it to look cool and to be functional — but I also try to put in elements that are connected to larger things. In this case, it fits on multiple levels: I got my start designing things by failing over and over again (remarkably similar to how I started in jiujitsu). That’s what I’m trying to evoke by including these type of images. As long as I keep getting up, I’m not going to worry too much about failures.
You shouldn’t either. You’re getting up and moving forward.