MORALE AND ANCIENT ARMOR
Our challenge here was to better the GRX1’s patch. A patch designed by Dan Matsuda and laser engraved by Marc Mummert on titanium. It was no small feat, but the result is something we’re incredibly proud of.
Jiro Yaguchi was born and raised in Japan, is now a Los Angeles resident, and is an incredibly talented artist to a level of fame, and resident tattooer of Onizuka Tattoo. Wanting to adorn his inkwork on your body? Prepare for many months to wait for his first availability. Possibly even longer than a year.
Jiro-san's design is bold. A red background with a fierce black silhouette. He included many different references in his small but impactful piece of art. First, his overall inspiration came from samurai movie posters from the 1950s-1970s. He specifically mentioned posters for films made by Akira Kurosawa, who is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema (Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Sanjuro, among many, many more).
For the character himself, he blended two of his favorite samurai warriors. The most eye-catching element on the design for most is likely that wild-looking helmet. For folks who know their samurai history, yep, you guessed it, that’s Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s iconic helmet. Known as the man who unified Japan, he came from a simple peasant background and eventually became the de facto leader of Japan and acquired the prestigious positions of Chancellor of the Realm and Imperial Regent by the mid-1580s. Jiro-san has a particular fondness for Toyotomi, with a replica helmet of his located in his tattoo studio, which he showed me when I visited (bottom right of the image above).
The other samurai inspiration, none other than Miyamoto Musashi. He was not officially a samurai as he never held his own lands or served a lord as a formal samurai, but as a duelist, none can compare to Musashi. Arguably the best swordsman to ever walk the face of the earth. Undefeated across at least 60 duels, he founded multiple schools of swordsmanship and, later in life, wrote The Book of Five Rings, which is still read today for insight into his tactics and philosophy.
The visual element that represents Musashi is the iconic dual swords he is wielding, as he was the first to invent this method of swordsmanship.
In 1612 he fought his most famous duel, which was against Sasaki Kojiro, known as “The Demon of the Western Provinces” and considered the greatest swordsman of the time. Musashi aggravated his opponent by intentionally arriving at the tiny island of Funajima, the mutually agreed-upon battleground… nearly three hours late. In the course of a fierce but brief duel, he struck his katana-wielding enemy dead using nothing but a wooden sword he’d carved from an oar on his way to the island.
This part still gives me chills. Every component of the GRXC2 Samurai was in place, but we were missing the final critical element… who would physically bring this artwork to life? And how would they do it? It had to be a method that paired with the concept.
Tatsuhito Imamura-san of Kyoto Armor is located in Kyoto, Japan. Tatsuhito-san is recognized by the government of Japan, officially certified by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry as a Traditional Artisan. His craft has been passed down from generation to generation, a lifelong dedication to doing things the old way. He is considered the best living samurai armor maker in the world.
Tatsuhito-san has made each patch by hand, using 2”x3” raw iron plates and then coated with an epoxy-like coating that is hand-harvested from the sap of the Japanese lacquer tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum). If this sounds somewhat familiar, this is the traditional urushi-e method. Urushi-e (or Japanese lacquerware) offers a finish that is very durable and resistant to water, acids, and heat. While it might be primitive, this genius process was centuries ahead of its time, as there is some deep science behind it. The tree sap actually has a chemical reaction with the iron, permanently bonding to it and making the iron stronger. This artform is incredibly difficult and requires many slow meticulous steps to perfect. But the end result? Vibrant reds that trick your eye into thinking you're holding a digitally photoshopped image in your hand. And an infinitely rich and deep black that goes on forever.
Tatsuhito-san explained this is the exact method by which samurai armor has been made for centuries. And funny, our 2”x3” patch sizing is even the approximate size of a single scale of armor, which would be overlapping other small armor scales, attached together via braided silk rope. Essentially, it is the same as a piece of samurai armor.
Handmade samurai armor morale patches, made by the world’s best samurai armor maker, Tatsuhito Imamura-san of Kyoto Armor.
Note: While this traditional handmade-in-Kyoto armor scale has extremely high strength properties, it has a highly hand-polished gloss surface that will show scuffs and marks if rubbed up against hard/textured surfaces.
Safely store it away or put it on display behind glass to keep it in perfectly mint condition. Or let it develop a battle-worn patina from your worldly adventures. The choice is yours.