Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is very popular in the U.S. and well-established all across the country. International grappling competitions in both gi and no-gi unequivocally demonstrate that the U.S. is home to some of the best BJJ coaches in the world. And these are very high-level coaches you can’t easily find despite having so many solid BJJ coaches in major cities.
That said, we are compiling a list of the BJJ coaches we consider the best among the best. Without further ado, let us bring you closer to the best BJJ coaches in the U.S. You will get to see why they are absolutely the best and what makes them so special.
Guilherme and Rafael Mendes
Rank: 3rd-degree black belt (both)
Gym: Art of Jiu-Jitsu Academy, Costa Mesa, California
Brothers Guilherme and Rafael Mendes are the most famous brother duo in the grappling world. A year older, Guilherme is a four-time BJJ world champion. At the same time, the younger Rafael won the prestigious ADCC tournament twice and is a six-time BJJ world champion. So combined, the brothers have ten world titles to their name and are now united to pass down their knowledge and create new champions.
The Mendes brothers mastered the art of BJJ under Ramon Lemos. After years of competing on the international level, they decided to move to the US, and together with their long-time sponsor Pat Tenore, they opened up a traditional BJJ academy called the “Art of Jiu-Jitsu” in 2020.
The gym offers classes to people of all ages and is already producing world-class athletes. The two young prospects that came out of the Mendes gym are BJJ World and European champs Tainan Dalpra and Jessa Khan.
Rank: Black belt under Robson Gracie
Gym: Cesar Gracie Academy, Pleasant Hill, California
Cesar Gracie is a BJJ legend and a very well-known grappling coach in the MMA world. After spending his youth living between the US and Brazil, Cesar finally settled in California, where he trained with his cousins at the famous Gracie Academy. He got promoted to the black belt rank in the late 1980s by the red belt Robson Gracie, the second son of Carlos Gracie Sr.
In the early 1990s, he left to open his school, “Cesar Gracie Academy,” in California. Over the course of more than three decades, he has produced many BJJ and MMA champions.
His academy rose to prominence during MMA’s expansion in the US in the 2000s. He worked with some of the best and most famous fighters, such as Gilbert Melendez, Nate and Nick Diaz, and one of the best BJJ fighters in MMA of all time, Jake Shields.
Rank: 4th-degree black belt
Gym: Atos BJJ, San Diego, California
Andre Galvao is one of the greatest ADCC champions in history and grappling competitors of all time. The following list of achievements secured him a hall of fame in both the IBJJF organization and ADCC.
- 10-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion (Gi)
- 6 ADCC World titles
- Multiple Pan-American and Brazilian national champion.
Luckily for all the people interested in learning BJJ, Galvao also works as a coach. Initially, he opened the “Atos BJJ” gym in Sao Paulo, Brazil. But a few years later, he moved the academy to San Diego, California.
It didn’t take much for the gym to quickly grow into one of the best BJJ gyms in the U.S. Some of his notable students are Keenan Cornelius and Rafael Mendes.
But unlike many other gyms, Galvao’s BJJ philosophy revolves not only around competition. He is also putting a lot of emphasis on teaching proper self-defense skills. People of all ages and genders can come in and learn battle-tested techniques and how to apply them in real life.
In his martial arts career, Galvao also dabbed himself in MMA fighting as a successful fighter, eventually leading him to coach some of the finest UFC athletes. Some of the fighters he worked with are submission artists Gilbert Burns, Anderson Silva, Cris Cyborg, and Israel Adesanya.
Rank: 4th-degree black belt
Gym: Marcelo Garcia Jiu-Jitsu, New York, U.S.
Marcelo Garcia is among the most accomplished grapplers of all time. Basically, he won everything there is in BJJ. He is a three-time ADCC champion, a Hall of Famer, a five-time world champion, and a multiple Pan American and National champ. During this time, he represented the “Alliance BJJ Academy,” where he mastered the art under another great coach, Fabio Gurgel.
