What can you do if you want to train but can’t find a club within convenient distance, can’t afford regular training sessions, or the club where you usually train has shut down?

If you don’t want to do a whole lot of solo training with Grand Master YouTube, you could set up your own club and find some guys to roll with.      

The club where I used to train got shut down. I live in London, so I had plenty of options in terms of teams to join (Roger Gracie, Carlson’s etc) but none of them were located practically for me to get to on a regular basis. And some were well out of my price range. By chance, I met a couple of guys who were in a similar position.

I should say that the guys that started what is now “North Ten BJJ” had no intention of starting a ‘proper’ club. (A club in the UK has a slightly more formal meaning than here in the US, think ‘team’. Ed) In fact we deliberately said “This is not a club”.  We were just a ‘group’. Our initial intentions were to just get a few friends together to roll regularly once a week.

After all, between us we had 3 bluebelts and 4 whitebelts. Who the hell were we to start a club? Some of us were only getting together to supplement our regular training while still taking privates. Soon however, once a week became twice a week and…

I think that is still at the heart of our club. We aren’t here to make money; we just want a place to train regularly. When we started out it was just giving ourselves an opportunity to roll.

If you are going to set up a group or club you only need 3 things, a venue, mats and people.

Be flexible when looking for a venue, it could be any building with four walls and roof that you have access to.  When we started out, a buddy of mine found a local kickboxing studio with mats. We started by hiring the studio once a week. For those of you looking for a place I’d check out local schools and gyms, and see what other places teach martial arts (most dojos have free slots). If you are looking don’t mass email venues. Emails get lost in the ether. Call them up, be polite and arrange a viewing.

When you hire things out, you inevitably have to deal with the owner. For us this included working around a schedule of kickboxing classes, being fairly powerless when the toilet broke (boy was that not pretty), and trying to keep him sweet when we were late with rent. 

This worked for a while, but when the kickboxing studio shutdown, everyone in our group went into a panic. For all its faults it had the one thing every grappler needed – mats!

Mats are expensive freaking expensive very freaking expensive! Ask your instructor. You can easily blow 2K or more matting out even a small space. So if you can find a place with mats, you must hold on to it. We currently run our sessions out of local primary school. When we got there it had basic gymnastic mats. Most gyms and schools have these sort of mats. They slip and slid and are awful to roll on. Drilling any takedown wasn’t practical, and there wasn’t enough space. 

The North Ten Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Club

We decided we needed more mats, but were quickly depressed about the costs involved. New mats were too expensive and used ones we found on ebay or gumtree were “collect only” and in places we could not get to.

Then we got incredibly lucky. I was talking to my judo instructor about our lack of mat space. He offered us some of his old mats for free! Sure they were battered and needed some TLC, but they were proper mats. If you do find some old mats know that sometimes they can be recovered, so don’t let the cosmetics discourage you.

Getting the free mats shows another key lesson when starting out; talk to people. Talk to people from other clubs, from other disciplines, in your office.  People know people who want to train or people who can give you stuff you need whether it be a venue or mats. You never know where help might come from!

The other thing I should warn you about before you buy mats you must make sure you have space to store them. I know a lot of places see mats as a fire hazard and some just refuse to find the storage space

I’ll assume you have people or friends who want to train already. They don’t need to be blackbelts, they just have to be willing. While you don’t need experts, you do need to be completely honest about what you are offering, especially to new people joining your group. Don’t claim you can offer world class quality instruction. You are most likely not going to win the Mundials training with your pals in a garage. That’s something you need to make peace with.

If you don’t have anyone to roll with (you loner) I’ll warn you that good training partners are hard to come by. If you can’t find anyone in your immediate circle you could try grappling forums or sites like gumtree. Please be sensible and safe when meeting strangers off the net. (Quick anecdote. I posted an advert for free grappling sessions for our club on gumtree and one guy turned up saying he wanted to grapple “bare chested” in his Speedos. Yikes!) 

People are your most valuable asset. If you don’t have a partner to roll with then you really can’t train effectively. It is obvious but I’ll say it anyway, treat your training partners well. People are the one thing you can’t replace. Mats and buildings can be purchased, but people you want to roll with can’t. This is part of the beauty of grappling for me but it is also its biggest weakness in some ways. It’s hard to train if you are Billy No Mates.

You should now all be set to start you own group. If you are getting together with a bunch of friends you don’t need to worry about things like insurance, first aid or CRB checks. All these things are very good ideas but not strictly necessary. Next time I’ll speak about how to run your sessions and how to take the next step in setting up an official BJJ “club”