Jiu Jitsu Times EXCLUSIVE Interview: Mike Dytri of Ludwig Van and Creative Director of Storm Kimonos

Jiu-jitsu has become a culture in and of itself, and this has resulted in some interesting phenomena, including the rise of people who contribute to the culture off the mat.  A while back, I came across a very interesting company: Ludwig Van.  Ludwig Van is a street-wear company that frequently features fight culture themes.

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This company was started by a gentleman by the name of Mike Dytri, a Chris Haueter black belt.  When I did a bit of research about Mike, I found out that he has been involved in designing a lot of the gear we wear.  His work has been featured by many different brands throughout our community.

His work can also be seen on Japanese MMA stars, black belt world champions, and icons of our sport.  For this reason, I thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more about this behind-the-scenes icon of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

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For starters, in order to understand Mike’s innate ability to produce products that really embody the martial arts, one needs to understand his deep background, which lends him legitimacy and a true understanding of the martial spirit:

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“My background in martial arts is karate (kyokushin style) judo, (kodokan style) and iado/kendo (toyama-ryu). I started out imitating Bruce Lee (like most kids in the 70’s) and I had a best friend at the time named Joey and we watched Enter The Dragon every single day after school from the 5th grade until about the 7th grades. Needless to say, I knew every single bit of dialogue from that film inside and out. I can still recite major passages to this day. Man, everything was amazing about that film from the introduction to MMA to the cool *** Jim Kelly to the incredible sound score by Lalo Schifrin. That movie changed the trajectory of my life.

I started karate when I was 9, judo when I was 13, received a black belt in both by the time I was 20. I wrestled all through high school, placed second in MI at state championships my freshman and junior years. Walked on to the MI State wrestling team but dropped out to accept an art scholarship to PIT in Phoenix.

I moved to California in 1990.  I actually lived in Japan from 1991-1992 while training at the Kodokan and working at an Izakaya in the evenings. While there, I had 2 amateur Shooto fights.  I have been in CA ever since. In 1998 a friend from wrestling introduced me to Frank Shamrock and he told me to go see Rico Chiaparrelli at the rAw gym in El Segundo. It was only 10 minutes from my house, as I was living in Redondo Beach at the time. I trained there with the team from 2000 –2006 and mostly focused on the boxing and stand-up part of my game as the grappling base was pretty solid. I fought in smokers, amateur Shooto, and went to Japan for professional Shooto in 2003. I continued to train with pros here in LA, consistently in camps for guys fighting at 135/145 and was basically a professional sparring partner from 2005-2010. Having my own graphic design business allowed me the freedom to have a loose schedule and basically train during the mid-day, and I’d work in the early hours and evenings.

By this time, I was already approaching 40 years old and once I had my daughter, I quit the hard sparring (I was beginning to feel the effects of too many rounds) so I switched to teaching MMA at PKG in Westwood for about year and a half [from] 2012 – 2013. In 2013, Kaia was born and I decided to focus all my training on jiu-jitsu. My friend introduced me to Chris Haueter and I’ve been training at the Combat Base since 2013. Chris and I hit it off really well and he welcomed me into the “garage” (only after torturing me the first night for a long 60 minutes straight along with one of his purple belts named Wes. They both strangled the crap out of me) – This made me hungry to learn the gi game and I was eager to figure it our. 

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I’ve competed and won at the Masters level at purple and received my brown belt in 2014, and recently received my black belt! That’s my sole focus, not BJJ (or as I call it Kodo Judo).  I saw my first Pride FC show in 1999 and have been to eight Pride FC’s, including the 2005 HW Grand Prix which was epic. I’m so happy to have experienced the golden era of MMA/Pride FC – what an incredible experience!”

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Mike has become entrenched in designing and producing fine streetwear and gear that often has MMA and jiu-jitsu overtones.  I was interested to learn how he got into that industry and where exactly he’s heading with it…

“I had always been naturally inclined with drawing since I was a kid.  I used to copy all of my older cousins art off of album covers, draw Indians, etc. I started a brand in 1995 called Sub Freakie. It was a sub division of a film project that I had been working on with a buddy called Freakie Pig. We made a movie called Life Is Nice.

