Leaving or Switching Gyms|Fears, Rationale, and Personal Decisions
Leaving your current gym is a feeling as closely related to that of a break up as it comes. If you have been together for only several days, feeling it out, there are no hard feelings. Unless. . . one person was led on. Perhaps you are trapped in a long term relationship (commitment)? The long term relationship may have formed, but as you evolve, your needs and passions begin to shift. Your paths may divide, and that’s when emotion comes into play.
You may love your gym. You may be feeling stuck. You may have a family bond with your current gym, as one should, a feeling of camaraderie. You may be in a binding contract, or most commonly, you may fear personal issues that arise as the decision to leave is made. To gain a greater perspective on this subject outside of my personal opinion of the discussion, I turned to the audience. I reached out to specific individuals that I know have gone through this process. Here are their stories and my concluding thoughts. I hope that you take away a number of principals to follow if you are currently in this situation.
From the Fighter’s Perspective:
NJ Mac (30 Fight Veteran, 4x Muay Thai Champion, Silver World Medalist)
We all left the gym, but when it’s meant to be, it will be. We ended up reforming that connection under a new team, a new leadership. At one point we started to make that wave, in my eyes we were the future. Unfortunately, due to situations beyond our control and a difference in vision within the team and the fighter’s needs, we broke up again. . .
This time I was the only one left. . . no team. . . no brotherhood. . . just me at a crossroads to make the choice. . . do I stay or do I go?
I stayed loyal, working my ass off to build my record. Thanks to my coach and a few friends that helped me out, I flipped a bad situation into 3x championship titles and a record of 17-8. As my name and amateur record got bigger and better, it was time to make a choice, looking at my resources and realizing that it was just me and my coach. . . I had to find a team that was able to help me excel and grow to the next level. I attempted to reconnect with the original brotherhood, under a new gym culture, but that only lasted for a few weeks before I had to return to my old team.
I was in a funk, I became lost, seeking that brotherhood team vibe, but the people and in and out breakups caused us to part ways, my current team was all beginners; nothing against it, but I was no longer being challenged. . .
To truly be successful, I believe you need a solid team of experienced guys, guys of that same competitive spirit to push me. With that in mind, I did my homework. I researched local gyms and came across Rebel Thai boxing. I personally spoke with my coach, I communicated my thoughts and feelings about where I am, and where I want to be.
I told him I needed to make the change, he understood and gave me his blessing. Making this change has help me to fall in love with martial arts again, it was exactly what I needed and what I was looking for this entire time.
Jeff Grady (Former Fighter under Sinbi Muay Thai, current ATT Muay Thai Coach)
My story is short, but it’s an interesting one. A couple of years ago I moved out to Rawai, Thailand training at the well-known Sinbi Camp. When I came back after a year, an MMA gym asked me to run a Muay Thai class. I figured that it was a good way to have a place to clinch and spar at the time, nothing more. One thing led to another and fighters began to join the program; in the end creating a team of 50-60 students that specifically attended to train Thai Boxing.
After about a year and half, the gym went under new ownership. We had no notice, “Hey I’m the new owner and things are going to change.” Um, alright. . . Well. . . the man was right. On the first day working together, he pulled me aside to show me the “new schedule”. All I saw in writing was “kickboxing” and no mention of Muay Thai. I explained to him and his “assistant manager” (fresh out of the military), that I did not know kickboxing.
Ive never fought under kickboxing rules; in kickboxing you can’t clinch or elbow, which is where my passion lays. The assistant manager got in my face and uttered, “Look kid, you need to be and you will be open to change.”
In response, I chose to shake hands and say, “I’m sorry guys, I don’t know kickboxing, the best of luck to you.” Things got a little personal, and they started to try and flex on me, saying “You’re young and stupid, you will run the kickboxing classes and you can say… (and I quote)… today we will work on a Muay Thai-style elbow strike”. You can imagine the look I gave them in return.
I faced a difficult choice, there were three fighters competing within two weeks. I gave them my two weeks notice, finished the fights out for the sake of the students and quickly left. This is where I felt it get truly interesting. A very legit American Top Team affiliate, scooped me up. The other gym (CMMA), went from about 120 members between BJJ and Muay Thai, to about 8 paying members within a month’s time. I tried to explain. . . me, my training partners, and our “program” were not for sale. I looked at the new owner and told him, “Sorry man, you bought a fucking building, not the people and the culture within these walls.”
Fast forward a year to now, ATT is 11-1 in Muay Thai, Lam Chuwattana was just here, and we are in the process of bringing in Tukkatatong. I thought I was done “teaching”, but when one door is slammed shut, another one flies open. I have trained numerous times with Aracely Valenzuela (Team USA – World Muay Thai Gold Medalist), and one of my fighters is Jeremy Bennet (started in Stockade Martial Arts for those who know of Chris Mauceri and Sean Fagan).
“Jeff brought back a new passion and understanding of the art and has dedicated everyday to practicing and coaching Muay Thai. Jeff has the understanding that we as martial artists are always learning evolving changing and that is the foundation of ATTLC” –Malachy Friedman, owner/head coach ATTLC
As one door slam’s shut, another flies open. The stories of these two fighters and now coaches remind of a story of Zen Buddhist origin,
“There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.”
Coach Ben Wynkoop
I have previously left two gyms: The second better speaks to the topic of this article as I left to join another local gym. What kept me there was the fear of splitting from a coach who I had been loyal to for two years. My trainer had a wealth of knowledge, but was very negative and lacked an interest to coach athletes to their full potential. He didn’t sound surprised the day I called to cancel my membership because I distanced myself by not training regularly.
