The BJJ Kumite from Dec 9-16 gave Garry Tonon an opportunity that few were offered. After rearranging his college finals, securing his place to stay and driving down to Maryland, the brown belt from New Brunswick, NJ had lots going on in his head.
You can read up on his apprehension in the first part of his blog entry here: Inside The BJJ Kumite: Garry Tonon’s Take Part 1
Continue reading below as Garry explains his experience and what he learned while at Team Lloyd Irvin:
Also in the contract we were required to train that day with the competitors and Lloyd’s team. Few of us desired for our games to be known so we either played dead or did techniques we would never normally do. I myself haven’t used my leg/foot locks in competition ’til this tournament so I only attacked with them in an attempt to deceive them all into thinking I was a purely a leg lock guy. After training we were sat down on bleachers and waited close to like a half hour. Everyone was relatively silent; I think this was because we didn’t know each other well at this point. By the second day there were few and far between moments that we were silent. Lloyd walked into the room and explained that Keenan was in the tournament. My immediate posture and expression changed. Now it was a level playing field. Perhaps Lloyd had planned to play fair after all. Then, Lloyd asked us about our accomplishments and decided Luke Costello would have first pick. This all happened so soon, news that Keenan was in it, and that we would be picking opponents. (The format of the tournament was not explained at length to us yet. Like single double elimination etc. the “super bowl” format was not told/ decided until day two)
I think Luke wasn’t immediately sure what to do, I mean there were still so many variables.
He responded, “I guess I’ll pick the smallest one I can see.”
Which ironically happened to be 2nd/3rd biggest competitor in the tournament. We all looked at each other a bit confused. The “smallest guy I can see” joke became a common joke throughout the tournament. As soon as I heard we were going to pick opponents, before Lloyd even said Luke would pick first I knew I was going to try to choose Keenan first. More than any other reason, I came there to beat him. Even if I had thought the tournament was single elimination I would have chosen him first– getting paid to win and getting to fight the other guys was just a bonus. So when I was asked who I was to fight I immediately asked if choosing Keenan was a possibility. (Keep in mind everything was told to us quickly and we really didn’t understand fully what was going on yet). When Lloyd said yes I was ecstatic. I was going to get the first crack at him! Finally everything seemed like it was going to work out okay and I hadn’t come to compete in vain. I left that day full of energy and excitement.
I returned at 9 a.m. and we began warming up. Finally Lloyd came in and clarified the “super bowl” format: every man fighting each other twice, best two records compete for finals. That was the fairest way to do things, and I’m glad Lloyd did so or no one would respect the tournament results. My first match ended quickly by armbar. I wasn’t discouraged. I felt as though I wasn’t really mentally warmed up yet and that I would be better without the gi anyway. The second match with Keenan I was far more proud of. My only regrets are that I didn’t really bother playing much of a guard deeming it a waste of energy in a no time limit match. But that just allowed Keenan to seamlessly move from submission to submission. I had him in a few bad spots but didn’t capitalize. Now I don’t want to say much about the rest of my matches in the tournament until they are released so keep watching, you’ll see. But I will speak some non specifics.
Here’s a little behind the scenes look at my living situation: So I said before I had no desire to live at the jungle and sleep on the floor with a house full of so many people, nor did I want to pay for a hotel so Seph Smith graciously welcomed me into his home. Well this turned out to be a quality decision because I heard the guys complaining that it was tough to get good sleep there. I got like 16 hours of sleep a night and they claimed to get less than six. Now why did I get 16 hours of sleep? Well, I had 18 no time limit matches over a period of four days. Imagine an eight minute match IBJJF tournament. Pretty exhausting huh? Well get this with a maximum of ten minute rest in between each match I did 18 matches NO TIME LIMIT in four days. All I had time for was to eat, compete, ice bath, sleep.
This is a story you won’t get watching the Kumite. Tuesday night I got a call from none other than AJ Agazarm. He had just arrived at the jungle. He also had no intentions of staying at the jungle either and he had soon found out that hotels in the DC area were ridiculously expensive. He asked where I was staying and if he could stay there too. Now AJ in terms of lineage is technically an extended BJJ family member of mine. (Gracie Barra > Renzo Gracie > Ricardo Almeida > Tom DeBlass (Ocean County BJJ)). However we have had a few matches with each other in the past: one at the 2011 Abu Dhabi World Pro Trials, a loss for me, and No-Gi Pan Ams, two wins for me in my weight and absolute. I’ll admit to a bit of tension between the two of us. All things considered though, if I were him I would have wanted him to do the same for me, so I picked him up at the jungle at like 12 a.m. and brought him to Seph’s apartment. It’s also significant to know that Seph was more than gracious in letting us both stay there because he too has competed with both of us before. So, here we are three BJJ competitors that have fought each other before enjoying each other’s company in one apartment. You won’t see that in many other sports. We spent most of our time sleeping watching movies (bloodsport!) and messing with Seph’s cat Tuckee using alaser pointer. I came to find that AJ was a pretty nice guy, he just takes himself very seriously in competition so my first impression of him was skewed. Along with Seph being one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met. Oh, and about the other guys. We were all in close proximity so much at the tournament that we soon realized socializing was inevitable and crucial to our sanity. We were out there with no one else. If we didn’t talk to each other I think we would have gone crazy. By the end we were exchanging techniques and strategy, etc. Usually I try to avoid talking to my competition to stay focused. This was different. The more I talked the more comfortable I felt in my surroundings and I became at ease instead of on edge the whole time.
Time to wrap up some final questions.
My toughest match: I’m not sure I can tell you yet because it may give something away. I will tell you this much, the reason I think it was my toughest match is because this particular competitor has a very similar style to my own.
Would I recommend this experience to others, HELL YES! I would do it over and over again (just not back to back, dear God I needed a break after this). This was one of the most difficult weeks of my life but not only is it doing wonders for my name in the sport, it has made me a better competitor and person. It was a trial of mind, body, and spirit– all of which got stronger because of doing this event. I made friends with people I probably never would have became friends with, I finally got to compete in a high profile tournament, and after everything was said and done Lloyd kept his word about everything. He gave out money for money moves, winning and even a few things we didn’t expect. I will never forget the BJJ Kumite. Now that is a real life experience!