After retiring from competition, he took on the coaching role at his academy in New York, which he opened in 2009. It didn’t take long for the gym to become one of the best in the US, with Marcelos’s students conquering BJJ competitions across all belt divisions. Some of his top students are the notorious Dillion Danis, Marcos Tinoco, Matheus Dinis, and Bernardo Faria.
Marcelo Garcia Academy now has associations in just about every part of the world. It is present in Asia, Canada, Europe, Mexico, Russia, and all across the US.
Jean Jacques Machado
Rank: 7th-degree coral belt
Gym: Jean Jacques Machado BJJ, Woodland Hills, California
Jean Jacques Machado is the nephew of Grandmaster Carlos Gracie. He is widely regarded as one of the best BJJ coaches in the US. Despite the congenital disability that left him with only the thumb and a little finger on his left hand, Machado managed not only to become a skilled grappler but to win the prestigious ADCC championship in 1999 against all odds.
In 2011, he was invited to a private ceremony at Rickson Gracie Academy, where he received a 7th-degree coral black belt. Overall, we don’t have to spend too many words on his experience and skill level, as he is a true master of his craft, with over 30 years of experience in coaching as a black belt instructor.
Nowadays, Machado is entirely focused on running his BJJ gym in Los Angeles, California, and passing down the knowledge. His gym is known as a premier school in the US and includes the finest coaching staff. The gym covers kids/teen and adult training programs coached by Machado.
Machado produced many top grapplers and champions, notably Eddie Bravo. He also works with actors and other celebrities, such as Joe Rogan.
Rank: 3rd-degree black belt
Gym: 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu, Los Angeles, California
Eddie Bravo is arguably the best no-gi BJJ coach in the US and the founder of the “10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu Team”. His gym is a global brand with over 100 schools worldwide. He mastered the art of jiu-jitsu under another famous US coach, Jean Jacques Machado, under whom he obtained a black belt rank.
In response to the rapid rise of submission grappling in MMA during the 1990s, Bravo decided to adapt jiu-jitsu to the submission grappling concept and created the famous 10th Planet jiu-jitsu system. Bravo also developed combat jiu-jitsu, which combined jiu-jitsu and palm strikes to make jiu-jitsu matches more realistic, similar to MMA fighting.
Bravo focuses on no-gi as a coach and emphasizes submission grappling over traditional BJJ training. Although he received a serious backlash from the majority of the jiu-jitsu community for abandoning the gi, no one could deny the effectiveness of his system.
But what really boosted his rise was his win over the legendary Royler Gracie at ADCC in 2003. He is also a regular guest on the Joe Rogan podcast, which helped him promote his business and make 10th Planet a global brand.
He worked with many great grapplers and UFC fighters, such as Tony Ferguson and Carlos Condit. He also published a couple of instructional books and DVDs, such as:
- Jiu-Jitsu Unleashed (2005)
- Mastering the Rubber Guard (2006)
- Mastering the Twister (2007)
- Advanced Rubber Guard (2014)
- The Twister
- Mastering the Rubber Guard
- Mastering the Twister
Rank: 7th-degree coral belt
Gym: Renzo Gracie Academy, New York, NY
Renzo Gracie is the legendary BJJ coach and the 3rd generation member of the Gracie family. Like most other Gracie members, he is a multiple-time world jiu-jitsu champion and a two-time ADCC winner.
In his career, he also fought in MMA, where he beat some of the sport’s legends. But he always remained primarily focused on coaching and producing top-level grapplers.
Renzo opened the “Renzo Gracie Academy” in 1996 in Manhattan, New York. The gym is rooted in traditional teaching methods and includes only the finest coaching staff. Gordon Ryan, John Danaher, and Ricardo Almeida are some of the most famous grapplers who started their journey there. These people would later become champions and world-class coaches thanks to Renzo and his influence.
With the increasing popularity of MMA in the US in the 1990s and 2000s, Renzo also started working with MMA fighters to hone their ground fighting skills. Some of his notable students are UFC champions:
- Matt Serra
- Chris Weidman
- Georges St.Pierre
- Gunnar Nelson
RELATED: Top 16 Best MMA Gyms in the U.S.
