Jiu Jitsu Times EXCLUSIVE Interview: Sean Patrick Flanery

In honor of last Friday’s Saint Patrick’s Day, I sought out one of the most cherished celebrity jiujiteiros: Sean Patrick Flanery.  If you don’t already know who Sean Patrick Flanery is, you should look him up.  The actor played one of the lead rolls in the cult favorite “The Boondock Saints”; he was also in “Powder,” “Young Indiana Jones,” and played a major role in the final season of Dexter.

Sean Patrick Flanery is also a well-respected black belt, holding the rank of second degree under Ricardo “Franginha” Miller, the head of the highly successful Paragon Jiu Jitsu Academy.  Sean owns Hollywood BJJ in Los Angeles and competed fairly extensively in his early days doing BJJ, winning the IBJJF Pans and the American Nationals in his division.

Being a long time fan of Sean Patrick Flanery’s work, I was very excited when I got the opportunity to interview him about his jiu-jitsu journey and to learn a bit about his perspective and thoughts on the gentle art.  First and foremost I wanted to find out exactly how he got started, how he found jiu-jitsu, and what his initial impressions were.

“You know like everybody else, I got into martial arts when I was a kid,” Sean told the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “But I think everybody has a story of Bruce Lee. You know, watching Kung Fu Theater Bruce Lee movies, and I actually saw Elvis Presley doing Suspicious Minds on the Vegas stage on TV. And he’s got the big like a jumpsuit kimono on and he’s in it. He’s got the big red belt. You know he’s doing what looked like a kata. And I, you know, asked my dad, does he know karate because back then everything’s called karate.  If you were a kid it was just karate.  And he said yeah you should see the old man Ed Parker and so then I got into martial arts in a strip mall at a complete McDojo. When I was nine years old.  So I went through a bunch of martial arts and in the Palisades at a place called Jerry Banks, Rickson and a couple of the guys turned out to be Luis Heredia “Limao” and Henry Akins who I think was a purple belt at the time.  They came in and they started putting mats down on the hardwood floors.  Rickson had closed the Pico Academy and I was there with a buddy and he said he was renting space because they were building out the Barrington location, this was a temporary location.

“So this was back, this was in the late 90s. And, you know, that there’s a patch at the bottom of the gi and it says what I thought said Hickson Gracie or Rickson Gracie.  Being naive young pup that I said ‘Wow, is that any relationship to Royce?’ Yeah I know!  I’m humiliated by that now. He goes, “Yeah he’s my brother.”  I was like ‘Whoa you’re related to the great Gracie!’  I’m like ‘Wow, you know, where to train jiu-jitsu, but I’ve never found a place’ and he threw me a gi and says ‘Put the gi on and tonight you’re going to train’ and I did. It was a very very rudimentary class.

“So they did some warm ups, some hip movements, bridges, and stuff like that. And then they said, ‘Pick a partner about the same size, same shape you can and let’s do some sparring.’  I knew the belt system, I knew it was white, blue, purple, brown, black. That’s all I knew. But I knew this guy across the way. He was about 135 lbs and had a blue belt on and not to be a bully, but I was doing triathlons at the time, 170 pounds. I competed in sports my entire life. You know, I trained in just about every martial art I could find. Up until then always wanting to do some serious jiu-jitsu grappling. I saw it on the UFC and whatnot.  So I picked him (the 135 pound blue belt) not to be a bully, but because I really heard that this is a magical martial art and I thought if this guy can even stalemate with me… man it will blow my mind.

“And you know, I probably don’t even have to finish the story for you. He was a blue belt and he choked me from every conceivable position: mounted me, took my back, ankle lock, collar chokes, wristlocks, kimuras, arm locks.  I mean I’ve never been that comprehensively dominated in anything in my entire life. And he was wearing a belt; it’s a beginner level belt!  I mean the clouds opened up and I had an epiphany.  It was a dawning for me and my martial arts career.  I’d never experienced that type of domination in anything. And even at the highest level, you know, you wouldn’t get that kind of domination in taekwondo against a black belt.  If you showed up and you’re an athlete off the street, you know, you do you’d have a shot of getting a flash KO or something.

