In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a few major countries occupy the spotlight. Brazil, of course, tops the list, but the U.S. receives a lot of attention as well. Japan is often in the conversation for obvious reasons, but it doesn’t get nearly as much attention as the first two. And recently, we’ve started to see a little bit more love for Russia’s contributions to grappling, but that is still relatively small.
For the rest of the world? Well, they often become footnotes in the culture of BJJ. Designers and gym owners are quick to reference the major BJJ countries in artwork and in products, but the smaller scenes, where jiu-jitsu has just recently started to blossom and make a difference in the communities there, are overlooked.
That’s one of the big reasons we love traveling with BJJ Globetrotters. We get to visit these great jiu-jitsu communities and meet people that might never be on the cover of a magazine but are doing amazing things for their students and training partners and have incredible stories to tell.
Greenland is one of these places. The people who call Greenland home are hardy. The country is rugged with difficult winters and short-lived springs. With limited natural resources, even basic foods like beef need to be imported. And like many native groups, Greenland has its share of social problems and challenges that are made even more difficult by the sometimes harsh environment.
While I spent time with friends and great people I couldn’t help but feel desolate. Roads ended at the city limits, and the only ways of reaching other towns was skimobile, boat, or plane. Alcoholism and suicide are huge issues there. We were warned that the government is trying to fight by incredibly high alcohol tax.
It’s not all bleak though. The local culture is rich, and the injection of BJJ has brought some new hope as well. After apologizing for his poor English, a gentlemen we promoted to blue belt on the last day of camp told us how he has been struggling with alcohol abuse since he was 12. And now in his 20s, BJJ is the only thing he has found that helps him stay sober.
The sum of these experiences laid the tinder for a new gi, and we needed a certain globetrotter to create the spark.
Once you have done the legwork of perfecting your cut and sizing, designing new gis is pretty straightforward. You pick the weave, pick the color, decide on stitching and accents, and choose what patches or embroidery go where. With a talented designer, you can do complete this process in a few days, and any subsequent changes are made after the factory produces a sample.
That’s how it works most of the time. The gi I am about to show you had a similar design process, but instead of it taking place inside an office or coffee shop, we were on a boat off the coast of Greenland on a whale-watching trip. I never thought I would ever be in Greenland, much less design a gi there. It all started with a message from my friend Christian Graugart.
He was arranging a trip to visit an old student that had started a BJJ school in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, and wanted to bring some black belt friends with him. A few brave souls volunteered, and after some serious flight searches, we ended up in Nuuk. I wrote a blog about our epic layover in Reykjavik here and the Greenland trip here.
If you haven’t heard about Christian, he literally wrote the book on BJJ travel and nowadays spends his time planning amazing BJJ camps all over the world. Hillary and I have been to 9 out of 27 of the camps, and are trying to hold on to our top 10 standing in the camp high score list.
Christian usually makes camp gis and suggested that we make a collaboration project. His biggest stipulation: We had to have an inverted polar bear.
Most of the design work was done aboard that boat while we waited on whale sightings. Weave was an easy choice. It’s usually pretty cold there, so a 550 GSM pearl weave felt right. Both of our gis usually have shoulder embroidery, so those were a given. We used the polar bear art done by Hillary instead of the usual panda and incorporated Christian’s BJJ Globetrotters logo. For the ribbon, we got Christian’s usual designer to etch the epic landscape was saw from the boat. For the final detail, we took inspiration from the colorful national outfit as a shoulder liner for the inside of the gi and added the Greenland flag.
This was a unique design experience. And as we prepare to launch it tomorrow (7/14/2017), we are excited to report that the fledgling gym we visited in Nuuk has doubled in size since last year. We are sending the guys from Nuuk some uniforms for their club and sharing with you the story behind the gi. There are thousands of powerful jiu-jitsu stories that have yet to be told, and in future gis with Christian, we hope to tell at least some of them.