John Danaher, Young and Old

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John Danaher - Young and Old


John Danaher is a world renowned Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Coach, widely considered to be the best in the world. Among his athletes are some of the worlds greatest mixed martial artists and BJJ Grapplers. Danaher is often recognized for his innovative techniques and an unparalleled understanding of the art. His teaching methodologies and combat philosophies have elevated the sport, turning novices into champions and fundamentally shifting the BJJ landscape.

A short Biography of John Danaher

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Youth and Upbringing

Danaher was born in Washington D.C., on April 2nd, 1963 but was raised in New Zealand. His father served as a pilot for the Royal New Zealand Air Force and worked closely with the U.S. military as an attaché during the Vietnam War. 

Afterward, the family relocated to Whangaparaoa, a quaint peninsula just north of Auckland in New Zealand, where Danaher experienced the rest of his formative years. 

As far as martial arts training goes, John was first exposed to Muay Thai and Karate as a young man. It wouldn’t be until his move to the states that he would take up Jiu Jitsu.

University education and moving to the states

Later, he attended the University of Auckland receiving a Master’s Degree in philosophy. In 1991, Danaher moved to New York City to pursue a PHD in epistemology at Columbia. While teaching and studying, John worked as a bouncer at NYC night clubs, where he fell in love with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, finding it’s techniques to be tremendously effective in his work. He became obsessed with BJJ. Although physical ailments kept him from achieving athletic prowess, he became a master of both tactics and education. 

Instructing at The Renzo Gracie Academy and Beyond

In the spring of 2002 Danaher was awarded his blackbelt by Renzo Gracie. Already a full time instructor at the Renzo Gracie Academy, Danher went on to develop some of the most highly regarded names in both BJJ and Mixed Martial Arts. Among them are George St. Pierre, Gary Tonon, Nick Rodriguez, and of course, Gordon Ryan. 

John's Teaching Methodology

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When it comes to teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, few possess the depth and nuance that John Danaher brings to the mat. Over the years, from my own experience and observations, I’ve noticed that Danaher’s methodology has deeply transformed not just the way the art is taught, but also how it’s perceived globally. Here’s a closer look at what sets his teaching apart:

Systematizing Jiu Jitsu

As someone who has taken instruction from John himself, I can tell you he systematized jiu jitsu itself. When instructing, he breaks down each move to its core elements, and teaches each individual technique as part of a larger “whole system”  His teachings emphasize understanding the underlying principles, rather than just rote memorization. By providing in-depth details, Danaher ensures that every technique is optimized for effectiveness. This approach not only enhances comprehension but also enables practitioners to adapt and apply techniques fluidly in varying situations.

John Danaher's emphasis on the fundamentals of control

Within the vast spectrum of BJJ techniques and strategies, control is paramount, and John Danaher’s teaching underscores this principle. Having had the opportunity to immerse myself in his instructionals, I’ve seen first-hand how Danaher prioritizes the nuances of control — not just in terms of positions but also in the transitions that occur during a roll. He teaches that control is the key to successful execution of any technique. Whether it’s the intricacies of pinning an opponent or managing the intricacies of transitioning to submission, Danaher’s dogmatic adherence to the fundamentals of control has reshaped the way many, including myself, view and practice BJJ.

The Influence of Philosophy on his instruction

Teaching philosophy and teaching  BJJ intersect in their shared emphasis on critical thinking, strategy, and understanding underlying principles. Both disciplines prioritize not just the “how” but the “why” behind actions, fostering deeper comprehension, adaptability, and problem-solving skills in diverse situations, be it on the mat or in life’s challenges. 

How his academic and philosophy background influences his BJJ teaching

John’s experience as a professor of philosophy has greatly influenced his methodology as a professor of Jiu Jitsu. His philosophical background offers a depth to his lessons, intertwining philosophical concepts with BJJ principles. This unique blend has often provided me with fresh perspectives, transforming the way I approach and understand the art.

Critical Thinking and Jiu Jitsu

Man Reading Book

Beyond just demonstrating techniques, Danaher instills a culture of inquiry and critical engagement in his classes. He challenges students to dissect, question, and analyze techniques, fostering a deeper understanding and promoting adaptability on the mat. 

