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The Enigmatic Brilliance of John Danaher


John Danaher is a black belt under Renzo Gracie and one of the head instructors at Renzo's main academy in NYC. While he is indisputably a legendary professor of jiu jitsu--with famous students ranging from UFC all-time-great George Saint Pierre and current UFC champion Chris Weidman to USA Olympic Judo champion Travis Stevens (who earned his black belt from Danaher)--he is also a bit enigmatic. It's not just his attire--e.g., you'd be hard pressed to find a photo or video of Danaher wearing anything other than a rash guard for a shirt. Indeed, Renzo claims Danaher once attended a wedding in a rash guard! It's the fact that he didn't compete (owing to health problems) and you can't find much video of his teaching online that makes Danaher a curious case.

Instead, what you find are tons of world class grapplers attesting to the fact (either first hand or second hand) that Danaher is a grappling genius and a brilliant instructor. What is clear is that he has a very cerebral approach to jiu jitsu (and martial arts more generally)--which is unsurprising given that he was once enrolled in a PhD program at Columbia University (where he eventually earned a MA in philosophy while working on the side as a bouncer).

As an academic philosopher myself, I appreciate the careful and analytical approach Danaher brings to the grappling arts (see, e.g., the book Mastering Jujitsu--which Danaher wrote "with" (i.e., for) Renzo. It's for this reason that I wish he were less of a mystery and more of a public figure. I can't afford to go to NYC just to train and even if I could, I am confident that I couldn't afford a private with the gentleman that is often lauded as some kind of grappling guru.

So, for now, I have to settle for the tidbits that are available on the interwebs--which I have posted below. First, there are some interesting and entertaining articles about the mystery (mad)man. These are followed by some video interviews.  In the coming weeks, I will be posting about some of the issues he discusses--e.g., (a) his claim that it is important that we have names for every specific, fine-grained position in jiu jitsu (which I think is correct), and (b) his claim that he is a dictator when it comes to the fundamentals but a libertarian when it comes to more advanced practitioners who are working on developing the style and approaches that best suit them individually (which I also think is correct, but I have some questions about what counts as "fundamental").

That said, here are some articles about Danaher:

And several videos are below the fold! So, watch, learn, and go train!  And stay tuned for more about the enigmatic Danaher in the weeks and months ahead!



With this quote in mind, here are some videos!



WINWAY - John Danaher (part 1) from chilldogmedia on Vimeo.


WINWAY - John Danaher (part 2) from chilldogmedia on Vimeo.






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Just came across your site today. You might dig an old interview I did with Danaher a few years ago. Check it out and I'd love to hear what you think (info at open mat radio)

Thomas Nadelhoffer

Thanks, Paul. I will make sure to listen to the interview tomorrow and leave some feedback. I am very jealous. I plan to start doing some interviews for this blog and he's near the top of my list of people I would most like to speak to one day. So, thanks again for sharing!

John Danaher

This is little more than a curiosity, but it might be interested to know that there is another John Danaher (namely: me) who is (sort of) an academic philosopher, is completely unmysterious, shares some of your academic interests (Thomas), but won't be able to help you with BJJ.

I too find my namesake to be an enigmatic and interesting character.

John Danaher


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