A diving eagle prepares to dig its talons into the flesh of a dragon. A snake lunges forward with its jaws open wide, its long body wrapped around both dragon and eagle. Three vehement creatures are prepared to fiercely fight for their lives. Welcome to the Battle Royale, one of the most revered motifs in the history of tattooing.
Deeply rooted in the history of his trade, tattooist CJ Fishburn guides us through all of the significance behind an enormous Battle Royale back piece he tattoos in this video by Josh and Dan Fletcher. We get a glimpse of Fishburn as he pores over dozens of tattered black and white photos of tattooed men and women from a bygone era, searching to find a subject showing off the very same back piece that he is about to tattoo on Dan.
“The one we did on you is DC Paul’s back piece,” Fishburn explains to Dan. “He learned to tattoo from Huck Spaulding and Paul Rogers. They did the design on him, and the design I’m using is a rubbing from the actual plastic acetate that they would have used on his back. Same scale, same everything. Obviously, with my little takes on it.”
Without a time machine this is the closest a person can come to getting a tattoo from those tattoo legends in 2017. When he walked out of Cathedral Tattoo, Dan was a walking piece of tattoo history. This back piece shows the time honored tradition of mentors passing down their knowledge — and their designs — to eager apprentices and allows us to feel a connection to those icons of years gone past.
As we see the tattoo coming to life from scratch, Fishburn goes deeper into the history of the design and how groundbreaking it would have been when the ink was still fresh on DC Paul’s back. All of these years later Fishburn’s fully finished take on the design is just as striking to behold.
See for yourself in the video below.