When I was promoted to purple belt back in January I thought I would buy a little present for myself. I thought: wouldn't it be cool to have a high quality belt that was embroidered with my Meerkatsu logo and the kanji for jiu-jitsu? It would be the ultimate in chic personalisation. Not too loud and brash like a blinged up gi, but just discrete different enough to be noticed only by the eagle eyed. So I ordered one. Little did I know that getting that belt in my hands was going to be an arduous, frustrating and expensive affair ending with a belt that costs more than the priciest gi I've ever owned...


It all started innocently enough. A quick scan on the forums and on google brought up one company that would make a specific BJJ belt, the correct length, hand-built and machine embroidered with my specific design requirements. Kataaro, over in the States, seemed like the best place to go.

Kataaro
The amount of choice on the Kataaro website for designing your own belt is truly staggering. You can choose the length, colour, width, density of stitching, softness level, with white tags or without, and all lovingly hand crafted. It is a BJJ geek's paradise.

The service from Kataaro is very good. After an email discussion about my personal design requirements (they got back to me very quickly each time), it took them four weeks to turn my request around and ship it off after final approval. And, that was that, I assumed it would take a while to be delivered, as most things sent from the US does and I didn't hear from anyone for over 5 weeks.

To be honest, I should have followed it up sooner. When I did remember to check, Kataaro gave me the shipment tracking number and I tapped it into the US Postal Service website. The site informed me that the carrier in the UK (Royal Mail to you and me) had already tried to deliver my belt but it was unsuccesful. Immediately, my suspicions were aroused. NO ONE delivered anything to me.

I called Royal Mail, they were no help. I tried Parcel Force, the sub-division of Royal Mail who handle parcels but for some reason, are devoid of any communication with Royal Mail. They told me they had the package in their local depot but as no one had paid the customs fee, they were about to ship it back to the US. NO! I cried, I'll pay it, let me pay it!!

Ok, said the lady...but oh hang on..no they didn't have it anymore. Apparently, on the morning of that very same day that I called them, the parcel had already left the UK - shipped back to the US due to failure to pay customs charge...didn't I get their letter? They asked.

Arrrrrrgh!!!!!!

I called Kataaro, they said they would wait for it to be returned and ship it back out to me. Five months after I first ordered the belt, it arrived back at Kataaro and we talked about how to ship it back out to me but I had to pay for shipping again.

This time I was on the ball. I tracked the parcel daily and harassed Parcel Force with requests to track it down and make me give them the customs invoice number so I could pay it and release it to be delivered.

I finally got the belt 19 weeks after my initial order, and what a fine beast as you can see. I forgot too that I ordered the design to be embroidered using metallic silver thread. My goodness it really reflects the light, I'm gonna stand out more than I thought.

I can't fault Kataaro in any way. This is just one example of the pitfalls when ordering something from abroad. Interestingly, when I tracked the parcel online the second time around, the shipping bit of the equation is very fast - next day in fact. It hangs around in customs for about a week and then it goes to Parcel Force -who dilly and dally around for God knows how long.


The cost of extravagance
So, if you include the fees for hand-making the belt and shipping it twice over to me, then add the customs duty and, get this from the cheeky UK postal sods - a 'Parcel Force Release Fee' the total cost to me comes at the jaw-dropping price of just under two hundred dollars. It is quite possibly, the world's most expensive BJJ belt.

Am I a little embarrassed at this incredibly extravagant purchase? I suppose I am (erm, so why am I making my shame so public...hmmm.) They say a fool and his money are easily parted. If so, then call me a fool. I could have cancelled, but I reasoned that: (a) this was my present and I wanted that belt however long it was going to take, (b) I was going to be a purple belt for a good 4,5 maybe more years so the initial cost would be less stinging over such a long time, and (c) patience is a virtue in BJJ so I should apply the same principles to real life.

This belt is more than just a piece of material that holds up your trousers. It represents the years of training where I have poured buckets of sweat, spilled a little blood and even shed a few tears. And in any case, BJJ belts are rubbish at holding up trousers and keeping jackets tied together, so it had better be good looking. Luckily, it does at least do that.