Rank: 9th-degree red belt
Gym: Rickson Gracie Academy
In the BJJ community, Rickson Gracie is often considered the best grappler from the Gracie family. Although this remains open for debate, Rickson’s influence, skillset, and philosophical approach to BJJ secure him the status of a true legend in the grappling world. He is a 9th-degree red belt under Rorion Gracie, which makes him the highest-ranking coach on this list.
Rickson is also considered a pioneer of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the US. In 1989, he moved from Brazil to the US with his brother Rorion to establish the initial BJJ academy in Torrance, California. The academy would produce many black belts who would continue spreading the art of BJJ across the US.
Although he was busy as an MMA fighter with no losses on the record, Rickson never stopped teaching jiu-jitsu. In his career, he has been coaching people of all ages, genders, and professions. He has always been focused on building a legacy of professional students and instructors.
In 1999, he was the subject of the documentary movie “Choke,” which remains one of the best sports documentaries of all time. If you haven’t seen it, watch it as soon as possible.
On a side note, it appears Rickson Gracie focuses on an online academy and seminars. There’s no information in regards to Rickson’s BJJ school, where he teaches regularly in person. Check his site regularly for further information.
Rank: 3rd-degree black belt
Gym: Gracie University, Torrance, California
Rener Gracie is the eldest grandson of the founder of BJJ, Helio Gracie. He mastered the art of BJJ directly under his legendary uncles, Rickson, and Royce Gracie. By age 20, he had already won many prestigious world BJJ championships. However, unlike most other coaches on this list, Rener started teaching the classes at 13. And by the age of 19, he was already a head instructor at the Gracie Academy.
In 2004, Rener retired from competition to focus solely on coaching. He is a co-founder of “Gracie University,” where he works as a head instructor. The learning curriculum primarily revolves around self-defense training and preparing a person for real-life scenarios.
The Gracie University also has a specific program for law enforcement to improve police officers’ self-defense skills and, in so doing, reduce their dependence on the use of deadly force.
Gracie University also offers online courses. In fact, it grew into the largest online jiu-jitsu training program, with over 70,000 students from 196 countries worldwide.
If your goal is to learn traditional BJJ in its purest form and develop proper self-defense skills, then Rener Gracie is the best. He also works with famous MMA fighters like Brian Ortega, whom he trained for his match against Alexander Volkanovski.
RECOMMENDED READING: What’s the Difference Between Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and BJJ?
Rank: 6th-degree black belt
Gym: “New Wave Jiu-Jitsu”, Austin, Texas
John Danaher is arguably not only the best BJJ coach in the U.S. but in the entire world. He is also a very popular public figure. You can often see and hear him spreading his knowledge and BJJ philosophy on various top-rated podcasts.
Danaher started his BJJ journey at the Renzo Gracie Academy, earning a black belt at 28. While starting at the Renzo Gracie Academy, he also taught classes and developed coaching skills. When instructors Matt Serra and Ricardo Almeida left the academy, this opened up the place for Danaher to jump on the opportunity and take their role.
Danaher became the master of the coaching craft under Renzo Gracie. But in 2020, he decided to leave the academy, start his gym in Puerto Rico, and famously name his athletes and coaches the “Danaher Death Squad.” The squad would split up soon after, with Danaher moving to open up a “New Wave Jiu-Jitsu” in Austin, Texas.
Known as a workaholic and ambitious person, Danaher takes a unique philosophical and very systematic approach to BJJ teaching. Combined with his practical knowledge, this makes him one of the best coaches in modern times. Many of his students, like Gordon Ryan and Garry Tonon, went on to conquer the grappling world by winning multiple world titles.
Interestingly, Danaher himself never competed. He never took part in any tournaments due to his deformed kneecap. He had to undergo many surgeries during his life, which ultimately kept him away from the competition. At the same time, it enabled him to zero in on becoming perhaps the greatest BJJ coach.
Danaher’s BJJ classes are extremely popular and have very limited space. If you are lucky enough to take his classes, do not miss out.
In 2018, he decided to launch his instructional series. Partnering with BJJ fanatics, he released the following series:
- Enter the System
- Go Further Faster
- Feet to Floor
- New Wave Jiu Jitsu