I think I’ve visited a million gyms in the past couple of months while trying to find a new home for after I move to the Twin Cities (this weekend). Although my grappling has suffered in the process (there’s nothing like finding one place and going there regularly), I did learn a lot about myself and what my own preferences were and what type of gym I was looking for. I think I inadvertently ticked a lot of people off by being completely oblivious to their brand of gym culture and accidentally breaking all sorts of etiquette of which I was unaware, but I think we’re all cool now.
Anyway, I had a ton of fun seeing what was around and getting to work with and learn from a ton of cool people. It dawned on me that many people haven’t had that experience, and for every person who’s asked me what each gym was like I think there’s probably more who are curious… so I thought I’d write some short blurbs on places I’ve visited and what my initial thoughts were.
Disclaimers: Although I did visit gyms all over the Twin Cities and beyond, I didn’t visit all of them. Please don’t read into ones I haven’t spent as much time at–it’s really not a reflection on them. I made my decisions about places to visit based on a variety of factors, including location (as in, proximity to where I’d be living as well as how much I felt like driving to visit), number of classes per week (I like gyms with both day and night classes because my schedule changes randomly), number of small guys and women training at the gyms, cost, types of contracts, whether or not there was a competition team, etc. all of which may not apply to you at all. Also, I’m far from an expert in BJJ. I’m just a white belt. Choking Minnesota does some gym reviews, too (and he’s a shiny purple belt) so check those out, too. But really, this is only my bird’s eye view, often from just two or three classes or even just observation. This is certainly not the be-all and end-all. Your mileage may vary. Also, I listed gyms alphabetically so don’t read into the order.
I’ll be doing a miscellaneous edition of gyms in other places since I still get questions about gyms in Tucson (and also visited some places in Wisconsin) so I’d like to have one place to direct people.
Without further ado, here’s my list!
- The Academy (formerly Minnesota Martial Arts Academy)
I actually didn’t get to attend any classes at the Academy, but have heard really good things. No-gi classes are coached by MMA fighters such as Nik Lentz and Jacob Volkmann, and gi jiu jitsu is taught by Ishmael Bently and Greg Nelson, both black belts under Pedro Sauer. The focus (again, from what I’ve heard) is on takedowns, throws, submissions, lots of drilling and a strong wrestling/catch wrestling base. I believe the contract is two years, so this is good for someone who wants to be ultra-committed, though there are 6-month classes as well depending on how often you wish to train. Academy also has an extensive Muay Thai program and lots of MMA fighters train there, which is an added bonus for those looking to compete in MMA. The Academy is located in Brooklyn Center, MN.
I can’t say enough good things about Alliance MN. First of all, there’s the affiliation. Anyone who follows BJJ knows that Alliance builds champions. They teach a competition-based style of grappling, which is constantly evolving to stay ahead of the game. This year, Alliance was the first team ever to win Pan Ams, Worlds, Brazilian Nationals and the European Pan Ams, which are the 4 biggest tournaments in the world. Alliance MN is run by Damian Hirtz, who received his black belt under David Camarillo and is now teaching under the guidance of Fabio Gurgel (who actually came out and taught a seminar–and it was killer). They also have a dedicated women’s program run by brown belt Gina Franssen (who is awesome). The gym shares a building with Crossfit MN, so there’s a definite strength and conditioning element, but the instruction is extremely technical. In the evenings, there is a 6-week fundamentals class which follows Alliance curriculum. It is followed by advanced classes, which are followed by an open mat. In the mornings, there are classes for those of all experience levels. Alliance MN also has women’s classes, conditioning/drills classes, one no-gi class a week and an open mat on Fridays and Saturdays… so there’s definitely a ton of training available. The vibe is friendly but also very focused and disciplined–tons of drilling the whole entire round and people working hard to help others. The warm-ups are challenging and even the fundamental classes have a bit of complexity, so it may be a bit of a culture shock to those used to very laid back classes where people talk more than drilling… but I’m sure the results will be well worth it. This gym is located in Edina, MN.
This gym is pretty awesome. The head instructor is Rodrigo Sul, who is both friendly and knowledgeable. He started his jiu jitsu journey in Rio de Janeiro when he was just 14 years old, training under Carlos Gracie, Jr. himself. Gracie Barra follows a 16-week fundamentals class curriculum, which is actually followed by all Gracie Barra gyms worldwide. It’d be a great gym if you travel a lot but want to get some training in, in other cities, all without skipping a beat. Advanced classes allow for more flexibility. The best thing about this gym is that there is a TON of time for rolling. There are no-gi classes two days a week and multiple gi classes each day, all in a positive environment. This is a really nice gym. It is located in St. Louis Park, MN.
