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Gripping by John Danaher
Who is John Danaher? For a long time he was the best kept secret in grappling. He was known as the coach to MMA fighters and champions of the highest caliber. Fighters like George St. Pierre and Chris Weidman called him coach. John turned his attention to focus on submission grappling. A talented team of grapplers like Eddie Cummings, Garry Tonon, Gordon and Nicky Ryan are proud to be a part of the “Danaher Death Squad.” The success of his students made John arguably the best grappling coach on the planet.
For the Jiu Jitsu community as a whole, there was a great mystery around his technique. While the Danaher Death Squad destroyed everyone in competition, grapplers all over the planet would scour the internet for even the smallest insight into his grappling systems. With John Danaher’s Enter the System series, this long time Renzo Gracie black belt has shared his deep understanding of Jiu Jitsu. The Enter the System series is among the best grappling instructional ever. It is not an overstatement to say Leg Locks – Enter the System has served as a fundamental shift in the paradigm of Jiu Jitsu.
How did this New Zealander become a world renowned Jiu Jitsu coach in New York City? John moved to New York City to attended the prestigious Columbia University where would eventually earn a Master’s Degree in Philosophy. While attending classes, he worked as a bouncer at a variety of bars and clubs. A friend invited him to try a Jiu Jitsu class at the legendary Renzo Gracie Academy. As a bouncer, he immediately found an interest in the gentle art. Like Columbia University, John’s education at Renzo’s was of the highest caliber. He studied under the great Renzo Gracie. Ricardo Almeida and Matt Serra were among his training partners. A pivotal moment occurred for John when Ricardo Almeida and Matt Serra left to start their own academies. As a purple belt, John undertook the heavy responsibility of teaching. While he never competed on the highest stages of Jiu Jitsu due to injury, coaching took Danaher’s obsession with Jiu Jitsu took new heights. There are many great qualities that make John an exceptional teacher. His educational background, obsession with Jiu Jitsu, the clarity in which he communicates technique and his ability to both think and create systems of Jiu Jitsu are some of the elements that make him the quintessential instructor.
The fact that his students are the best of the best is a strong testament to his teaching ability. His students include former multiple times UFC Champions Georges St. Pierre, Chris Weidman and Eddie Cummings. Eddie Cummings was a long time Danaher student. Cummings accomplishments include: EBI 4 Champion (2015 – 145lbs),EBI 7 Champion (2016 – 145lbs),Polaris 2 Super fight Winner (2015),ADCC US East Coast Trials Champion (2015),Grapplers Quest World Series of Grappling Champion (2012),Grapplers Quest US Nationals (Rough Zen) Champion (2013),Long Island Pride XVI Champion (2012 purple), Grapplers Quest World Series of Grappling 3rd Place (2012 ), Grapplers Quest US Nationals 3rd Place (2012). Garry Tonon is another Danaher protégée. His accomplishments include IBJJF Pan American No-Gi Champion (2015), EBI WW Champion (2014/2015), EBI LW Champion (2015), EBI LHW Champion (2016), and IBJJF Pan American No-Gi Championship 2nd Place (2015), IBJJF World No-Gi Championship 3rd Place (2014). Gordon Ryan is a third testament to Danaher’s teaching ability. His accomplishments include ADCC Champion (2017), IBJJF Pans No-Gi Champion (2018), Quintet 3 Champion (2018 ), EBI 6 OW Champion (2016 ), EBI 8 MW Champion (2016), EBI 11 WW Champion (2017), EBI 14 OW Champion (2017), Grappling Industries Champion (2017 /2016) and ADCC 2nd Place (2017). There are certainly many other exceptional grapplers who have benefited from Danaher’s tutelage. This is meant to be a snapshot.
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Another testament to John’s teaching ability is his popularity. One example of this is his social media presence. John’s posts are hugely popular. What is unique about his posts is that they are not a step by step breakdown of technique. Rather quite often they focus on the art of learning Jiu Jitsu. John has also been featured in the New Yorker magazine and on the popular show Billions. His instructional videos on BJJ Fanatics are among the most popular ever produced.
In this video, John Danaher outlines a general theory of gripping. He starts that stating that gripping would work concurrently with inside control for any leg entanglement. However, on a general level the battle for grips is often one of the first and last activities in any grappling match. Next he delineates between positive and negative gripping. Negative gripping is done to shut down attacks. If my opponent is attacking me I can play a very negative game with grips to stop their attack but not achieve any larger goals. Positive gripping is gripping done with a purpose. There should be a goal in mind for the grips. The grappler should understand with attacks what any given gripping sequence will facilitate. To illustrate his point, Danaher gives the following example: He is seated in butterfly guard. He starts with a double wrist grip then transitions to an arm drag. This attack creates a dilemma for his opponent. If he does not defend the arm drag then he will have his back taken. However, if he opts for the common arm drag defense of posting up a leg John can switch to a two on one grip on the leg and easily enter into a leg entanglement. So in this example, John has a clear set of attacks in mind. He chooses a griping sequence based on the submissions that he is looking for. It is such a simple yet profound idea around gripping that will surely pay dividends if it is adhered to. Well done John Danaher.
This video is a wonderful example of John’s ability to communicate technique to even novice grapplers. Like all of Danaher’s instructional videos, there is a lot of detail. I know that I often gain new insights every time I re-watch one of his videos. Beyond technique, his instructional videos also serve as an education on the principals of grappling and thinking in systems. These elements have a powerful impact on anyone who makes a careful study of them. John’s education, the success of his students and the popularity that he has achieved are testaments to his exceptional abilities as an instructor. Certainly the Jiu Jitsu community is lucky to have him.
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