Doctor Who Meets Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Fightland Blog

By Sarah Kurchak

The TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), the bigger-on-the-inside police box that the Doctor uses to travel through space and time on Doctor Who, has been all over the place since the BBC launched the iconic sci-fi program 50 years ago. It’s taken the Doctor and his companions to the beginning of time and the end of the Earth, to wars, celebrations, and even the occasional sporting event. It’s reached the top of the British pop charts thanks to the Timelords’ “Doctorin’ The Tardis,” been turned into a sexy costume, and been featured on pretty much any type of merchandise you can imagine. And just last week, the TARDIS appeared on the front of a BJJ rashguard, much to the delight of the surprisingly (or not-so-surprisingly) large population of geek martial artists across the universe.

The “Tardis” rashguard, produced by Toro BJJ out of North Carolina, is the brainchild of the martial arts clothing company’s designer, blue belt and lifelong Whovian, Jeff Shaw. It’s the second nerd-friendly product that he’s designed for Toro (his first, a Godzilla vs. Gamera “Attack the Turtle” rashguard, will be available for sale soon. Plans are already under way for a rashguard featuring the Doctor’s most infamous foes, the Daleks, and Shaw has also been toying with the idea of a series of ranked rashguards that touch on a number of different fandoms.

As a person who loves her BJJ masters and her Galifreyan masters in almost equal measure, I jumped at the chance to talk to Shaw about his creation and the similarities between geek and martial arts cultures. And to ask him which of the 11 Doctors would win in a fight.

Fightland: When you first came up with the idea for a Doctor Who-themed rashguard, what did your coworkers think? Were they on board?
Jeff Shaw: No! In fact, no one was but me. I went to Boomer, who is sort of the head guy, and I said, “I have this great idea. It’s kind of funny. In addition to being a cool niche interest, it’s also classic iconography. People who aren’t Whovians necessarily know what the police box means,” and he utterly did not believe me. 

So then you turned to the Internet for feedback?
We started sharing it on Facebook and people started passing it around. It became a thing on Twitter and Instagram. People from all up and down the east coast the west coast started saying, “Yeah! I would wear this.”  Boomer’s also a blue belt, and one of the local black belts actually threatened to mount him and not let him out until he made it. So that was helpful. 

Were you surprised by the response you received? Or just vindicated?
I thought that it would be a hit to some extent but I was quite surprised by the breadth and passion of the response. I said in one of the initial posts that I was sort of testing the Venn diagram between Brazilian jiu-jitsu culture and nerd culture, and, as it turns out, there’s a substantial overlap. There’s a much greater percentage than I had anticipated.

In retrospect, that makes a lot of sense to me.

In my own personal experience training in BJJ, I’ve noticed a huge overlap. And part of that, I feel, comes from the fact that they are both very immersive cultures.
I concur with that.

One of my favorite examples was the guy at my gym who had a tattoo of the Arashikage symbol from GI Joe
That is awesome. I have similar experiences with different aspects of nerd culture. One of the black belts out here owns a Green Lantern Power Ring. And I know a couple of elite world-class black belts, one of whom is quite obsessed with Superman comics and the whole mythos around that. And another world-class black belt who is very into Star Wars culture, like the books and the mythos that are out there beyond the films.

I have a theory on that, actually. To me, a nerd is someone that is passionate about something that is not mainstream. And you mentioned that BJJ is an immersive culture, as are many nerd subcultures as well, and I think that’s not a coincidence. I think that folks that get passionate about certain aspects of cultural experience, there is a particular personality type that is drawn to that. For some of us, that may be Doctor Who or comic books. It may be science fiction or ren faires or Dungeons and Dragons. Or martial arts history. It’s different for everybody, but it’s kind of cool to see the two parts of my world that are important to me fold in on themselves.

Even the way we express ourselves in martial arts, like the patches on our gis that we select to represent our affiliations, is very similar to what you’d see at Comic-Con.
Absolutely. It’s almost like cosplay, but functional.

The Tardis rashguard is particulary appropriate because the Doctor himself is a martial artist.
Exactly. It just seemed perfect. The Doctor knows Venusian Aikido, which we know from the Third Doctor, and is also a practitioner of Amtorian Jiu Jitsu, which we know from the books. 

