So you own a gym, now what?

So you own a MMA, Sambo or BJJ gym and are wondering if you should join an Association or stay independent.  There are pros and cons to this question.  I will hit on a few that I have seen and have had experience with myself as a student and gym owner.



  1. It helps in advertising your gym.
  2. It increases accessibility to bigger name instructor(s) to come teach a seminar at your gym.
  3. It will help you to rank guys in BJJ if you yourself are of a lower rank and can’t rank your own students.
  4. It will help your “team” to win a TEAM award at tournaments by having everyone in your Association’s points added together.


  1. It will cost you a monthly membership fee and possibly a one-time up front registration fee.
  2. You will have to bring in someone from the Association to do a seminar a few times a year – this is nearly always associated with an additional fee, sometimes quite steep.
  3. Those “team” points mentioned above are for the association and not your gym so your gym really doesn’t win any thing; you are giving your points to the bigger cause; the Association.
  4. The Association may require your gym to use their gear and equipment; this is nearly always associated with additional fees.  On another level this is also disheartening if you have worked to develop your own gym identity and branding; the gym identity will always be secondary to the Association’s identity.
  5. Backlash . . . this one is difficult to prove out.  If a gym decides to leave an association there are often negative feelings resulting from the split.  A gym that was a part of an association and where no problems existed previously can suddenly find themselves on the end of a pretty negative media campaign through the use of forums, websites, and word of mouth.  This can be very damaging because by their very nature, associations have a larger pool of resources.  Fighting the negative media can be costly and exhausting; and emotionally it’s extremely frustrating to fight people that were your allies until you recently decided to move in a new direction.




There are other pros and cons but these were the ones I encountered when dealing with different Associations over the years.  I have seen guys touted as the next big thing and as soon as they leave an Association, the Association turns on him/her and says the person was a fake, or  he/she sucked or…  With a few exceptions the majority of Associations are money making ventures and nothing more.  They could care less about the individual gym or gym owner, they only want to spread the Association’s name and make money for the Association; i.e. the Association owners.


If you own a MMA gym, you don’t need to be a part of an Association; there are no belt rankings in MMA so you don’t need a governing body overseeing you.  You can contact big name fighters on your own and they will be happy to come teach a seminar at your gym and most likely cost you less then going through an Association.  I know in the case of my gym, the gym itself has never paid BJJ or MMA guys to come do a seminar.  They come to train at our gym and offer to teach a seminar for free or they will charge the students a small and I mean really, a very small nominal fee, to do so.  I never take a part of the seminar money, that way the “Big Name” guy can charge less and still make a decent amount to cover his time and travel if he charges at all.

If your gym is always bringing in big name guys and charging you a lot for the seminars, it doesn’t mean that your gym owner is well connected; it most likely means he is using the seminars to supplement his income.  But on the other hand, if big name guys do come to your gym and are just there to roll and train with you and the other students, or they are teaching a seminar for free or very little cost then they are more than likely a friend of the gym owners and/or recognize that your gym is a solid place to train.

I’m not saying there aren’t any good associations because there are.  MMA Institute for example gives a lot to their affliates gyms but groups like MMA Institute are rare.  Other good groups include Grapplers Guild and 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu.

I personally would rather belong to an independent gym.  It’s similar to the mom and pop store vs. the corporate giant debate.  Everyone knows you get better produce at your local farmer’s market than you do at Walmart.  My suggestion?  You can never go wrong if you stick to one simple rule: quality over quantity.  Every time.


Ron Dayley