The new film is a martial-arts-imitates-life narrative that could have been titled Ode to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In it, Flanery plays Mickey Kelley, a character that all martial artists will find themselves rooting for.
“When I was 9, my dad, a Golden Gloves boxer, took me to Vegas,” Flanery said. “I saw Elvis Presley singing Suspicious Minds onstage, and he did what looked like a kata with kicks. His big jumpsuit looked like a gi. When I asked Dad if that was karate, he said, ‘He studied with the old man: Ed Parker, kenpo karate.’ I said, ‘Man, I want to do that!’”
Flanery signed up for taekwondo lessons. It wasn’t kenpo, but it included plenty of kicks and punches. “I didn’t know I wasn’t doing karate, but I didn’t care,” he said. “I was addicted.”
As he rose through the ranks of the Korean art, Flanery crosstrained in shotokan, goju-ryu, judo and muay Thai. Then in 1999, he met Rickson Gracie, who was setting up mats for a class. The Brazilian legend asked Flanery if he’d like to don a gi and train. The actor accepted.
When it came time to spar, Gracie told the 170-pound Flanery — who was a black belt and a triathlete — to pick a partner of roughly the same size and shape. Reckoning that he could stalemate the 135-pound blue-belt opponent with whom he ended up, Flanery recalled that it soon became a reckoning. “He took my back, choked me, mounted me, locked my wrist, ankle and knee,” he said. “I’d never been so comprehensively dominated — quickly, efficiently and repeatedly — in my life.”
He immediately signed up.
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