We get it. You love your gym, you’re loyal to your team, and if you’re honest, most days you like your teammates more than your family. Why, then, would we so strongly suggest you go to another gym? Hold on to your (gi) pants, we’re not advocating you abandon your favorite fellow mat buddies. You know the truth, though – roll or spar with someone near daily, and soon you know their game. Their favorite combos, their go-to submissions. You find yourself capitalizing on their known weak areas and avoiding their strengths. Part of the reason you will find your coach advocating to go to competitions is that it gives you the opportunity to take on the unknown. And that is exactly why you should go to other gyms. Not permanently, of course, but it’s a fantastic way to mix up your training.
Expose holes in your game
Finding that you’re continually eating an overhand right after your double jab because you’ve gotten lazy about bringing your hands back? That you’re getting taken down repeatedly when you thought you weren’t half bad at sprawling? Or that you’re constantly getting swept when you thought your guard passing was on point The great things about going against new opponents is that you learn where you need to improve. Maybe your teammates were more focused on looking for leg kicks, so you haven’t been forced to address the fact that you’re a bit lazy with your hands. Maybe they were looking for submissions from guard and so getting swept wasn’t really on your mind. Until now. This is why competitions and fights are amazing learning experiences. Going to open mats and calling up gyms to see if you can drop in for a few classes can mimic those experiences and provide similar lessons.
Increase your confidence
We’ve all had those moments where we feel like we suck at this sport. We’re not hitting those sweeps, we’re getting our ass handed to us during sparring, and soon we’re walking out of the gym after a night of training and throwing our gloves into the trunk with a little more force than is necessary. What we don’t consider is that as we’re improving, our teammates are, too. If you’re rolling against someone who’s been training a year longer than you, well, sorry to spoil the surprise, but unless there’s a huge difference in training time, they’re likely always going to be ahead of you in technique. That’s why it’s easy to think you aren’t improving and aren’t growing in this sport. Going to an open mat or class at a different gym allows you more opportunities to go against someone at your level and realize that, oh, the work you’ve been putting in is actually paying off.
Get to know fellow members of the martial arts community
This one may seem like much of a big deal, but the wonderful thing about the community we train in is that it’s still a niche sport, which means it’s a small world. Yes, there are as many politics here as there are in any sport, but on the whole, the amount of support is amazing. We all understand the (literal) blood, sweat, and tears that go into getting in the mats or in the cage, and have a great amount of respect for those who go through that as well. Plus, lets be honest, those of us who find a great amount of joy in learning new techniques for choking or punching people aren’t all that common, so it’s awesome to be around people who not only get that, but will also talk for hours about it with you.
If you have a fight coming up, if you’re competing soon, or if you’re just feeling like you’ve hit a plateau, look around at the gyms in your area. Talk to your coach (any good coach will encourage you to get a different look when you can), talk to other gym owners and their students, and get out there. You’ll benefit enormously in all the ways above and more.