The Curious Case of Eoghan O’Flanagan

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Eoghan O’Flanagan, a.k.a the UK variant leg locker, barely missed a chance to win a medal at ADCC 2022, losing to Vagner Rocha in their bronze medal match. But his overall performance was outstanding. He beat more well-known and established grapplers, Xande Ribeiro and Mason Fowler.​

As I mentioned in my previous post, Eoghan co-runs a podcast with his buddy. He talks about his BJJ background in the first couple of his podcast episodes.

“Why do you even have a coach? Just get on Youtube. Just get on YouTube and do your own shit.”

From The Charles Eoghan Experience Episode #2

What’s particularly noteworthy about his training approach is that he doesn’t have a coach, trains mostly at open mats, and relies on YouTube videos and BJJ Fanatics instructionals for technical guidance. This may sound surprising to many BJJ practitioners, though I bet his approach resonates with some others.​

My coach back in Japan gave me all the belts, from blue to black, but I haven’t spent much time with him because I was seldom in Japan in the last 20 years. Even when I’m back in Japan, I hardly seek technical instructions from my coach. I learned most of my BJJ skills through trial and error, and my coach evaluated and promoted me accordingly.​

Given my background, Eoghan’s approach doesn’t sound surprising or strange to me at all.​

Also, historically, people often break away from their coaches, form their teams with their training partners, and become coach-less. However, they are usually already at a high level and can navigate their training on their own. My point here is that having no coach may be more common than people might think.​

But what’s impressive about Eoghan is that he turned himself into a high-level competitor through his approach and efforts.​

Eoghan mentions that the primary role of a coach, in his view, is to keep their students accountable and to give them technical guidance. Eoghan can keep himself accountable and learn techniques independently through online resources. This is not something everyone can do, and he is unique in this sense.​

But whether you are trying to become a high-level competitor or have regular access to a good, reliable coach, I believe learning how to learn independently and control your training is essential to most of you. I hope BJJ Reflections can help you learn these things, though.​

Interestingly, at least parts of Eoghan’s self-guided learning approach seem similar to what I recommended via BJJ Reflections, like finding role models and copying their game. But this is not rocket science, and I feel most people do it consciously or unconsciously. If you aren’t doing it… I highly recommend you to do it.​

By the way, in case you are wondering why some people don’t have a coach, there are all sorts of reasons. For example:​

  • Some people practice BJJ in areas where BJJ is still developing and don’t have senior belts around.
  • Some people are coaches themselves, but they are blue, purple, or brown belts, and they don’t have easy access to their coaches.
  • Some people leave their old affiliation, go independent, and don’t really have mentors or coaches.
  • Some people have coaches but don’t have easy access to them for whatever reason.​

I bet some of the readers of BJJ Reflections fall into these categories.​

If you have a coach… should you fire your coach and do it your way? Well, not so quick. If you trust your coach as a BJJ practitioner and a person, there’s no reason to break away from yours. Your coach should be one of the first people for you to seek BJJ help from, especially with regard to your overall game and how you could become better, because they know what you do well and what you do poorly. This kind of feedback will help you stay on track. This is important, especially early in your BJJ career.​

You could wing it without such feedback or guidance, but unless you are critical of your mistakes and know how to fix them, you would probably waste a lot of time without proper feedback. I probably wasted a lot of time myself, so I’d recommend you seek help from your coach and senior training partners if their help is immediately available.​

If you are in a place or situation where such help is not available easily, people like Eoghan could act as a great role model for you in terms of self-guided learning. You may have a harder time finding training partners who are just as keen on improving BJJ skills as you are, though. Finding such training partners can be difficult, and people move to a different city or country not just to train under a well-known coach but also with like-minded people. Consider yourself lucky if you have a few training partners who are eager to improve and train as much as you are.​

Whatever your situation is, make sure to take control of your learning and training. People around can give you resources and help, but ultimately you are the one responsible for your own learning and growth.​

Keep leading yourself.