July 9, 2024

The Genius of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: John Danaher

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) has grown immensely popular over the last few decades, thanks in large part to a select group of elite practitioners and coaches. Among these, John Danaher stands out as a pivotal figure whose influence has reshaped the landscape of BJJ. This blog explores the life, philosophy, and impact of John Danaher on the world of BJJ.

Early Life and Introduction to BJJ

From Philosophy to Martial Arts

John Danaher was born in New Zealand and later moved to the United States to pursue academic studies. He earned a Master's degree in Philosophy from Columbia University. It was during his time at Columbia that Danaher began his journey in martial arts, initially training in various disciplines before discovering Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Training Under Renzo Gracie

Danaher's BJJ journey took a significant turn when he started training under Renzo Gracie in New York City. Renzo Gracie, a member of the legendary Gracie family, quickly recognized Danaher's potential. Under Gracie's mentorship, Danaher developed his skills and deepened his understanding of the art.

The Rise of a Renowned Coach

The Art of Instruction

John Danaher is often celebrated not just for his technical prowess but for his ability to teach and articulate complex concepts. His background in philosophy undoubtedly contributed to his analytical approach to BJJ. Danaher's classes are known for their detailed instruction and systematic breakdown of techniques.

The Formation of the Danaher Death Squad

One of Danaher's most notable contributions to BJJ is the formation of the "Danaher Death Squad" (DDS). This group of elite grapplers, including stars like Gordon Ryan, Garry Tonon, and Eddie Cummings, has dominated the competitive scene. Under Danaher's guidance, DDS members have achieved numerous titles and accolades, particularly in the submission grappling and no-gi BJJ circuits.

Technical Innovations and Contributions

Leg Lock Revolution

Danaher is widely credited with revolutionizing the use of leg locks in BJJ. While leg locks were often viewed with skepticism or even disdain in traditional BJJ circles, Danaher recognized their potential and systematically integrated them into his teaching. His approach emphasized control, positioning, and safety, making leg locks a formidable aspect of modern BJJ.

Systematic Approach to Training

Another hallmark of Danaher's coaching is his systematic approach to training. He developed comprehensive systems for various aspects of BJJ, including guard passing, pinning, and submissions. This methodical approach allows practitioners to understand and apply techniques more effectively, leading to rapid skill development.

Philosophy and Teaching Style

The Power of Concepts

Danaher's teaching emphasizes understanding the underlying concepts behind techniques rather than rote memorization. He believes that a deep understanding of principles such as leverage, control, and timing is crucial for mastering BJJ. This conceptual approach helps students adapt and apply techniques in a wide range of situations.

Mental and Physical Preparation

Danaher also places significant importance on the mental and physical preparation of his students. He encourages a disciplined lifestyle, including regular training, proper nutrition, and mental conditioning. This holistic approach ensures that his students are not only technically proficient but also mentally resilient and physically conditioned.

Legacy and Influence

Impact on the Competitive Scene

John Danaher's influence on the competitive BJJ scene is undeniable. His students consistently perform at the highest levels, winning major tournaments and setting new standards of excellence. The success of the Danaher Death Squad has inspired a new generation of grapplers to adopt and adapt his methods.

Contributions to BJJ Literature and Media

In addition to his coaching, Danaher has contributed to BJJ literature and media. He has produced instructional videos and written extensively about his systems and philosophies. These resources have made his teachings accessible to a global audience, further solidifying his legacy in the BJJ community.


John Danaher's impact on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is profound and far-reaching. His analytical approach, technical innovations, and dedication to teaching have reshaped the way BJJ is practiced and taught. As a coach, mentor, and philosopher of martial arts, Danaher continues to inspire and influence practitioners around the world. His legacy is a testament to the power of knowledge, discipline, and the relentless pursuit of excellence in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.