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What Makes John Danaher the Greatest BJJ Coach? A Closer Look

Photo via Instagram @danaherjohn

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author.

John Danaher is a renowned figure in the mixed martial arts (MMA) world, widely respected and revered as one of the greatest coaches in the industry. Holding a sixth-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) and a reputation as one of the best instructors of all time, his name is well-known even among casual MMA fans.

He has coached some of the biggest talents in the world, such as Georges St-Pierre and Gordon Ryan, and has frequently appeared on popular podcasts.

But what sets John Danaher apart as a grappling coach and possibly the greatest BJJ coach of all time? Let’s delve deeper into his background and achievements to find out.

Who is John Danaher?

John Danaher is a New Zealander born in the United States on April 2nd, 1967. Although he did have some martial arts experience growing up, it wasn’t until he trained at the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York in the early 1990s where he truly started his grappling journey.

As a student of Renzo Gracie, he quickly rose through the ranks and started teaching classes at the academy as a blue belt after coaches like former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra left the gym. Eventually, Danaher received his BJJ black belt from Renzo Gracie.

Over time, he started instructing on a full-time basis before developing a reputation for his expertise in BJJ as well as his innovative teaching methods. Danaher would go on to work with UFC champions such as Georges St-Pierre and Chris Weidman while also coaching jiu-jitsu prospects like Gordon Ryan, Garry Tonon, and many more.

Did John Danaher ever compete in a Jiu-Jitsu tournament?

In the world of martial arts, many top martial artists do not compete, but this does not diminish their expertise and competency in martial arts. However, in the case of John Danaher, he could never compete professionally, as he suffered from severe leg and hip problems throughout his life.

This allowed him to focus full-time on teaching. With that said, it’s well known that despite his physical issues, he would easily outclass the world’s best in the gym. Danaher explains in the following video why he didn’t compete.

What makes John Danaher possibly the greatest BJJ coach?

There are many reasons why Danaher is the greatest BJJ coach of all time. For starters, he’s a jiu-jitsu computer and encyclopedia, being a highly analytical thinker and developing a systematic approach to teaching the martial art.

Part of what helps is his extreme dedication to the sport. Even when he’s not teaching, he’s always studying tape, and when he does spend time on the mats, it can be for as much as 12 to 14 hours a day.

Since he started BJJ late, it’s his way of making up for lost time, ultimately helping him identify holes not only in his game, but the martial art as a whole.

The following excerpts are from John Danaher’s interview, in which you can sense his deep passion for learning BJJ and how he became good at teaching.

“I was known for spending large amounts of time on the mats,” Danaher said in an interview. “I taught two to three big group classes per day and was booked every hour between them for private classes. And I liked this because I was a very late starter in Jiu-Jitsu – starting at twenty eight years old – so I felt that I needed to accrue many hours of mat time quickly, to match the hours people who started much earlier in life had already amassed.

(2019, July 2). In Bjj Eastern Europe.

“Much of it was simply teaching people how to perform better in Jiu-Jitsu, but because Jiu-Jitsu is a very hands on sport and I personally drilled and sparred with everyone of my clients every time I taught, I got countless opportunities to identify problems in my game and the game in general, and would always try to improve the solutions I had been taught.”

(2021, December 26). In Bjj Eastern Europe

There’s also his system, mainly consisting of his revolutionary leg locks along with intricate and innovative set-ups, entries, and counters. Everyone in his team follows the same style and system with highly effective results. This is important as it shows his system can translate to anybody regardless of body type or personality.

Photo via Instagram @danaherjohn

Danaher also mainly teaches from niche positions. This is significant as many in the sport prefer to train solely at what they’re good at; they reach a certain level and just keep repeating the same process. But with Danaher, he primarily teaches positions such as full mount, guard, back, side control, and more.

This is why students like Gordon Ryan, regarded by many as the greatest jiu-jitsu practitioner today, are able to reinvent themselves and sweep past the competition no matter which position they’re in. Another added advantage is that while his students may have trained half as long as their opponents, they’ve actually got twice as much training time because they’re training in these niche positions.

There’s also the small matter of Danaher revolutionizing the sport with his many innovations. For starters, the straight-back attack system was developed by Danaher. Then the whole explosion in popularity of leg locks? That’s also down to Danaher. Before 2015, nobody was using leg locks. That was until Danaher introduced it to his team, who have since won everything in the sport utilizing leg locks.

