Kieran McGeeney is happy to admit to his mistakes, he tells John O'Brien, but even happier trying to learn from them.
'Tough is how you train, not how you act'
-- Inscription on wall of Straight Blast Gym, Walkinstown, Dublin
Article in Irish Independent Sunday Oct 7, 2012
IT'S just past eight when he swings his car away from the Red Cow Inn and makes his way to a white-washed building behind an industrial estate off the Long Mile Road. He grabs his gear bag, pushes through a black metal door and enters a world where, for the next 90 minutes or so, he will be pushed, mentally and physically, to the brink of exhaustion. Just the way he likes it.
He found this place in the dark period after his playing days ended in 2007 and he bristled at the void that nothing, not even management, could ever fill. At first he shopped around: kickboxing, MMA, white collar boxing -- but nothing quite fitted. "I was getting too old to take punches in the head," he smiles. Then he discovered the subtle art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Even tougher, he says, but without the repeated blows to the head. Perfect.
He likes the honesty of the set-up here, the respect the athletes have for one another. They are individuals, of course, but bond as tightly as any team he's been part of. He loves the mix of nationalities too. When he first arrived nobody knew him from Adam. His All-Ireland medal carried little weight here. He was out of his comfort zone. A raw novice again, a mountain of challenges rising up before him.
He offers a potted history of the sport and it's easy to see why it would enthral him. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a branch of Judo fought mainly on the ground, slower and more mentally draining -- a sort of combat chess -- and made popular through the exploits of the Gracie brothers from Brazil in the last century who used their skills and technique to overpower fighters of superior strength and build. So bigger didn't always mean better. That intrigued him.
In Feb 2007 long time SBG coach John Kavanagh was the second person to receive a BJJ black belt from Matt Thornton. The first person to really bring proper BJJ into the Country of Ireland, John has made a name for himself as a competitor, and a world-class coach. Here is a note from Matt written shortly after awarding him his belt. Anyone that has rolled with John knows that his own personal BJJ game is phenomenal. He is a world-class BJJ athlete, and his skill at the fundamentals of each position in BJJ, are top notch. In the dozen years or so I have had to Coach BJJ athletes I have yet to work with anyone that matched John's level of technical finesse. However, in addition to his own ability, John also has a complete understanding of why BJJ works the way it does. What makes something a fundamental, why the positions, pressures, and moves of BJJ work the way they do, why things occur in the order that they do, in short the scientific understanding of how grappling works. And it's that understanding of BJJ that ensures John will be able to pass on his BJJ knowledge to the next generation of athletes. Ensuring that the future generation is able to take the game even farther then we have now.
Matt Thornton, SBGi President
"I started training with SBGi when I was 18 years old, and when I was 19 I travelled to Dublin and trained there under John Kavanagh. I always saw John as a normal guy with mysterious abilities to move. John taught me the basic ways of moving and being around him helped me grow.
With time I learned and was moving like him but that's the thing, I never was moving just like him and he never wanted me to do things just like him or anyone else, he wanted me to do things like me. And that the kind of Coach John is, one who teaches you to create."
Gunnar Nelson, Icelandic professional MMA and BJJ fighter
I'm a white belt in BJJ but I sure am getting better with help from all the guys at SBG in Ireland and outside of it too, I have not tried to compete yet, but hope to soon.
I have been in SBG Ireland since October 2009 and since then have become quite fit and more confident in BJJ and Muay Thai all the people in SBG coach or student are such nice people, easy going and friendly. I have learned so much just from rolling with people I've never met before and have made some good friends from the gym too. Classes become easier to comprehend if you keep going, but you'll always find out new ways to pass a guard or just stay safe on your back. With classes almost always on you never have a reason to be bored at home or out of shape once you're a member of SBG.
Adam Laycock, SBG Student
I've only been in SBG about 3 months now and I've loved every minute of it. My first class was Johns SBG Intro class; I went down with two friends of mine. I was really nervous at first but Johns a great coach and explains everything you need to know. I'd recommend SBG to anyone interested in MMA or general fitness.
James Kernan-Whiteman, SBG Student
SBG provides the perfect environment for people of all levels to learn and develop at their own pace. What stands out at SBG is the top class coaching which is provided for in all areas of martial arts and fitness. This stems from the direction of John Kavanagh, the head coach of SBG. John is the best coach I have ever trained under (not just in terms of MMA but in all areas of sport). His hands on approach and attention to detail allow all his students to bring out their best, from the complete beginner to professional competitors.