So, after all this, I am now quite poor in monetary terms, but oh so richer by design. The question is, am I really willing to subject this mini work of art to the wear and tear of everyday class? You bet.




NB: When the US Postal Service parcel tracking website says "Tried to deliver on x date, delivery failed" what that actually means is, once it is out of UK customs and in to the hands of Parcel Force, it kind of loses the trail and does not post the correct information. What you (UK readers) need to do, is copy and paste the USPS tracking number into the Parcel Force website and it will respond by giving you a new, UK specific tracking number. With the new number, you can then follow its progress as it gets moved from customs, to main hub, to local sorting office, to your hom or local post office collection venue.


UPDATE 31st July 2010
I get emails every now and then asking for more info about my Kataaro belt, so here's a typical email and the response I gave, hope this helps:

Hey Bro,
I saw an older post of your Kataaro belt. I've was thinking of getting one and had a few questions. Did you get the 1.75 width or 2''? Also, did you use the belt length estimator on the website? How is the belt overall, thick and sturdy? Any info you could give would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Todd.

Hey Todd. OMG this belt totally rocks. I chose the 1.75inch version and soft version.
I did use the belt estimator but I also checked it against several older belts of mine to find a suitable average that I liked. Not too long, nor too short. It is exactly the right length for me.
For colour, it fades along the edge I guess due to friction every time your tie and untie it...and this is exactly the effect I want. Give it 18 months maybe two years and it's gonna have that really cool worn out look.
For stiffness, even though I chose soft, it still kinda just sits there, once knotted, the end bits loop sideways a little before dropping vertically down. Perfect in my view - I guess this is due to the superior filling within the belt and the extra lines of stitching compared to cheaper belts.
Finally, the embroidery, man, of course that is the icing on the cake for me. The threads show on both sides without any loss of detail.

Here's a really recent pic of me...you can see how it sits once tied on my body:
Hope this helps. Can you do me a favour - when/if you order it could you mention 'Meerkatsu's blog' it helps spread my site name around, although I do not get any commission or discounts from them, it's just nice to tell them.

Seymour

Todd replies:
Thanks for the highly detailed and great reply. I did go ahead and order a belt today due to your review. Tomorrow I will call and confirm my order and will definitely make sure to mention your blog. Your belt is awesome, and I'm sure well worth all the hassle. Thanks again for replying to me e-mail. I'll make sure to let you know how I like the belt when I receive it. Maybe even post a review of it. Talk to you soon. Take care.

Todd

38 comments:

SkinnyD said...

Two things come to mind.
1. How amazingly sweet that belt looks, and
2. How insecure I would feel wearing a belt with my own logo on it :)

Seriously, though...the belt rocks. And you can look at it as an appreciable asset. It may be shiny and new now, but by the time you're a brown belt it will be faded, tattered, smelly ... and worth oh so much more than what you paid for it.

Meerkatsu said...

Cheers SkinnyD, I like the thought of that.

André Costa Silva said...

You are absolutely crazy man.
Is is _teh awesomeness_ tho, I'll concede that.

Fortunately for me, I've decided I won't get into embroidery until brown, so... ;)

A.D. McClish said...

It looks awesome!! Worth the money!

LUKE said...

Again congratulations on the promotion.

Coincidentally I also bought my custom purple-belt from Kataaro as well with my 'SEABJJ' logo embroidered in a sky-blue.

A bit pricey but with all the possible options in length, width, embroidery and hardness I think it's well worth it. I plan to have this for some time and look forward to it wearing down after years of mat time.

Anyways, the belt looks great. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy mine.

andyj said...

You could have had Black Eagle do it in the UK - they're friendly guys with embroidery equipment so I'm sure they could have handled your requirements.

http://www.black-eagle.co.uk/customembroideredblackbelts-p-1372.html

Meerkatsu said...

Thanks for your comments guys.
@Andre, yup, it was a crazy notion but in my defence, I did not anticipate the double shipping charges and the ridiculous tax and import fee, and I did not realise just how loud the embroidery would look (hard to get a complete feel of how it will look on the design form on the Kataaro website, although they did send me a pre-production proof).