“The guy ended up being Matt Akins, who’s still a very dear friend of mine today. He’s Henry’s brother. And I camped out at the Rickson academy for the next handful of years.  I just became completely overwhelmed with how I achieve this kind of power over another mortal human being. I had never experienced anything like that in my life and I wanted to achieve it. And that’s how I found it.”

Despite the fact that our brains are made of such, I posit that atoms and particles will "always" behave in…

Posted by Sean Patrick Flanery on Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Through his career as a jiujiteiro, Sean Patrick Flanery has trained with some of the best in the game.  He started under Rickson, eventually changing affiliations to train with Sean Williams, and after receiving his black belt from Williams Flanery, ultimately wound up under the Ricardo “Franginha” Miller flag.  Fortunately he has retained good relations with his former coaches.

Because of his high level coupled with the fact that he has trained under several instructors, I was interested to learn a bit about Sean’s perspective on the stylistic differences between his instructors over the years.

“As you know it, and you know it’s hard to say this to the layman, you could show me silhouettes of people rolling and I can give you a pretty accurate assessment of who they are and where they train. It’s like that when you’ve been in the game this long.  Everybody has a signature style.  That Rickson Gracie style is very very different from just about anything – you place it with Relson and kind of nobody else. It’s kind of on its own. It’s one of the last old school fighting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu philosophies and curriculums and concepts. I would say that the Paragon style is closer to Sean Williams than the Rickson Gracie style, but they’re all three very independent of one another and that sounds ridiculous to people that don’t train.  It’s like a signature. It really is.  It’s color coded, it’s bar coded it’s yeah it’s very unique and you can tell.  You can smell them a mile away.”

Unlike most celebrities who train, Sean has competed, and on a high level.  I was curious about what if any short and long term goals Sean has insofar as competition, and what his thoughts are on the “sport vs. street” debate.

“You know I did pretty much every tournament that was available to me coming up through purple and kind of tapered off and only did a handful at brown. But it’s funny, you get overwhelmed and you get completely addicted to jiu-jitsu. I mean I made some ridiculous business decisions because of jiu-jitsu and I turned down films, and you know what I mean you just do everything for your training.

“I did all the tournaments known to man coming up through the ranks. But I started late in life when I started jiu-jitsu. I was 32. So I haven’t retired from competition, but I don’t have any immediate plans to compete. And once I started a family, you know, I had my first my daughter in 05 and I have a daughter and two sons now.  So, really my objective in training… I got into martial arts for self-defense and I had confidence in just being able to not worry about an altercation in school or anything like that. I got into Brazilian jiu-jitsu for the same thing to even further that – to have even more confidence, and it quickly transitioned into tournaments as a way to test myself against other practitioners.  The game kind of shifted with the times and philosophy. IBJJF rules, it kind of got away from. It’s funny in the 2000s if you took your girlfriend to watch a tournament she left there thinking you were a badass. If you took her to a tournament in 2017 and she saw two guys jumping on their butts and trying to grab each other’s pants sleeves, she leaves with a little bit of a different idea of what your pastime is…

My buddy @ArmHunter Dan Camarillo's new Gi. #BJJ #BJJLIFEhttp://www.whosay.com/l/kJUbgT7

Posted by Sean Patrick Flanery on Wednesday, November 25, 2015

“Here’s the thing: I subscribe to the ideal of any way that you can take the fight to an arena in which you are vastly superior. But I don’t think that guard pulling is a first option. And certainly if you have a way to ensure that you get full closed guard if you are going to pull guard make it absolute and definitive. I don’t agree with sitting down and slowly scooting towards somebody and trying to grab their pant sleeve. I think there’s a world of difference between jumping guard like something that Kron does in his MMA fights from an upper body clinch and dropping down to your butt and scooting towards your opponent trying to grab pants.  But look, that’s a hotly debated issue.

