After a day of watching some of Irelands top BJJ athletes compete at the 2017 SubOnly Summer Smackdown, we managed to get a few minutes with John Sheridan to sit down and discuss his motivations, history and where he sees BJJ going in the future.
LL: What’s your sports background and how did you get into Jiu Jitsu?
JS: Long story… I was never really good at team sports, like soccer and stuff. Everyone used to play soccer outside my house because we have a park there, but I was always shit at that, I don’t know why… I think it might be because my dad used to coach me, he’d done a bit of GAA and stuff and he was always saying “do this… do this… do this…”. I just thought fuck this, I want to do something I can do myself, without having people watching me, so I started Karate and got into Martial Arts and the individual sports. I started when I was about 5 or 6 and continued until I was about 20, but when I got into Jiu Jitsu that’s what really opened my mind.
In Karate we had a set curriculum, so the coach would show ya a Kata, and that’s all you did. I never really thought too much about what I was doing, I got pretty good at doing it, but I never really got to the very highest level cause I wasn’t creative about it, and I didn’t take the learning into my own hands. I did that for so long that I blew my elbow too many times and couldn’t straighten my arm for about a year from throwing punches. I used to punch with my right hand back, and I wanted to kick with the right leg forward, so I switched my stance and fucked my elbow. After that I fell out of doing sports and got fat.
My brother then started doing MMA and said, “here, ya might as well come down and do this, the ground part is really good”. I was in a different mind frame and I literally said, “Why would I do any ground work when I can hit you so hard that I’ll knock you out in one punch?” We always used to do some light sparring, me and my brother, but when he introduced a bit of grappling, I did really really badly. He used to just batter me in the kitchen and once I said, “fair enough, you got me once, but you won’t be able to do it again”, but he did the exact same sequence the second time and smashed me and that’s when I thought, ‘OK, there’s something to this’. At the time I had been injured, and to go from training in martial arts twice in the morning and then again in the evening I was used to doing a lot of stuff and it all got completely lost, but Jiu Jitsu came along at the right time and I thought ‘this is savage!’
I wanted to do a bit of MMA at the start, but I really just enjoyed the Jiu Jitsu and just focused on it.
LL: So you started your own gym at Blue Belt, but how did you get to that point?
JS: So I started doing a bit of MMA first, I don’t know if it was the club, or the classes I was going to but I never saw any technique, you just go in and rough house. Then a guy came over from Brazil and started showing us a bit of NoGi stuff, I got a bit more into that and was training with him for about 6 months, once or twice and week, and I thought “hey, where can I do this a lot more”. So I went to SBG at the red cow, and that’s where I really started picking up the training. I’d already done about a year and a half of MMA but I was only training once or twice a week at the start, and then when I started really falling for it. For 6 months I trained a lot more, I really amped it up and was training 5-6 times a week, doing 2 or 3 hours a time.
At that time there wasn’t any places you could train, so when I went to SBG, I just quit my job and trained every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 12 O clock, and it was just 2 hours of sparring. It was me, Joey (Breslin), Darragh (O Conaill), and all the Polish and Eastern European crew that were out there. At that time Darragh had his own gym in Dún Laoghaire (East Coach Jiu Jitsu), it wasn’t East Coast at the time, but he asked if we wanted to train the same times, but on Tuesday and Thursday. After about 6 months at SBG John Kavanagh gave me my blue belt. I’d went over to England and won a few competitions there, but at the time I didn’t think anything of it because when we were doing sports Karate, we would just go where ever. There was mainly a good standard of competitions in Ireland but someone would say, “do you wanna go to Athens next weekend?” and we’d just work to get a bit of money and fly over to Athens and fight. At that time, to go to England for a Jiu Jitsu competition was a big thing, but the standard of competition wasn’t particularly high that I won, but the guys thought “fair play, you won a competition in England, here’s your blue belt”.
We started getting more and more successful, with just the pure volume of training we were doing, we were so hungry for it, we were training 3 times a day Monday to Friday. Quite often you wouldn’t make it to Friday. Wednesday nights were the hill and I used to think if I can just get past Wednesday night I can probably do Thursday and Friday. If you crumbled on Wednesday, you were fucked. On Wednesday, you’d usually do 2 hours of sparring in the morning at SBG, then go over to East Coast BJJ and drill techniques from 4 O clock, and come back to SBG to do the class with Chris Bo which was all technique and then more wrestling after Chris’ class which was all effort, you’d have to do so many lifts, but that didn’t last too long before you were so fucked… but that’s what I was like at Blue Belt.
