The Danaher Death Squad – The History Behind the Squad

The Danaher Death Squad – The History Behind the Squad

If you have spent any amount of time in Jiu Jitsu, then more than likely you have heard of the famous Danaher Death Squad. For the better part of a decade, the world of competitive Jiu Jitsu has been dominated by this team. Everytime you see a Danaher Death Squad member compete, there’s a good chance they’re winning it all.

The history of the DDS and how they were assembled has a unique origin story. We’re going to breakdown the complete history of this team starting with the leader, original members, and current members. Then we’ll breakdown their training systems and philosophy.

John Danaher - The Mastermind Behind DDS

John Danaher is one of the most known and respected figures in BJJ. He is known as an encyclopedia of Jiu Jitsu - a true philosopher of the arts. 

Danaher was born in Washington D.C. and his dad was a pilot in the New Zealand Air Force. John’s family later moved back to Auckland, New Zealand, where he spent his childhood.

John was a very active kid participating in karate, kickboxing, while also being competitive in soccer and rugby. He had a potential future in rugby, but his dreams were cut short after multiple knee tears.

After a botched surgery, Danaher’s athletic dreams were destroyed. The surgery cut Danaher’s tendon shortening his leg and led him to develop future hip and back problems from misalignments.

With his athletic dreams cut short, Danaher became a Philosophy major. He eventually moved to New York City and enrolled in grad school at Columbus University.

To pay for school, he became a club bouncer and this is where he first learned about Jiu Jitsu. He saw that his co-workers had grappling experience and thought it would be good to learn for the job.

John Danaher

A friend of his already trained at Renzo Gracie’s academy and took John to his first trial class. While he didn’t love it at first, he saw the benefits of BJJ for his job and continued his training. 

He trained along future all time greats like Matt Serra, Ricardo Almeida, and Rodrigo Gracie. After the departures of Serra and Almeida to open schools, Danaher was asked to replace them as a coach. John was only a purple belt at the time, but Renzo saw potential in him.

At 28 years old he had a late start in BJJ and his debilitating injuries kept him from competing. So, since he couldn’t compete, he was driven to be the best coach he could be.

He became immersed in the martial art learning every aspect of BJJ and how to be a good coach.  

John Danaher and Georges St Pierre

In 2002, he received his black belt and really got deeper into his methodology around Jiu Jitsu. He would go on to train many all time great athletes in BJJ and MMA.

Including 3 MMA champions Matt Serra, Chris Weidman, and most notably Georges St Pierre. John has helped grow Renzo Gracie’s NY academy into what it is today.

Quite possibly his biggest accomplishment being assembling one of the greatest team of BJJ competitors in the history of the sport. This team that would later get the name ”The Danaher Death Squad.”

The History of DDS and Its Formation

The origins of the Danaher Death squad started around 2011. Eddie Cummings, an original member and blue belt at the time started coming to the morning classes at Renzo’s school.

Black belt Krishna Mirjah was the original morning instructor, but John took over soon after Eddie’s arrival. Cummings would come to John’s class every day and improved his game exponentially.

Two years later in 2013 Garry Tonon would arrive at Renzo’s participating in Gianni Grippo’s competition class with Eddie. Garry started joining Eddie in John’s class seeing how it improved aspects of Eddie’s game.

Then two years later in 2015 Gordon Ryan would join the class after many invitations from his friend and mentor Garry Tonon. It was around this time that that these three started to get notoriety around the Jiu Jitsu Community. 

After these three got together, the reign of dominance by the DDS had begun.

Danaher Death Squad Team Members

The original members of the Danaher Death Squad as listed above were Eddie Cummings, Garry Tonon, and Gordon Ryan. They are very talented grapplers and all have interesting stories on how they came together.

Danaher Death Squad Team Members

Eddie Cummings

Eddie came to Renzo’s in 2011 already having a diverse knowledge of different guards - Deep Half Guard, X Guard,  Z Guard. With the help of John’s students Aaron Milam, Doug Pelinkovic and Mike Jaramillo, he learned various leg-lock entries.

