By Ryan Krogh
On a warm summer afternoon last week, in a fit of motivation spurred on by six months of indolence, I found myself on the verge of collapse tossing a 10-pound tire down an asphalt parking lot. I’d joined a strength-training class at Undisputed Fitness, a jujitsu and kickboxing gym in West Alameda’s Solona Shopping Center, thinking I’d get back in shape. With some previous mixed martial arts training under my belt, I assumed I could handle it. I was wrong.
Without much ado, six of us—guys with a lot more fighting ambition than myself—walked out back, where three tires lay on the parking lot. Within minutes I was flipping one of the spares over my head and chasing it down, only to repeat the process the entire length of the parking lot and back again. Then I donned a 35-pound weight vest, squatted down with a medicine ball pressed against my chest and tossed it up against a cinder-block wall as high as I could for a minute and a half. Then push-ups. Then pull-ups. Then we did it all over again—without breaks. After an hour I was stumbling around in an oxygen-deprived daze.
“I don’t have time to slow the class down for anyone,” Josh Montoya, a competitive fighter who led the class, told me after it was all over. He meant it as a motivator—anyone that can last through the class should be proud—but standing next to him, feeling like I was breathing through a drinking straw, all I could think about was when, and if, I’d be able to focus on anything besides not losing my lunch in the garbage can in the corner of the room.
Undisputed Fitness is MMA–star Tait Fletcher’s brainchild. He opened the gym at its current location in October 2008 in hopes of drawing more people to a sport he’s been passionate about for a decade. As a professional fighter and a contestant on the third season of Spike TV’s The Ultimate Fighter, he experienced first-hand the transformative power, both physically and mentally, he says, that competitive training can have on an individual. Undisputed Fitness is his chance to share that knowledge and experience—and his own unassuming star-power—with the local community.
“I wanted a one-stop gym that would really build athletes,” Fletcher says, “whether it was for hobbyists in kickboxing or jujitsu, or for guys who had competitive goals, or whether it was for people who just wanted to reach the pinnacle of their health.”
Since opening, Undisputed Fitness has experienced a steady rise in membership. And it’s done it despite the usual MMA stereotype—aggro pain junkies looking for a legal way to let loose—that can sometimes deter people from joining a gym like Fletcher’s.
Still, there’s no doubt about it: Walking into an MMA gym is intimidating—heavy bags hanging from the ceiling, grappling dummies strewn about the mats and heavily tattooed patrons thwacking punching bags. But Undisputed, manager Jenn Yi says, is trying to lessen that initial intimidation for first-timers. Yes and no. Yes, it’s less intimidating than other fighting gyms (a fake plant welcomes visitors near the door). No, it’s not intimidation free: A whiteboard by the water fountain often lists the workout routine for various classes: 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 sit-ups, etc., etc.
“It’s scary,” Yi admits. “You see the workout and you just don’t think you can do it. But at the end of class, when you’re passed out on the floor, dripping with sweat, it’s a huge sense of accomplishment.”
That sense of accomplishment and the personal successes Fletcher sees from his members—winning a grappling tournament, losing 60-plus pounds—comes from a supportive group dynamic in the gym’s jujitsu, kickboxing and strength-training classes.
“You ask so much more of yourself when you’re working with other people,” Fletcher says, “because I’ll quit on myself, but I’m not going to quit on my workout partner.”
Fletcher should know. After getting involved in jujitsu nearly 10 years ago at a late age—29, an age that would dissuade many people from starting—he went on to compete at the highest levels of MMA. And he attributes much of his success to the group dynamic that is the hallmark of competitive fighting gyms. He’s brought that collaborative mind-set to Undisputed. One of the members in my class called Undisputed’s classes “intensely supportive.”
Classes are supportive because they typically involve partners. In strength training, pairs rotate exercises and motivate each other with words of encouragement. In jujitsu or kickboxing, partners practice kicking, punching and executing specialized grappling moves on each other to get a sense of the right and wrong ways to do them. But much of the support and encouragement comes from Fletcher himself.
“People are really drawn to Tait because he’s such a personality and motivator,” Yi says. “He’s like a giant cement-covered marshmallow—all heart and goo on the inside—and it really translates with the people who train here.”
For his part, Fletcher says he gets just as much gratification out of the successes of his members as his own. “It’s a beautiful thing, my favorite thing, to watch somebody surpass their own self-imposed limitations,” he says.
After the end of my first training session, I’m sore in places I didn’t even know I had muscles. Four days later, after recovering, I’m jonesing for more. The only hang-up: whether or not I can actually survive another session. Then I remember something Fletcher told me over the phone when I asked him about his training philosophy.
“Real physical fitness comes from pushing yourself beyond the limits that you think you can go. My job is to kill that little voice in your head that says, ‘I can’t.’”
915 W. Alameda St., in the Solana Shopping Center
Classes, including kickboxing, strength training and jujitsu, from 8 am to 7pm, from Monday to Friday. Memberships start at $70 per month with a 12-month contract.
Champion Brazilian jujitsu expert Nivaldo Oliveira is a guest instructor at the gym for part of September and is available for private lessons by appointment.