Feet To Floor: Bridging the Takedown Gap in BJJ with John Danaher
In the last half decade, no group of grapplers has had a a greater impact on the landscape of competitive BJJ then the rag tag collection of super athletes coming out of the "blue basement" of Renzo Gracie's home academy in Manhattan. Led by the mastermind BJJ and combat Coach John Danaher, these athletes have competed in and dominated the highest echelons of combat endeavors.
The Danaher Death Squad
First, we start with the King himself, Gordon Ryan who at barely 25 years of age, already has three ADCC Gold Medals in his treasure chest. Not only has he dominated the competitive scene, but has also become one of the most sought after instructors on the seminar circuit. Most recently, he has begun sharing his life's work with virtual students world wide with his series of best selling instructionals. Gordon has virtually rewritten the model for success in BJJ and it's clear the rest of the BJJ world reside within his kingdom.
Then we have the wild, rogue cowboy, Garry Tonon, who was already a successful athlete at the highest levels under Tom DeBlass, before he began training with John Danaher. With Danaher's help Garry has become the most exciting grappler today and self professed favorite grappler of all of our mothers. His matches with Rousimar Palhares and Kron Gracie will be talked about for generations and while neither one earned Garry Tonon the clear cut victory, it is the heart of the lion killer developed under Tom DeBlass and the scientific escape and submission skills refined under Danaher that have made him an audience favorite.
Then we have young Nicky Ryan, the younger brother of Gordon Ryan who already has become the youngest person to ever compete in the ADCC World Championship. Skill development seems to outpace time in the blue basement as the future clearly is bright for this young athlete.
Steering the ship of the Danaher Death Squad is the one and only philosopher turned world-class grappling Coach, John Danaher who started his life in the states as a bouncer working in the mean streets of late 80's New York City. Danaher would come across Renzo Gracie's Academy in a search for the skills necessary to make himself a better bouncer and to keep himself safe.
Over time, Danaher would earn his black belt under the legendary Renzo Gracie, having been an instructor since he was a purple belt due to the fact that many of the other former instructors were off pursuing their respective fight careers in the early days of MMA.
The Great Kazushi: Dean Lister Helps Change Course
A chance meeting with American grappling legend, Dean Lister would change the course of Danaher's thinking about jiu jitsu, when Dean got him thinking about lower body submissions with the famous "Why would you ignore 50% of the human body?" comment. The absence of leg submissions became glaring once Danaher set his scientific and philosophic mind to the art as a whole.
This would be the first of two glaring holes in the world of BJJ that Danaher would set out to fill. Through the competitive actions of his students who became masters of the system he crafted and refined in the laboratory of the blue basement, the world would come to know and fear the various heel hooks and japanese sounding positions that began to get people talking.
Enter the System
With the help of BJJ Fanatics, John Danaher would bring his first epic project to the masses with Enter the System. Starting with leg locks, Danaher would provide a step by step, methodical approach to a set of distinct submission attack systems. He covered back attacks, front head locks, triangles, arm bars, and kimuras with the detail of an ancient monk translating old dusty texts in long forgotten languages. Like Moses, he brought this information to students worldwide and in a matter of a few years, he's helped to revolutionize how and what gets taught in academies everywhere.
Had this been all John Danaher would have provided to the BJJ community, he would safely find himself on the Mount Rushmore of the sport, but that was not the end of his prolific output. Most recently, he completed his Go Further Faster series, with a series of instructionals focused on proper Gi-based techniques from every position. He covers escapes, guard passing, guard retention, half guard, closed guard and others. His goal in this fundamental series is to put the new student on the right path, not only giving them well thought out content, but also helping them to develop the critical thinking necessary to keep them developing for their entire BJJ lives. For current students, the revelations picked up in these fundamental series, revealed for many of us that we didn't know what we thought we knew and that there was much more to learn.
At the writing of this blog, John Danaher is poised to fill the second major gap that he has seen over his decades as a combat coach. The first was the lack of a cohesive system of lower body submissions which he filled with his Enter the System: Leg Locks series. The second huge gap for Danaher, is the lack of cohesive training in the art of takedowns--getting an opponent from their feet to the floor.