Cathal Pendred, Cage Contender Welterweight Champion
I have been with SBG Ireland for almost three years. Before SBG I had done some karate, but this did not hold my interest for long. At ten I took up boxing where I won some domestic titles including an all Ireland title and represented Ireland on the national youth squad. Unfortunately soon after I was sidelined by injury, but this was a blessing in disguise. In my time out I dabbled back to Karate and took up wrestling where I won an Irish open. Soon after I decided to try SBG where it became immediately obvious that this was a very different training environment. It was ego free, friendly and every time I made a mistake and got tapped by a more experienced guy or girl they explained what I did wrong and how to avoid doing it again. In short everyone there wanted me to progress and get better. Each style thought in SBG is thought with such enthusiasm and detail that after each session you're itching to get back to learn more, and the beauty is you don't have to be a fighter. There is a class for EVERYONE! Since joining I have had two C class MMA bouts and one A class pro MMA bout. It is an incredible feeling to step up and compete, and the feeling of TEAM support in the lead up and aftermath is second to none, win lose or draw. It's one of those places you will make some great friends and come across an interesting character or two. After almost three years I still walk in that door not knowing what to expect and through the ups and downs of competing have sweat, bled, laughed and almost cried on the mats, but loved every single minute of it.
Alan Duffy, SBG Student
I Joined SBG in November 2009. Have been training MMA since 2008, white belt in BJJ, Have fought once since joining SBG at cage contender 5 and won by RNC in the second round. Have a semi pro record of 1 win and 1 loss. Favourite discipline is Muay Thai and I also train this in Limerick with Robert Ng. Hopes for the future are to keep training and hopefully have a pro fight next year. Hopefully will fight again this year also. Since joining SBG I have made some great friends and improved my ground game unbelievably thanks to John Kavanagh. The boxing classes
with Connor are excellent and the experience of our wrestling coach Serjei is a huge advantage to us that other gyms in Ireland don't have. Also there are many experienced fighters to give you a hand or point you in the right direction with any problems you are having with your game, cutting weight, fitness etc.
James Heelan, SBG Student
I have been involved in Mixed Martial Arts at professional level since 2003 as a fighter in the UK, America and Japan and also as a commentator in Europe, Japan, America and Russia. I first trained with John Kavanagh in 2004 and have trained with him a number of times since and also commentated on his team's fights. John has one of the most effective styles of jiu jitsu I have seen or experienced for Mixed Martial Arts. Not only can he apply it himself but he has style of teaching that means fighters and Martial Artists of all levels can walk away from his seminars with instantly improved games. I would highly recommend him as a coach and look forward to the opportunity to train with him again.
Ian M16 Butlin, MMA Consultancy Ltd
My Team and I have been working with John for many years and I attribute a great deal of the success we have had to John's coaching. He has a unique coaching philosophy that I have never seen in any other Jiu jitsu gym or MMA facility. This style is geared towards improving everyone's athletic and technical ability, instead of providing cannon fodder for the gyms superstars; at SBG Ireland everyone is consistently getting better every day.
The guys are awesome, the facilities are great and the coaching is world class; you really need a good reason not to be training at SBG Ireland
Paul McVeigh, Cage Warriors and Cage Contender Champion
I've been into fitness for about 8 years and was starting to get bored with working out at the gym. I've always wanted to try martial arts but didn't feel comfortable starting at beginner level. I started doing a couple of women's UFF classes at SBG and loved them and wasn't long before I wanted to try out all the classes. I'm now training about 5/6 times a week doing boxing, thai boxing and jiu jitsu and UFF classes. There's a super crowd training at SBG along with a great atmosphere. My fitness level has really improved and I've learned more skills training for just a few months then I have training for years at the gym. The classes are highly addictive!!!!
Michelle Jones, SBG Student
I started martial arts at a young age and come from a very strong Judo family of black belts. I'm a four time Irish Judo Champion and have trained judo full time in the United States and Britain. I've competed and medalled in many tournaments abroad and last year I was selected to represent Ireland in the Sambo World championships in Greece.
In the back of my mind I was always interested in becoming a complete fighter but my judo career was going well so I decided to stick at it. A few years ago at the height of my competitive career I had an opportunity to have a roll with SBG head coach John Kavanagh on the ground. At least half or more of my judo fights were won on the ground and I thought I knew about ground fighting. John proceeded to wrap me up like a pretzel and I was instantly impressed with his technical ability. I knew immediately then that I was eventually going to get into training at SBG.
