When I started training MMA in London in 2003 I would often train at more than one gym.

I think it was mainly because one was near my office and the other closer to home so I had a schedule where I trained at both regularly. I let all my coaches know and they were fine with it.

For me it was brilliant since both gyms focused on different styles and disciplines of MMA, the training partners were different sizes or levels. We would learn a technique in one gym and it would be impossible to pull it off since all my training partners were learning and drilling it as well but at the other gym I was able to execute it which told me that I could use it in a competitive setting.

The other gym benefited from this since they would be exposed to new techniques. I wasn’t alone in this practice and knew several teammates at both gyms that practiced at more than one gym. This collaborative approach is what drew me and kept me in MMA.

It was this exciting “DIY / make it up as we go along” approach that made all of us feel like active contributors in something that was still quite new. Many of us shared ideas, theories and techniques which we could then refine and test against opponents in competition. Many gyms even hosted open mats either monthly or during a bank holiday where anyone could show up and train in a relaxed environment.

In Singapore I attend a regular open mat for BJJ now. It’s held every week in a different gym from the one I train in. My coach knows I attend and is supportive. I get to roll with different people who will have different styles, sizes and skills to what I’m used to at my gym.

The environment is always friendly and it serves as a reminder to me that some of my techniques still work on people that aren’t training with me on a regular basis. It also keeps me humble and helps in competition by rolling with anyone and comfortably negotiating tough spots or improving because of them.

I have invited teammates to open mat and while some happily attend, others are not as keen. I also know that there are schools both in London and Singapore that discourage or outright prohibit participating in open mats or training at other gyms.

The argument against open mats is as old as martial arts practices themselves. The difference now is that the days of secret ninja techniques are far behind us.

With YouTube, online forums and the availability of information online anyone can access information on techniques, training and even potential opponent footage provided they have a smartphone, laptop or internet cafe.

The only difference is that by opting out of an open mat you aren’t going to train with a future opponent so they won’t have experienced your stength or skill until you face off in competition.

That being said, you won’t really know how they’ll feel until the ref says fight.

About The Author

Danielle West

Danielle has been a go-go dancer for Boston punk bands, helped start the UK's first roller derby league (the London Rollergirls who are still going strong), and has competed professionally in mixed martial arts, wrestling, grappling, and jiu jitsu for over eleven years.

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