Anyhow, I started to push it at the ASR tradeshow and get some pro surfers and skaters to wear it and it was picked up at Union in NY and LA. From there I met Rick at Fresh Jive and did all the graphics from 96-97.  I sold Sub Freakie to an Italian company that was owned by LVMH in 2003 and then I started Ludwig Van with a friend in 2007, and it’s been going ever since.  

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We parted ways in 2010, and I’ve been doing it solo. I own 100% of the company. My friend Ed Soares introduced me to the owner of Adidas Combat Sports in 2012 and I was the creative director of the division from 2013-2015.  I currently handle the creative direction for Storm Kimonos (again met the owner through Ed Soares who I’ve known for about 20 years.)

Through all of the people in the world of MMA I’ve known there is a large cross-over into the jiu-jitsu world and Mike Velez from Jiu-Jitsu Magazine is one of those people. He let me design and create a cover featuring Clark Gracie, since at the time I was overseeing the Adidas division, and it was a natural fit.  I really like the way the cover came out. The photo was taken by a longtime friend and fashion photographer Richie Knapp.”

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Speaking of Storm, Mike has big things in store for the brand

“I’ve got a cool limited run collab[oration] with Fairtex (Ludwig Van x Fairtex). It’s going to be awesome.  Gloves, wraps, tanks and caps, or maybe a towel. I’ve developed an entire casual range of tee’s, hoody’s, caps, and crews for Storm Kimonos all made here in LA. It’s a ground-breaking development and Storm will be the first brand to have and actual lifestyle range that is on the level with anything you will see in a Nordstrom department store, so it’s really exciting. It drops this Holiday!”

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To the untrained eye, Mike’s brand may not look like it has anything to do with jiu-jitsu or MMA, but at a closer glance this is certainly not the case.  Not only is the brand represented by many big names in the sport, but it constantly comes out with products that have anything from subtle references to the sport to actually producing fight gear.

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“After selling my first company, Subfreakie, in 2003, I had been out of the street wear/apparel game for a while just focusing on my design service. I started to miss having a platform to express my ideas [and] creative energy, and sometimes it gets a little stale when you give all of that to clients (regardless of how well they pay), and I basically got the itch to get back in.

So, in 2007, I felt I had a solid concept with Ludwig Van and since I’ve always been an avid listener to classical music, I thought that Beethoven could provide rich territory for me to play with. I mean he composed the most famous four notes in musical history, and he composed his greatest work while deaf.  He couldn’t hear what his rivals were doing, what was “popular” at the time; he just blazed his own trail.

So, that’s the basis on which the brand is rooted. Don’t listen to what others are doing, play your own music, march to your own drum. Everything else is noise.  Moving into 2017 I’m working on a select collaboration of vintage remake with my sister company Vintage Outfitter as well as a couple of special collaboration projects. I’ve got some things in development with Fairtex, Vans and possibly G-SHOCK. More Ludwig Van apparel development and more art inspired t-shirt graphics.”

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Mike’s main message for the jiu-jitsu community at large:

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“Enjoy Choke.”

Mike had a few shout-outs and thank yous to issue:

“Thank you to Chris Haueter at Combat Base and all of the fellow training partners at the “Garage” Combat Base. It’s the best environment and I couldn’t have landed in a better home for my jiu-jitsu experience. Thank you to all of the people who support Ludwig Van. It’s truly a passionate endeavor and I put my blood, sweat, and tears into it.”

Mike will be running a special over at Ludwig Van for Black Friday. Make sure you check out www.ludwigvantheman.com and use discount code BlackFriday.  If you miss out on that, you can always use my discount code: FAMILY.

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Emil Fischer is an active brown belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio (www.strongstyle.com) and teaching at Ground Up BJJ (http://mpcle.com/class/ground-up-bjj/.) For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj www.twitter.com/Emil_Fischer and https://instagram.com/emilfischerbjj/. Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (www.Meerkatsu.com, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, Cleveland Cryo (www.clevelandcryo.net discount code EmilCryo,) NottaRookie, The Terphouse (www.TheTerphouse.com, used discount code COOKIES), Trap And Roll Soap Company (www.trapandrollsoap.com discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards (www.impactmouthguards.com discount code EMILIMPACT), North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear, as well as a brand ambassador for Ludwig Van (www.ludwigvantheman.com discount code FAMILY) and Vanguard Kimono.
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