John Danaher recently went on the Lex Fridman podcast for the third time and he actually shed some light on the circumstances surrounding the breakdown between members of the DDS (Danaher Death Squad) that led to their eventual split. He started out by explaining the path that the team went on during the journey from the blue basement in New York City to Puerto Rico during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how he believes this effected the team:
In Puerto Rico, the conditions in which the team lived changed significantly. When you’re in New York, New York is such a big city that if there’s any tension between team members, and inevitably there will be in a competitive sport where everyone’s fighting each other, you can kinda bury them in the size of the city. There’s so many distractions in New York, you know you come in and you do your work out, you go outside and it’s New York City. In Puerto Rico we lived in a very small local town, Dorado, and most of the athletes were living with each other.
“So, unlike New York where there was always a break, you train together but when training was over you went about your life in New York and New Jersey. With everyone living in close proximity to each other, any tensions got magnified because there was no relief from them. You didn’t get to get away from people. If you had a problem with someone on the mat, now you had to live with them for the rest of the day and the night. This goes on for long periods of time. I believe this had the effect of magnifying whatever tensions there were.”
John Danaher didn’t just explain general conditions that exacerbated the issues behind the DDS split, but he also pointed directly at two of the athletes who ended up on either side of the split, Gordon and Nicky Ryan:
“In particular there was a family tension between two brothers which magnified over time. And as so often is the case, you get two brothers growing up: one older, one younger, and the younger one wants to grow and feels somewhat like a young tree underneath a bigger tree. Sometimes people just need their space, so there was some unhappiness.”
“As time goes by these tensions started to increase and they came to a point where it was difficult for them even to be in the training room together. At that point, once training takes a hit, you’ve got to start to address these. The attempts at reconciliation fell through and a decision was made to move to Texas.”
John Danaher also explains that his idea was for all of the DDS members to put off the split during the lead-up to the 2022 ADCC world championships in order to maintain the unity among them and hopefully deliver the best results at the event. Of course this wasn’t the case and the DDS split up before even reaching Texas, choosing to establish two different teams with the majority of their athletes representing B-Team Jiu-Jitsu while John Danaher opened up New Wave Jiu-Jitsu with Gordon Ryan and Garry Tonon among others.
While John Danaher also explains the rest of his experience leading up to ADCC 2022, Fridman loops the conversation back to the DDS split and how he actually felt about the scenario:
“It was a sad time, yeah. It was. It was… you know I’m not a particularly emotional person but it was an emotional time for everyone. It had an element of tragedy in so far as not only was it a team break-up, it was also a family break-up, which is much more serious. I do believe that, in time, even the most intense family break-ups can be reconciled. And I also believe that once dialogue begins, people will remember just how easy it was for us to get along and how tight we were for many, many years. It’s so easy to let a minute of anger destroy ten years of friendship. But there’s also the weight of those ten years. When I ran into the old squad members at ADCC we got along like a house on fire, it was like we never had a problem. I still believe, in time, things will be fine. There was an element where youngsters need to grow.”
While John Danaher clearly seems hopeful for reconciliation between the athletes that made up the DDS in the past, there’s still nothing to suggest that this split is anything but permanent. Danaher went on to shed further light on some of the issues that caused the rift in the team and what role he may have played in it:
“Think about it this way, from the athlete’s perspective. There’s definitely a generational problem, I’m much older than my students. The years and the viewpoint that I have is a reflection of the time in which I grew up. They’re from a completely different generation with a completely different world-view. It’s got to be hard, from the athlete’s perspective, when you’re training seven days a week and you’re getting very, very good. You’re beating everyone that’s getting put in front of you and you’re losing very, very rarely. It’s always a tough competitive match when you do. Everyone around you is calling you a superstar and you look phenomenal. You check social media, everyone’s saying you’re a god on the mat. You come into the gym and there’s some old guy telling you you’re not good enough.”
“Every day it’s like ‘what does this guy want from me? How hard do I have to work?’ Like, you’re not good enough. I want you to be the best in the world. I want you to be good, I want you to be great. All of your friends are telling you ‘man, you’re incredible, you submit me so easy, you do this, you do that.’ And this old guy is just like ‘Nah, you gotta get better. You gotta work more, you’re not working hard enough.’ At some point you’re gonna be like ‘you know what, fuck this old guy.’ It’s tough.”
“I get why they left. When i was 20 years old I didn’t get along with authority figures at all. To have someone telling you you’ve always got to work that little bit harder, your skill-set’s not complete, you still need this, this, and this, when you’re already doing very, very well and far better than all but a tiny, tiny percentage of people. Then you’ve got this guy just constantly telling you ‘no, more has to be done. You’re not there yet.’ Of course I understand, let me just enjoy this more.”
“It’s always a choice in life. You can be the best you possibly can or you can go a route where you juust get to enjoy life a little more, you do other things There’s more to life than just the inside of a gym and learning how to do a better heelhook or a better double-leg. Of course, years go by, you wanna try other things. You have to make this choice in life between extreme excellence versus being incredibly good but maybe just enjoying my life a little more.”
The full episode of the Lex Fridman Podcast with John Danaher where he discusses the split of the Danaher Death Squad, among other things, was uploaded to the Lex Fridman’s official YouTube channel: