Modern Facilities and a better training environment

Today I am the proud owner of three academies and in this post I’ve tried to think of the places I’ve travelled to over the years and brought back ideas that make for a better training environment and modern facilities.


From Church Halls to Pub Function Rooms!

Thinking back, one of my earliest training venues was an abattoir – it seemed back then everyone was looking for the biggest available room at the cheapest price. This one must have been free because it stunk like a medieval battlefield!


I’ve lost count of the number of leisure centres, community Centres, meeting halls and schools I’ve trained in. I’ve trained in garages, back gardens, the back of pubs, and the upstairs rooms in pubs and on the odd occasion the function room in a pub.


I think we are probably spoiled now, most of my contemporaries have worked hard to build up their own academies after the wave of our US martial artists came and showed us how to develop our academies. I have friends with fantastic academies all over the UK where they run great classes in an environment that is focussed on giving students a great experience – back in the day it was about finding a space to train in -full stop!


After the abattoir, I graduated to a room over a swimming pool complex with the hardest floor I have ever stepped on barefoot, the floor had no give and we didn’t train with mats – no sign of health and safety – we still did forward rolls and break falls and had the bruises to show for them the next day but who cares, we are martial artists, right?


I’ve trained in so many Church related halls up and down the country I also taught out of several – including a beautiful Church Hall in Worcester that was compact and bijou to say the least! Very often these venues were places where the local instructor could get space so being equipped or even suitable and safe for students was kind of a moot point.


Put simply, if you wanted to train you turned up and trained, if you wanted equipment for the most part you had to find it yourself – because your instructor rushed there from his full time job and usually only got there at the same time as you!


I trained in a leisure centre where the wooden floor was harder than concrete and we still did break falls and forward rolls, no politically correct discussion on safety, I always felt back then that if you turned up to train you accepted the risks.


Sparring was with minimal equipment and sometimes with none, its martial arts my friend, you won’t have gloves or a gum shield in the street! I remember getting a heel injury from practising kata that required me to stamp on the floor repeatedly, I broke toes, fingers had multiple bruises and minor strains on regular basis as did every student! For the most part it was considered part of the authenticity of the training and of course when you’re renting space that is not dedicated to the specific training then you have to adapt to that environment.


Very often changing facilities, toilets and showers just didn’t exist, or if they did they were minimal. I referred in my [link this matt]previous post  to a place where I trained where you went through 8’ barbed are fence into a yard with a huge German Shepherd guard dog, that had gone to the toilet all over the walk through area so my footwork warm up was dodging dog poo! Inside there was a sink, in the training area, with a sign saying “please do not p**s in the sink it offends!” I was gobsmacked to say the least! Yet, we returned week after week because the quality of training outweighed the risk of disease…


I’ve trained in places where you need google maps to find them (and back then there was no google maps – you had to look and ask, perseverance and positivity, I guess) through multiple building and multiple doors, even passing through other rooms that where totally separate from what and where I was going. It felt like a maze or even Alice’s Wonderland sometimes and through it all the martial artists of yester year kept going… persistence really may be omnipotent.



How the US changed Martial Arts Facilities in the UK

Then in a short period of time it changed, the US invasion of the martial art business model came and delivered a fantastic view of what martial art training could be like. I have been fortunate to learn many things from American Instructors, martial art from Guro Inosanto, CSW from Sensei Erik Paulson and others too, but there was a different opportunity arriving from the US, the business orientated martial arts school owner who came with, what I believed the band still do today is a win-win model for student and instructor. The full time dedicated martial arts academy, designed and operated for the local community.


The training environment became manageable, training mats for safety, larger equipment could be available, boxing rings, heavy bags, wooden dummies, grappling dummies, cages and cage walls etc.


The modern martial artist could get access to classes close to their home/work in a purpose designed academy, time tables could be more comprehensive and designed to fit different students because you had all the time available rather than a one hour time slot in a rented space. Martial art facilities created jobs, sat in the community and added to the local economy and community life. Our academies today host our own students but also schools, businesses and charity events as part of our community interaction.


We have come a long way since the 70’s and 80’s – I’m not always sure it is all positive but maybe that’s my perception, I do believe that we are able to be there for more students with more diverse facilities and more focussed programmes to help them find what they want from martial art.


This is happening all over the UK, I have friends and like-minded instructors from Edinburgh to Sheffield, to Nottingham, to Coventry, London and many other places doing the same. Maybe we have a different interpretation of what we do and we all remain anchored in our own view of martial art but I honestly believe today’s martial art academy has its place in the world, both socially and economically.


Anyway, I like to train in the best place I can with the best instructors (for me). I think I’ve achieved that over the past decades and hopefully created a place where our students can feel the same.


My next post will look at my view on full time instructors and how I believe they benefit today’s students

Until then, I hope you enjoyed my thoughts, I’d love to hear your experiences, questions or feedback, be safe and if you train, enjoy your training, if you don’t I hope my thoughts may enthuse you to try it….


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  2. Thinking back, my first ever martial art class was at a labour club close to where my parents lived, the instructor made us do press ups on our knuckles on a wooden floor ! (surprisingly I didn’t stay there long) or though that kind of hard training and discipline was normal back then especially in the traditional systems

    I also remember trying a kung fu class at a community centre when I was very young, My dad had heard about it from somewhere and wanted me to give it a try.

    I had a great Wado Ru instructor once that was a mechanic during the day and because he owned the garage he would sometimes turn up later than the students and on a few occasions didn’t turn up at all !! we even trained on the park one weekend because we had no access to the community centre that we normally used. I really didn’t mind at the time because all I wanted to do was train !!

    I spent a number of years training in a room that was part of a weight training gym, it was only one room with a little cupboard in the corner where the instructor would sell some equipment and take the £3 for the class ( before the class started of course). At the time I thought this was pretty good and was a huge improvement from some of the halls and schools that i had trained in previously.

    It makes me laugh when I think back over the last 20 years or so at some of the places I’ve trained in because at the time I thought that they were great and my instructors were the best of the best ! I also had so many injuries back then its unreal as health and safety in the training area was unheard of, but that was part of being a martial artist, right ? or so I thought…

    I even taught out of a high school myself once, for about twelve months. We had a sports hall one evening and a dance studio the other. I remember on one occasion we couldn’t get access to either room ! so with several students waiting to train I ended up teaching a class in one of the portacabin classrooms, having to move all of the tables and chairs out of the way before starting !! (I am health & safety conscious)

    When I walk into one of the three full time academies that I train and teach in now I sometimes have to remind myself of where I’ve come from. I’m so grateful that I have such an amazing instructor that has given me the opportunity to be a part of such a great team of instructors and coaches in an environment that is safe and conducive to learning.

    You really cant beat being part of a full time academy with full time instructors. The great facilities, mixed programs and the constant support that’s available just wasn’t around years ago. This of course is great because we can offer so much more and help to make training in the martial arts available to everyone.

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