Working as a coach and gym manager years later, I found myself on the other side of this situation. No matter how many times you have experienced students leaving, it still hurts when someone leaves to another local gym for what they perceive as better training; this happens more often in Orange County, California than other areas as there is no shortage of coaches who have worked with top level competitors in a variety of combat sports.
One of the most bittersweet things to admit is that I have coached fighters from day one to their first fight, who outgrew my instruction and needed to move on… it’s not easy to accept, but I did my job by showing them the right approach to training Muay Thai and proper fundamentals In turn they could have wasted years training under a charlatan, who puts fighters in smokers, when they are not ready to step into a ring (Article on his topic). Martial arts teams are tribal, so leaving a gym is never easy for fighters or coaches. My final words of advice would be. . .
“. . . As a student, you are paying for training and have a finite amount of years to pursue this passion, so make sure your training at a place that can reciprocate the effort you put in.”
Coach Jody Carter of Subfighter MMA (left), fighter Eian Carter (center), and Coach Ben Wynkoop of Gracie Barra Garden Grove (right) at OC Jiu Jitsu in 2013.
Jamie Bradley (Coach and IKF Muay Thai Champion)
I have two brief experiences that I would be happy to share with the community. I trained at a gym in Indianapolis for several years, unfortunately(or fortunately) my work moved me to the opposite side of the city. I made class much less frequently for a year & decided to cancel my membership without much resistance from the gym.
I tried a few other martial arts the next two years & found myself with the opportunity to run my own program. I turned down the offer several times for various reasons; from doubting my own skill set, and still feeling like I owed my loyalty to where I got my start. Despite the number of times I said “no”, someone else believed in me, continuing to ask until I finally said yes.
In hindsight I could have called my former instructor (despite the fact that it had been two years since I cancelled my membership & the drive time between the two gyms was almost an hour!) just to run it by him, but needless to say. . . when he found out that I was running my own program, I received a phone call, intimidating and scorning me for such action. This was followed by a post on their website about a “bad apple” former student being unqualified etc.
Anyways. . . moving forward, after two years of running my program I had a student tell me that he was going to open his own program (less than 5 miles down the road). I was supportive & even offered to work together to train students – as our interests in the type of student & personal skill-sets varied. He stated from the beginning that he wouldn’t steal any of my members.
It was good until it wasn’t.
I had a member contact me, letting me know that he approached them & gave them his card & told them to come down the road. I told the member that if they felt his gym was a better fit for them, then as a consumer they needed to do what they thought was best. Of course I’d be disappointed to see them go; I was confident in my ability to coach them. (Sidenote- the student never left).
I sat down with my former member and his story differed from what I was told. He stated that the student approached him asking for his card. Despite not believing him – I told him that if that was true he should have redirected the student to me & encouraged them to tell me if they were unhappy & leaving. We agreed to disagree on what the truth was & how we individually felt that it should have been handled.
As fate would have it, about 6 months after his departure, one of his students contacted me wanting to train with us. I handled the situation as I believe my former student should have. I directed his student back to him. I encouraged them to discuss with him their concerns & desire to end their agreement & if at the end of the day they wished to come back to our program I’d happily welcome them.
Personally, I want to grow Muay Thai in the Midwest so I don’t mind more gyms/instructors showing up in the area. I pride myself on being the best coach I can be. I don’t think that I know it all, but I will do whatever it takes to improve my knowledge (including training in Thailand, and with the best we have to offer!) I believe I will attract & retain the kind of student that shares the same set of principals and passions as I.
I also see it as my responsibility to grow my fighters. I must understand my weaknesses as a coach & I provide them with opportunities to train with other coaches/programs so that they are well rounded fighters. I don’t know that there are easy or right ways to move or leave gyms other than to say transparency & honesty are always the best policy!
The above stories, although each being different in context and unique to the individual, all hold a set of common principals. Principals that you can utilize when making the decision to change gyms, or a new perspective to hold onto as a coach with a stable of students.
The principal of communication, the principal of internal observation, and the principal of evolution.
Letting Your Feelings be Known (Principal of Communication)
Human beings often come to quick conclusions and it is not uncommon that they are taken personally. Although we hope that the other party does not assume or take the break up personally, the easier (and moral) thing to do is to communicate all of our concerns.
As often as our intuition feels particular energy, we can’t be led down the road of expecting others to read our minds, the responsibility is ours to communicate our feelings. Often times a break up can be saved if both the coach and the student have an open line of communication, stepping into each other’s shoes.
Looking at Yourself First (Principal of Internal Observation)
Before becoming frustrated with a situation, look internally. What could I have done to make this situation better? Am I expecting my coach to put in the effort and work that I am not completely reciprocating?
I have seldom seen a trainer or coach that wasn’t passionate about a fighter who brings in a fire every time that they step onto the mat. As a coach, study your weaknesses and strengths; we all hold them. Stick to your strengths and outsource or gain knowledge in terms of any fragilities within your skill set.
Making a Decision (The Principal of Evolution)
To evolve we have to be challenged. There has to be a stress to our system to help us grow and become a better and stronger being (in any aspect of life). If not present on a consistent basis, complacency and a lack of stimulus begins to develop. Once looking within and communicating your needs, follow the path of most resistance, but seek the place that will bring you the feeling of brother or sisterhood.
“Growing Apart from those Who Don’t Grow”
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Paul Banasiak is a Muay Thai fighter/addict, 9x champion, trainer, and fitness professional currently living, training, and fighting in Thailand. After leaving medical school without looking back, he decided to fully follow his passion of helping others become the best version of themselves, creating MuayThaiAthlete.com. A website for those who are already passionate individuals that want to take their life,mindset&training to the next level.
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