“We had one Gi that we used to rock around in”
To anyone that has considered going full-time with Jiu-Jitsu, brothers John and Patrick Sheridan are a shining example of the hustle that it entails. Together they have established their own academy in Satori BJJ, clothing company Sub Only, and the second largest competition in Ireland, the Dublin International Open.
“I was in a bad spot at the time. I could see the way it was going; 40, fat, mid-life crisis and done”
John was working in the Irish financial services – working with figures, creating spreadsheets and moving around vast sums of money. Pat worked a government job on flexitime, which had been ideal for fitting multiple training sessions around his work hours. But unfortunately when the recession hit, his job disappeared. Both brothers were at a crossroads and made the decision to plough head first into the daily grind of making Jiu-Jitsu their livelihood by whatever means necessary.
“Making money doing something you don’t want to do, to buy something you don’t really want”
The brothers made the initial step by becoming recipients of Ireland’s social welfare. Anyone who has visited Dublin can attest to the fact that it is an expensive city. When questioned on how they managed to survive, they explained by living frugally and completely stopping spending money. No more holidays or trips to hotels with girlfriends and remaining at home with their, thankfully understanding, parents.
This also meant not buying any new clothes for years. At this time John was training three times a day with only two kimonos. One only has to see the pictures from his first attempt at qualifying for Abu Dhabi World Pro at the trials in England – he picked up a double bronze in a extensively oversized pair of A3 Gi pants with an tight-fitted A1 kimono top.
“Going to a competition and not being able to walk up the stairs in your house the day before, because your whole central nervous system is so fucked…”
I first met the brothers when they were training with Darragh O Conaill at East Coast Jiu-Jitsu. At this point they were training between three and four times a day. This work ethic led to competitive success, particularly for John who became European champion at blue belt in No-Gi, and scored qualification to the Abu Dhabi World Pro by submitting all of his opponents at his weight and the open weight division.
But this overtraining resulted in a laundry list of injuries for both brothers. Reflecting on their mistakes, they explain they were constantly in and out of the car, which doubled as a bed between sessions, and not getting the correct nutrition. Perhaps most importantly, they were not getting enough time off the mats to recuperate; not resting properly before a competition and not taking any time off after they had fought.
“I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t tap and he broke my foot”
In hindsight this wasn’t one of John’s most intelligent decisions but it actually came as a blessing in disguise. When having his cast put on, the nurse noticed his back. As it turns out, the constant pain he had been in was a result of two herniated discs with another one bulging so that the nerve had become impinged. At this point the doctor exclaimed, “I don’t know how you’re able to stand up let alone compete.”
These injuries were coupled with the realisation that life as a competitor might not pay the bills. John recalls a trip to the Jiu-Jitsu World Championships in California. Being tight with money, he had just googled the cheapest place to stay close to the comp, which predictably ended up being the worst place on Earth. As he was reflecting on the fact that this was the sort of place where people get shot, ADCC absolute champion, Claudio Calassans, came out onto the balcony. “If that is the shit-hole that he is staying in, with his Gi drying out on the balcony, then something isn’t right here,” he reflected. “You can be unbelievable at Jiu-Jitsu and not have any money.”
“One of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life”
Some important decisions had to be made when the social welfare began cracking down on those on long-term unemployment benefits. They came to the brothers with some options. One was to do a “shitty computer course for nine months” which John, with degrees in maths and history, would have no use for. Another was to train to become a maths teacher, and the final option was to become self employed. This was the genesis of Satori BJJ
Their goal wasn’t to own an academy, it was to train. Their dream was to become world champions. But now three years in they couldn’t be happier, both creatively and financially they are in a good place. Although it wasn’t a success from the offset; coming off the back of winning No-Gi Euros at blue belt and qualifying for Abu Dhabi, perhaps naively they imagined it would be an instant money earner. John explains they wrote up their projections and, “We might as well have wiped our arse with them!” The bubble was burst on the first night when they had six students turn up.
