Danaher Death Squad: People and History behind Team

Nowadays, almost everyone interested in the world of grappling has heard of John Danaher and Danaher Death Squad. He is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, coach of his generation and DDS is one of the strongest competitive teams in the history of grappling. However, this was not always the case. A few or a dozen years ago nobody heard about Danaher and his squad did not exist. So if you are interested in how they have gained such fame in recent years, or you have miraculously not heard of them, read on to find out more. Below you will find more about Danaher himself, the Danaher Death Squad, and the people behind it.

John Danaher leg lock mastermind

John Danaher (born in 1967) is a BJJ and MMA instructor at the Renzo Gracie Academy in Manhattan. He is a 4th-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Renzo Gracie.  

Early life 

Danaher was born in the United States but grew up in New Zealand. He spent most of his childhood on a small peninsula north of Auckland, New Zealand. While there, he learned kickboxing and some karate. At the University of Auckland Danaher earned a Bachelor’s, and later a master’s degree in philosophy. In 1991, he returned to the USA to pursue a Ph.D. in epistemology at Columbia University in NYC. At this time, he also worked as a bouncer at various Manhattan nightclubs. 

Beginnings of adventure with BJJ

Upon arriving in New York City, a friend from the university introduced Danaher to BJJ. John began attending classes at the Renzo Gracie Academy in Manhattan. It was the beginning of his great dedication to the martial arts. Danaher quickly became one of the most dedicated students of the academy. As a purple belt, he began to teach some classes while Renzo was traveling to various competitions.

Over the next few years, when many others left to start their own BJJ schools, Danaher’s responsibilities as an instructor at Renzo Gracie Academy grew and he became a full-time coach at the school. Since receiving a black belt in the early 2000s, he has been the instructor of several famous BJJ and MMA fighters. 

Becoming one of the best coaches

Danaher has suffered from severe leg and hip problems all his life. Due to his health condition, he never competed in any competition. This could discourage many people from taking up sports. However, this was not the case with John. Instead, this motivated Danaher to devote all his time and effort to teach. As a result, now he is praised for his way of teaching. He is known primarily for his focus on details and for communicating even the most difficult issues in an understandable way. In the world of grappling, he was also made famous by his approach to BJJ and his techniques systems

Leg lock system and other systems 

Danaher is also known for developing his own, very effective system of leg-locks and lower-body attacks. With the leg lock system, Danaher was able to consolidate a large number of distinct positions and move into a more formulaic and predictable series of procedures that could be executed by his students. By using the teachings that John set out in his system, his pupils had enormous success using leg locks in competition. Danaher is credited with helping to alter the jiu-jitsu community’s opinion of leg locks, as many saw them as a non-technical and ineffective method of attack before Danaher’s students demonstrated their usefulness in competition. 

Since then, Danaher has developed other systems as well. Including various types of arm attacks (prominently Kimura variations and Armbars), as well as back and rear strangle-based attacks, Front Headlock and guillotine attacks, and Triangle attacks.

Philosophy of BJJ

What definitely sets Danaher apart is also his philosophy of BJJ. In his approach to jiu jitsu, he places greater emphasis on aggression than most other instructors. However, this is not some ordinary, mindless aggression. With Danaher, this concept means being on the offensive all the time. The offensive game, according to him, is about total control and immobilization of the opponent before going for the finish. The complete Danaher methodology is based on a progressive attacking model. He is all about hunting and putting pressure on the opponent. However, this does not mean ending the fights very quickly. Danaher is an advocate of a grappling style based on slowly traversing multiple control checkpoints. For example, his leg lock system has a clear hierarchy based on mechanics and the opponent’s reactions. Thanks to this it allows constant transition between control when attacking, which in turn, offers the possibility of being constantly on the offensive.

