Marcelo Garcia and John Danaher
Exploring Differences in Excellence
I have spent the last few days in New York and had a chance to seek insight in a comparison between Marcelo Garcia, who has a school in New York and John Danaher, who teaches at the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York.
Marcelo is primarily known for being one of the best competitors in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and submission grappling in our time, if not the history of the sport. John is not as widely known because he lacks a competitive record, but those who have studied with him ALL regard him as one of the best instructors, if not the best, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
I wanted to briefly place Marcelo and John side-by-side and take a look at how their teaching styles are a reflection of their personal learning style.
One reason I find this topic interesting is because of a discussion I had with Josh Waitzkin (pictured above), author of the Art of Learning. I was asking Josh about Marcelo’s training regime and he commented that Marcelo, unlike everyone else at the academy, did not drill. He did not have a strength and conditioning routine. He described how and why Marcelo’s ability to learn in a purely kinesthetic/tactile manner is perfectly suited for Jiu Jitsu. He does not study his opponents’ games, he simply draws them into his own game. Instead of drilling, he simply finds movements that “feel right” to him and then re-creates situations in sparring where he can practice these movements over and over.
On the other hand, I spoke with John and we discussed various useful approaches for studying different grappling competitors: how to analyze their movements, what movements translate to technique, what technical “chunks” to look for specifically, how to practice these techniques, what scenarios to mimics, and so on. John’s method of increasing his expertise is nearly the opposite of Marcleo’s. John prefers to find the highest percentage submissions, sweeps and guard passes used at the adult black-belt level in the World Championships and then reverse engineer his way to the proper execution of these techniques.
When Marcelo is teaching, he clearly illustrates what the opponent will try to do, what the likely avenues are that will follow their initial technique and then he will demonstrate sequenced movements that are effective for stopping/countering these attacks. You accept that Marcelo covers counters that are workable because he has overcome the best competitors in the game; you know his insight is relevant because if there was something missing from his insight, one of his opponents’ would have capitalized on it at some point. Marcelo’s subconscious ability to “perform a technique correctly based on feel” allows him to use techniques at a high-level that he never uses in competition. For example, if a student needs to improve their ability to remove spider guard hooks, Marcelo seamlessly applies the spider guard as if he had been using it since he was a white belt.
If you were to learn the same spider guard techniques from John Danaher, you would come to know the spider guard through a different path. While Marcelo would prefer to pull you into a round of sparring and repeatedly sweep/submit you from the spider guard and correct you throughout, John would first present the problems encountered when trying to pass the spider guard. It might be a clarification of the purpose of hooks and grips from the spider guard or an idea about the proximity to the opponent’s hip/knee-line that indicates whether you are in danger or safe. From there, a small, specific set of methods for unraveling these problems would be presented and then expanded upon. Instead of a subconscious awareness being translated to the student by Marcelo, John provides a conscious understanding of the problem and solution. Since this solution is conscious, it is not yet automatic, so a significant amount of time should be devoted to drilling these responses to make them useful for the student.
I would like to expound on this topic again but for now I will stop here and let these thoughts digest.