Okay, so you’re finally gonna do it. That’s cool, but where?
As someone who started their martial arts journey in a church hall as a chubby, red-faced six-year-old, then their initial MMA shenanigans in back gardens and garages, we’re without a doubt going to advocate finding a club.
There is a chance you could become an absolute killer with nothing but a willing training partner, a pair of Speedos and a Mario Sperry VHS. Sure – stranger things have happened.
But most people possibility won’t. Gaining tutelage from a qualified coach/instructor/sensei/martial-wizard will ensure that you’ll get shown how to do things correctly, and save you time too.
Follow these seven steps to get sorted in no time.
(I’ll use the word club and gym interchangeably in this feature. It’s also long, so if you want a summary, just read the subheading titles)
#1 – Go Online – Type in “Martial Arts Gym Near Me”
You’re here already, so you’ve got that box ticked. Open up another tab though and search “martial arts near me”. Alternatively, “martial arts” followed by where you are.
Now, your area will probably have a fair say in where you start training. If you’re from a small village in the middle of nowhere, your immediate resources may be limited. However, if you live in a capital city you literally might have too many to choose from.
We all want to train at a mega-MMA facility or an authentic Muay Thai camp where you’re the only westerner for miles. But the reality is you’re probably not in a position to relocate or travel to these places.
People have jobs, kids to feed and bills to pay, right? So, take a look at your search results for your area, and click through the sites and see what’s on offer.
#2 – Choose your discipline
Does anything take your fancy? If you’re looking for skills in the stand-up department head towards the pages advertising Boxing, Kickboxing, Muay Thai and Karate. If you want to tie your opponent into knots or send them into human assisted flight mode – maybe go after Judo, Wrestling, Catch Wrestling, Submission Wrestling or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Okay, what if you want to become a mixed martial artist? If you’ve set your sights on the realm of MMA, you’ll ideally want to find a place offering a combination of striking and grappling classes.
MMA fighters, look for everything together
Back in the day, most MMA fighters cross trained at different academies. They’d pick up skills in multiple areas, then iron out the transitions during sparring sessions.
Nowadays it’s common to find at least one MMA gym in your town. Everything should be under one roof there, most with somewhere to shower too. We’re ridiculously lucky.
Seriously, I still remember slipping on snow in the cage during winter. The mats were about 20 mm onto concrete, we had no showers, and it was over an hour bus travel after no shower. Grim? Luckily, those days are mostly over. Gyms even have posh heating nowadays.
#3 – What do other people think?
If you get stuck – online forums and social media groups are usually a great place to seek out a club/gym recommendation. Ask around to see what the online community has to say.
Social media pages, Google reviews, and Facebook reviews aren’t the be all and end all. But, they’re worth keeping in mind and can help drafting a short list easily.
We’d definitely recommend joining Facebook community groups, say something like UK BJJ Underground. Drop a question in there and find out where people who already train would recommend. You’d be surprised how many folk do this, so don’t be shy.
#4 – Check the timetable
Next, take a look at the time-table. Can you get there on time after work? Are the classes on when you’re committed elsewhere? If the answer is “no”, great. If it’s a “yes”, consider a sensible compromise, or look elsewhere.
Checking the timetable can make choosing a smoother process. In case you’re not sure what a class has to offer, message the gym for more information.
#5 – Travel plans
After you’ve picked a class, it’s time to look at logistics. We’ve already summarised consistency is key in the baby steps feature. So, ideally you want a main academy/gym you can commute to regularly.
You’ll get a feel for the journey on your first trip to the gym. Try to go to the classes you plan to train in long term. You’ll be able to gauge how long it takes to get there and back.
Do a trial run if the route seems complicated. Just rock up to get your bearings, then go to a class tomorrow.
#6 – Coach credentials
Next it’s time to take a look at coach credentials. You could argue this is one of the most important steps in the entire process. Finding the right coach can help you progress faster and ultimately be happier during training. Creating bonds with coaches you trust is priceless.
- Proficiency/belt level/experience
- Time coaching
- Social proof
First, see what the coach says about themselves. Nine times out of ten, things will always add up. Just type their name into Google and you might find they’re even being modest. Most coaches we’ve met are.
If for any reason you’ve got doubts, use Google again and engage your BS detector. Get ready to cross reference multiple sources. If a guy’s claiming to be 300-0 in fights to the death but no footage can be found online – his BS meter reading is off the charts and should be avoided.
On the other hand, if a woman claims to be a BJJ brown belt looking to start a small club in her home town, she’s happy to talk to you about her lineage and there’s footage of her competing, she’s more than likely genuine. In fact, you’ll find most people willing to show you their background/experience are.
Make sure to ask questions
A good coach will also happily help answer your questions to make sure you’re at the right place. At the end of the day, they want to make sure you’re the right fit for their academy as well. Don’t be shy. Better to find out you need the Muay Thai gym down the road before signing up for BJJ.
If someone tries to force you into joining their place, just take your money elsewhere. There are plenty of great academies out there filled with awesome members and coaches. If in doubt, go back to the forums.
#7 – Drop a message
Okay, this is the last thing you need to do. Promise.
It’s always a good idea to either Facebook message, email or call the gym/club before you turn up. “Why?”, you ask. “Can’t I just turn up to the session I fancy, slap my money on the table and kick some ass?” Well, you can if you like – but checking in first can make the initial process of starting a whole lot smoother.
Don’t be afraid to ask which class is best for absolute beginners. You never know, they might have a dedicated fundamentals session, perfect for people who’ve never thrown a punch or applied an arm-lock in their life. Not only that, but it could save you valuable time and unnecessary embarrassment.
Seriously, choose a beginner class
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve been part of a sparring session and an eager first-timer is stood waiting at the side of the mat. It’s never fun to see the disappointment in their face when they’re told they’ll have to either watch or go home.
If you’re the sort of guy who needs to pluck up a barrel of courage before walking into an MMA gym in the first place (aka a normal person) it’d suck to be turned away before you even started.
What if you can’t contact the gym? Go back to the timetable. It’s a general rule of thumb that first-timers turn up to a fundamentals class, early enough to chat to the instructor. This way they can choose the best way to get you started.
Note: It’s okay to just watch
It’s totally acceptable to just watch a class take place. If anyone tried to intimidate you about your choice, get your stuff, leave and find somewhere else. We’ve never known any beginner be denied the right to watch their first session or two. We all want everybody to train, including you.
If you’re unsure of anything, feel free to drop us a comment. We answer every single one, or if you’d prefer something private, message us on Facebook.
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