On how to make Mr. Danaher’s BJJ concepts and systems accessible for kids

When it comes to influential BJJ instructors, it is hard not to put Mr. Danaher high on that list. Like many others, my husband and I also work a lot with Mr. Danaher’s concepts and systems, not only to improve ourselves and our understanding of BJJ, but also to improve our teaching skills. In this short article, we would like to focus on the teaching aspect.

In our young gym, most of our members are kids and teenagers. Recently, somebody raised the question on the BJJ Fanatics Facebook group whether Mr. Danaher also teaches kids and/or whether he teaches also his concepts to these young mat savages. The answers were not straightforward and most interestingly, there were not many ideas about how one could transform Mr. Danaher’s concepts and systems in ways that would make it easily accessible for kids.

Surely, kids will be extremely bored when we start talking for about an hour about certain concepts and positions – no matter how important and crucial. That is why we started experimenting. The results of these experiments we wish to share with you, because maybe they are useful for you as well, and we would be extremely happy with feedback and other ideas. That said, we shall have a series of short articles in which we explain a game and add some videos, to make it clearer as to how we played that game. In this article we will start with the first game we successfully experimented with:

The Hipline-Balloon-Explode Game

This game is about guard passing and guard retention. Without revealing too much about Danaher’s concepts, we picked, what we think (and hopefully Mr. Danaher as well) are the most decisive and easiest to understand aspects for kids of either passing someone’s guard or retaining your guard. 

BJJ Guard passing and guard retention game using balloons

These aspects would be somehow placing your foot or knee next to your training partners’ hip/waistline, which means that you are passed the legs (not yet the guard) but are well on your way to pass the guard. The second would be chest to chest contact and when possible reinforce that with head-control. In so doing the pass is then complete and you pin your partner. Reversed, this would mean that the individual who wants to retain guard does neither want to let his partner get his foot or knee next to his hips, nor allow his partner to have chest to chest contact/head control.

Making Mr. Danaher’s BJJ concepts visible

In order to make these simplified concepts a fun passing/retaining guard game we bought colourful balloons. After we put air into these we attached two of them to either side of one kids’ hip. The kid with the balloons is the one who lays on the ground and whose goal it is to retain guard and prevent his balloons from exploding. The goal of the other kids is to smash these balloons by figuring out how to get either his foot or knee on that balloon and then, of course, progress to chest to chest contact. Once there is a 3 second pin, the kid on top stands up and it starts all over again. Does one balloon explode in the process? That just means that the kid needs to do the same on the other side, thus making sure that the kid gets dynamic and clever in passing on both sides. As a result, the kid on the bottom, too, will learn how to defend and retain guard on both sides. In our experience, balloons are quite sturdy, so they do not explode immediately. The kids have to work for it!

BJJ game using balloons to practise both sides

Since we tied balloons on both sides, we emphasized the importance of the location of the balloons, namely the hip area. Later we observed during regular sparring that the kids’ passing skills became much more effective as they fought for good foot/knee position first and then progressed into a pin and those having to retain guard also became much more dynamic, fluid and better in understanding when they should defend, how (scissoring and inverting for instance) and when they can attack again.