I kept that going for a while, and started to see more success and then of the back end of that, we opened the gym. It was getting to the stage, where me and my brother were picking up a lot of injuries; my back was fucked so just driving from my house to all these places, it was hard to even sit in the car. I thought, ‘what will I do if I can’t even drive there?’ so we set up our own place. At the start it was only 2 classes per week, Tuesday at 9 O clock and Saturday at 4pm. We were still training but we wanted a little bit of something closer to home, and just to get something going. In hindsight I’m surprised we’ve done well at all with that sorta start. Nobody wants to train just at 9 O clock on a Tuesday and 4pm on a Saturday
LL: It sounds like you definitely put the work in at the start though.
JS: We did put an unbelievable amount of work in at the start, but we didn’t get as much of a reward for the work that we should have done because we just didn’t know what we were doing a lot of the time. Obviously the way we trained wasn’t ideal, the nutrition mightn’t have been as good as it could have, our technical knowledge of the sport wasn’t what it could have been, but we just grinded it out and got to a good level. We were lucky with what we had to be able to do what we were doing, but if we had of been living beside a gym with world champions in Jiu Jitsu it’d be different, or if I had just done MMA I’d have done well enough. Obviously we’ve got good enough gyms for MMA, but for Jiu Jitsu, we still haven’t hit that real high level/championship level.
LL: We’re getting there though with the sport still growing.
JS: Most definitely, the sport’s growing so fast, but it’s hard to break through that level, but when we do hopefully it’ll become normal to push it in those competitions.
LL: You run a lot of SubOnly competitions, what’s the best and worst thing about organising a competition?
JS: The worst thing is: the amount of effort that goes into it and the toll that takes on your own training and other areas of your life. I’m really lucky ’cause one of the guys who’s competing today is staying with me for a week afterwards. He’s a purple belt, European and World Champion, and he’s really good, but when we start training tomorrow I’m gonna be fucked. I’m gonna be so run down that I’m not gonna be able to get as much out of the training as I want to. When we started doing the competitions, it was more stressful cause we didn’t know what we were doing and you’d be fucked for a week or 2 afterwards, and not sleeping probably for weeks running up to it worrying about every aspect. I just overthink it probably, but that’s why I improve fast with Jiu Jitsu and coaching, but when it comes to competitions, it just wears you down so much.
The best thing is: the higher standard of competitions. We came from doing kickboxing and sport Karate competitions. When the Irish Open was on there’s nearly 2500 competitors at it and that’s what we were used to doing. When we came to Jiu Jitsu most competitions were in someone’s gym with 40-50 people and we just thought, ‘Alright, let’s up this’. Not that we personally done it all ourselves, but it’s great to have been a part of that and now the scene in Irish Jiu Jitsu is so much bigger than it was 5 years ago. It’s a great springboard for people who might want to compete somewhere else, even today, some people would have had 5 matches to win. If you go to the Euros, it might be 6 or so, then at least you’re getting close to the amount of matches as opposed to showing up and having 2 matches then going to the Euros and thinking ‘what the fuck is this’ and being unable to cope with it.
LL: Where does your motivation come from to put these events on?
JS: That was pretty much it, we just saw how we could do a good event and thought, ‘fuck it, we might as well try and put on a good event, and be a resource for the community’. Our primary focus is still to be really good at Jiu Jitsu, secondly be really good at coaching people in Jiu Jitsu, and then thirdly to run really good events. Basically, everything we do, we do the best we can.
LL: Do you see the level of Jiu Jitsu competitions getting higher?
JS: Yeah, the first competition we ran, was the biggest in Ireland ever, something like 265 competitors at the Dublin Open. Today we had 450, and that’s only 4 and a half years since our first competition. 4 years from the first Dublin Open International to the forth one, we went from 265 to 665 competitors, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get close to 1000 competitors this year. So the difference in that is huge, not just the growth, but the amount of events. Back then there was the Irish Open and the Dublin Open, and a couple of smaller ones in peoples clubs, but this year there are somewhere between 15 and 20 events, maybe even more, so people can compete way more, and now that the events are bigger, you have way more matches also. There’s even more international competitors coming to Ireland to compete, that was very rare beforehand and it’s great for the sport.
LL: Where do you see the sport growing in the next 5-10 years?
JS: Hard to say. With the momentum at the moment, I’d really hope that we could be one of the European power houses of Jiu Jitsu, whether that happens or not only time will tell, but that’d be the dream. There’s no reason why we can’t be, there’s so many people training now, there’s so much momentum and obviously that’s a lot to do with MMA, but there’s so much related momentum in that whole area so fingers crossed that we get there.
LL: Why’d you choose the SubOnly style competitions?
