Tattooing from the Ground Up–Interview with Kurt Osiander

Kurt Osiander is a beloved figure in the sport and lifestyle of Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, known for his insightful and colorful instructional videos and his classic catchphrases like “Shut up and Train.” Earning his black belt from the legendary Ralph Gracie in 2003, Kurt went on to a successful MMA career and is currently head instructor at Ralph Gracie’s San Francisco Academy. Spending between 12 and 15 hours at the Academy on most days, got to talk to Kurt about what’s currently been the focus of the small pockets of downtime he has between his many BJJ classes. Always hungry for new challenges, Kurt has undertaken another journey of ten thousand hours and is learning the art of tattooing from the ground up.

Kurt Osiander - Photo Courtesy of Kurt and MMA Video Magazine

Kurt Osiander – Photo Courtesy of Kurt and MMA Video Magazine

LovatoBJJ: Kurt, What came first for you tattoos or jiu jitsu?

Kurt Osiander: Getting tattooed started happening early for me because I was in a speed metal band and I started getting tattooed. Thank God the guys at Seventh Son covered up the bullshit I had with really fine art work. I’ve always like tattoos and getting tattooed. It just happened that my guys and my upper level guys like a bunch of them are my blue belts and white belts right now, but I have two black belts that are really really accomplished tattoo artists over there at Seventh Son, Luke Stewart and Joey Armstrong. So, you know, I got lucky, they always wanted to, they were always like ‘Hey, we could tattoo you,’ and I was like ‘alright, well go ahead.’ I eventually will be covered in tattoos.

LovatoBJJ: What was your first and most important tattoo?

Kurt: Let’s see at blue belt I got one of the coolest tattoos ever from a friend of mine Troy Denning who’s a good friend of the guys. And he’s in New York right now at Invisible Tattoo. He’s like ‘hey man, let’s get you a tattoo and I was like ‘ok, man I got my blue belt and I want to get a jiu jitsu Predator’ so he did a Predator on my arm that’s in a gi.

LovatoBJJ: How do you know the time is right for a new tattoo? Do you wait for special moments or when the mood strikes you?

Kurt: Totally, like when I got blue belt I did my Predator. At purple I got this one that is a pitbull inside of a triangle that says Team Gracie in Portuguese. And then at brown belt I got the Academy logo on my back without anything else so it looked like a tramp stamp, but then when I got my black belt, one of my other guys tattooed my dragon on there holding the emblem like it was bursting into flames, so I have really really nice, high-quality tattoos and I’m really happy about that.

Kurt Osiander - Photo courtesy of Kurt and MMA Video Magazine

Kurt Osiander – Photo courtesy of Kurt and MMA Video Magazine

LovatoBJJ: What parallels do you see between the arts of tattooing and jiu jitsu?

Kurt: Yeah it’s definitely about being stubborn and sticking to it. And it’s about training everyday, you know what I’m saying, a little or a lot, you’ve got to do it everyday.

LovatoBJJ: How do you think tattooing affects your jiu jitsu?

It’s totally cool because I’m surrounded by violence all the time, and I like it. This is a nice little creative break that I get to change the channel in my brain and do something creative and cool. I think it’s really cool because I get to learn something new, I get to be creative, and it lets me relax my brain away from jiu jitsu, otherwise I’ll just think about moves all the time, you know what I’ms saying?

LovatoBJJ: As someone who describes himself as a ‘blue belt’ in this artistic journey of tattooing with four years invested, which do you think is going to be the harder journey jiu jitsu or tattooing?

Kurt: The jiu jitsu is definitely more physically taxing and the art is a lot more mental. There’s so much that goes into art that I thought, you know I used to doodle a lot and draw some cool stuff and everything, but now that I’m being taught correct composition, light source, shading all that stuff, like no you can’t put that color with this color. There’s all kinds of other rules and etiquette and stuff I have to learn, but I definitely feel as far as mentally and physically taxing, jiu jitsu was way harder and now this art stuff is definitely more mental. You know I have to think a lot more about how I’m going to draw this. It’s easy to like draw the exact same thing and they’re like ‘it’s cool, you’re drawing the drawing as it was, but now we want you to add your flair to it’ which then you have to kind of dig into yourself and figure out how you want to be creative right? It’s really cool.

LovatoBJJ: When you think of your students who are also tattoo artists, do you notice anything that sets them apart from the average student who walks in?

Kurt: Yeah, their jiu jitsu is really really creative and they learn faster.

LovatoBJJ: Do you attribute that to how their minds work with their art?

Kurt: Exactly, I think that absolutely has to do with it. It’s just like musicians. Musicians pick of jiu jitsu really fast too and I think it’s because their brain is more loose. And so it makes more sense to them because they’re using all of their appendages. They have to have more than one thought at the same time when your training, so I think that because their brain is wired for creativity, I believe that’s why they have an easier time learning jiu jitsu.

LovatoBJJ: What’s your favorite style or theme for tattoos?

