You’ve watched MMA on TV for long enough that the thought keeps creeping into your head: I want to try that. You think you can do it. But you’re wondering what the whole experience will be like. If you’re a beginner, that thought can be a little nerve-wracking. Walking into a gym filled with guys sparring, grappling and hitting heavy bags can be a bit intimidating.
“There are two lessons I learned extremely quickly once I started training MMA. The first is that learning how to punch is way harder than the movie Never Back Down would suggest. The second is to drop all your preconceived notions. I thought the gym would be filled with a bunch of meatheads that were only interested in beating people up. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I’ve met doctors, physicists, accountants and soccer moms. Mixed martial arts has a broad appeal. There’s no reason to think that it will be filled with tough guys trying to prove something.”
So stop worrying. Here are a few more helpful hints to get you started in choosing an MMA gym.
Figure Out What You Want to Learn
You wouldn’t pick a college without deciding what classes you would like to take or at least what area of study you’d like to pursue. The same goes for choosing an MMA gym. Decide what you want to learn. If you find one of the martial arts more appealing than the others, you can find schools that are exclusively dedicated to teaching boxing, kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, karate and more. If you think you’d like to sample more than one specific area, or want to ‘train MMA,’ there are plenty of schools that have curriculum for multiple disciplines.
Everyone learns differently. Some people like to dive right in and they can handle learning different techniques from more than one discipline, or they just want to get active and try as much as they can. Other people like to focus on one area and really get into it. They’ll go to class, take notes afterward, watch technique and instruction videos and just apply themselves to learning that discipline before trying to learn another. It’s all up to you, but it is helpful to consider how you learn and what you want to learn first.
Don’t Be Scared, Homie
Those famous words from Nick Diaz also apply to joining an MMA gym. If you’re a novice, you’re not going to be training with pro or amateur fighters and you’re probably not going to be sparring right away.
You’ll be doing technique drills and learning the fundamentals in the beginning. Some schools will let you take part in live training or sparring right away, but you certainly don’t have to. Some schools will make you wait until you have a base set of skills before you’re allowed to. Why do they do that? One gym owner told me there is no faster way to lose a student then to throw them to the wolves and have them experience defeat right away. Martial Arts are tough, and you will be humbled throughout your journey. But you don’t have to worry about mixing it up right away.
Free Trials Are Your Friend
Now that you are ready to find a gym, you’re probably wondering how much it’s going to cost you. At this point it’s not going to cost you a dime. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gym or school that doesn’t offer free trials to prospective students. It might just be one class or it might be up to two weeks, but they will all give you a free trial.
Whatever the case, you won’t have to fork over any money right away. Go try the gym. Go try several gyms. This will give you an idea of what kind of instruction you like, how the rest of the students are and what they think about the gym. One gym could have 40-50 people per class. A different gym might have six. The free trial will give you a chance to check out the dynamics of the gym and pick the one that’s best for you.
Make the Commitment
Once you start taking classes and acquiring some skills, it’s quite possible that you will hit a wall, mental or physical. There will be plenty of humbling experiences during live drills or even light-sparring. When some people encounter that for the first time, it can be overwhelming. You have to leap that mental hurdle. Even if you’re ‘losing’ during drills or sparring, you’re still winning. Why? Because you’re learning and getting better every time you train, whether you realize it or not. ‘Losses’ don’t really exist when you’re learning the sport.
Once you get into some live grappling or sparring, your body will gather some wear and tear. Push yourself, but make sure you’re able to recognize the difference between soreness and injury. Some guys will go all out even when they get an injury. But what was a minor injury at first can turn into a major injury if it’s not tended to or given time to heal. If that happens, you might be out longer than you would have been had you just taken a small break to let your body recoup.
If you are injured, it doesn’t have to be a complete shutdown. You still might be able to practice technique, at the gym or even at home. Most martial arts teachers want beginners to practice technique more than anything. Remember the words of Bruce Lee: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
What Kind of Gear Will I Need?
When you’ve made the commitment to train, you will eventually need to buy some gear and equipment. What you need and what you want are two different things. Most gyms have gloves and other equipment that everyone uses. You might not be a fan of that. I’m not scared to roll with a 285-pound man, but make me put on a pair of 16 oz. boxing gloves that someone just used and I’m really grossed out. People sweat on everything during training, so if you don’t like that, or are becoming serious about training martial arts, you’ll want to have your own gear.
Even if you’re just doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it’s a good idea to get a mouthguard and a cup. If you are a woman, you might want to get a pelvic protector. Some guys are more comfortable grappling without a cup. But odds are you will take a shot there at some point. So you have to go with what you want more: protection or comfort.
For BJJ you’ll also need at least one gi and a rashguard. But if you’re training multiple times each week, you’ll definitely want to buy at least one more gi and rashguard. You should be washing your gi after every class for sanitation and odor removal. Gis and rashguards last longer when they are hung to dry, so if you plan on training back to back days it’s much easier when you have more than one gi and rashguard.
Another good thing to keep in your gym bag is sports tape. Your fingers and toes are going to get little cuts, and they might also get jammed. Buddy-taping is a must for injured fingers and toes. That’s when you tape the bad digit together with a good one. Someone is always in need of tape, and it only costs a couple of bucks, so it’s good to have on hand.
So now you know what to expect when joining an MMA gym. Get out there and do it!