A LOVE LETTER TO BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU
Black Belt|April/May 2021
When actor Sean Patrick Flanery (The Boondock Saints, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) was a kid, a prophetic event occurred, one that contradicts the oft-heard phrase that says what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Why do I say “prophetic”? Because if what happened had stayed in Vegas, Flanery still might be digging ditches instead of using that moment in time to forge a future that led to Born a Champion.
DR. CRAIG D. REID

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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