The Future: From Feet to Floor
The forth-coming Feet To Floor Series is set to kick off in volume one with a look at the most accessible and fundamentally sound choices for takedowns for the average BJJ practitioner. It's no secret that very few schools dedicate a great deal of class time and effort to the mastery of takedowns and in John Danaher's opinion, when they do--they're not being as efficient as they can be.
In the video below, John Danaher meets with 5 time world champion Bernardo Faria at his academy to share his thoughts on the Best Takedowns for BJJ. This will serve as a nice appetizer for his upcoming Feet to Floor Volume release in the coming days. Check it out below and we'll break it down afterwards.
John Danaher is first and foremost a student of the combative arts. It's clear by the grasp of the history and development of the combative arts, that he's using the same skills he used to dissect the works of Plato or Descartes to understand the game of BJJ.
For the Feet to Floor project, the over-arching question that must be answered in the system is what are the takedowns and skills that are most applicable to the setting that is BJJ?
As Danaher states, there are a number of combative arts that do a great job dealing with a standing opponent. Martial arts like Judo and Wrestling have endless options to help deal with the problem of facing a standing opponent that you'd like to get to the ground. BJJ, on the other hand, has become so ground-centric that less and less attention has been paid to the the process of taking down opponents.
In an effort to help fill this gap in the past, BJJ practitioners have looked to those other arts in an effort to pull some of the techniques over to help get their BJJ opponents to the ground. But according to John Danaher, there are a number of criteria that these techniques should be held up against in order to ensure that they are not only good at taking someone down, but the techniques are the BEST and MOST EFFECTIVE for taking someone down.
In volume one of the Feet to Floor series, John Danaher will be presenting material that will keep someone busy for 3-6 months refining and at the end of this time period, they should be able to take down someone of the same size, strength and skill level with relative ease. And by constantly referring to and using the criteria outlined below, the practitioner will find that these techniques will clearly be the best and most effective. Let's look at the criteria.
Criteria One: Does the technique expose one's back?
Using judo as the example, John Danaher examines a number of the most popular judo techniques and compares each of them based on the criteria of back exposure. The reason why back exposure plays such a pivotal role is simple, having an exposed back is a cardinal sin in the book of Danaher. It puts one in the worst possible position to defend, escape and survive submissions.
In the sport of judo, exposing one's back has much less negative impact as it does in BJJ. For this reason, in looking at the Ippon Drop Seoi Nage, Danaher shows how this beautiful technique when executed properly would score for the tori in the judo competition, but when attempted by the same athlete within the rules of BJJ, pulling the opponent onto one's back puts the tori in an incredibly dangerous spot where the opponent can simply use any lapse in technique to secure hooks with their feet and begin attacking submissions from the back.
Danaher goes on to show the Kata Garuma, which while still exposing the back, does so to a much smaller degree. Therefore, this throw might be slightly better in comparison for the world of BJJ--but is it the most effective? No.
Danaher then shows a Sasae Tsurikomi Ashi which is essentially a foot or ankle trip when pulling the opponent forward, the momentum of their feet is stopped by the tori's foot and the opponent tumbles forward to the mats. In this technique there is absolutely no back exposure--therefore it would meet the first criteria successfully.
Another example of a technique that creates zero back exposure would be an ankle pick in which and opponent is driven backwards and the tori scoops up the nearest ankle tripping them backwards. Again, zero back exposure and with that the ankle pick would meet the first criteria.
Criteria two: Does the technique expose one's neck to strangles?
For the second technique, Danaher warns against attempting a technique that puts one in danger of being caught in a variation of loop or guillotine strangles. Keep in mind that most of these openings to these submissions are a result of technique that was flawed, but it's probably a good idea as a newbie to takedowns to minimize the potential for error and go for something that provides for zero neck exposure.
