When learning a new skill, most of us turn to books and video tutorials, reading and watching the tips, tricks and techniques needed to master whatever it is we are trying to pursue. Less often do we turn to illustration – aside from the odd manual we have to use to assemble flat-pack furniture – and less often still does educational and instructional illustration prove to be aesthetically pleasing. An exception to the rule however, is a series by New York-based artist and set designer Tony Mullin, titled Takedownnotes, which visually details a huge range of Jiu-Jitsu moves that he has learned over the years. Beginning life as a relatively unknown Instagram account in 2020, the series has since attracted a large fan base and has gone on to become a set of prints and NFTs, communicating the historic martial art in a wonderfully eye-catching way.
“Takedownnotes started as a way to memorise the choreography at my Jiu-Jitsu academy using drawing,” explains Tony. “Five or six moves into a sequence, I’d sometimes get lost, so I would draw on the subway home to help remember the moves. A few friends asked me to share the notes on Instagram and things grew quickly.” Tony Initially recreated the movements using small, detailed figures, but soon began making them “flatter and more diagrammatic”. He started “giving thought to the line quality and body shapes”, and made a connection between this method of drawing and the thinking behind type design. “To make typefaces more legible on phones, typographers will often space the letters out, enlarge the x height and simplify the details,” he explains. “So in recent drawings, I started using a thick negative line, dropped the nostalgic offset colour effects, and enlarged the hands to emphasise the importance of grips.”
The result is a series of illustrated sequences that reveal the intricate placement and positioning of body parts, assumed in quick succession, that make up a successful “take down”. Arms and legs, for obvious reasons, play a large part in pulling off the move, and thus Tony’s illustrations hone in on these aspects of the movement, emphasising their importance. Despite being crucial elements of Jiu-Jitsu, Tony did not appreciate these intimate interactions between two bodies until he put them down paper: “There are wonderful structural engineering principles to all the grappling sports, lots of balance breaking (Kuzushi) and framing with limbs that you appreciate when you draw,” he says. “These techniques (of misdirection, triangulation and leverage) are the great equalisers that let people of all shapes, sizes and ages roll together.”
Beyond their function as useful and enlightening guides to the sport, Tony’s illustrations also serve as captivating pieces of art. Rendered almost like abstract patterns, and captured with the help of bold and contrasting colours, they defy the typical visual associations with martial arts – and this pleases Tony. “I find that the aesthetics of grappling sports aren’t reflective of the people that train in the sport; typically it’s a lot of macho imagery like cobra snakes, camouflage and lightning bolts,” he tells us. “But most of the people I train with are funny, friendly and relaxed. Imagery more akin to a Saul Steinberg drawing or a Mattise collage seemed to go down well.”
Tony’s illustrations are currently available to purchase as NFTs on OpenSea, and the collection will soon be made into prints.
Tony Mullin: Takedownnotes, Double Leg (Copyright © Tony Mullin, 2021)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.