@Allie, thanks Allie, always supportive :)

@Luke - by complete coincidence I am right now wearing my BKK BJJ t-shirt in to work! I would love to see your SEBJJ belt, any chance you could post a photo or a link to me, either on here or email it to me?

@AndyJ - thanks mate, I did consider Black Eagle but the Kataaro belt is made to a much higher standard IMO, although Black Eagle do a great job. Perhaps with hindsight, given that I had to spend a small fortune on my belt, the BE or any other UK-based embroidery-belt firm would have been the more prudent choice. Still, it's here now, all I got to do is wear it...until the next belt level, which fortunately won't be for at least another five or more years away !

The Part Time Grappler said...

I WANNNNNNTTTTT OOOOOONNNNNEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Challenger said...

That is badass.

I've already decided that I'll get one of the purple Reversal belts from Scramblestuff as a reward when I earn my real purple.

Also, I have never found a parcel carrier that actually seem to care about what happens to my stuff, although UK Mail beats the crap out of UPS, who are the worst company I've ever had the misfortune of dealing with.

Meerkatsu said...

@PTG, heh heh, yours too for only $200. Ok, if you actually recieve it and get lucky not to be charged by UK customs, the 'real' price is more nearer £80-£85. I think it would help if Kataaro would package up the item, after all it's only a belt, in something that looks less commercial. Instead of a huge USPS box, they could pop the belt into a small jiggy bag and hand write the address and it would look like a nice present that won't attract customs officers.

@Challenger - ah the trials of ordering overseas. One day, instant teleportation will render USPS and Royal Mail and it's ugly sister Parcel Farce utterly redundant LOL!

slideyfoot said...

Athletic tape seems wrong for that belt, so will you be demanding diamond-encrusted white gold stripes from Nick? ;)

Meerkatsu said...

I meant of course 'jiffy' bag not jiggy, anyway, yeah didn't think of that Slidey, but having said that, tattered, dirty and worn out white tape for when I get stripes will add to its appeal I reckon. I want this belt to wear down like Oli G's old purple belt. Could take a lotta years.

matt said...

seriously sweet belt dude. and the same shit happened to me with a parcel full of goodies from japan.. parcel force claimed the customs fee had not been paid which was complete and utter balls as i had no idea the package was even in the country. really disappointing that they can operate like that and not be held accountable.

looking forward to seeing the belt in person later this week!

Meerkatsu said...

Cheers Matt, yeah I wonder what Mr Dean will think of my blinged up belt?
The whole USPS Parcel Force debacle was so bad I considered using UPS or FEDEX but the fees they quoted were around the $80 mark.

Jason (JiuJitsuMap.com) said...

Some people spend their money on their car or boat. No one thinks much of them having a custom something or other on it. We do BJJ. Why should anyone think anything of you spending your money there. I think its cool and if I ever get a logo for JiuJitsuMap.com I will put it on my belt.

Submission303 said...

Can you comment on the firmness of the belt and which option you chose?

I was looking at these, but uncertain as to the soft or firm option.

Thanks!

Meerkatsu said...

I chose soft as I wanted more of the broken on feel. It sits real nice when i tie it around me...ill post some pics of me wearing it at some point soon.

Georgette said...

Oh my goodness.... I want one! Seriously, the only thing keeping me from getting one of my own is that my blue belt is so happily frayed and frazzled, I would feel disloyal getting a brand spanking new one.

I think it would be crazy to get a purple belt now knowing how long it will take to earn it. But when I go purple, seriously, I'm so copycatting you.

Meerkatsu said...

At least you won't have to pay excessive import duty!! LOL.
What would you get embroidered on your belt Georgette?

André Costa Silva said...

Judging from the photos on Black Eagle's website and these, I don't think they are even in the same sport, let alone league.

Which other embroidery-capable companies did you consider?

pete said...

That is one beautiful piece of work. I will add "custom belt" to my BJJ wish list although I think I won't be having one for a very long time.

Dev said...

Holy shit. That is quite possibly the awesomest story I've ever heard, never mind the belt. :) Good for you, Seymour. It looks absolutely fantastic.

