Saturday, December 27, 2008

Culture of the gym

One of my students, Albert Lim is opening his gym on New Years Day 2009 in Kuching, Sarawak. Check out his and his wife Serina's web site. Its the coolest gym web site I have seen (sorry Vince, its true, unless you can make me look as good as Serina on the KDT site).

Starting a class from scratch, this brings back memories of my first class at the Ding's Martial Art Gym, and also my second time round with Vince at the KDT Academy and what I did differently.

Being a part time instructor myself, I gear my class towards the typical part time student, ie non professional martial artist. That is not to say that my students are substandard. They may not be as intense as those from "fighting gyms", but many belt ranks from overseas who visit can attest that my students do deserve their ranks.

Also, being from the Machado lineage, my attitude is not so much one of challenging everyone else in the world and I don't hold back when I teach my students. There are no hidden techniques (except the wushi finger hold, that I teach only to my son).

Not a Fighter Gym

My gym is not a fighter gym. That is not to say we don't have the appropriate skills, but just that I don't subscribe to the whole philosophy.

The typical gym of that sort normally feature boot camp style intense workouts, high emphasis on techniques that require strength and/or athleticism, and fight till you puke rolling sessions. The techniques thought also only reflect what works for the teacher to the exclusion of all other techniques.

However, the problem with such gyms is that those who get good are only those with the same attributes as the instructor, everyone else becomes cannon fodder. These gyms also have high injury rates and the boot camp style workouts are designed to separate the wheat from the chaff (ie make people drop out)

Unfortunately many instructors take this as the template to follow, as this is typically the way top successful competition gyms train. But if you think about it, they are successful because there are no more weak links, the non performing students have dropped out leaving only the champions.

First and foremost, I would like to state that I do not disagree that the above mentioned methods work. They do work very well indeed for gyms who regularly compete and the certain type of students who thrive in such gyms. They do produce champions that way. However, these gyms are typically intimidating and perhaps not suitable for most but the most hardcore.

My instructor John Will once told me that the secret to a successful gym is to identify the bruisers in the gym, and get rid of them, as they make other students drop out. This disruptive influence is typically the alpha male student, who injures others regularly and who most other students do not want to roll with.

Unfortunately, if you market yourself as a fighter gym, your typical student attracted will be of this bruiser variety. A whole gym of them, you have lots of injuries, ego problems and a hostile atmosphere for training.

It is possible, and I have met many top fighters who are nice guys, and not necessarily be of the bruiser variety. They are the nicest people I have met, not what you imagine to be top MMA fighters or BJJ champions. So all the fighter culture is unnecessary and ultimately harmful.

Thus the style and culture that I strive to achieve is a fun, relaxed gym culture, and is accessible to the average person, not merely the super athletes.

Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003. 

1 comment:

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