How did Danaher Death Squad start

Danaher’s teaching methods began to bear fruit in the form of the success of his students. It was thanks to the fruitful cooperation with fighters such as Georges St-Pierre that gained him recognition as a coach. And his notable proteges began to be called Danaher Death Squad. The mentality of the DDS members closely mirrors that of their trainer. They work hard and fight offensively. They’re just competitive. All this is very effective, brings them numerous victories, and confirms the reputation of the squad. 


The beginnings of DDS can be considered the moment when Eddie Cummings started attending Renzo Gracie Academy, which was somewhere around 2011. He was the first student of Danaher to fully accept the then-still-badly-seen leg lock game. Eddie has completely devoted himself to BJJ. He spent many hours a day on the mat to understand and be able to effectively apply Danaher’s leg lock system in competition. Seeing his successes, others soon joined him. And the Danaher Death Squad was born. Their path to power and publicity was as methodical as John’s teaching. After countless hours of technical work and drilling, they started conquering local competitions. At the time, invitational tournaments like Metamoris, EBI, and Polaris started popping up giving the squad a platform to truly shine.

Road to power

Eddie Cummings can be considered the original member of the Danaher Death Squad. He joined “the Danaher program” as a blue belt, and ultimately got his black belt from John. The next two people to join the formation of the squad are, now well known, Gary Tonon and Gordon Ryan. Tonon and Cummings are peers and started training together after Gary saw how effective Cummings was in his leg lock game. Originally a black belt by Tom DeBlass and with a strong wrestling background, Tonon adapted really quickly to Danaher’s philosophy, becoming a crucial part of the squad. The third original member of the squad is Gordon Ryan. He was a student of Gary Tonon and it was thanks to him that he went to training with Danaher. Young Ryan turned out to be a real talent who, with the knowledge of Danaher’s teachings, won everywhere he showed. He is now the most famous member of the DDS and quite a living legend.

Over time, the DDS began to have more members, but they still had the same thing in common. They all fought in the Danaher fashion and were incredibly successful. Such a person is e.g. Nicky Rodriguez, who unexpectedly raised from nowhere to BJJ stardom. As a blue belt, Nicky won with several back belts in the 2019 ADCC and as a result, get silver in his category. He actually got promoted to purple on the podium, after only one year of training BJJ. Another such person is Gordon’s younger brother, Nicky Ryan. He was only born in 2001 and already has a black belt from Danaher. If that’s not enough, he is also the youngest ever ADCC competitor, who holds victories over notable black belts and still has his whole grappling career in front of him. 

Well-established position

As DDS’s fame grows, the squad expands. Today there are so many members that it is difficult to follow them all. Only the most famous ones like the Ryan brothers are recognized. Others, whom you don’t hear too much about yet, are just starting to shine at smaller tournaments. While others are still at the beginning in their process of learning the ins and outs of BJJ from Danaher, and it’s only a few years from now that we’ll see what John made of them. Besides, DDS has already become a legendary group that has a great influence on the whole grappling. The Danaher Death Squad has made some groundbreaking progress in teaching BJJ society more about the potential of leg locks. They have promoted this approach to great lengths and made leg locks and heel hooks famous in the eyes of novice and expert BJJ practitioners alike.

Feel like a member of the Danaher Death Squad

Danaher is a truly unique trainer who can teach you so much. Unfortunately, not everyone, or actually most of us, does not have the opportunity to train with him personally. In the age of the Internet, however, each of us has the opportunity to benefit from his teachings in a different way. And we have this opportunity thanks to BJJ Fanatics and their series of tutorial videos featuring Danaher. So if you want to feel a bit like a member of the DDS it’s worth buying one or even more DVDs featuring John. You are guaranteed that with Danaher’s teachings, even in digital form, your thinking about jiu jitsu will change and your whole BJJ game will improve.

The DDS legacy

The DDS has made some groundbreaking progress in learning more about the potential that leglocks have and in implementing this aspect into an overall BJJ gameplan. Moreover, they have promoted this approach to great lengths and they made leglocks and heel hooks famous in the eyes of the novice and expert BJJ practitioners alike.