What should I look for when choosing a gym for the first time?
Whenever people start looking for Muay Thai Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Mixed Martial Arts classes near their hometown they will be bombarded with options. You might see a Krav Maga school across the street from a traditional Muay Thai academy. That Muay Thai academy might rent some mat space off to an Aikido club and a few of the students there might cross train at the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu place on the other side of town that had a few guys compete in Mixed Martial Arts.
It’s a little bit confusing when you’re just looking to get started. I know because I’ve been there.
Here are a few things to look for when you’re thinking of taking a Kickboxing or Jiu Jitsu class for the first time.
Who is the instructor?
Every instructor should have a firmly defined and easy to follow lineage of instruction. If your instructor can’t explain to you who they studied under with easy to verify sources you should think twice about handing them your money. Anyone with money can open up a gym and claim to be a fighting master. As a beginner student you won’t know enough to see that someone is trying to make false claims about their actual skills. The easiest way to find out is to simply ask a lot of questions.
Ask them about their fighting experience. What tournaments have they been in, who have they studied with or under. Your instructor can be a gifted professional or someone who has never competed. Both people can make incredible instructors because of the people they have been exposed to and studied under. Someone who is truly reputable will be able to passionately describe their experience. It should take them hours to begin to scratch the surface.
If someone walks away or freezes up when you ask about their credentials, you might want to dig a bit deeper.
Does the club have a history of competition success?
Although you don’t have to be a great fighter to be a great coach, you do have to teach people to fight well to not be a charlatan. If you find a club that seems fun and friendly, has classes that you enjoy, but offers a competition experience where everyone is losing, you might need to question the methods employed in the training of those students.
A solid, reputable club should have a variety of students with at least some success in competition. Now I don’t want to claim that a school should only be considered if it has a competition team. There are plenty of places and instructors that simply don’t value competition as much as others. There is nothing wrong with that whatsoever and not having a competition program does not automatically make a school unworthy of your time. It should at least make you ask a few questions. Once the conversation begins you should be able to make an educated decision based upon the way the owner or instructor responds. If someone has a solid reason behind their lack of a program you should respect it and give the school a chance. If they have a losing team and tend to make excuses or blame their fighters for losses I’d suggest high-tailing it out of that studio before you’re added to the list of victims.
How active is the instructor and how controlling are they of what their students do?
Let me paint you a picture. It’s Friday night and the gym is packed full of people who are sparring. They might be doing a round of Jiu Jitsu rolling or a light technical round of Muay Thai. The instructor is watching and coaching nonchalantly on the sidelines. A student asks him to spar and the instructor calmly says, “Not now, I’m injured.”
You try to remember the last time you have trained with your instructor. It was in your first few weeks of the club. When you think even further into it you begin to realize he only spars with people when they first join the club then tends to have an excuse as to why he can’t engage in any training with his more advanced students.
This can be an indicator that your instructor doesn’t know what they are doing.
This can also just mean that they have a headache or that they already trained for 3 hours during the afternoon. Although you shouldn’t be quick to make assumptions it is wise to ask certain questions.
If the instructor never ever trains it may be because they are hiding their true lack of ability.
Here’s another one to consider. You just started a new job and found out that Brittney, who is on your team and you work with daily, trains Jiu Jitsu at a studio right around the corner from your office. One day she invites you to train with her at lunch the following Monday. You text your instructor to see what they think and the response shuts you down:
“We don’t allow our students to train at other gyms, you will learn everything you need to know with us.”
This is a huge red flag for multiple reasons!
Your instructor does not need to control your every moment of martial arts study. You absolutely have the right to learn at every opportunity you wish. Loyalty is very important and many clubs depend on students being loyal of their school to stay afloat. Loyalty, however, should never supersede common sense and personal liberty.
An instructor who won’t let you cross train may be trying to protect an underwhelming instructional product or just trying to control you for financial benefit. They could just be old school and cranky as well so please don’t assume the worst of people.
Above all we suggest you open clear, direct and honest lines of communication about any concerns you might have in your club. Many of them can be explained and it is unlikely you’re looking into or training at a club that is lacking in ability. However if your questions are met with resistance we think that would be a good time to run.
If you want some advice or clarification about something you’re seeing happening in a club you’re at or just some feedback on a studio you’re thinking about joining, send us an email to Blog@Broadstreetkickboxing.com and we’ll answer your questions while we sip on a smooth cup of coffee.