3 Things I have learned from John Danaher
In periodization there is the principle of: „The greater the width of the general preparation, the greater the height of the specific preparation“. The same applies to learning. Over the last 10 years I have studied and learned from some of the greatest minds, that also have the greatest track records, in the strength training and nutrition field. Yet, this elite group only makes up less then 1% of the top 1%, same as in every field. Thats why its so important in any profession to learn beyond your own field.
In the early days I have been fascinated primarily with doctors who specialize in the field of neuro-degeneration and -tuning. Over the years I then went more and more into sports coaches from various different sports, primarily sports that I worked with, such as legendary short track speed skating coach Yves Nadeau, whose athletes have won 204 medals and Worlds and Olympics. And in many cases these coaches have been exceptional resources to learn more and understand better how to design, communicate and execute more effective training programs. The focus of the expertise of a Strength Coach.
In 2014 I got introduced to the world of Grappling by UFC veteran and Jiu Jitsu Black Belt Peter Sobotta. Trying to understand the sport more I watched a lot of videos and also once got on the mat with him. Which eventually turned into training more grappling over the last months. And to understand grappling even more I spent more hours researching. And one name came up frequently: John Danaher. A Jiu Jitsu Coach from New York City who holds a MA in philosophy and whose students have the most dominating track record of the last decade in this very competitive sport. With grappling being a technical sport it usually takes a minimum of 10 to 15 years to develop a high level game. So, many World Champions are in their mid and late thirties. Yet, over the last years John Danaher’s squad consistently beat the best guys in the main tournaments. Basically winning everything, despite being much younger and much newer to the sport. Like a 21 year old Gordan Ryan who after 5 years of overall training dominated and beat the multiple time World Champion Roberto Abreu at the Worlds, who had his Black Belt for 11 years at the time.
If I choose a coach to look into more, my first question is his track record. Whats the amount of results the coach has produced? Yet, in some case one coach has one athlete who is responsible for about 90% of the success. Which usually speaks for the athlete and sometimes the athlete-coach relationship, not generally for the coaching/training systems. On the other hand if a coach has a wide spectrum of results especially with a wide variety of athletes this speaks highly of the value of the system, rather than the individual. Which to me from a learning perspective is crucial, as I want to learn something that is reproducible. Reproducible in parts or the whole with my own clients and athletes. Which is the essence of productive learning. To learn something that you can apply successfully.
So, I spent countless lunch breaks over the last months reading, listening and watching the work of John Danaher. To break down what he does and why he is that successful. With many lessons learned and myself becoming fascinated with John Danaher’s work, these are my top three lessons learned from him:
1. There is a 4 step approach to Jiu Jitsu. And for every other sport.
All analysis is based on structure. And the more structure there is, the more in-depth the analysis. John Danaher has written a book on Jiu Jitsu for which he structured the sport in four distinct steps. There can be steps added and subtracted, yet everything evolves around this four steps. In Jiu Jitsu they are:
1. Take your opponent to the ground – As this takes his base and power away. Simple example, take a ball, take two steps and throw it as far as you can. Then take the ball, sit on the floor and throw it as far as you can. The difference in distance will be great. Why? Because when sitting on the ground one can not generate great power from the hip through the legs into the floor anymore. From a standpoint of fighting it makes your opponent much less dangerous.
2. Pass your opponents legs - Often when you take an opponent down, you land between his legs – the so called guard – or least on top of one leg – the half guard. In this position your opponent can use his legs to limit your movement and therefore your potential success in the fight. So this step is getting passed the opponents legs to either get on top of him, on his side or his back. To have greater control and more options.
3. Move up a hierarchy of positions – Once one is past the legs, the goal is to improve the position step by step too then finally go the submission which ends the fight.
4. Execute a submission – A submission is mainly either a choke which is an attack the neck or a joint lock which is an attack the elbows, knees or ankles. Once this attack is successful the opponent will either „tap out“ or risk going unconscious or getting injured. By this point the fight is won.