JS: We went with the SubOnly to give people the chance to be more well rounded athletes. At the time a lot of the people who were doing points were thinking, ‘I can stall out a match here’ but now that there’s more of an influence of the SubOnly style through Jiu Jitsu as a whole it seems like there’s less stalling which is great. The IBJJF tried to identify that too, bringing in the stalling rule. I think SubOnly creates a mindset that works in a points competitions with that attitude that you want to go finish the fight. I know sometimes when a match is tight, you might win or lose a fight by a small margin, but it’s more about the mindset. It’s hard to identify because it’s not about going out and being reckless and trying to get a submission, but when you start out in Jiu Jitsu, that’s what you aim to do – get the Submission. It’s more than just the competition, it’s more the mindset and a brand itself with the clothing and an attitude as well. We try to put on something to cover all areas, we have the submission only type and the standard type of competitions, and as the sport evolves, we’ll try to put on the competitions to suit the needs of everyone and to progress across the board.
LL: Do you compliment your training with anything? Yoga, Strength and Conditioning or Breathing techniques?
JS: Breathing techniques? I do a lot of farting if that counts… I aim to do a bit of yoga in the morning but it rarely happens. In the club now we have Yoga starting on Sundays and we have a strength and conditioning area being set up. If you do Jiu Jitsu with a bit of yoga and a bit of strength and conditioning it’ll keep you on track longer and you could up that if you’re more susceptible to injuries and rebalance your training around that. I should do more but I just don’t enjoy the other stuff as much. I love doing Jiu Jitsu, especially the sparring, and that’s all I want to do but unfortunately the body doesn’t last too long doing it that way.
LL: What’s the most important thing white belts need to focus on to progress into a blue belt or beyond?
JS: Don’t worry too much about the blue belt, just enjoy what you’re doing, have a good bunch of people there with you that you enjoy spending time with and then it’s just a matter of being on the mats.
Once you apply yourself you get smart about your training, you reflect on your training, keep a diary, work at it, then it’s just a matter of time before you hit blue belt. I don’t even think people should be thinking about the blue belt, think about the black belt, and not just a black belt, a high standard of black belt. It’s open to everyone, if you just train intelligently and for long enough you will become a good black belt.
LL: Jiu Jitsu has a massive dropout rate, what do you think the biggest factor is that causes people to leave the sport after dedicating so much time to it?
JS: Usually it’s small injuries, that knock people off track and then don’t get back on the mats quick enough, so avoiding injuries will help you stay on track. Again, when people are happy in their training it’ll keep them motivated. A lot of people just have life events like moving house, moving jobs, having kids, then the routine gets broken but hopefully there’s a good enough atmosphere in the gym and it was enjoyable enough that they’ll eventually settle, find the time and find their way back to it.
LL: What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking of starting Jiu Jitsu?
JS: Get stuck in, give it a try and enjoy it. Go around a few different clubs and find the one that suits you the best. Quite often there’s different atmospheres or mentalities, so if you go in and you’re enjoying yourself and the training suits, just get out and experience it and keep going.
LL: What gives you hope for the future of the BJJ scene in Ireland?
JS: The amount of people doing it is increasing all the time, there’s a lot of momentum in the sport and there’s been so many people plugging away at it for so long, it’s just going to become cultural that it’s more and more a part of society in Ireland and keep growing and keep improving the standard in Ireland. The longer it’s around, the more people accept and do it. It’s just getting bigger and better. Hopefully the longer it’s around that’ll become less and less of a problem and it should just become normal. So many people said to me, “oh you’re doing that Karate stuff”, thinking it is just Karate, but the longer it’s around and with the rise of the UFC and Joe Rogans commentary on it that should become less of a problem and start to become normal. Jiu Jitsu brings together so many people from different areas of society and it’s a great leveler, but how to portray that to someone who doesn’t know anything about it is quite difficult.
LL: Who do you look up to for motivation?
JS: No one, you just motivate yourself. If you have to look to other people for stuff, generally, how far are you gonna get? When you’re a child and you’re playing follow the leader, you’re always in second place if you’re following someone else. There’s always that feeling that you’re ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ cause so many people have done so much great work beforehand and you can benefit from that work, but you have to take responsibility for yourself and motivate yourself. If other people have to motivate you, how long is that going to last? On social media you’ll see all these quotes and you might get a bit of motivation then it falls apart and you have to start again. I’ve been doing Jiu Jitsu for a fair amount of time and I really enjoy doing it because if you find what you’re passionate about, it’s easy to stay on track and then when you stay on track on something for a long time, if you’re passionate about it, you’re going to get pretty good at it.
John and Patrick have just opened their new Satori BJJ gym. It’s about 50m away from their old premise at Unit 8B Coolmine Industrial Estate, Dublin, Ireland 15. The new Satori gym is roughly 8000Sq ft, featuring:
-4x matted area.
-2x matted area.
-Strength and conditioning area.
-changing rooms and showers.
Check out https://www.facebook.com/Satori.BJJ.Dublin/ for more info.