Jiu-Jitsu Letter

The Fighter's Mind: John Danaher

I was looking for a book excerpt where BJ Penn said he liked training with white belts because they’re so unpredictable. That when he trained with better jiu-jitsu players, he had an idea of what they would do, so rolling with beginners presented a different challenge. I thought it was Sam Sheridan’s The Fighter’s Mind1, so I started re-reading it, and I noticed I had highlighted a bunch of paragraphs. I hadn’t opened this book in years.

And when I thumbed through it, I started to come across names that I didn’t think much about at the time. One example is the Renzo Gracie chapter. A large part of it is about John Danaher. This book is over ten years old, but it’s only in the last few that Danaher’s name has become known by everyone who trains. I even have the Renzo-Danaher book Mastering Jujitsu, but didn’t remember reading about Danaher in Sheridan’s book.

I had heard about John, that he was the real genius at Renzo’s—a master of jiu-jitsu, an innovator who never competed, a guy who was quietly changing the game with his private lessons. George[sic] St. Pierre and other notables took private lessons with him. Real guys knew what was up—Danaher was an open secret. Renzo said that even now, when he had questions about a move, he’d go talk to John first. Jiu-Jitsu is a dialogue.

And later:

When I ask Renzo about Danaher, he gushes.

“He’s completely unconventional, unpredictable, but he does jiu-jitsu the way I learned it: nothing matters but finishing. Position is just a way to get to the finish. His mind is good, and one of the most important things to teach is your own mind. If I just show you ten moves, you’ll never do them like I do them. But if I show you why I get there, and how I think, then it’s better for you. And almost more important, if I teach it the right way, then I have it pure in my mind.”

The block quotes above aren’t even what I originally highlighted. I highlighted passages about how to get better, but it was interesting to read things I missed the first time around. A lot of my highlights are more interesting now, now that I’ve been training for quite a while. This reminds me that I should be getting back to maintaining a Zettelkasten or similar system.

  1. Sheridan’s first book, The Fighter’s Heart, was also a good read, and I expect that I’ll re-read that as well. ↩︎

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