MCFM was the gym I called home for 9 months (well, 7 months if you don’t count months out with an injury). It is primarily an aikido school and is owned by Mike Ellefson, a black belt under Rigan Machado. But it is purple belt Tim Mahedy who taught most of the classes I attended (and is closer to my size), and he is probably the best coach I’ve ever had… with a great eye for detail and a very technical game. He also teaches striking classes several days a week, which are a combination of classic Muay Thai and JKD. Brazilian jiu-jitus Classes are held on Tuesdays (no-gi), Thursdays and Fridays and there is sometimes a very informal Saturday morning class of sorts. Every once in a while, there’ll be mid-day classes for a limited time…like this great Marcelo Garcia-influenced Wednesday afternoon class I got to attend for a few months, which was taught by Jay, a very technical purple belt. MCFM is a very casual environment, and the price is very low (ranging from $63 to $75 a month, depending on your contract). The gym is located in Hudson. Although there’s not rolling in every class, one cool thing about MCFM is that you get to attend competition team trainings, which are sort of like in-house tournaments, at various affiliates around town. MCFM is located in Hudson, WI.
I have only been to in-house tournaments at Minnesota Top Team, but I have met Ryan Iverson, the head instructor. He’s a BJJ purple belt and a black belt in Judo and if his classes are anywhere near as great as he is, I’m sure they’d be well worth attending. The gym also has classes in hockey/lacrosse, kickboxing, boxing and circuit training. It is located in Eagan, MN.
I’ve only been to one class at the Minnesota Kali Group’s jiu jitsu class, which is a Jean-Jacque Machado affiliate run by purple belt Fabio Morescalchi (who is great). Very nice vibe and detailed instruction, which covers basic techniques and also some fun, creative stuff. The gym’s actually got a full-fledged Crossfit program and some Filipino martial arts (hence the name) under the legendary Rick Faye, which brought back some memories of my stick-fighting days. Classes seem small, which is great for individualized instruction, and there’s some great players at the gym–not least of which is Topher Braddock, who is the smallest guy in the room and will choke your ass out. MN Kali Group is located in Minneapolis, MN.
I’ve never actually been to a class at McCune’s gyms, but I wanted to include him because I have attended his seminars, gone to seminars at his gym and even had a private session with the guy. McCune’s Martial Arts is actually a Kung Fu San Soo school primarily, but they do have some great high level grapplers (like Roland Larson, Derek Getzel, Nick Robinson and Jon Grilz and more I’m sure I’m forgetting). McCune has a great balance between joking around and keeping things lighthearted and also knowing when to get to business and get work done. The gym is located in Brooklyn Park, MN.
Next Level is a 10th Planet (Eddie Bravo) affiliate run by Nate Kleinfeld and Tim Gillette, purple belts under Eddie Bravo. They have a TON of students, a testament to their friendly environment and solid instruction. This is probably the cleanest gym I’ve ever visited, which is a big bonus, and they also sell 10-passes, making it easy to drop in even if you train somewhere else. Gillette has an amazing eye for detail and explains techniques very clearly, taking his time to walk around the room and help fine-tune details–even picking up on variations students may have if they’ve primarily only trained in the gi. The warm-up isn’t easy and all of it is applicable to grappling. Next Level has boxing and Muay Thai classes in addition to grappling, and even though 10th Planet is primarily no-gi, they do have some informal rolling sessions in the gi. They also have wrestling twice a week, which is adapted for BJJ and an area a huge amount of grapplers are weak in. This is a nice gym with a great vibe, and there’s also small guys there which is always a bonus if you’re little like me. It is located in Woodbury, MN.
Spartan Martial Arts is run by Tom Schmitz, a black belt under Pedro Sauer. Schmitz has competed at a very high level for a very long time and is about as skilled as they come.His is some of the best grappling in the state, and he is a really great innovator with a lot of creativity in his drills and techniques he focuses on. The warm-ups are intense. A lot of MMA fighters go to this gym for both gi and no-gi grappling as well as kickboxing, so who you’re going to train with is often a bit unpredictable. (This is Sparta, after all.) There are a lot of high level players and a lot of all-out brawlers training alongside absolute beginners. The gym is located in Oakdale, MN.
I only observed one class at this gym, but definitely wanted to include it. Ultimate Martial Arts and Fitness is actually a karate school, but Klint Klaas (a black belt under David Camarillo) teaches jiu jitsu Monday through Thursday nights and Saturdays at noon. The class I sat in on was small, tight-knit and fast-paced and students were incredibly focused. The gym is located in Woodbury, MN.
I attended a couple of classes here under the watchful eye of the multi-talented Ben Neumann (a local fighter who can break bones AND bake). The head instructor is Dave Arnbeck, a black belt under Rickson Gracie. What stood out to me at Cove was how organized and regimented everything was…from the attendance in the locker room to the curriculum covered to Cove’s own belt system, different from the one used in traditional BJJ. Ground techniques and stand-up techniques are taught on odd-numbered and even-numbered days (though I forget which is which) and live rolls are reserved for students who have worked their way up to a gold belt in the Cove system. The instruction focuses on repetition and muscle memory, and though there was an emphasis on fundamentals in the classes I attended, there was also a great deal of detail. Although the amount of rules and policies may be a bit much for the more anarchistic/libertarian among us, I would point out that this gym is an extremely safe and controlled environment. Warrior’s Cove has locations in St. Louis Park, Burnsville and Little Canada, MN.
Did I miss any gyms you’ve been to? Please leave them in the comments! (Gym bashing, however, will not be tolerated, so let’s not go there.)