Art within art: exploring the meaning of body art in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Johnson, Braydon Russell
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When watching combat athletes step into the arena, a spectator is likely to notice that many fighters are adorned with body art. In recent years, tattoos in sports have been investigated to determine if they provide a direct advantage in athletic performance, but otherwise, this particular intersection has been sparsely researched. This study engages with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) athletes to explore the relationship between fighters and their tattoos. The participation criteria required athletes to be 18 years or older, have achieved at least a purple belt in the sport, and have a tattoo. The participants consisted of 5 men between the ages of 25 to 37 years of age. Four participants were black belts (approx. ten years of experience), and the other participant was a purple belt (approx. four years of experience). The study used in-depth interviews guided by phenomenological principles. The analysis also included a combination of interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) to analyze the contents of the interviews, a personal journal for the bracketing process, and photos of participant tattoos. Results indicate that these BJJ athletes share meaning in the following three ways: First, for active competitors, specific tattoos symbolize personifications of internal feelings and abilities that are seemingly helpful to athlete performance; and they are meant to purposefully convey an augmented sense of toughness to appear more imposing. Second, most athletes reported that the most common tattoos in BJJ commemorate the sport's influence on the athlete's sense of self. Third, the relationships that competitive athletes' have with their tattoos reveal that non-BJJ-related tattoos took on additional meaning relating to their practice of BJJ.