Kurt: I really like Frazetta. I don’t know if you know who Frank Frazetta is but it’s like very detailed, hot naked chicks with swords (laughs). That’s gonna be my favorite kind of style, but what Luke’s got me doing right now is, I was doing a lot of Japanese style and right now I’m doing a lot of traditional American tattoo. That’s the old traditional stuff, I really like doing it because it’s cool and I can put a little flair on it and the color palette is really limited, because they didn’t have that many colors in the old days. That’s why it’s such a limited palette to doing traditional. That’s why when you see a traditional tattoo that’s a little bit too colorful, that’s what makes it wrong, so this is what I’m learning everyday. They’re like “No, Kurt you can’t use that color with that, it didn’t exist back then.” So that’s what I’ve been doing lately. A new sheet (flash sheet) should be up next week because I’m almost finished shading it and then I’m going to color it and I have enough material that I’ve been drawing and my drawing and process of creating new stuff is accelerated now. It used to take me a long time. But now I can put out a few drawings each day which is really cool.

Kurt Osiander Flash Sheet - Photo Courtesy of Kurt Osiander

Kurt Osiander Flash Sheet – Photo Courtesy of Kurt Osiander

LovatoBJJ: What happens when you, Kurt Osiander run out of real estate for tattoos on your own body?

Kurt: Those guys at the shop, they have pretty much closed out everything on their body. I don’t know what’s going to happen when that happens. I’m gonna have to start tattooing the guys at the Academy (laughs).

LovatoBJJ: What do you think of the various tattoo television shows?

Kurt: Yes, I watch Tattoo Nightmares and I watch Ink Master. Otherwise the only things I watch are the History Channel, or Vikings, or Game of Thrones. The tattoo shows are cool but they really get some scrubbish people on their. They get guys who think they’re black belts, right but that’s the thing. The same thing happens in our sport, this guy all of a sudden pops up with a black belt and you’re like ‘who the fuck is that guy?’ All you have to do is put on a black belt and say you’re a black belt, but then you’ve got to back it up. The same thing goes for tattooing, these guys go on the show there and then you see how shitty they are and you can see the guys who are really qualified and stand out. I like watching them because I see all kinds of atrocities and I run into the tattoo parlor here and I’m like “Dude did you see and they’re like we fucking hate those shows, Kurt, why do you watch them?” So I can ask you guys questions.

Samurai Death Mask drawing by Kurt Osiander - Photo courtesy of Kurt Osiander

Samurai Death Mask drawing by Kurt Osiander – Photo courtesy of Kurt Osiander

LovatoBJJ: What are your thoughts on coverups and removals?

Kurt: It depends on the severity of the mistake that was left on your body. If it’s just lines, then it gets lasered and it gets really dull, but if you’re left with a pile of shit on your body, you’re gonna have to go for a coverup and I see the guys doing that everyday.

LovatoBJJ: Have you ever inspired anyone to get a tattoo?

Kurt: I think the guys kind of follow the leader. Eventually guys will come up to me and say hey Kurt I’m thinking of getting a tattoo and I’m like alright since you’re getting your first tattoo you’re going to go to some really good guys. They’re a lot more lucky than I was. We just walked into a parlor and we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. Luckily I can point them in a good direction to a few really quality tattoo studios in the city and in Berkely. So if anyone wants to get a tattoo, I know exactly where to send you.

LovatoBJJ: Do you know of any Kurt Osiander tattoos, either your image or one of your catch phrases?

Kurt: No, I hope not. (Laughs). I’d be like no fucking way. A catch phrase maybe, but my face, holy shit, bro. That would be something else.

Kurt Osiander - Photo Courtesy of Kurt Osiander

Kurt Osiander – Photo Courtesy of Kurt Osiander

LovatoBJJ: What’s new from a jiu jitsu perspective? Any new KO Finisher tournaments in the works?

Kurt: Yeah, I’m going to be doing one in Canada (city to be determined). I’m going to go up and host it. And we’re going to do another one in here in SF this year and I think this year it’s going to blow up. I’m going to put a half-pipe, jiu jitsu and a DJ so that it’s fucking going to be way more fun and a lot of shit going on.

LovatoBJJ: Any last thoughts for your fans or jiu jitsu followers?

Kurt: Everybody just keep training. I’m really liking that the sport is super increasing here in the United States. Eventually we’re going to take over the sport and create a lot of world champions because our work ethic is quite brutal over here. We’ve got physical preparation, we have the right coaches, and dedication so I think in the future we’re going to see a lot out of the United States.

LovatoBJJ: Any sponsors you’d like to give a shout out to?

Kurt: Shoyoroll kimonos, Biorhythmn, Q5 use my code to get a discount “Go Train” and Porrada Fight Gear.

LovatoBJJ: Kurt, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today. Good luck in your new journey and we hope to talk to you again soon.

1 Comment

  • Bryan

    April 6, 2015

    Howdy, Just checking how the eneirts are done. Is it just let you know beforehand and bring cash on the day or is there another way to pay? By the way im currently weighing 67.6 kgs, blue belt and over 30 (just).I dont mind making up numbers with regards to weight or age if needed.