BJJ Black Belt Brings Jiu-Jitsu To All Of Your Favorite Cartoons

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Who doesn’t love the combination of BJJ and cartoons? During my time in BJJ, I have found many practitioners who grew up reading comic books, drawing, and dreaming of being an artist. Christopher Ong, a BJJ black belt based in London has combined his passion for Brazilian jiu-jitsu and art to create BJJ themed cartoons that are both fun and humorous. He posts his work on his Instagram account, Ongy84, which is regularly updated with whimsical BJJ art featuring the Simpsons, Scooby Doo, South Park, and Disney characters and quotes. I recently had the chance to pick Christopher’s brain to learn more about his background in both BJJ and art.

What is your full time gig and what is you day-to-day job like?

I work in corporate sales managing the performance of brands across different retailers.  I stumbled into the profession when trying to find a sales/marketing role after graduating from university and have been doing it ever since.  Thus far, I have worked solely for Fast Moving Consumable Goods (FMCG) companies, including Pepsico, Lindt Chocolate, Johnson & Johnson and currently Tetley Tea, where I currently manage its business with its biggest customer, Tesco.  My job isn’t rocket science, although it can be quite high pressured at times when chasing sales/profit targets and during tough negotiations with Buyers!

Were you always an artist and did you ever have any professional art gigs?

My earliest memories as a child were of my parents cultivating my interest in art by sitting me down with a blank sheet of paper and challenging me to draw different objects and people.  I can’t remember with any clarity now but apparently I was obsessed with drawing comic strips of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Street Fighter characters as a boy.  I just seemed to have a natural affinity for it.

Consequently art became one of my favorite subjects at school and I formally studied it up until the age of 18, focusing mainly on painting and sculpture.  I lost touch with it when I went to university and started my career, although I would always get an itch at least twice a year to draw or paint.

It has only been in the last two years, due to my curiosity in Instagram, that I decided to pick up pencil and fine liners with any purpose.  My sister is actually a professional shoe designer and she introduced me to some of the basics behind digital art and I started tentatively sharing art on social media.  My page hardly attracted anyone at first, although my art seemed to really attract followers last year and it has grown beyond my wildest expectations.  As a result of this I have done some recent commission work, although I do try to limit this as I prefer to draw things which inspire me.    

Lots of BJJ guys, including myself, are comic book, cartoon, and sci-fi geeks that drew a lot growing up.  Have you ever had any aspirations to be a professional animator or comic book artist? If so, what would your dream job be as an artist?

Cartoons and video games define some of my fondest memories growing up.  Excerpts of music from Final Fantasy 7 are more nostalgic to me than any pop songs of the time and I remember being so inspired from watching Dragonball Z on Cartoon Network, too! In spite of my interest in art, I had never considered seriously taking it up as a career.  I did come to a cross-road when choosing between and Art or Law course for university.  However, I chose to venture down what I considered at the time to be the more academic path and I can’t say I regret it. It’s sad to say but I actually enjoy creating and analyzing spreadsheets almost as much as drawing!  

In terms of my dream job as an artist I think that it would be to draw a comic strip for a newspaper. I’ve actually dabbled with animation recently and whilst it is rewarding when you see the final result, it is incredibly painstaking so I’m not sure that I would have the patience to do that full time!

How did you come up with meshing classic cartoon and pop culture characters with BJJ?

Over the years I’ve always had ideas regarding some popular comic book characters – particularly Spider Man for Spider Guard and an X-Men X-Guard concept.  However, I never felt the inclination or had the confidence to draw my initial ideas.  It also seemed as though the trends in BJJ and MMA were very much aligned to tattoo art, with the popularity of Affliction and Tapout brands being reflective of this.  Therefore for years I stored away any ideas I had to myself.

As mentioned previously, at the end of 2015, I got the itch to draw again and started sharing some of my art on Instagram.  The initial response to my art seemed tepid and I just continued as a means of trying to improve with a new digital medium.  However, when I drew a jiu-jitsu adaptation of Leonardo’s Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man in February 2016 and it went viral on Instagram and Facebook it assured me that my ideas were gaining some traction within the community.  It was initially annoying that people just reposted my art without crediting me, although it was encouraging to see a lot of positivity from comments and shares.  A month later I created a Dragonball Z design with Goku’s different Super Saiyan transformations in relation to the BJJ belt rankings and a similar thing happened again, which further bolstered my confidence!

