7 Things Every Martial Arts Gym Should Have

By Elisabeth Clay

So, today’s thoughts… while I have always fought the idea of someday opening a school, and still have no real plans to, I am beginning to have an opinion on what is important for opening a school. I am sure that as time goes on, I will change some things and refine others. But my thoughts today are this:

#1: Proper Signage

Make sure that you have really visible signs, and not just the name of the school but descriptors, like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, martial arts, etc. People can’t come if they can’t find your school, so place signs on the road, signs over the business entrance and even on the doors. If students are unsure where to enter or if it is even the correct place, they may not even try the door. If they do come in, they may feel uncertain which can create feelings of discomfort. The less comfortable people feel the less likely they are to stay. I know I certainly feel this way when traveling and I’m not new to Jiu-Jitsu.

#2: Good First Impressions

When people enter the door, do they see a clean martial arts mats? Is the office cleaned? Do they see dirt or are they greeted with a sour rank gym smell? Can they understand where they are supposed to walk with shoes or where shoes go? Do they feel invited and comfortable with the layout? You may think that rules or signs are off putting, and some can be, but most people like knowing the rules that everyone follows so that they are not acting differently or in the wrong way. Some schools are going to have more rigid rules while others may have few, but make it clear whatever you really expect.

#3: Friendly Greetings

Is there a desk person that greets students or a sign, or do they have to look around to find the right person to talk to? Are they left standing there waiting with no idea of what to do? Do you even have an owner or manager or person there to answer questions? Basically, have you even outlined a protocol? You may have people coming in the door, they may like what they see, smell, hear, but if there is no one to talk to them or a sign explaining that you are teaching and can talk to them at a certain time, or a paper to sign into or a place to leave their info for a call back, you could be losing a significant amount of customers. Let’s face it, most gyms run on a limited budget, so personnel are difficult and expensive. Think outside the box how you can facilitate this communication.

#4: Sign-In Software

This is your money. If your software is not convenient, efficient, effective, and EASY to use, you can miss tuition payments and lose track of attendance and student preferences. If it is a pain for students to use or their information can be compromised, or they feel the software is too invasive, you will lose students. So, choose this carefully and wisely.

#5: Aesthetics

Is your gym laid out to be highly functional for classes and support the needs of your target students, all while being a comfortable space to train? Are there decorations on the walls? Are the mats clean (no one wants to get sick, have allergic reactions or ruin their expensive gi), safe (not likely to catch fingers and toes in the cracks and have enough padding to land on) and inviting to roll on (are they the best mats out there)? Do you have space for their gear (cubbies, etc.)? Are their shoes in a place that they will be kept clean or are others able to walk on them making them dirty? You will have people from all walks of life, some have been educated in hygiene and common courtesy to others, while other people have not

been. You may need rules for your gym, not to make people uncomfortable, but to foster an environment for most to feel comfortable. You will never have a space where everyone is happy, that is why there are different schools. You cater to the students you want to draw in, but keeping your gym clean and smelling good and making sure people’s personal property is not damaged are priorities for most people.

#6: Excellent Instructors

Who teaches your classes? Is it black belt or a champion? Are they IBJJF certified? Do you teach just legs, just upper body, or all of it? Is the focus of your school on creating champions or is it for self-defense or hobbyists? While it is possible to have a space for many walks of life, it is almost impossible to have champions if you focus 100% on the hobbyist. It is possible to have classes for all, but if you do not include time for the grind and intense training, it will be difficult to keep your high-level athletes. But I also understand that the hobbyists pay the bills, but the high-level athletes draw them in. It is a fine line to walk.

#7: Well-Timed Classes

Should you run simultaneous classes? While that works well for the kids, if you have one of your upper belts running a class for fundamentals or women or something at the same time as an advanced or competition class then the instructor is missing out on needed training for their continued growth. I do like the idea of multiple kid’s classes at the same time, though.

  • Kids classes: for littles (2-5 years of age), kids (5-8), juniors (8-12) and then those that move into the adult’s classes around 12. From 12 on it depends on size and ability as to where would be best for them to be. Some would stay in the juniors, others move on to the fundamental’s adult’s classes, while others go to the competition/advanced classes.
  • Competition classes: I would look at the students experience level and goals, this class is highly focused on the competition grind, the mentality and conditioning. The occasional white belt may be able to handle it but it’s mostly upper blue belts and beyond. These comp classes are a couple of days a week with the intent of preparation for upcoming competitions.
  • Advanced class: these should focus more on advanced techniques and not necessarily physicality. You may have competitors and non-competitors in this class.
  • Regular Jits classes (gi and nogi): this class is for everyone. It’s a mixture of skill and technique levels. Again, it’s good for the competitor and non-competitor.
  • Fundamentals class: this is just that a class focusing on the basics, mostly geared towards the new practitioner.
  • Support classes: I am huge on cross training. I believe we benefit from other disciplines, the muscles used for them and the mindset of certain disciplines. I firmly believe in wrestling and judo training. I also think muay thai has much to offer the jiu jitsu competitor. It’s also just another look and thing to feel challenged doing. Hot flow yoga is also a great class for the competitor, but that may be best done through a yoga school as opposed to offering it at your jiu jitsu school. As I am a strong proponent of lifting, I find this better done through an outside membership to a regular gym.

This is Just the Beginning

This is not by any means a full list, but it’s definitely the beginnings of what I believe is important to opening a school. I am sure in time I will add to this. There are other components like location in proximity to major competitions (most of the big competitions are on the west coast), location of students (numbers as well as the type of students to target), the personality of the people in the area (are they likely to be ones to commit and train hard or are they occasional/seasonal), the cost of rent or property (if it is a higher priced area can the local economy support a school in numbers of students and the cost of membership?) and so much more.

Well, Pans is around the corner, see y’all on the mats, Zebra mats.

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