(Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery as Murphy & Conner McManus.)
Some guys act tough on screen. Sean Patrick Flanery is tough both on screen and off.
“Every single day that I am off, I’m training three hours a day and it’s not because I have some aspirations of an MMA career,” says The Boondock Saints star and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. “I just fucking love it, man. I absolutely love it. I cannot get enough of it.”
Flanery has trained in various martial arts since he was nine-years-old, but he became fascinated by BJJ when he saw Royce Gracie submitting fools left and right at the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event. Although the actor’s interest was piqued, he wouldn’t begin his formal training until 2001. That’s when he linked up with Royce’s famous cousin.
“I wanted to learn from the best. Rickson [Gracie] was in L.A., and that’s where I went,” Flanery explains. “I can not tell you more clearly how I spent five hours a day at that academy for my first four years [of training]. I would train [in] the afternoon class like three days a week, I would do an hour private and I’d come back in the evenings. Pretty much every single day, I’d do an evening class and then, an hour of open mats. That was my life for four years.”
During that time, Flanery also competed in several BJJ tournaments and experienced success. In 2002 he became the first Inland Empire Champion and a year later, he won the American Nationals Championship and the Pan American Championship.
After four years under Rickson’s tutelage, the actor traveled east to train with Renzo Gracie at his academy in the heart of Manhattan. Flanery worked mostly under Renzo’s head instructor Shawn Williams and the two formed a close bond – so close, in fact, that they opened their own gym, Hollywood Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, soon thereafter. “Shawn is one of the most technical, articulate instructors I have ever come across,” Flanery says. “Between him and John Danaher, they really have the market cornered as far as being proficient and really conveying the beauty that is jiu-jitsu.”
In May 2008, seven years of hard work culminated when Flanery received his black belt from Williams, the first his business partner ever awarded. For the actor, it was a defining moment. “That’s what I dedicated all my time to and that’s what I’ve stayed true to earn a black belt. It’s one of my proudest achievements,” he says. “I’m really, really proud of it.”
And by the sounds of it, Flanery plans to put the black belt to good use. Though his blossoming gym and vibrant movie career keep him busy, the 44-year-old is still interested in competing in BJJ tournaments – especially in the famed Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship. While there isn’t anyone he wants to fight in particular, he is ready to test himself against the best practitioners out there.
“The grappling community is so small and tiny, I have friends everywhere. There is no guy I have a grudge against. There are guys who have different styles and I appreciate everybody’s different styles,” he says. “I’m a huge fan of guys like Bill Cooper and Jeff Glover, some Americans who are just tearing up the jiu-jitsu scene. I love it, but I’m a fan. I do it because I fucking love it. I love competing, and I love watching all the greats. There is nobody I’m gunning for by any stretch, but I entertain competing against the best in the world. I’d love to go head to head with some of those guys.”
The Boondock Saints: All Saints Day is in theaters now.