Dan “Danimal” Reid has been choking people since 2008, and he’s quite proud of it. He chose the slogan for the Danimal BJJ Academy, made up of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gyms he’s opened in Kaohsiung and Tainan, Taiwan over the past decade. The nickname comes as much from his reputation on the mat as it does from his lifestyle off, though he’ll admit he’s matured away from certain tendencies.
Reid competes internationally against other black belts but has discovered a passion for coaching as well, establishing himself as a strong influence and ambassador for the sport in southeast Asia.
He spent his adolescence playing basketball for the Scottish junior national team under Robert Archibald, the first Scottish-born NBA player. There he was exposed to elite-level competition at an early age, but often found himself frustrated at the unavoidable reliance on his teammates during competition.
“I could have the best game of my life, but if the team is playing horribly, we still lose, and that sucks,” he says.
He didn’t find jiu jitsu until he was 25, filling an athletic void he felt after leaving basketball. There were six mats at the gym where he started, and one other guy to train with. He got there at 6AM every morning for six months and quit his job three years later to pursue martial arts full time.
“Even when I was at my job, all I was thinking about was jiu jitsu. I didn’t make any money, because all I was doing was thinking about jiu jitsu all the time.”
He traveled to Texas where he lived with a cousin and found a larger gym with more coaches and training partners. He quickly ascended the ranks despite a lack of experience wearing the gi, he actually had to borrow one from a friend for his first competition. As a white belt, he submitted his first opponent via triangle and won his next match against a blue belt. Reid never wore a blue belt. He was promoted straight to purple after dominantly winning both his division and the open at his first tournament.
After this early success he started training striking as well and focused more on the MMA game. Prior to his promotion to purple belt, he took an amateur MMA fight in Scotland with no specific training.
“I just wanted to see if I was tough enough.”
Turns out he was. He won the fight, and used jiu jitsu to train for MMA rather than focus on it separately.
Then a knee injury sidelined him for several months. While he wasn’t able to work his standup, he rediscovered BJJ and began to prioritize it more.
“[At that time] I liked MMA, but I loved jiu jitsu.”
Reid fell in love with the cerebral aspect of the game, bordering on obsessive at times. Most days his first thought in the morning and last thought at night revolve around some aspect of jiu jitsu. But he learns best through experience.
“If no one has ever done [a technique] to me, I find it hard to believe that it works…I never want to be tapped by the same submission twice. The joy for me is trying to figure it out.”
Reid met Craig Jones at a competition in Singapore. After sparring with each other, and after Jones won the event, Reid invited him back to Taiwan to teach a seminar.
“I wanted to bring him in, because he whooped my ass [laughs].”
Most friendships forged in combat sports start the same way.
He and Jones are proof one does not have to be from a traditional mecca like Brazil or Japan to reach top level competitions (Jones is Australian). Jones has since defeated Jake Shields for the inaugural Polaris Middleweight Championship and went toe-to-toe with Gordon Ryan in a double-overtime match at Eddie Bravo Invitational 14.
Dan is thankful for events like EBI and Polaris that have created new avenues for BJJ players to attract sponsors and raise their celebrity to be compensated as professional athletes. The industry is on the up-and-up in that regard, he says.
He is not in favor, however, of IBJJF and the annual registration fees they require. The best in the world should not pay to fight each other while the federation profits.
Reid still aims to compete, although he is transitioning deeper into his role as head instructor at his academy. He admits he sort of fell into coaching just by being the best at his gym as he worked toward his black belt. His coaching style mirrors that of instructors he was exposed to throughout his athletic career, and he teaches the techniques that match his student’s abilities while still keeping his own skills as a competitor sharp.
Reid keeps a relatively simple training regimen when preparing for competition. He’ll work strength and conditioning five or six times per week, lifting weights or running.
“Something fucking terrible,” he elaborates in his own words.
A quick bite to eat is well earned afterward, followed by private lessons in the afternoon. Evening classes at his academies start at 6:30. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, he is in Kaohsiung; Tuesday and Thursday he takes the train an hour south to Tainan. Sparring begins at 10:30. He aims for 20 five-minute rounds cumulatively each week.
He does not let his opponent dictate his preparation, keeping to his routine regardless. He doesn’t watch much film or strategize extensively, unless there are specific rules to consider for the match, such as leg lock bans or overtime stipulations, or if his adversary is known as a specialist in a particular aspect.
Reid’s own reputation precedes him and has evolved with his skillset over the years. He was known for his triangle choke first, finishing several matches from his back early in his career. As the level of competition progressed and triangles became less successful against his opponents, he started catching guys in guillotines and leg locks.
“I’ve been known as different guys,” he admits, sounding more secret agent than martial artist. “As far as what I’ll be known for next, that’s a secret (laughs).”
He doesn’t get lost in the details when preparing for a fight but is keen to notice patterns and trends within the BJJ community as a whole. He acknowledges the resurgence of armbar finishes from guard amongst black belts in recent competition, a technique once labelled obsolete at the highest level. Such is the beauty of jiu jitsu, to revisit forgotten basics through a different perspective, that there is always more to learn about what one thinks he or she already knows.
“If something is a fundamental technique, chances are it works, right? You just have to make it work for you.”
If he had to choose one over the other, he would compete nogi over gi.
“I prefer to watch nogi, so why not do the thing I prefer to watch, right?”
In his opinion, nogi rules seem more realistic in mirroring real-life hand-to-hand conflict in his current environment. The average temperature in Taiwan is 22°C (72°F). If someone picks a fight with you on the street, they probably aren’t wearing pants and a jacket. As such, nogi is where his preparation is focused, though he is quick to point out his classes are structured toward success in competition more so than for self-defense situations.
Reid loves living in Taiwan and appreciates the respect and humility entrenched in Taiwanese culture. His students carry those sentiments over to the mat, which helps create an enjoyable learning environment.
"Not a single person has ever come in and been overly-aggressive or disrespectful,” he says, which is the main reason there is such a low injury rate at his gyms.
“We have such a low injury rate at the gym. There hasn’t been a serious injury, which is very amazing. We’ve been open for three years, and no one’s been seriously hurt.”
His Scottish upbringing might not have helped him become the friendliest individual by nature, but he’s aware of his influence on his students, especially the beginners. He is a self-described introvert with an ability to humble anyone with an over-inflated ego, but he places emphasis on learning his students’ names, and for them to learn each other’s.
“If you know someone’s name, they’re less terrifying. Instead of someone being a scary sweaty intimidating man, it’s so-and-so, the goofy guy that sweats a lot.”
Southeast Asia’s backpacker culture offers his students a chance to test their skills against an array of traveling jiu jitsu practitioners, from a variety of academies and backgrounds, that frequently pass through town. His philosophy seems to humanize even the most intimidating practitioners that walk onto the mats.
Athletes of all skill levels are welcome at his gyms, and he strives to make them feel welcome and comfortable from the second they step through the door. Reid’s stable of coaches reflexively extend a friendly welcome to new students and old, creating an environment encouraging anybody within sight of Grand Master Helio Gracie’s mural, painted on the lone support wall, to enjoy the best aspects of community jiu jitsu has to offer.
Reid earned his black belt in 2014 under Christian Graugart. Danimal BJJ is an affiliate of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Globetrotters, founded by Graugart. Reid is featured in his book The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Globetrotter: The True Story of a Frantic, 140 Day Long Around-the-World Trip to Train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (available on Amazon and www.bjjglobetrotters.com/the-story-of-team-bjj-globetrotters).
He is in the prime of his jiu jitsu life, ready and eager to engage in a high-level grappling exhibition, while preparing the next crop of choke artists to take the international BJJ community by force.