“Students have to know your intentions”
Whilst the academy has become financially successful and the brothers no longer need to share one kimono between the two of them, they explain that the bulk of the profit goes directly back into the business itself. The brothers are well aware of the socio-economic make up of their catchment area having been born and bred there, and they know their students don’t have large sums of cash to throw around. While making enough money for themselves to live from Jiu-Jitsu is a necessity, their goal is to have Ireland’s most successful competition team. With this in mind, all seminars are provided to their students for free, as well as all gradings for children. This is coupled with paying for outside tuition from pro MMA fighter Chris Fields for those students who want to punch each other in the face, and a black belt Judo instructor to ensure an attitude of institutional butt-scooting isn’t fostered.
They are off to a good start in their goal of a dominant competitive team. This year two of their students scored silver medals at the European Championships.
“In a lot of gyms the most experienced guy teaches the easiest classes; the black belt teaches the advanced class where most guys know where they are going. I believe that the best coach needs to be at the bottom where they need the most instruction”
Kids have been a key part of the financial success of the academy with over seventy children and teens attending classes. This is where Pat’s passion lies, he relishes the opportunity to plan and deliver his own program to children and teens. Having had eight years experience in this area, it is something he excels at.
When questioned on why he is so impassioned to work with the little guys who, in my own experience, are notoriously difficult due to having attention spans similar to a grape, he explains the satisfaction of seeing their immediate progression from session to session and week to week. This is unparalleled when compared to their adult counterparts. The success in this area is evident as a class of four year olds seamlessly drill through a De La Riva sequence with a level of finesse that puts my guard game to shame.
“Running a clothing company is a full-time job in itself”
After opening the academy, John would stay up late night watching business webinars. He took on board advice about the necessity for multiple streams of income. Out of this the Sub Only brand was born. The brothers shy away from discussing how it was possible to initially start a Gi and clothing company from scratch, which isn’t surprising given the currently oversaturated nature of the market.
Establishing a kimono company in this climate has been far from easy and the brothers admit they made a plethora of initial mistakes. The idea that you spend an initial amount which you make back and then turn a profit simply does not happen. Reflecting on it, approaching every Irish athlete for sponsorship and sales deals was a mistake. They helped so many people out in the beginning with free Gis and sponsorship, and ended up down, thirteen thousand Euros.
Financially it hasn’t been a success yet, but they have produced nine Gis in their short three years of life. The kimono designs are some of the freshest on the market and include a Cystic fibrosis kimono; Pat’s friend tragically died of the disease. They took all the profit from its sale and donated it to the Cystic Fibrosis Centre. Pat explains,
“This has been a learning process. We are heading in right direction, at the very least we can provide top quality Gis and affordable prices to all our students.”
Looking out across the academy at a packed mat for a (free) seminar with Polish European Champion, Jacob Zajkowski with every dude on the mat rocking Sub Only, this is completely true.
“You would go to tournaments where you would have nothing to do with it, and you end up telling the guys how to run the clocks, and refereeing. What the fuck is happening here? I am running their tournament”
Not content with these two streams of Jiu-Jitsu cash, they dived head first into the competition scene. Competition was something both had a wealth of experience in, they had been attending karate competitions their whole lives. They reminisce about attending the Irish Open, where there would be 2000 athletes for sports karate tournaments in the national sports centre.
After growing up around this and then attending Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, they saw so many things that were blatantly wrong. They wanted to create a model for BJJ following what they had experienced in karate, with attractive medals, fair pay for employees and tightly run schedules; to this day they have ran seven tournaments without a single delay.
Whilst there goal of competitors isn’t quite in three figures yet, they do have the second biggest turnout in Ireland and have achieved a goal of having a higher standard of competitors. They have achieved this by flying in Swiss black belt, Thomas Oyarzun and Swedish European Champion, Max Lindblad, among others. This is something other profit-hungry tournaments simply don’t do.
“Jiu-Jitsu changes the way you think about everything”
Spending time with these two brothers and seeing how far they have taken it in a few short years has been nothing short of inspirational. From joining them in their old stinky 1997 Volkswagen (which cost them three hundred Euros, only had one workable door, and an engine that would set on fire on the way to the gym), to watching them effortlessly deliver technique to their own packed class of students today in their own academy.
Pat credits John for the bulk of their success, he has created an ethical means of making money through Jiu-Jitsu, and his love for the sport and his inherent fairness is passed down to everyone. As brothers they have carved out a piece of Jiu-Jitsu for themselves, one which ensures the progression of those around them and indeed the sport as a whole in Ireland.