FME - Hi Darragh thanks for your time, let’s start at the very beginning, how did you discover Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and what was it that made you stick to it and then develop into your job?
Darragh - My pleasure! I first learnt some Jiu Jitsu at 16 through our PE teacher in school. He was a blue belt and showed us how to do a key lock and I thought it was mind blowing. I was playing rugby quite seriously at the time so didn’t commit. But once I got tired of playing rugby I wanted to have another hobby so looked up my PE teachers club and began there. What has made me stick to it, is the never ending, ever expanding puzzle that is Jiu Jitsu. It’s both mentally and physically stimulating and completely obsesses my mind at all times. I never thought of it as being my job, or even having a team, that was all just a natural progression from my fascination and passion for it.
FME - You are one of the top European competitors, and through your coloured belt years you were also extremely successful, especially at brown belt winning the European Nogi Championships twice and placing third at the Europeans Gi and Pan Americans, amongst the multiple IBJJF International Open gold medals.
This resulted in you being invited to the BJJ Kumite, hosted by Lloyd Irvin, a sub only format with no time limit against some of the best brown belts in the world, a unique competition which hasn’t been replicated, what was that experience like?
Darragh - That experience changed my life. I have never done something so physically demanding. It challenged everything that I thought I knew about myself, and everything that I wanted to be. I grew a lot as an athlete and to this day I credit that time as a huge turning point for me. 6 no time limit matches every day for 4 days straight. Some days losing all 6, some days getting bigger wins than I’d ever had before. Some matches minutes long, some over an hour. It was a rollercoaster and something I am so grateful to have been a part of. To this day, just as you have, people still remember it and talk to me about it which is really special!
FME - Your most recent success and probably your most prestigious medal was the gold medal you won at the IBJJF European NoGi Championships at Black Belt Adult middleweight. Which was particularly impressive, especially considering the previous year you were edged out in the final by advantage. How did you feel going into that competition and how did it play out?
Darragh - That was a day I will remember forever. My father passed away 4 years ago after battling cancer. My best friend Chris’s dad, the week of the competition also passed to cancer. I had to change my flights to Rome to attend his funeral and be with him. The entire experience as you can imagine was very emotional. I was literally in the bullpen with tears in my eyes, crying! I still am not sure how I managed to fight. But I had 3 extremely difficult matches and through it all, came out with the win. An incredible day. Despite it being a minor tournament in comparison to the ADCC or No Gi Worlds, it’s still something I’m very proud of!
FME - Talking about the European NoGi, you’ve also had success there with your students, developing European NoGi champs such as Marcus Phelan, Sam McNally, Ellis Younger and Ffion Davies along with multiple medallists. Not only at this competition but your team has grown exponentially with multiple affiliations around the British Isles. ECJJA has truly become one of the top competition teams in Europe winning team trophies at the London Open and just recently winning the Irish Open first place team trophy which featured on the FloGrappling Vlog, talk about the evolution you’ve seen with your academy, with its growth to becoming one of the top competition teams, and winning the Irish team trophy, how important was that for you?
Darragh - it’s been very cool to watch one academy of 15/20 white belts turn into several full-time academies. With many people being able to make their passion their work. While I really appreciate the above compliments, I still believe we have a long way to go as a team. My goals and expectations are far bigger than anything you’ve mentioned above or anything we’ve achieved to date, but we are certainly moving in the right direction and I’m very proud of that. But we can’t sit on past successes however big or small. Winning the Irish open was great, such an amazing day. I hope to win it every year forever, haha! I believe strongly that every team should care greatly about winning the national team title. The more competitive our national tournament(s) can be, the better Ireland will do internationally. It brings up the level of the entire country and that’s only a good thing!
FME - The previous Irish Open looked to be quite quite busy, with many divisions looking deep and talent throughout. You’ve been at the forefront of Irish Jiu Jitsu for many years, talk about the growth of the JiuJjitsu scene in Ireland and how it’s looking at the moment?
Darragh - Every year things grow bigger. On the national level we consistently have more competitions and a bigger Irish open. And the technique and “games” being played at the local tournaments is always improving. On the international level however, there is little to no results to speak of. We do very well in the Master’s categories, but in the adult divisions we still have very few athletes (comparatively to other European countries) capable of medalling at the majors in the coloured belts. Of course, this will change with time, and I don’t mean to sound pessimistic or negative. Nobody wants the level of Jiu Jitsu to rise in Ireland more than me. It’s just a matter of fact and I work every day to change it personally!
FME - you have many affiliations, not just in Ireland but also in England and Wales, is having a strong presence over here in the United Kingdom important for you, and what challenges do you face as a coach as you expand and watch over these other affiliations?
Darragh - with regards to affiliations, it’s not important to me to have a presence in the UK or anywhere else really. I only have affiliates I know personally and can visit regularly or have them visit me. That’s the only thing that matters. That I know and can actually help the people. That is also the challenge. To be able to maintain healthy relationships where the affiliate feels supported and part of the team as we inevitably grow bigger.
FME - you’re an Extremely experienced competitor not only on the IBJJF scene but other formats such as EBI and the sub only formats such as Polaris, what is your opinion on the sub only scene and your thoughts on your own experience, competing in that format against tough opponents like Jonathan Satava and Max Campos?
Darragh - Sub Only is fun to do but crap to watch. The only true form of sub only in my opinion is no time limit, which is the worst of them all to watch, but serious fun to be fighting in. When there is no points system, or judging criteria, nothing motivates the athletes to progress, especially from bad positions. If you get your guard passed in true sub only, you have no reason to try escape, your only priority is to not be submitted, and escape at a time when the risk is minimum. As soon as there is points or a judging criteria, the athlete on defence is motivated to take risks. I think the leg lock developments in the last few years, coupled with big mismatches in skill, have made ebi and such shows exciting to watch. I enjoy the IBJJF rules, think you should be allowed heel hook at brown / black. I also like the ACB rules.
FME - What’s next for yourself, competition wise, or is it more of a case of you focusing more on your own students?
Darragh - ADCC Trials in October!
FME - Thanks for your time Darragh!
Darragh - Thanks Fighters Market for being such a good market for fighters. Easily in my top 3 markets, with Dun Laoghaire Park Sunday market being number 1. (Sorry) Thanks to Tatami Fightwear and the Armbar Soap Company. Praise jah and burn down Babylon.