“You know, and that’s kind of what turned me off of the tournament scene. Because you’ve got to imagine you know here’s Rickson guys that aren’t taught any sweeps which you leave yourself open to getting your eyes gouged, bit, hair pulled. Anything like that.

“And then you have guys that are on their backs with their both legs and both arms wrapped around the legs completely neglecting their faces looking right up.  This has about three times the leverage to enact a sweep, but realistically guys are thinking ‘Well the guy could probably get punched from there.’ And you know the Rickson guys don’t have anywhere near that leverage on sweeps, but they’re never in harm’s way.

“So, at that point you have to make a decision and you have to come up with a mission statement. What is your mission statement what’s your reason for training?  Because you know that those guys who train fighting jiu-jitsu are always going to get smoked by the guys that are just relying on the high leverage sweeps, completely neglecting their safety from all violence. And that stands to reason, and I support anybody training for any reason that they want. But I think you are going against an insurmountable opponent. If someone is using even their protective lens to do the sweeping, I think they’re going to be outgunned and they’re going you’re going to nine times out of 10 you’re going to get outpointed.

“So, it kind of tapered my interest in competition, and I really started focusing on teaching because I have sons now and I’m teaching my sons jiu-jitsu. One’s five and a half. He’s been training for two years now. So, to watch him do the things that I would have killed to be able to have done at 20 kind of kind of blows my mind.  So that’s really where my focus is. Again I can’t say that I’ve retired from tournaments. I’m sure I’ll find myself in a high school gym some day and they’ll go, ‘Hey there’s a bracket. Somebody had to bow out,’ and I’ll throw my gi on to compete.  At the end of the day, I’m just in love with the martial art. I appreciate all aspects of it.”

There’s a certain stereotype around the celebrity martial artist that implies they avoid rolling, as it’s hazardous to their money making good looks.  Numerous celebrities who train strictly do so in the confines of private lessons.  Sean Patrick Flanery is not one of those people, and I was interested to learn a bit about his thoughts about that kind of jiujiteiro.

Great night of training with a roomful of wonderful new friends. Twisted BJJ in Sofia, Bulgaria. See y'all again soon!http://www.whosay.com/l/Ptwb9wY

Posted by Sean Patrick Flanery on Wednesday, October 21, 2015

“I roll with anybody, anytime, anywhere, and I don’t say that to be tough. Martial arts is like a brethren. I travel with my gi and my belt.  When I get off the plane, I have 100 friends. I don’t care if I’ve never been to that city before. It’s one of the most amazing fraternal aspects of any sport I have ever experienced. There’s nobody that I won’t roll with. And I say that not to be tough but everybody has respect.

“And what I would prefer is for the guys to roll with me three times and then say ‘Hey, you know what? You look like that guy that’s in…” Or say “So-and-so told me you were in X Y and Z!”  I would prefer it that way. It doesn’t take much digging around. I walk into academies on a daily basis with my gi, introduce myself as just my name, and I do the open mats.  I will with anybody, anywhere, anytime. Win some, lose some, but I leave there with a ton of friends and I think really that’s the only way to approach BJJ.

“One of the glorious aspects of training is that it’s one of the only things where you can go 100 percent, where if you are rolling you’re actively trying to hyper extend my arm to the point of breaking, and I can stop that by saying the word ‘tap’ or tapping lightly on you.  And as a gentleman you will release it immediately, and I’m at the same time trying to slowly, methodically navigate my way to your back where I can dish out all the harm and receive none and slowly methodically cinch my elbow right in front of your trachea. Weave in a rear naked choke and collapse your carotid artery shutting off the blood flow to your brain. That’s what I’m trying to do. And if I keep it, you’ll die. And you ask me to stop, as a gentleman, and I do so immediately if I get that position. There’s no striking art where you can practice on a daily basis where someone is actively trying to violently render you unconscious. You can spar hard. Some people spar harder than others, but you can’t really go at that pace daily.