DSTRYRsg said...

Looks great, brother. I bought HCK black belts for me and my training partner and good buddy, and had his name embroidered on his belt as a gift. Looks sweet.

Good job. Mad style. Time to tap brown and black belts while wearing it.

DSTRYRsg said...

Looks great, brother. I bought HCK black belts for me and my training partner and good buddy, and had his name embroidered on his belt as a gift. Looks sweet.

Good job. Mad style. Time to tap brown and black belts while wearing it.

Meerkatsu said...

@Andre, yeah BE do a commendable job with their embroidery service but I did not want the logotag on the belt (could have taken it off I suppose) and I think their belts are just ordinary belts. If you look at the 'belt inof' section on the Kataaro website, they tell you what lengths they go when hand crafting their products, so I was sold on that idea!
Taosports and Blitzsport in London also do embroidery but I was not convinced of the quality of their belts.

@Pete, Dev and Dstryrsg - thanks guys, I doubt I'll be able to tap many blues let alone higher, but who knows if the belt has unseen powers?

Junior Familia said...

thats one slick looking belt my man! I think I will settle for whatever belt my Instructor gives me =)

Steve said...

That's a very cool looking belt, but dang... $200? That's crazy!

Julia Johansen said...

That is fabulous. What is the difference between the deluxe and regular? Any idea?

I love going to conventions and I want to get a Klingon gi (no joke). So I'd love to get a belt that has something written on it in Klingon :)

I'm very thankful to still have so many friends and family in America so that when I order from American companies I can have it sent to them and then have them forward it to me. Under Armour was going to charge me $45 to send 2 rash guards to Korea! Only $5 to send it to America, then $13 to here. Saved over $25. >_<

Thanks for the post. I love your blog!

Anonymous said...

what is your waist line and the kataaro belt size of that belt you got??
i like my belt to be a bit shorter, like only 6 inches after the knot.
regards

andrew said...

I have to get a black version of one of these shortly, and at this point it's a toss up between the Kataaro, and the Eosin Panther.

such sweet sweet looking belts.

I figure I'm going to be Faixa Preta for a LOOOOOOooong time, might as well be a nice belt.

thanks for the review!

Chrom said...

Hi,

have a question about your purple belt.
Is it the soft or the stiff one?
I would say the stiff but I am not sure. Just because I am looking for a belt thats hanging down and not on the sides.

Thx.
All the best

Meerkatsu said...

From memory, I think it was soft. I did not fancy having to wait for that worn in look.

Cool Andy said...

Great article, thank you.

Looking into getting one myself.

You used this page? http://www.kataaro.com/Products/Embroidered-Deluxe-Jujitsu-Rank-Belt__E4946.aspx

And how did you go about getting the symbol embroidered? Placed it in the comments and then emailed them?

Thank you very much for your help.

Steve said...

Hey just wondering if you had to do it over again.. would you stay with this company?
Also would you choose the metallic color? Or a different color?
Thanks!

Life Vs Jiu Jitsu said...

Hello Seymour,

Did you end up getting an Eosin Panther for your brown belt?

I did a follow up review on my Eosin Panther that you might want to check out...

http://lifevsjiujitsu.blogspot.ca/2013/05/handmade-custom-bjj-belt-update.html

Anonymous said...

Damn your reviews ;-)
Almost all Gi's where bought upon your reviews and shurely not the cheapest nose :-) and now this awesome belt? I just realised that it will Take me much longer as expected to become blue so I will go in white with pride and Style so long!
Thank you for this awesome tipp!

CuddlyWarrior said...

Enjoyed reading your review, even though I ended up ordering an Eosin. The customs went greedy on my belt too plus one first belt lost in transit. But I got it at last, so I can contribute with a review. https://cuddlywarrior.wordpress.com/

Francesco Scognamiglio said...

Ciao! I really enjoyed your review .
I just received a Kataaro belt as a present from my students (that made me feel I don't deserve them).
It's a beautiful black/white master belt, really beautiful and very very sturdy.
Can you tell me how long it took your belt to break in and be tied comfortably?
Thank you,
Francesco