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:
- Sub. Cont. "The Ramblings of a Genius or a Lunatic: A Day with John Danaher"
- BJJEE: "John Danaher's Analysis of the Informality of the Belt System in BJJ"
- Fightland: "In the Racket: The Mystery of Danaher"
- Fight Magazine: "The Professor is a Madman"
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!