Initially I limited most of my designs to superhero comic book characters, although last year I decided to focus a bit more on really popular cartoons like the Simpsons and Family Guy.  I guess due to the popularity of those shows, these designs seemed to really resonate with the community and before I knew it followers were flocking to my page! Broadening my scope to more TV shows and cartoons also allowed for more creativity in my art.

Can you walk us through the process of coming up with an idea, picking characters for your pieces and writing the copy and dialogue? Consider the Scooby Doo 10th Planet and Homerplata with Grimey as an example.

What I have discovered over the last twelve months is that the most popular art projects I’ve done are those which are highly relatable and have a sense of humour to them.  I have a list of ideas in the Notes pages of my iPhone that I can update quickly when I have a brainwave.  It seems strange now but the first time I ever thought of drawing a Simpsons design was actually laughing to myself thinking about the way Jeff Glover aptly named his Deep Half Guard “Homer Simpson Sweep”.  I just drew out the idea and shared it on Instagram and surprisingly to me it garnered a very positive response. Shortly after, I drew up a Lion King design of Garry Tonon heel-hooking Mufasa in front of Simba and it was a real buzz to see him repost it on his page!

From there I just thought about other potential cartoon/ jiu-jitsu amalgams and committed as many as I could to paper! In terms of the process for my art, it is naturally fuelled by the creativity in the BJJ community itself with the constant evolution and development of new positions, sweeps and submissions, as well as the other sub-cultural trends across different systems and rule sets.  Whilst I’m not a 10th Planet student, I love the way that they have named different positions within their system, as it has given me a wealth of options for wordplay in my art.  Keenan Cornelius is also equally creative with his worm, crab, mantis and squid guards. From there, I then personally pick what I think to be the most appropriate cartoon character/ personality and execute the idea as best as I can!  

I should also mention that I’ve received some great ideas from some of my followers too!

How long does each piece take to create from concept to finished art?

I always start by pencil sketching and inking by hand in an A3 sketchpad.  Depending on the complexity of the concept the time this can take to complete can range from anywhere between 45 minutes to a few hours.  I then take a high resolution picture on my iPhone and transfer it to digital software for colouring.  Similarly the duration of completing this will vary significantly depending on complexity of the project, although more often than not, colouring digitally is quicker than the hand drawn sketch.  Thankfully I have an understanding girlfriend who is supportive of my interest and isn’t fazed when I ask her to take some odd photos of me as reference for some of my drawings! To that point if it is a more intricate project, I will often spread out the process in piecemeal fashion over a couple of days.  It is very rare for me to sit for hours on end just focussing on a specific project – I don’t have the concentration required for that!   

Where do you train, how long have you been training and what is your rank?

I train at Andy Roberts’ BJJ Academy in England, located roughly 35 miles from London.  Andy is a 2nd degree black belt under Roger Gracie and Mauricio Gomes and I have trained at his academy for 8 years since blue belt.  He has also done some judging for the UFC.  In total I have trained for 12 years, having started at university and I was fortunate enough to be awarded my black belt by Andy last month.

How has training BJJ improved your life physically, mentally, and artistically?

BJJ has had a hugely positive impact on my life.  From a physical stand point I had mild asthma growing up and training BJJ has significantly improved my physical fitness.  Of course I’ve had my fair share of injuries over the years –– a torn meniscus, broken ribs, fingers, and toes to name a few –– but it has been worth it for the all of the other benefits!

Mentally, it has improved my self-esteem and it has kept me humble and grounded.  I’m confident that I can look after myself in a self-defence situation, although I’m also acutely aware that there are levels of jiu-jitsu practitioners and there plenty of people out there who can easily kick the crap out of me (many of whom I train with each week)! My instructor, Andy, really encourages his students to consume as much knowledge as possible and I think that my personal study of BJJ has changed my way of thinking in other areas of life.  In the same way that I might favour one guard pass over another dependent on my style and body-type, I find myself applying the same core principles to problem-solving in my career.  

Of course, artistically the support from the community on Instagram has been overwhelming over the last year! It has allowed me to connect with so many amazing people that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

I noticed you have a t-shirt shop to sell your designs on your Facebook page. What are the challenges you have faced in growing that side of the business and where do you ultimately want the business to become for you? Will you start making sales in the USA?

With regards to what is in store for the future of my page, I want to keep on creating and sharing art that inspires me and engages the community.  I have some ideas potentially for more original art projects, some ambitious short animated GIF projects and it would be great to perhaps partner on a project with a brand should they want to enlist my services! Ultimately I want to keep a continual and open dialogue with the community via my cartoons and continue to connect with more people going forwards.  I love it when people give me feedback on my page and I always make an effort to reply to people where possible.  

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