In Danaher's breakdown, he notes that both the single leg and the double leg takedown can put one in a position where the neck can be compromised and one can find oneself caught in a loop strangle in the single leg takedown example and a guillotine strangle with the double leg. Solid takedowns, but not without some risk.
This risk can be mitigated by working with a takedown such as a collar drag in which the opponent's weight is pulled forward and down and they are tripped to their knees by the tori's outstretched leg. For Danaher the collar drag would be a superior takedown for BJJ because of the fact that it neither exposes the back nor the neck.
Criteria three: Does the technique cause belt exposure?
While wearing the Gi and Belt combination, an important but perhaps under considered problem would be the opponent's ability to access your belt. If someone controls your belt, they also control your core, your center of gravity and are able to move your weight where they need it to be.
For John Danaher, the Single Leg Takedown creates an opportunity for the opponent to secure a belt grip on the back. This must be taken into account when considering the Single Leg option. It also opens up an opportunity to utilize a sumi gaeshi to sweep you backwards.
Whereas conversely the Sasae Tsurikomi Ashi provides no belt exposure for the opponent and coincidentally also doesn't offer any back or neck exposure. This makes the Sasae Tsurikomi Ashi an extremely safe technique according to the first three criteria.
Criteria Four: Does this technique create weight exposure for me to be caught under my opponent's weight?
During the application of the double and single leg takedowns there is a danger of getting caught in a sprawl and finding the opponent's body weight pressure down on us. The key for these techniques is not that they should necessary be avoided, but the goal is a precise, well executed technique that keeps the opponent from capitalizing on postural or some other problem and exploiting it.
For John Danaher the ankle pick is a far superior option when looking at this criteria. There is very little opportunity for the opponent to use their weight against you since they are being taken backwards.
Criteria Five: Is there roll through danger?
Criteria Five takes into account the types of throws that allow your opponent to utilize the momentum of the throw and 'roll through' to a dominant position and put the tori in a bad spot. Throws in which we drop our body weight, such as a tai otoshi would be a good option according to this criteria.
Criteria Six: What is the degree of difficulty for the technique?
This may be one of the most important criterion for the average BJJ practitioner. For John Danaher, practitioners need to be realistic about what they can accomplish and how long it takes to get proficient at a technique.
With volume one of Feet to Floor, John Danaher's goal is to present techniques that the average practitioner can master within 3-6 months and at the end of that time, employ these techniques against a competitor of equal skill and size. Techniques like collar drags and ankle picks can be mastered in months. Beautiful techniques like hopping uchimatas are going to take years to perfect.
One of the important concepts that John Danaher shared with Bernardo Faria that will be explored in this series is the Overlap Principle. For Danaher, the overlap principle refers to finding the common denominators in techniques and building on these common threads. For instance, from the ground, performing a sweep, we may be using the exact same movements as an ankle pick, but from the ground. By capitalizing on these skills we already use on the mats, we can more quickly expand our repertoires.
John Danaher also hinted at a bonus section that will be a part of Feet to Floor's first volume, focused entirely on Self Defense. Self Defense is what brought John Danaher to BJJ in the first place as a young bouncer on the gritty streets of NYC. The long term plan will be an entirely self defense based series in the future, but this will be an eagerly anticipated appetizer to get practitioners ready for the full series.
Average practitioners and competitors around the world have been impacted by the work of John Danaher and his Death Squad. They've proven themselves to be amazing competitors and even greater teachers. Danaher has single handled changed the landscape of submission grappling and made it possible for average hobbyist practitioners to learn all of the fundamental skills needed to build upon through their jiu jitsu journey.
He is now poised to take on his next, probably more widespread issue, the gap in takedown training across the board in most academies. By applying his six criteria to the most effective takedowns of wrestling, judo and other sports, he is about to distill a complete arsenal of effective takedowns that can be applied in as little as 3-6 months. Get ready for another landmark series from John Danaher and BJJ Fanatics.
For more from John Danaher, check out the Go Further Faster series. In unparalleled detail, John Danaher has provided the most comprehensive system of understanding these various positions with the goal of helping BJJ practitioners improve more quickly and with a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of the art.