Cummings would get notoriety by winning multiple EBI’s titles by footlocks using unique entries he developed in Danaher’s classes. Eddie earned his black belt from John in 2015 and has since left DDS and joined Unity BJJ in 2018.

Garry Tonon

Garry Tonon is a grappling phenom prior to joining the squad. As a student of Tom deBlass/Ricardo Almeida, he had multiple IBJJF championships before training with Danaher in 2013. He gained popularity for his ADCC match with Kron Gracie the same year.

Tonon would later win multiple EBI events and more IBJJF championships using his exciting style and patented DDS leglock entries. Garry is still very active and is now competing in MMA and took 2nd at ADCC this year.

Gordon "The King" Ryan

“The King” Gordon Ryan at just 24 years old has marked himself as one of the greatest No Gi grapplers of all time. For the last three years, he has been nearly unstoppable winning every competition he enters.

Most notably he won double gold at this years 2019 ADCC winning all his matches by submission. He has now developed a nearly complete BJJ game excelling in almost every facet of BJJ and only getting better.

DDS Systems

Leglocks: John and his Danaher Death Squad have made so many innovations in BJJ with their numerous leg-lock entries. The person you can thank for that is Dean Lister. 

Danaher saw Lister using various heel hooks and achilles locks and asked him why he uses them? Dean responded by asking John the question, “why would you ignore 50% of the human body?”

This answer made John’s mind run wild. From that interaction, he then spent years perfecting a leg-lock system that the DDS would be known for.

John Danaher’s leg-lock systems implements a variety of ways of trapping and neutralizing the opponent’s legs. By doing this it opens up opportunities to attack their heels and making nearly impossible to escape if done correctly.

Back Attacks: Since people thought DDS was just known for leg-locks some of the members has added back attacks to their styles.

Back attacks are the highest percent submissions in Jiu Jitsu. Danaher teaches a system where you get to the opponent’s back, neutralize them, and get the strangle.

If you watch nearly every match Gordon Ryan during the 2019 ADCC, he has put in a clinic and perfectly implemented the DDS Sytem. If he doesn’t get the takedown, then he’s getting the sweep, passing the guard, taking their back, and strangling opponents.

DDS Philosophy

The philosophy of the Danaher Death Squad is to always be aggressive and methodically attack the opponent. Danaher believes that Jiu Jitsu is an offensive game and you must always be the aggressor.

By being the aggressor, you are able to implement your game and not worry about fighting off the opponent’s game. In the DDS philosophy, you go through a methodical process of attacking your opponent.

If you see a DDS member compete, you can see them going through a progression of control checkpoints. They will not move on to the next step until they have 100% established control.

Once they get to the final step and establish control, the match is just about over. Being constantly on the offensive and going through a methodical process establishing control is the DDS philosophy.

New Generation and Growth of DDS

The Danaher Death Squad team has expanded a ton since its creation in 2015. Adding members like Jake Shields, Tom deBlass (Garry’s original coach), and Oliver Taza. The two most notable additions being  Nicky Ryan and Nick Rodriguez.

Nicky Ryan DDS Brown Belt

Nicky Ryan: Nicky is the younger brother of Gordon is barely 18 years olds and has beat a plethora of the world’s top grapplers. He has beat names such as Urijah Faber, Geo Martinez, and Imanari. He also competed at ADCC and while he didn’t place it was still a feat to compete at that level at his young age!

Nick Rodriguez: Nick Rodriguez has made quite the splash in BJJ with just six months of BJJ training. He took second place at ADCC beating two former world champions using his amateur wrestling and Danaher’s back control system. Rodriguez has been taking opponents down at will and taking their back. Once he puts more time in training BJJ, he will easily become a multiple time world champ!


The Danaher Death Squad has changed the BJJ world, influencing how to train effectively and efficiently. Today, the DDS continues to grow and win various competitions around the world using their effective systems. Look to see more of DDS as they continue to dominate and remain as one of top BJJ teams for many years to come!