This is a very simple approach to break down a complicated sport. And there is two things that fascinate me about this approach. First, its an excellent tool for analysis. In simple terms, based on the „fix your weak links, to get the whole chain stronger“ principle, figure out which of the steps you are best at and which of the steps is your most limiting. For example if you are an MMA fighter who is excellent on the ground, getting past the legs, improving positions and submitting opponents, yet you fail too often to take the opponent to the ground, your approach will not the highly successful. So using this 4 step system to analyze ones strengths and deficits is an excellent tool to plan training. Second, this 4 step system can be basically applied and used in any other sport.
Here a few example of other sports where I applied this 4 step system:
The 4 step system applied to football (and basically all team sports that involve a ball or puck):
1. Get the ball
2. Control the ball
3. Move the ball towards the opponents goal
4. Get the ball into the goal
The 4 step system applied to bobsled:
1. Accelerate the sled
2. Get into the sled
3. Take efficient turns in the corners
4. Get down the track as fast as possible
The 4 step system applied to sprinting:
1. Accelerate from the blocks
2. Reach Top Speed
3. Maintain Top Speed
4. Get to the finish line as fast as possible
2. Terminate brules to fast-track progress
I have read the term „brule“ first in Vishen Lakhiani’s book „The code of the extraordinary mind“. A brule is short for „bullshit rule“. Basically a rule that makes no sense. In his book Lakhiani uses the example of him being not allowed to eat a burger as a kid because he is a Hindu, a religion were cows are holy and are not allowed to be eaten. He challenged this rule and wanted to know why cows are holy. What he found out is that centuries ago Hindu families usually could only afford one cow per household and this one cow was essential for agriculture and giving milk. Also cows were adored as pets at the time. So basically „killing“ that one cow that the family not only sees as a pet yet also highly depends on for food and survival would be fatal. So cows were just not eaten. Which then evolved into cows can’t be eaten as the are holy. A status that is definitely not as relevant anymore in today times as it was centuries ago. Lakhiani explained this to his mother and was then allowed to have a burger.
John Danaher basically did the same thing and applied it to leg locks in Jiu Jitsu. A leg lock is a joint lock and attack that is directed primarily to the ankle or the knee with the intent of hyper-extending or hyper-rotating the joint forcing the opponent to give up. Leg locks were not used in Grappling in the past as they were seen as an inferior technique. To use a leg lock basically meant that you were not good enough to attack the arms or neck. John Danaher had a seminar with 2time World Champion Dean Lister at his gym over a decade ago who started to specialize in leg locks at the time as one of the pioneers. Danaher asked him why he started to attacked the legs. With Dean Lister giving him a simple answer: „Why would you ignore 50% of the body“. A line that changed John Danaher’s approach to Jiu Jitsu and was the birth of the Danaher Leg Lock System which has dominated the sports over the last years. Danaher did not invent or reinvent the sport. He just took a brule – „leg locks are inferior“ – terminated that brule and used this as a base to dominate the sport.
3. High Frequency training is crucial for exceptional success.
This is technically not something new that I learned, yet John Danaher’s training makes another very strong case for why a very high frequency of training is one of biggest accelerators and drivers for exceptional success in training and sports. I have created the Squat Holiday, Strength and Mass Holiday and a bunch of other systems on this exact same principle. Yet, Danaher took this much further and turned it into one of the main reasons why his squad has this continuous success at such a young age. Basically, they train 3 times per day, 7 days per week. At 7.30am, at noon and in the afternoon. And then most of them go teach at their own schools at night. This multiplies up to easily 1000 trainings session per year. Whereas many higher level competitors train 1 to 2 times per day on 5 days per week. Which sounds similar. Yet, that only comes up to 250 to 500 trainings session per year. That means Danaher’s squad gets in the amount of session in 2 years, that many other need 4 to 8 years to get in. A great principle for progress in training applied in a highly successful way.
Learning from coaches from other fields is of high value and also something I enjoy. And recommend to all the trainers and coaches to come to learn at the YPSI. John Danaher’s track record and the approach it is based on speaks for himself which makes him a great resource for coaches.
For everyone who is interested on a more in-depth look a John Danaher’s work follow his Instagram I recommend to start with his interview on the Joe Rogan Experience, either on iTunes or here on youtube.
Picture: John Danaher (middle) with one of his main students World Champion Gordon Ryan (right) and Black Belt Nico Penzer (left) who Iam training grappling with. (Source: Nico Penzer)