In a time where BJJ traditionalists have mourned the gradual loss of submission finishes in major competitions, a new breed of martial artist has come into the limelight. The submission hunters, or so they call themselves, go into a match with a mindset that contrasts that of seasoned points-based competitors. They will do anything and everything to get that submission, regardless of how risky the move may be, whereas your typical grappler will never give up a position. Perhaps the one of the most talked about submission hunters to date is no-gi grappling superstar Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon.
Garry Tonon, a prominent fixture in submission-only format competitions such as Metamoris, Polaris, and the Eddie Bravo Invitational, has gained significant attention due to his risky style. Tonon’s willingness to put himself in unfavorable positions completely eschews the mindset of the typical grappler.
Evolve Vacation examines what has shaped the mindset of Garry Tonon, the ultimate submission hunter:
“Knowledge makes you a better teacher, not a better competitor.”
John Danaher, the infamous coach of the Danaher Death Squad, strongly reiterated the above to Tonon and his teammates while they prepared for a competition. For Danaher and the rest of his squad, success in competition should be the ultimate goal for any competitor. “Although knowledge,” he says, “will help you in the future, it won’t help you win a match.”
To win a competition, Danaher believes that one must arm themselves with good habits – honed through hours of proper training. Doing so would help him/her make the appropriate decisions during the competition itself. Come tournament time, good habits should be instinctive – there is no time to sit around and think of the next move, especially at the highest levels of competition.
“You need to have two mindsets when you train: an improving mindset and a winning mindset.”
In all his years as a competitor, Tonon has always believed that to be successful, one must have two different mindsets when they train a sport. According to Tonon, the improving mindset involves being open to learning new techniques and slowly applying them during sparring. The goal of this mindset is to get better at different skills in training and eventually add these to your arsenal. The winning mindset, on the other hand, involves attempting to submit one’s opponent the quickest and most efficient way possible.
When training for a competition, Tonon will begin his camp, spending the first few weeks focused on an improving mindset. “If you train with a winning mentality every day, you’ll get burned out,” says Tonon. “It will give you a deficit in certain skills and also make you one-dimensional.” Two weeks before the competition, Tonon quickly switches into a winning mindset, focusing all his training on honing the skills he already has. His aim during this time is how to get that win the quickest/most efficient way possible – which, as we all know, is probably by going for a leg lock.
“I watch some tape (of my opponent), but I focus more on my strengths and weaknesses as a competitor.”
Tonon isn’t one to shy away from a competition. In fact, he’s known to take on any opponent, regardless of weight class, time frame, and distinction. When preparing for competition, Tonon prefers to spend more time focusing on how he’s going to win a match. “I don’t watch my opponent’s tape to the point where I try to figure out every move he makes from a certain position,” explains Tonon.
“When you look at jiu-jitsu in its purest form, what you have is a martial art that cannot do damage to the opponent unless a submission is successful. So ultimately, if I pass the guard, and I don’t know how to submit the person with any efficacy in a timely manner, my martial art is useless. I believe we’re improving the efficiency of our martial art as something that can physically cause damage, much like a punch or a kick.”
If there is one quote that could summarize Tonon’s philosophy about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it would be this. Tonon’s determination and ability to finish matches with a submission has made him one of the most exciting competitors to date. His impulsiveness in moving from position to position and willingness to take risks has certainly set him apart from the rest.
There’s no doubt that Tonon is one of the most cerebral grapplers in the BJJ scene today. His mindset truly sets him apart from the rest, making his matches some of the most exciting fights we’ve ever seen on the mats. Come May 26 when he faces DREAM Lightweight World Champion, former Shooto Welterweight World Champion, and former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki in a grappling super fight, fans will definitely be in for a treat as they watch two of the greatest submission artists battle it out.