Jiu Jitsu itself is an exercise in didactics. Through repeated and rigorous pressure testing, we find what techniques are true and useful, in the same way that didactic reasoning reveals to us what ideas are true. In BJJ, theoretical knowledge meets physical reality every time we attempt a technique. If these techniques are not valid, we are shown with brutal candor. This blend of cognitive learning with physical application transforms the mat into a unique classroom, where only what withstands the test of genuine opposition is considered true and reliable.


The Impact These Training Methodologies Have on Students

John Danaher’s philosophical approach to BJJ molds his students into philosophical warriors. Much like the Japanese Samurai of old, warriors were honor bound to become more than just a blunt instrument of violence. It was their duty to be a student of “the way”, which included art, poetry and emotional stability. 

By intertwining the martial arts with deep philosophical engagement, he fosters an environment where fighters are not only physically adept but also intellectually engaged, echoing the samurai’s blend of combat skill and philosophical depth.

Translation to Success On The Mats

Danaher’s impact is evident in the myriad of success stories emanating from his students. From beginners to elite competitors, many attribute their growth and accomplishments to his guidance. His distinctive emphasis on the fundamentals of control has produced students who excel in the art, showcasing superior control in their games. There is no better illustration of this success, than the dominance of the Danaher Death Squad.

The Danaher Death Squad

Danaher began his walk of fame as the leader of the renowned “Danaher Death Squad”, or DDS for short. Mentored and trained under the watchful eye of Danaher, the group has cemented its legacy through numerous tournament victories and unmatched prowess on the mat.

Key members include Gordon Ryan, Garry Tonon, Nicky Ryan, Eddie Cummings, Jake Shields, Nicky Rodriguez and Craig Jones. Ryan, often regarded the best no-gi grapplers of all time, has showcased extraordinary talent, winning several titles in prestigious competitions. 

Garry Tonon, another star, has transitioned successfully between BJJ and MMA. The squad is especially renowned for its advanced leg lock system, an area in BJJ they’ve innovated and perfected. Their cohesive training approach, combined with Danaher’s unique teaching methodology, has made the DDS a formidable force in the jiu-jitsu community.

Danaher's reach across the globe

John Danaher’s impact on the world of combat sports is profound and far-reaching. From his highly sought-after instructional DVDs to his reputation as an obsessive student of combat sports, Danaher has left an indelible mark. 

Instructional DVD success

My first encounter with John Danaher’s teaching was through his instructional DVDs available on These video series have gained immense popularity in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community, and it’s easy to see why. They provide in-depth breakdowns of techniques, systems, and philosophies, making complex concepts accessible to practitioners of all levels. Danaher’s meticulous attention to detail and ability to explain intricate techniques in a systematic manner have made these instructional DVDs a must-have for many martial arts students. The success of these tutorials has solidified his reputation as a leading authority in the world of Jiu Jitsu, further enhancing his global influence.

Danaher As An Authority

Beyond his instructional content, Danaher’s reputation as a dedicated scholar of combat sports is truly legendary. John Danaher has a near encyclopedic knowledge of combat sports from the obscure to the well know. His appetite for information that he can use to weild in his teaching has made him an authority on all aspects of combat sport.

Whether discussing the nuances of a lesser-known martial art or breaking down a popular MMA bout, Danaher’s insights are valued and sought after. His vast knowledge base give him the ability to distill knowledge, draw connections between disparate systems, and communicate his findings has earned him respect and admiration from peers, students, and enthusiasts worldwide.


John Danaher’s influence is monumental. As someone who has closely observed the evolution of the sport, I can attest to the transformative impact Danaher has made. From his early days as an unknown philosopher of martial arts, his approach to BJJ has consistently pushed the boundaries and challenged conventional wisdom. His meticulous attention to detail, deep analytical skills, and unparalleled ability to break down complex techniques into digestible lessons have made him a beacon of knowledge in the BJJ community. His contributions have not only shaped the techniques of countless competitors but also the very philosophy and approach many adopt towards the art.

Whether it’s his famed leg lock system or his emphasis on positional control, Danaher’s teachings have found their way into academies around the world. As years pass, the legacy of his teachings remains constant, proving their efficacy. For both young learners and seasoned practitioners, the methodologies of John Danaher continue to inspire, challenge, and shape the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

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