“I get it, I’m going to get “Oh an actor black belt… right… We’ll see.”  And I get it. But let the truth be told: they’re going to find out. or I’m going to find out, or somebody is going to find out. So, somebody’s going to find out something. You know it’s I mean?  I’ve spent a lot of time on the mat training and picking the techniques from some of some great individuals, and I’ve put in my time. I haven’t gotten any belt without participating in every single open mat available, and I’ve supplemented it with privates when and where I could from all the great minds, but I’ve never side skirted it at open mat. As a matter of fact I look for it, because that’s the icing on the cake. That’s where you get the pleasure. That’s what keeps you coming back. You leave with your ego a little bit bruised or your ego a little bit massaged, and it’s addictive. That’s what keeps you coming back.  If you just do Brazilian jiu-jiitsu in theory, then you might as well try to train any traditional martial art where you’re doing katas.  The truth comes out in open mat. That’s where you can’t lie. There’s no celebrity that can lie during open mat, and you’re going to find out if that guy really deserves his belt or he doesn’t. And I applaud that.”

Sean had some fantastic words of wisdom as his closing thoughts

“I had a book that came out last year in hardcover. Paperback’s coming out April 5th of this year and in it, if anybody’s truly wonders why I got in the martial art, it’s in that.  It’s all about my upbringing in Texas and the unfortunate altercations I got into when as a young kid caught up in Texas but that’ll answer every question.  To say I’m passionate about this martial art is the understatement of the year.  Everybody goes through life and say well ‘this thing changed my life’ ‘music it changed my life’ etc.  This change it truly did.  It changed the way that I think about humanity and relationships and achievement and pride and confidence. It truly taught me that there is no sex that feels as good as confidence.  It’s the truth nothing feels that good. Nothing feels as good as confidence.  Nothing can touch that.  It’s the one thing that only comes from personal achievement.  Nobody can give you a dose of confidence in a letter or something. It’s something that you’ve got to go out and prove and that changes who you are.

“My shout-outs would be to Rickson Gracie who taught my first jiu-jitsu class; to Sean Williams, who gave me my black belt;  John Danaher; Renzo Gracie; Ricardo “Franginha” Miller; and to Rodrigo Antunes, who gave me my stripes with Franginha Miller.  I think it’s been an honor to train under those guys and to see the different signatures in the different flavors of jiu-jitsu.  Rodrigo Antunes is at Hollywood BJJ and he’s my partner and he teaches there every day, competes at the highest level, wins just about everything he enters.  So, it’s been an honor to train with all of those instructors who in my opinion are the top of their field.  And to have had that experience in one lifetime kind of blows my mind.  It’s kind of crazy that it’s in a martial art that a lot of people don’t even know exists, but that I get to train.  I had my inauguration in the martial art with the Michael Jordan of BJJ, and you know that’s kind of crazy how that happens.  I’m probably the last generation that will be able to say that.  It’s like somebody taking their first boxing lesson and doing five years with Muhammad Ali.  You can’t say that.  You can only say that because BJJ was in its infancy, but no longer all the great champions from now on they’re not going to be teaching classes.”

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Emil Fischer is an active black belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio (www.strongstyle.com) and teaching at Ararat Martial Arts and FItness Center. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj www.twitter.com/Emil_Fischer and https://instagram.com/emilfischerbjj/. Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (www.Meerkatsu.com, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, North Coast Cryo (www.Northcoast-Cryo.com) NottaRookie, YM (www.cbdyoume.com discount code COOKIES), Defense Soap (www.defensesoap.com discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards (www.impactmouthguards.com discount code EMILIMPACT), and North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear


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