Inside The BJJ Kumite: Garry Tonon’s Take Part 1

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Garry training with UFC fighter Georges St-Pierre at Renzo Gracie Academy NYC / Photo by Erin Herle

Garry Tonon is a brown belt under Tom DeBlass in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was invited to compete in The BJJ Kumite brown belt tournament at Team Lloyd Irvin in Camp Springs, Maryland the week of December 9-16. Here is the first part of the story, direct from Garry, as to how it panned out for him, what he expected and what unfolded for him:

Garry’s Story:
This is all the information I was provided before the start of the Kumite. Keep in mind, this is about one month in advance of the tournament at the earliest. We were sent an email and that email stated that we were to fight in a week long tournament (Dec. 9-16) of submission-only matches against each other in Jiu-Jitsu gi and No-Gi. The winner would receive a $1000 cash prize for each division and a chance to fight Keenan Cornelius for an additional $2500 for each division. We were told to send footage of us training, competing and preparing for the Kumite. We were told we had to pay for our own travel, food, hotel etc. We were welcomed to sleep at the “jungle,” the house Lloyd’s team lives in, but there we would most likely be sleeping on mats. We were told we could have no sponsors, we would be provided gi’s and rash guards (so having sponsors pay for the trip was out of the question).

Here I was one month away from the Kumite with a million thoughts running through my head. My inner monologue sounded like this:

“So, let me get this straight. I’m supposed to pay (in full because we couldn’t wear sponsors’ gear) to travel to Maryland and stay and train with Lloyd’s team and a bunch of people I’m competing against. Then I’m to compete for a solid week against the best in the world with no time limit while Keenan and his teammates get to watch me and pick apart my game for an entire week. This is all for a chance to take on Keenan who has gotten to see my entire game in a million different scenarios throughout the week. Looks like a trap if I’ve ever seen one. Why does lanky zombie-looking Keenan get to sit on a throne above us all? Because he was a dominant purple belt? So what? I mean, he beat me once at a NAGA and based on all his matches he’s clearly very good, but come on. He’s not BJJ royalty, who does he think he is, Renzo Gracie? It sounds like they’re telling me, ‘come to my school, compete at the feet of purple belt King Keenan, and after you’ve had about two dozen submission-only, no time limit matches and he knows everything there is to know about your game, then maybe we will grant you the honor of having a match with him.’ That sounds fair. Not to mention the fact that I’m going to have to reschedule all my finals at Rutgers and take them after I compete. On top of all that I’m supposed to send them a tape of my training! What? It’s as if they weren’t going to have enough of my game to study.”

All those things aside I chose to compete for a few reasons:

A. I was dying to fight Keenan again. The first time we fought I felt I had made two of the same crucial mistakes that cost me the match.

B. I had never gotten a chance to compete in a high profile no time limit tournament and having rarely been submitted in competition I thought is was a great format for me.

C. I knew regardless of the trap it appeared to be, it was an opportunity to compete against the best up-and-comers in the sport and I would never pass that experience up.

D. Finally, I knew more people would recognize my name and my team’s even more so after it was all over, and I owe it to my team to show the world that we are one of the best teams in the sport.

So, I began my preparation and planning. I train no time limit all the time and train multiple times a day so that was no big change. I focused on mainly No-Gi (even though I train in a gi every day and apparently I’m better in competition without it, just take a look at my competitive achievements) I figured that was my best chance at getting to Keenan and beating him.

Now I wanted to try and escape the trap Lloyd had seemed to set as much as possible, so I made arrangements with fellow competitor Seph Smith to stay at his apartment in DC, which is only 20 minutes away from Lloyd’s. I also made arrangements with Ryan Hall from 50/50 BJJ to train at his school for the week. Then, when I sent Lloyd my training video I only included some interviews and one highlight match that included my previous 2012 No-Gi Pan Ams match with AJ Agazarm, ending with a submission in three minutes or so. I didn’t want to give them any of my current game to study so I figured a three minute match would be perfect. Finally I postponed my college class finals, which I had to take one each day after the Kumite.

I left my home on Dec. 9 and traveled into the cryptic, mysterious, ebony-stained haze that surrounded the BJJ Kumite. My first stop was 50/50 BJJ, Ryan Hall was very welcoming. I strategized a bit with Ryan who was and trained with many of his students and then I was off to Seph’s apartment where I would stay for the week. Seph is awesome. He let me stay the whole week free of charge and didn’t ask for a dime, although I bought his cat a few gifts but that story is for later.

The next day I went to Lloyd’s and as I looked outside the school I was amazed at what little was done to make the location known. For someone known as an expert marketer, I expected more signs, ads, etc. As far as I could see, if you didn’t know Lloyd Irvin Academy was there, you would never stumble upon it by accident, that’s for sure. To get inside the school you have to enter two unmarked double doors in the center of the building, and take an elevator/stairs to the third floor. Then, around the corner at the end of the hall is the entrance. Before this point I thought there was a high probability Lloyd had invited all the best brown belts in the world to a random abandoned office building were we would all be killed and never found, as part of an elaborate scheme to weed out Keenan’s competition at brown belt. This is the first point at which I even realized I was in the right place. Immediately I was handed a contract.

So I’m sitting there contract in hand, alone with my thoughts thinking, am I an idiot for coming here? I drove four hours to compete in a tournament where not only was I not guaranteed a chance to fight Keenan, but I’m not even guaranteed the prize originally offered for winning. Regardless I signed; I was eager to fight the best in the world and get a second shot at beating that overgrown vampire.


Stay tuned for how the training and competition panned out for Garry in part two of the article!

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