Primero BJJ

If you don't enjoy what you're doing, what's the point?

Which would you choose? Would you rather train at a gym with world class instructors even if it had a bad vibe? Or would you rather train in a gym with instruction that's less-than-stellar, but where you felt right at home?

I asked Shawn Tompkins, head MMA trainer at TapouT Training Center in Las Vegas, the same question. He said he'd pick the gym with the better atmosphere. "If you don't enjoy what you're doing, what's the point?" he asked.

I'd like to point out that this is coming from the guy who's coached MMA superstars Wanderlei Silva, Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Mark Hominick, Vitor Belfort, Mark Coleman and more. A coach who is driven and passionate and worked tirelessly to perfect his own coaching style over the years. He'd pick the gym with the best vibe over the one with the best coaching.

Tompkins isn't the only person with that opinion. Many coaches have pointed out over the years that all the credentials and knowledge will not replace a good gym vibe or culture. Although it sounds like nails on a chalkboard to goal-centered athletes, the process really does matter as much as the destination. Create an atmosphere where everyone feels valued and respected, and that's where they'll really shine.

The best gym I've ever had the pleasure of training at was Primero BJJ in Tucson, Arizona. I can't say that I could differentiate between the good vibe and good instruction. Good instruction is part and parcel, really, but perhaps it is the atmosphere that makes students more receptive to it. Qualified instructors are a dime a dozen, but safe and positive environments? From my experience, they are deceptively hard to find.

The gym atmosphere permeates into every aspect of training. Good instruction is of paramount importance for those who are solely focused on training, and Primero had some of the best with the combined talents of Richard Bueno, Brian Ogule and Joe Solorio. And instruction is the first place where gym vibe is important, if you want to create an atmosphere where students feel safe enough to take risks, be creative, ask questions and try new things. I'd go to Primero for the conditioning; when I decided to get serious about getting in shape it was heavy lifting and Primero that got me there. This is another place where gym culture is important. How many athletes would go to a gym with a rotten vibe when they've had a bad day or are stressed out for other reasons? Much easier to talk yourself out of it, but a gym with a good culture has the opposite effect: students are more likely to attend under negative personal circumstances.

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Yael Grauer and Michelle Gagne.
I'd go to Primero to get out of my head; it was the only thing that kept me sane when dealing with challenging students one year and a crazy boss the next. I'd go for the challenge: as much as I needed at any given moment.
And when I found out that a former training partner (from another art) had passed away in December '08, I went to Primero. I wasn't up to participating and didn't talk to anyone, but I knew that being in that gym and watching the guys train and train hard for a little while was just the medicine I needed. I'd still be training at Primero if I hadn't moved away - and of all the things I miss in Tucson, I miss my old gym the most.

Having a successful gym is not just about retaining students who medal at tournaments, making sure everyone masters specific techniques or making people feel good so that they'll stick around to cover your rent and fees. It's about pouring your heart and soul into the gym, as so many instructors do, day in and day out. It's about creating an environment where respect and discipline is the norm, and where honor and loyalty grow. It's about giving students something to look forward to and for which they can feel proud. It's about building better people.

Nobody should ever have to decide between good coaching and a good vibe. For the most part, the two go hand in hand. But the atmosphere of your gym, the culture that you help create? That's the foundation. It counts.

Yael Grauer

Yael Grauer is a freelance writer and BJJ practitioner living in the Midwest. She writes regularly for the Performance Menu and MMA HQ.

You'll also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Google+.

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