Here is part two of my tips for beginners when choosing MMA gyms.
4. Partner Up
As the old saying goes, “Shared sadness is half sadness. Shared joy is double joy.” So with life, so with MMA. If you find yourself hesitating to get your foot in the door of a gym, buddy up and try it out with a friend. That, or ask around the office or neighborhood to see if someone has already found a reliable gym and whether they’re willing to introduce you or not.
The great thing about the buddy system for MMA training is that it keeps you honest, motivated, and lessens the stress involved for first time trainees.
Here’s a personal anecdote to drive the point home: Upon first moving to Japan, I spoke little of the language, and knew nothing about the neighborhood in which I lived. Also, because Japanese culture revolves around relationships and hierarchy, not having any social connections left me completely out of the loop. Basically, I was a stranger in a strange land, incapable of finding a gym.
As I got settled and starting making relationships, I ran across a Brit who trained at a small gym near my house. I used this contact to get introduced, invited, and before I knew it, training with Shooto and WEC veterans, all of them living under my nose. Finding a gym in the Chicago-land area should be child’s play compared to that.
So, be not afraid and plunge into the fighting network, finding out whatever you can as you attempt to discover that hidden gem that could have before gone unnoticed. Word-of-mouth is strong in the MMA community. Talk to some people in the circle, and you’ll leave the conversation with far more knowledge about gyms and teachers than you did beforehand. Utilize your relationships to the nth degree! You have no idea what knowledge people may possess.
5. Listen to What Your Body Tells You
If you’re just starting out and aren’t in the best shape of your life - and I’m guessing that’s a large majority of the beginners out there - you’re going to need some time to transition to the amount of intense work you’ll be doing. You’ll be sore, bruised, tattered, and exhausted. The key to staying happy and injury-free? Pay attention to your body.
Let’s say you had practice two nights ago, and are still feeling sore and tired when you get home after work. There’s a training session scheduled in two hours, but you’re just not up for it. The solution? Call it a night.
I know, I know, then the guilt comes, and you feel bad for skipping practice. Guess what though. You’re not Randy Couture. You may want to be a pro-fighter someday, but that day isn’t today. Relax! If you don’t feel up physically for training, take a guilt-free rain check and give it your all next time.
Now, if skipping practice due to fatigue or disinterest becomes a habit, it’s time to ask yourself a couple questions:
-Am I at the right gym if they’re burning me out before I have a chance to learn?
-Is the way practice is run detrimental to my progress?
-Are my training partners going too hard before I’m ready?
If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” the gym may be the problem, not you. I won’t name names, but my first full-contact MMA training session was with a small team in a suburb of the Twin Cities. I didn’t know a knee bar from a candy bar, but wanted to try the sport as a way of challenging myself. I had trained my endurance for months beforehand, and came in in good-enough condition.
For two hours, I was slammed, choked, and arm-barred relentlessly by some guys who would later go on to fight in the UFC. They had no mercy on me. I went back a couple times, but eventually gave up on the place after getting injured so often from the sparring sessions. At this period in my training, this was the worst of gym I could have attended. It turned me off to the training aspect of the sport and kept me away from MMA gyms for 3 years.
I don’t want this to happen to you. Find a gym that focuses on the process of learning, not a glorified boot-camp for MMA roughnecks. If you find yourself in the latter, gather yourself and find a better home for your MMA education. Believe me, there are many options when it comes to training MMA in the US, and giving up on the sport entirely shouldn't be one of them. For every tough guy with a gym there’s an intelligent, sensible teacher who’s lacking students at another. Search, and you will find.
At the end of the day, if there’s one thing I’d want for you to gain from reading this, it’s that MMA training can be made into anything you want it to be. It can be spiritually-centered and relaxing, or vigorous and challenging. There are a myriad of options at your disposal.
The common approach may be to hit it fast and hit it hard, but that doesn’t work for everyone. If you seek an alternative to that style, go out and find it. As with everything, MMA training is whatever you make it. Here’s hoping you make it a fun, life-long process of learning and evolution. Believe me when I say, good luck.