Danaher Death Squad: Conception and Revolution of BJJ System

Anyone who is remotely familiar with the current landscape of competitive Brazilian jiu jitsu will recognize the name Danaher Death Squad. But why? What is up with the creepy team name? What does the team offer in terms of making BJJ great again? Lets dig deeper…

P.s if you want to read this in video format you can just check the JRE podcast:

John Danaher: The Beginning

Moving to NYC to study philosophy in the Columbia University in early 1990s, John Danaher came from New Zealand as someone who only has aspirations to be one of the greats philosophers of all time. Fortunately he got sidetracked fast…

As a strong powerlifter back In New Zealand. John needs more money because we all know scholarships don’t offer too much money, to supplement his income he moonlights as a bouncer and assistant teacher. As we can expect working as a bouncer will require you to have a strong body and willingness to fight (and win) if necessary. Little did John know that the universe is preparing something great for him..

One day one of his friends at the Columbia University came to his office and told John that he has taken a BJJ class for a mere two weeks. Naturally John got curious and asked his friend to prove the effectiveness of BJJ. Here is what transpired:

I moved my desk and put my little friend in a headlock, you have to know that my friend barely weighs 150lbs and at that time I was over 200. To my shock and horror my friend starts slipping behind me, even those with no martial arts training know that if someone is behind you that is not good. And if he can do that in two weeks, what could you do with some training…?

John tried the BJJ class at Renzo Gracie Academy and got absolutely destroyed on his first day. But this is the beginning of the BJJ revolution.

John Danaher: BJJ Metamorphosis

After training Brazilian jiu jitsu consistently for around 4 years John was faced with a dilemma: On one hand he almost completed his studies but at the same time most of the senior trainers at Renzo Gracie Academy starts to open their own clubs and/or have fighting commitments. This left the gym of RGA without a dedicated trainer. Renzo Gracie saw the potential in John and he appointed him as the senior trainer that hopefully can teach BJJ effectively (Boy does he can do that right now).

This is John’s take about the situation:

Back then the gym has 3 senior students: Matt Serra, Ricardo Almeida, Rodrigo Gracie. They all went to create their own schools. Meanwhile Renzo is busy fighting in Japan so he can’t be at the academy all the time. He came up to me and said: John you have to be a teacher, there is no one else. Back then I was only been training for 4 years.

John Danaher: Meeting Dean Lister

As John became the main teacher at RGA he was able to foresee most of the BJJ actions that occurs in the mats, including training sessions between then brown belt Matt Serra with the great Dean Lister. Dean is famous for using leg submissions way back before the Danaher era. He showed this tendency in his roll with Serra and naturally John is curious, he then asked:

Those leg submissions you do are very fascinating, why do you like it?

Mind you back then leg submissions are considered taboo in the BJJ community

Dean’s answer will forever change the landscape of Brazilian jiu jitsu..

Why would you ignore 50% of the human body?

And from then on the Danaher Death Squad is born

Founding & Senior Members

Contrary to popular belief, Danaher Death Squad first member is not a BJJ student. Rather it was an MMA fighter by the name of Georges Saint Pierre. The first ever “BJJ” member of DDS was Eddie Cummings. And afterwards Garry Tonon and Gordon Ryan follow suit. All of them deserves a dedicated post so I won’t be talking to much about it here.

Danaher developed his BJJ system with the help of the founder/senior members. Nowadays we can get a glimpse of those knowledge from many of his BJJ instructional videos that we can find easily online. And the competition result of his students are a testament on how effective the knowledge is.

Junior Members

Nowadays there are a lot of junior members in DDS. Names such as Nicky Ryan, Ethan Crelinsten, Frank Rosenthal and Taza Garami usually comes to mind when talking about up and comers in the BJJ world. However DDS is a very popular team nowadays and many great BJJ fighter has been associated with the name even though they are not part of the team (I’m looking at you Craig Jones).


The influence of Danaher Death Squad has given brazilian jiu jitsu a new lease of life. His approach has made it possible for people to progress and excel in BJJ much faster compared to the pre-DDS era.

Perhaps the most striking result that the team gets is how dominant they are at the 2019 ADCC. Gordon Ryan won his weight class and the absolute class. The prodigy Nicky Rod won a silver medal while being a BJJ blue belt, Garry got the bronze even though he mainly trains MMA before getting the call. DDS is a force to be reckoned with in the BJJ scene.

Danaher has also transcends the sport of BJJ because he is one of the main coach of the great MMA champion in Georges Saint Pierre. He currently coach Garry Tonon is achieving his MMA dream.

Whether you like it or not, John Danaher has given us a different perspective of approaching BJJ. Long gone are the days when you need to train with gi in order to be great at no-gi. Danaher proved that his students can be great in BJJ without using the gi. It’s not that John hates the gi, he is just focused on the no-gi & MMA aspect of BJJ.

Hopefully the team can consistently give us new approach and techniques so we can progress in BJJ faster than we ever could dream of.

The squad recently made an admirable act of kindness by donating their video income to charities, read here for more info

See you on the mats!