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Fine Tune Your Fundamentals with John Danaher

Fine Tune Your Fundamentals with John Danaher


We might have heard the saying that we can’t build a house without foundations and that’s also true for many other creative projects, including training in a martial art. 

It can be easy to think of foundations or fundamentals as something that we learn at the start but then move away from and on to the really flashy stuff. This would be a huge mistake

If we think of Boxing and the process of starting to train we would often first learn foot movement, how to hold our hands in a boxers guard, then the body mechanics of how to throw a jab and a cross.

Basic, right?

Well, yes and no. 

There are very clearly levels of understanding and application of all these “basic” elements of boxing. The footwork of Sugar Ray Robinson or the jab of Muhammad Ali still adhered to fundamental principles of the sweet science but their application was leagues beyond what we would learn on our first day. 

The same process applies to the fundamentals of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu


In a similar manner Roger Gracie uses “fundamental” techniques but his understanding and application of these techniques is so incredibly good that he is a ten time world champion and legend of the sport. 

If we do not have a solid understanding of the fundamentals we will always struggle. In an age where information is incredibly easy to come across it is always tempting to try and skip ahead to more “advanced” techniques, but to do so will be a set back. See also another fundamentals course Championship Wrestling Fundamentals Cowboy Offense by John Smith.

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If we specialise in one area, such as leg locks, the irony can often be that we won’t get to use them very often because the other areas of our game are so lacking. 

As John says: “As a general rule when you lose in jiu-jitsu, in the majority of cases, you lose along the lines of your weakest skill sets.” 

This means that if we are weak in the fundamentals we tend to lose a lot because the fundamentals are what get exposed and tested the earliest and most often.  

This tends to manifest itself for a beginner as needing to work on escapes, and needing to work bottom guard. As a beginner we will typically be on the receiving end of attacks by more experienced players and so the first glaring weakness we will face is our ability to defend ourselves. 

As we said before however, it would be a mistake to think that we can learn these and then simply move on. 

Both Bernardo Faria and John Danaher still spend large portions of their time developing and refining fundamentals such as an elbow escape, or combing fundamentals such as bridging and shrimping

So, a core mindset of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or any art, is that fundamentals are and always will be a huge part of your entire journey to mastery. The fundamentals will offer huge rewards if invested in, and huge perils if not invested in. 

Another component of deep learning directed towards the fundamental principles is that it makes learning other aspects of the art more readily accessible. 

As John Danaher and Bernardo Faria are talking about this subject John recounts a situation whereby Bernardo, one of the greats of his generation and five times world champion, didn’t deploy ashi garami attacks in his game. However due to his deep knowledge of the fundamentals when John was showing ashi garami Bernardo was able to consistently secure heel hooks in live sparring within two days. 

This brings us to the understanding that there are two core areas of learning within BJJ; the refinement of existing skills, and the addition of new skills.

In military science there is a concept known as force multiplication, or something being a force multiplier. In short this typically means something added to the battle space that exponentially adds to the combat effectiveness of a fighting force. 

An example of this might be that combat is happening at night and one force has night vision while the other does not. It is clear that the side with night vision has an exponential advantage over their enemy. 

To place this within the context of BJJ, Bernardo Faria’s expertise in the fundamentals act in a similar fashion to a force multiplier against his opponent when he begins to combine fundamental concepts together. One of his favourites is combining the two ‘basic’ concepts of the upa and the elbow escape. 

At this point John adds a very interesting twist to the idea of what it is that is fundamental. 

We tend to think of fundamentals as specific techniques or moves, but what is even more fundamental are the concepts and body movements that underlie the techniques.  

An elbow escape, for example, is not possible without the body movement of shrimping. An upa is not possible without the body movement of bridging. 

So, what is John’s criteria for what a fundamental is and is not?

For John one of the best ways of assessing if something is fundamental or not is understanding how many other moves are affected by that single fundamental move.

For example, let’s look at a flying arm bar. It’s a spectacular move, but it’s not linked to many other movements. Shrimping on the other hand applies to a wide range of other movements. 

Check also Winning Judo Fundamentals by Vince Skillcorn.

Learning, strengthening and refining one’s understanding of the body movement of shrimping then will carry over into all linked movements to shrimping. 

A related key question when assessing a movement is understanding how broad the application of a movement is across the range of belt ranks in jiu-jitsu. 

Does a certain escape, for example, cross the spectrum of white, blue, purple, brown and black belt? 

If this a movement or technique you can invest your time in and benefit from throughout your jiu-jitsu journey?

Pin Escapes & Turtle Escapes: BJJ Fundamentals - Go Further Faster by John DanaherIf you want to answer these questions and begin to go deeper into the fundamentals see John’s excellent tutorial on escapes check out ‘Pin Escapes & Turtle Escapes: BJJ Fundamentals - Go Further Faster by John Danaher’ here!



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