We had the great fortune to chat with Bong Abad, artist and owner of martial arts brand Gawakoto.
In the interview, we find out how the eye-catching designs are created, Bong’s favourite piece of Gawakoto apparel and a sneak peek of an upcoming Gawakoto product!
How did your brand Gawakoto come about?
It started as just a name for a virtual studio that I wanted to put on my daughter’s self-published children’s book. Gawakoto is a phrase in Filipino “gawa ko ‘to” which translates to “I made this”. It’s also a homage to Chris Carter’s (X-Files creator) production studio. I’m a big X-Files fan.
I’ve seen your work from portraits to comic book style superheroes and your Kalabaw artwork. Which type of artwork/subject do you enjoy creating the most?
I like every type of art from pencil drawing to digital painting. I’ve done them all, maybe not to a ‘black belt’ level but I’ve experimented a lot. I love comic book art, and my main influence are comic book artists. So, you can say that it’s my favourite type of art.
Portrait drawings are just experiments for me, using different kinds of technique in doing them. As of late, I’ve been doing them with ballpoint pen. This is because I recently discovered this Japanese artist called Shohei Otomo. He makes awesome ballpoint illustrations.
What tools and methods do you use to create your artwork from idea to complete print-ready design (i.e. pens, pencils, photoshop?)?
Most of my ‘doodles’ are done in my head and from those, I pick my favourite and put it on paper. Despite the advances in making art these days, I’m still using traditional tools especially when conceptualizing designs.
Pencils, brush pens, white-out pen and eventually Photoshop or Illustrator, depending what it is for and the effect I want to achieve.
What inspires your designs?
Mostly comic books and art itself, in general. I read a lot of comics and that my imagination go wild. There are so many similarities between comics & Jiujitsu, so when I design I always fuse the two together.
What’s your favourite piece of artwork and apparel you’ve made?
That’s a hard question. Maybe, the ‘Save the Earth’ series. I can’t choose just one. That’s because I put a lot of meanings & symbolisms into those illustrations. I was asked by my collaborator (Kato of Art Junkie Tokyo) to do some illos which will incorporate Japan’s Nuclear disaster, MMA , Jiujitsu and superheroes. With that, I created 3 illustrations with superheroes battling nuclear powered-supervillains in Jiujitsu/MMA/wrestling scenarios.
What would you say separates your brand from the others out there?
I do what I’m passionate about — Jiujitsu & comic art. My stuff is quirky & colourful. Martial arts is hard enough as it is, and there’s no need to show people that you are the toughest guy by wearing the scariest tee.
What does it feel like to see people around the globe wearing your designs?
It’s awesome! Kinda gives me a sense of accomplishment and further inspires me to do more. I really appreciate all the support from our customers.
You’re the only artist I’ve seen who’s created artwork inspired by Filipino martial arts. Why do you think other martial arts outside of Muay Thai and BJJ are hardly catered for?
Kali is not that popular despite a lot of movies that use it in their fight choreography. There’s no uniform for it too, unlike BJJ. You train Kali with ordinary, everyday clothes.
I make them because I train FMA and I’m Filipino. I am proud of my heritage.
You’ve done quite a few collaborations with other artists. What do you look for in an artist with whom you wish to collaborate?
When I started the brand, I had this dream of collaborating with my idols. Having been able to collaborate with the likes of David Mack & Katsuya Terada was a dream come true for me. I still pinch myself now.
I admire any kind of art, however, the brand established itself as a comic-book art- inspired brand so any eye-popping (comic book style) visuals would do 🙂
Can you give us a sneak peek of any new product or design you have in the pipeline?
Gawakoto Kalabaw Republic Black Gi, consisting of a 450gsm Gold Weave jacket and 10oz ripstop pants.
Are there any upcoming competitions or expo shows where you’ll be showcasing your brand?
I’ll be relocating in the US in December, so at the moment, I don’t have any plans of attending any competitions or shows. But I’m hoping, I would be able to attend the Worlds and BJJ Expo next year.
You currently sponsor some athletes in the martial arts scene. Can you tell us a bit about them?
I don’t have much, and I want to keep it that way. We have three BJJ blackbelts, a judo black belt, a brown belt, a purple belt and a blue belt. I made a trump-like card of them here
Do you currently train in martial arts?
Yes, I recently got my purple belt in BJJ and also train in FMA.
What’s your favourite martial arts movie?
The Bourne Identity, but technically it’s not a martial arts movie. So, it would be Enter the Dragon.
Thank you very much Bong for your time.