What Does Hang Ten Mean? (Slang Defined)

The hang ten or the shaka sign is one that is synonymous with surfer culture and in communities around the world, but particularly in Hawaii and California. But, did you know that the hang ten symbol is also one that is used within Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? 

There are a few ways that it’s connected, and if you watch any BJJ you’ll notice pretty quickly that it’s a commonly made hand gesture on the scene.

What Does Hang Ten Mean?

It may seem like the relaxed and calm lifestyle of surfing has nothing to do with BJJ, but you’d actually be wrong! BJJ has its roots as a self defence and spiritual concept where philosophy of mind over body is pretty well versed.

BJJ’s fundamentals are focussed on yielding to a stronger opponent’s force rather than trying to fight fire with fire. 

The basics of good character and good BJJ are to go with the flow in many respects, similar to the ethos of surf culture. 

Let’s look into what the hang ten sign means, its origins and what it has to do with BJJ! 

What Is The Hang Ten/Shaka Sign?

The Hang Ten sign or the Shaka is a hand gesture, and it is done by extending your smallest finger and your thumb at the same time, whilst holding the three middle fingers down and curling inwards.

This can be done by presenting either the front or the back of the hand, however you can shake the hand back and forth to emphasize the symbol.

What Does Hang Ten Mean?

The Hang Ten sign is also known as the Shaka, a term which is rooted within Hawaiian culture as a gesture of peace and well wishes.

The Hang Ten or Shaka signs is also referred to as the ‘hang loose’ symbol and is often used to demonstrate a laid back, chilled feeling or as positive reinforcement. 

The main concept is to portray the ‘Aloha Spirit’ and solidarity of Hawaiian culture, as many different ethnic communities and cultures resided there.

With this universal translator symbol, it can be used as a greeting, a well-wishing, or a sign to unwind and chill out which is of great help for many cultures living together without a universal language. 

Across the world, the Hang Ten or shaka sign means pretty much the same thing- to relax! 

The phrase Hang Ten in surfing also refers to being perfectly balanced on one’s surf board, with all ten of your toes gripping the front of the board so that the wave can cover the back of the board and you can ride the wave evenly.

This is a really difficult surf move and is a display that you can ride with perfect stability on even the biggest waves. 

Therefore it also symbolizes balance and fine tuning a skill, as surfers used to only use the sign when they were doing this move. It is now universally symbolic of surfing, the relaxed lifestyle, and of being in a peaceful state of mind. 

The Origin Of The Hang Ten Gesture

Adopted by surf culture from the 1960s onwards, the shake has long been synonymous with the relaxed and laid-back approach to life that surfers tend to have, especially when on the waves. 

However, the roots come back from even further afield. There are two main origin stories when it comes to the Hang Ten sign. 

The first is that Hamana Kalili was a man working at the Kahuku Sugar Mill and lost his three fingers in a work accident.

After then, he was moved to security and his wave to scare off rowdy kids jumping on the sugar trains was, of course, just his thumb and pinky finger. Apparently the shake grew from kids imitating his hand gesture. 

Another is that it was a hand sign used by whalers to symbolize ‘tails up’ of whales to show that they had gotten a catch. 

The History Of Hang Ten And Jiu-Jitsu

Whilst in California, this symbol has become renowned for the surfer community as a means of describing how laid back or chilled out they are out on the waves, the shaka has also become a common gesture within the Brazilian jiu jitsu community and around the globe.

Many assumed that it was with the popularity of surf culture across the waves that brought this symbol into common use within the jiu jitsu scene, as son of Carlos Gracie (the founder of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) Rolls Gracie was a keen surfer and spent much of adulthood embracing surf culture before his untimely death. 

Rolls Gracie himself apparently got into surfing in a rather peculiar way. After one of Rolls’ students Mario Gomes, who was himself a very popular Soap Actor, got into a fight with a popular surfer and was kicked off the beach. 

Incensed by this injustice, Rolls and a few of the other students marched down to the beach and put all of the surfers into choke holds where they passed out.  Being so impressed with the skills of BJJ, many of those surfers ended up joining Roll’s classes. 

However, Renzo Gracie, disagrees with this story completely. He states that despite surf culture being around, it didn’t actually blend cultures with BJJ. He says that before him, the most popular hand sign to make was a thumb’s up. 

He says that it wasn’t until he injured his hand during a fight in 1996 that he wasn’t able to pull a thumbs-up for the end fight photographs, doing a loose Hang Ten symbol instead. 

According to Renzo, it was after this point in the 90s that it started to gain traction and significance as a symbol in BJJ to symbolize that you were doing okay!

Final Thoughts

To summarize, the Hang Ten symbol is used to convey that you are doing well, feeling relaxed, and as a general symbol of community and gratitude.

As surf culture and BJJ both have their own deep symbolic history, it makes sense that this symbol has been adopted by BJJ, though there are still some disagreements on the origins of this crossover of cultural signing!

Christopher Anderson
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