Because wardrobe is important.
Fade in, you’re entering your local grappling club to get your grapple on. It’s a typical Thursday evening, it’s a mild 75 degrees outside and you haven’t a care in the world. That is until you see the new guy. He’s stepping out of his car in the parking lot and something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. You can’t tell if he got dressed in the dark or if he hired Stevie Wonder to pick out his training gear. He’s wearing a rashguard with skulls, wings, and everything else that Ed Hardy produced in the early 2000s, with this he’s wearing completely clashing neon yellow shorts speckled with lightening bolts. He’s decided to top all this off with leggings that have an angry baboon on them. He looks sort of like ‘The Hot Topic’ vomited all over him. This poor, lost soul is an absolute train wreck. Blissfully unaware of the fact that he looks like Jered Leto’s Joker from Suicide Squad, he waives to you. Pretending you don’t know him, you slowly turn away.
“How did this even happen?”
The newbie is the victim of a fairly common pitfall for new grapplers. He’s fallen into the “individual item purchase” trap. For the purposes of clarity, let’s name this newbie “Newb McNewGuy.” He’s Scottish, and it’s a family name. It all started when Newb felt self conscious about continuing to come in to class training in his ratty “Getting Lucky in Kentuky” t shirt and the ill fitting swimming trunks he purchased 5 years ago while he was on vacation. He sees all the advanced guys wearing grappling specific compression gear, so he goes online and checks out what’s reasonably priced. Then something terrible happens: The HQ is having it’s rolling deals weekend. He literally exclaims out loud: “At these prices, I can’t afford NOT to buy stretchy pants!!!” Newb then purchases a couple of tops, some spats, and a few pairs of shorts. Each of these items looks great by itself, but just as you learned in second grade when you tried mixing cole slaw and chocolate pudding, mixing together two great things doesn’t always make a better thing.
When people genuinely can’t tell if you’re dressed for a No Gi class or a Lucha Libre Cosplay convention, it’s time to reevaluate your life.
No joke, this is a serious problem for new guys. To be fair it’s not all Newb’s fault. There’s really no procedure for what you should or shouldn’t wear to a grappling class. It’s not like the government sends out pamphlets on how to do this correctly…. though they probably should. The modern trend in grappling wear is very colorful, compression gear with lots of cartoons on them. While this is fun and whimsical (and god help me, I am a huge fan of whimsy) you don’t want to end up looking like a Finish circus performer on laundry day. Also, after Newb finally realizes he has bungled his initial series of purchases, he also comes to another harsh truth of this uncaring world: he’s blown half of his paycheck on gear, but now he has to spend even more money on expensive gear just so he won’t look like a total clown.
So what to do? Where should a new guy get started? Don’t worry, your Crabby Uncle Lavvy has got you covered. The cure for the tatami fashion police is what I’ve started calling the grappling ‘starter pack’. Lucky for you, dear reader, this system is easy to follow and hard to mess up. As Shakespear once said: “Brevity is the Soul of Whit” Another translation of that phrase is “Quit wasting Crabby Lavvy’s time….” So without further ado, my two decades in mat sports have all lead up to this… Purchase the following:
2x Rash Guards, All Black, Long Sleeve or 3/4 Sleeve. As few Logos as possible
2x Fight Shorts, all Black or black with dark trim, stretch panel in crotch. As few Logos as possible
2x Tights/Spats, all black. Full length. As few Logos as possible
For serious. That’s it. Genius sometimes runs to simplicity. Now here’s what new guys don’t understand: Buying new grappling gear will slowly become your weird, unstoppable hobby. It is a hobby absolutely rife with tons of impulse buys. You’ll end up purchasing all sorts of weird looking orange octopus pants, but not until after your credit card has been charged will you stop and ask yourself “what goes with orange octopus pants?”. The answer is Black. Black goes with everything. When you get those Anubis shorts, are you really about to pair them with your polka dot rashguard? The all black outfits are your jumping off point for what will become an ever increasing wardrobe of goofy looking stuff. Pairing is important, and the all black outfits will leave you with something that matches your new piece of apparel at all times.
Rashguard: Something very important to keep in mind is the vast majority of MMA/BJJ schools use Swain Tatame 1m x 2m mats. Most schools that don’t use Swain use a knock off, copy cat brand. While I prefer mat covers myself, the Swain mats make tons of sense for school owners. They are easy to replace and they are preposterously easy to move if your school needs to change location. The swain mats are excellent, however they have some pretty serious grip to them. Grip is basically measuring where the texture of the mat falls. Mat texture runs anywhere between slippery as ice and rough as sand paper. It’s a catch 22, too smooth and the second people start sweating the mat feels like it’s covered in butter, almost impossible to stand on. However too textured and the mat is literally ripping the skin off peoples elbows and knees in horrific chunks. The swain mats in 90% of gyms offer a good balance, but definitely land on the higher grip side of things. This is a huge benefit when you’re driving for a guard pass or getting traction while chasing that takedown, but isn’t so great when your bare elbow is being raked across the cheese-grater like mat surface at high speeds. The main point of wearing a rashguard is to avoid elbow burn and if you don’t wear your rash guard…… THERE WILL BE MAT BURN. Hence the long sleeves. Short sleeved Rashguards don’t protect your elbows, and are thus about as useful as nothing at all. (I do wear short sleeved rashguards for kickboxing.) A big drawback to long sleeved rashguards is that both you and your opponent will both spend a lot of time firmly grabbing your wrist.With a rash gurad covering your wrist the sleeve will constantly be getting pulled and stretched and even tear. This is a great way to ruin an expensive piece of equipment. You want your wrists exposed but your elbows covered, making the 3/4 sleeve length to your benefit. You can also just get a long sleeve rashguard and hike it half way up your forearm (you’re basically making capris for your arms)
Spats: The function of spats/tights can be explained by taking the above paragraph and swapping out the words “arm” for “leg” and “elbow” for “knee”. The only difference being you don’t want 3/4 length leg spats (your ankles will be grabbed infinitely less often then your wrists). 3/4 spats look weird, and will give you embarrassing tan lines. Remember that sizing for spats has more to do with thigh and calf diameter than it does the actual length of your leg. Even if you are 5’6″ with short legs, if you never miss squatt day, you may have to purchase large sized spats.
Shorts: The need for stretch material in shorts should seem obvious, but make sure you get something with a stretch panel in the groin area, or 4 way stretch material all over. Try to get something that covers the velcro area near the belly button, exposed velcro here tends to scratch your stomach something fierce.
Lastly, get yourself a groin protector, mouthpiece, and some ear guards and you’re good to go.
Long story short, just as Cobra Kai figured out in the 80s, whether you’re the tannest autumn or the pastiest ginger, black looks good on everybody.