When I first came down to try out a session or two I approached the gym with a bit of trepidation, I was jokingly expecting to be confronted by knuckle dragging cavemen who would want to pull my head off due to my judo experience, thankfully this could not have been further from the truth. I was welcomed into the gym by John, tried my first class and have never looked back since. What struck me about the gym was the training was so open and accessible to everyone. There is no cliques, no divide in the students and no secret or hidden techniques. Everyone is there to help everyone improve. I have never seen so many students of any gym go from complete beginner to competent fighter and on to champion in such a short space of time. SBG is a truly international gym with many MMA Champions on its roster, at a national and international level as well as a successful international BJJ team. SBG maintains an open and welcome atmosphere as well as an encouraging and motivating attitude. Personally, SBG has grown to be a home away from home for me and I can't recommend a beginner to come down and join the SBG family enough. If you're a complete martial arts beginner or a pro looking to improve, then SBG is the gym for you.
Luke Corcoran, Irish Judo Champion and SBG Student
Having been interested and around MMA for quite a few years I eventually decided to give training a go back in 2009. I initially tried out a different gym in Dublin but didn't feel that their training structure was what I wanted and knew I had to find somewhere else if I was to take my training serious. My good pal Rodney Moore (IMMA) told me to go to John Kavanagh at SBG, that at SBG I would receive the highest standards of training, learning how to interpret best taught techniques and that I would be trained by some of the best coaches around in MMA, BJJ and the different aspects of training involved. Upon my introduction at SBG I immediately knew the club had the exact setup that I wanted to get myself more actively involved in training the various forms of Mixed Martial Arts and I joined SBG then and there. Upon becoming a member over 1 year ago, I immediately felt a warm sense of belonging from the friendly atmosphere that exists at SBG and could see the level of skill and talent amongst other members of the gym who are only too happy to offer their encouragement and help when training. I quickly got myself involved in the various aspects of training, learning the core fundamentals and worked hard at trying to improve my fitness levels and conditioning to enhance my training. I now hope to move forward working hard on the various fundamentals being taught, improving upon them, once again getting more involved and maybe even one day compete.
Carla McCambridge, SBG Student
Since joining SBG over a year ago, my fitness has improved so much. The coaching and students create an atmosphere that actually make you want to come back and learn more, at the beginning my fitness wasn't great but since then I have learned so much about how to train in a healthy way, the advice from my coach (John Kavanagh) is always there whenever I need it, whether it be what classes should I do to better my striking skills or just for tips on a better diet, everybody at SBG is there to learn and evolve in there own way. It's a great place if you just want to get fit with a great group of people, and be coached by world class coaches, or if you want to compete, which is what I want to do. I joined over a year ago and I'm in the finals of the MMA league, win or lose I think that's a big achievement, and I don't think that would have been possible with out SBG
John Marrey, SBG Student
I've been a member of SBG for nearly two years, I lost weight and felt great however with work commitments and keeping my son entertained at the weekends I was too tired and didn't get time to get down and train and whatever weight I lost I put back on again. A couple of weeks ago people started commenting on my weight and it really got to me so I decided to take a picture of what I looked like and didn't like what I saw and when I weighed myself I was 18 stone 2 pounds which was the heaviest I've ever been so I decided go back training. This is my 5th week back training and I am now 17 stone! so far I have lost 1 stone 2 pounds. My clothes are looser, I feel great, my fitness levels are improving and my self esteem is restored. I'm making time to get down and now and take training in SBG more seriously and I want to start competing in competitions in the New Year. I would recommend anyone who wants to lose weight to join, unlike the gym its fun and learning a new sport while amongst friendly people. There are plenty of classes to choose from at different times so there are no excuses.
Richard Gordon, SBG Student
I've been with SBG about 2 and half months now. I joined because I wanted to learn BJJ from the best. Anyone I asked who I would have considered to be "in the know", told me SBG was a no brainer, considering I'd be living so close to it. I can now without reservation say that these people were right.
Since joining SBG and training about 2-3 times per week in tandem with eating right I have lost two stone in weight and now sit at the lightest I can remember in years. And I did it all through SBG.
The coaching staff is all top notch in each of their disciplines and more importantly, they're great at passing on their knowledge and are always happy to help. On top of this, they are all sound. What more could you ask for?
If you have even a passing interest in BJJ/MMA/Boxing/Muay Thai/Wrestling or even if you want to get fit but can't stand the monotony of gyms and weight loss programs, then SBG is for you.
With a reputation for producing Ireland's best pro fighters and BJJ competitors, SBG's track record is proven with the pro side things. This might be a little intimidating to some, but seriously; this place caters for all. There are no big heads or egos and everyone helps everyone.
I have literally improved week on week and I look forward to training whenever I am able to. I have definitely caught the Jiu-Jitsu bug, it's usually the last thing I think of before going to bed! Hope to see ye on the mats soon.
Richy Condon, SBG Student