Part of what I love about Doctor Who is it mirrors jiu-jitsu in a certain way. With jiu-jitsu, there’s always more to learn. You’re never going to learn all the infinite, myriad positions that we can get into when fighting jiu-jitsu and, with the Doctor, there’s sort of this broad swath of culture that exists even beyond all the televised programs that you can continue to explore.

I was also thinking that Doctor Who can be used as a metaphor for BJJ. Jiu-jitsu is always jiu-jitsu, but each instructor brings his or her own personality, quirks, and vision to it as well, much like each actor does to each incarnation of the Doctor.
For sure. I’ve given this a lot of thought, too. And this speaks to me personally. Even before I’d heard of jiu-jitsu, part of what I love about the Doctor mythos is the concept of reinvention. As someone that has reinvented himself numerous times but maintained certain core values, I sort of see that in the Doctor character. The Doctor encompasses this deep compassion, this wisdom, darkness, all of these various traits, but each manifestation is different from personality perspective, emphasis perspective, and such.

No geeky conversation is complete without a question like this: Say there was a martial arts tournament featuring all of the Doctors. Who would win based on his skills?
To be clear, I am excluding the War Doctor for various reasons. But I think we’d have to go with top five just based on physicality.

Starting from the top would be John Pertwee, the Third Doctor, the practitioner of Venusian Aikido. He would certainly have the most skill. And his incarnation of the Doctor was very much more of an action hero than other incarnations of the Doctor. 

I think number two would be the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, who started his tenure as the Doctor by putting his companion, Peri, in a choke hold. Not a good one. Not a strictly technical one.

He was regenerating at the time.
Exactly. Regeneration sickness and such.

From there it gets murky. I would put the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, third because he had more of the gritty, realistic Doctor aspect and he seemed ... he was more willing, at least at first, to commit violence, including torturing a Dalek to death.

I would put Fourth Doctor Tom Baker fourth. He could probably get a serious gi choke game going with his scarf. But also I just recently rewatched an episode where he snapped a dude’s neck, which you rarely see the Doctor do.

And, this will be a controversial pick, but I would put Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith fifth. And here’s why: Matt Smith’s Doctor, who’s one of my favorite Doctors, strikes a number of different notes, from twee and goofy to dark. I think Matt Smith’s Doctor is someone who would use all of the tools at his disposal in order to get the job done. Part of the lesson of jiu-jitsu is that there are a lot of different ways to get the job done and there are a lot of different tools to achieve an objective. For me, that’s what the Matt Smith Doctor is about.

You have taken Amtorian Jiu Jitsu completely out of the running, there.
Oh no! I’ve got to rethink that now. Feel free to ... yeah ... my whole intellectual scheme has fallen through.  If I recall correctly, the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant didn’t he get the purple belt but ...

He was waiting for the test, which could arrive at any time, for his puce belt.
Yes! There you go. So let’s see... Tenth Doctor... so if we’re basing it purely on skills then I’d have to slot him at number two and bump Baker down.

In the blurb for the Tardis rashguard, you’re described as “a big fan of the BBC” in general, not just a Whovian. Does that mean that you might design more BBC-themed rashguards in the future?
I hadn’t considered that, but I would absolutely love it. I’m a Sherlock fan.

Which would also be appropriate because of baritsu
Oh, for real!

Are there fandoms that you’d like to represent to design gear for? I would love a rashguard that celebrates the Bene Gesserit Weirding Way
If you name any kind of nerd culture, chances are that I’ve at least dipped my toe in it. My antennae are extended very high in that sense. Me and my friend were kicking around ideas for ranked rashguards, and about half of my ideas were geeky. 

To give you some examples for the nerdy rashguards, we thought about Galdalf the White for white belts. On one hand, that’s awesome; on the other hand, you don’t necessarily want to encourage white belts to make “You shall not pass” jokes.

And then we had the blue belt TARDIS. We didn’t settle on a purple. Someone suggested Mace Windu’s purple lightsaber from Star Wars but we didn’t settle on that. For the brown belt, we were thinking Brown Coats because Firefly’s awesome. And the black belt, the obvious answer is Darth Vader, but there’s so many other potentials that I hadn’t settled on that, either.

And of course monster movies, like Godzilla. Godzilla vs Gamera was the only one where all of us at Toro went, “Yeah, that could really be fun.” Don’t trust anyone that doesn’t like Gamera.

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