More than anything, though, the results simply speak for themselves. Gordon Ryan is considered the greatest BJJ GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), Georges St-Pierre is a former two-weight UFC champion and widely regarded as the MMA GOAT, Giancarlo Bodoni is an ADCC gold medalist, Garry Tonon is an ADCC bronze medalist, Nicky Rodriguez is an ADCC silver medalist as a blue belt, Nicholas Meregali is an ADCC silver medalist, and Chris Weidman is a former UFC middleweight champion.

Those are just a few names, but the one thing they all have in common is that they’ve extensively worked under Danaher, further highlighting just how effective he is.

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What is the John Danaher Death Squad?

Danaher eventually formed a team of elite BJJ practitioners, including himself, Gordon Ryan, Garry Tonon, Nicky Ryan, Eddie Cummings, and Nicky Rodriguez, collectively known as the Danaher Death Squad. The name, coined by a former training partner, Ryan Quinn, on Reddit, has since become a widely recognized term in the BJJ community.

As aforementioned, what made this group unique was their effective utilization of Danaher’s leg locks. However, they eventually split in 2021 as Danaher, Gordon Ryan, Garry Tonon formed New Wave Jiu-Jitsu with the likes of Giancarlo Bodoni, Dan Manasoui, and Nicholas Meregali. The others consisting of Craig Jones, Nicky Ryan, Nick Rodriguez, and Ethan Crelinsten, meanwhile formed their own B-Team.

It’s not been stated what the exact reason for the split was. However, the prime reason is likely due to a clash of personalities and egos, and this was stated as such by Danaher. The team notably relocated from New York to Puerto Rico to circumvent COVID-19 training restrictions. That also meant spending every minute together as they not only trained together, but lived together in the same house. This ultimately led to tension, especially between the Ryan brothers.

In the following excerpts, John Danaher describes the tension that led to the breakup of the Death Squad.

“Not only was it a team breakup, but it was a family breakup, which is much more serious,” Danaher said in a podcast. “I do believe that in time even the most intense family breakups can be reconciled and I also believe that once dialogue begins people will remember just how easy it is for us to get along and how tight we were for so many years. It’s so easy to let a minute of anger destroy 10 years of friendship.

“With everyone living in very close proximity to each other, any tensions got magnified because there was no relief from them… In particular, there was a family tension between two brothers which magnified over time. As time went by these tensions started increasing. It came to a point where it was difficult for them to be even in the training room together.”

Lex Fridman podcast interview with John Danaher
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Does John Danaher teach BJJ to everyone?

It appears Danaher regularly teaches classes at Renzo Gracie’s gym in Austin, Texas. If you’re interested in learning from the renowned BJJ coach, book a class on a day when he’s scheduled to teach. Contact Renzo Gracie School in Austin for more details.

Of course, not everyone can go to Austin, so the next best option is to purchase one of Danaher’s many instructionals. These DVDs, which also serve as a major source of income for BJJ teachers, will help you learn and improve your game, whether it’s with back attacks, guard passing, drills, submissions, or just basic fundamentals.

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Does John Danaher teach no-gi only?

As per the schedule at Renzo Gracie’s gym, Danaher does exclusively teach no-gi in Austin, Texas. However, he used to teach both gi and no-gi in the blue basement in New York. Sometimes, he would even do both at the same time in classes with over 100 students.

It’s also interesting to note that he trained Nicholas Meregali in the gi for the IBJJF World Championships in 2022. Meregali ended up winning gold in the open weight while becoming a silver medalist in his own weight class.

Conclusion: Why John Danaher is the greatest BJJ coach

In conclusion, John Danaher is a true legend in the world of mixed martial arts and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. As a sixth-degree black belt with a reputation as one of the best instructors of all time, he has taught some of the biggest talents in combat sports.

He is extremely dedicated to his craft, while his analytical thinking and innovative teaching methods and systems set him apart from other grappling coaches. With his deep understanding of the sport and his ability to translate his teachings to anyone, it is no surprise that for many, John Danaher is easily the greatest BJJ coach of all time. Perhaps Abert Eienstein’s quote perfectly sums up why Coach Danaher is so good at teaching jiu-jitsu.

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Albert Einstein