Review: Tristar Gym in Montreal, Canada

In August, I had the pleasure of spending a few weeks hanging around Montreal, Canada as part of my new digital nomad lifestyle. I ate amazing food, spoke French (or attempted to), and trained at one of North America’s best MMA gyms, Tristar.

20160902-sparring-img_20160902_191759The gym is located on the top floor of an unassuming brick business park building.

I asked the guy at the front desk a lot of questions about required gear, which were his favorite classes, and where I was supposed to go, and never once felt like I was asking something dumb.

Variety of Classes

Over the course of a few weeks, I took classes in kickboxing, Muay Thai, striking & conditioning, sparring, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from some big name coaches, including Firas Zahabi and Sandro Ferr. They also had boxing, wrestling, and karate classes available.

Quality of Instruction

The instruction was excellent. I learned something from every coach in that building (and honestly many of the students taught me something too). In the Muay Thai, striking & conditioning, and Kickboxing classes I got lots of one-on-one instruction. They learned my name and would give me excellent, patient feedback. The only class where I got little personalized instruction was in Coach Firas’ BJJ classes where there were literally 40+ students. Understandable. I still learned something in his classes.

Attitude, Ego, and Atmosphere

Every time I entered that building, I could study professional fighters as they trained. In many sessions, I had the opportunity to roll, spar, and train with them.

Sound intimidating? Sometimes it was. Right up until I smiled and said “Hi, I’m Kaci. What’s your name?” They’d respond and we’d get to work.

These exceptional fighters would patiently help and instruct me. After we finished a round, they’d tell me what they saw and how I could improve. They spent their precious, valuable time (at their job where it’s important they train with the very best) teaching me what they know. And they did it with passion and excitement.

20160902-stretching-img_20160902_185727At the end of the night, I’d spend some time stretching next to guys with professional fight records talking about all kinds of subjects: what it’s like to live in the pro fighter housing in the gym (simple, inexpensive housing with few distractions and little privacy), how they got into fighting, where they go to watch fights, my favorite photo equipment, how I got into martial arts, etc.

There were also a surprising number of women in this gym. Granted, I was one of only a couple women in the sparring classes (and sometimes the only one), but there was always at least one other woman in nearly every other class. Most of the women were very warm and welcoming. I felt like I could walk up to any one of them and have a fantastic conversation.

20160829-sandroferr-img_20160829_174103
Coach Sandro Ferr just before teaching a Muay Thai class

That’s the kind of place Tristar is. I saw no ego. I saw a lot of respect for the coaches, for fellow students (no matter the proficiency, gender, or experience level), for the space, and for martial arts as a whole.

Gym Community

What I found in Tristar was a community of people who love the world of fighting. People who train hard and who love what they do there. They genuinely want to share with you what they love to do. After just a couple weeks other trainees recognized me, said hello, and smiled warmly. In such a short period of time, I could already feel myself being accepted as “one of them”.

Cleanliness of the Gym

The mats were visibly clean and the students took pride in the space. Shoes are not allowed past the front door and they take that rule very seriously. The women’s bathroom was well maintained and clean. (I can’t speak to the men’s locker room.)

Cost

They offer flexible gym memberships, including unlimited classes for 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, and beyond. I purchased the unlimited two week package for approximately $110 Canadian (~$80 US). You start to get discounts when you buy the monthly ($145CA / $108 US) or greater packages.

Review Recap

Quality of Instruction: 5/5 stars
Variety of Classes: 5/5 stars
Cleanliness of Gym: 5/5 stars
Attitude, Ego, and Atmosphere: 5/5 stars
Community: 5/5 stars
Cost: 4/5 stars

I honestly can’t wait to go back.

Martial Arts Training on Long Island

Yesterday, I began looking for a new gym. As you may have heard, I’ve begun a new life traveling, creating, and training in martial arts.

I’m staying in Babylon, New York on Long Island for the month of June and I need a place to train. I also have the added challenge of finding someplace nearby that I can bike to on my little borrowed 10-speed.

The search for a martial art/fight system

The first thing I looked for was a legit Krav Maga gym, but the nearest one is 14 miles away. No go.

Next up, I searched for kickboxing. The sparring classes I’d been taking at Fit and Fearless in Austin, TX were in a similar vein to kickboxing. My initial search served up a few results, but they were more about punching bags. I want to punch things that punch back…

Finally, I found a couple MMA gyms. One is a 20 minute bike ride away, but it has limited classes. Only a class called “Adult MMA” four times a week. The other gym is a 40 minute bike ride away and has a much wider variety of classes: boxing, MMA, sparring, wrestling, grappling, BJJ, no gi BJJ… it’s a gym fighters train at to compete.

What’s behind gym #1?

Tonight, I tried the gym 20 minutes away.

While I was waiting for the class to start, an older man came into the waiting area. He immediately walked right up to me, put out his hand, introduced himself. He was so forward I thought for sure he was an instructor.

“No, he’s the instructor,” Al said with a laugh, nodding to the man yelling at the Cardio Kickboxing class in progress.

As more men came into the gym, they shook each other’s hands and greeted each other warmly.

“Introduce yourself to Kaci,” Al would say to them. Talk about a welcome wagon.

Later, I’d meet Charlie, the instructor, and he’d explain that the class focus changes each week. This week was striking. Next week would be grappling. He looked at me as he said this, gauging my reaction.

“Great!”  Striking… I have some confidence in striking.

I stood awkwardly to the side trying to warm up my body the way I normally do, keeping my eyes to myself, and waiting for the class to start. When I get nervous, I get shy and try not to draw too much attention to myself. That’s difficult when you’re one of two ladies in a room of ~15 people doing an activity dominated by men.

I just want to fight and train and get better. It felt like the first time I tried Krav Maga. Butterflies in my stomach. This time was different though. I have more confidence in myself. Now I know I can do anything. I can flourish in this activity. This activity is fun.

The workout

We jogged around the room as part of our warm up and then partnered up to throw warm up strikes. I tried to make eye contact with one of the guys nearest me, but ended up with the only other woman, Laurie. She smiled kindly and knowingly.

We took turns throwing jab, jab-cross, jab-cross-hook combinations. Some of the footwork was completely new for me. We practiced throwing a feint to the left and then immediately pushing off our forward (planted) foot to throw a jab-cross-roundhouse kick combination. Pushing through off your forward foot was foreign and difficult and it was great to improve my footwork in this way. When I spar, my steps tend to feel heavy. When I land, it takes a lot of energy to move my feet to a new location so this was exceptionally good practice for me.

Everyone put on shin guards and lined up in two rows facing each other. You’d practice with the person in front of you and then as we would build onto the combination we’d switch partners.

Feint-jab

Feint-jab-cross

[Switch to a new partner]

Feint-jab-cross-hook

Feint-jab-cross-hook-right roundhouse kick

[Switch to a new partner]

Charlie came by often to give me one-on-one instruction. The feints were difficult. Transitioning from a standing/striking fight to a take down was also difficult, mostly because those two fighting styles have been separate practices for me in the past. It was awesome to learn something new from an instructor with a different teaching style.

I just need to remember to slow down and practice each of the techniques slowly before trying to launch into doing it quickly. We’ll blame it on nerves. I’ll do better at that next time.

The community/inclusivity of the gym

I worked with a lot of guys in the class and I was pleasantly surprised to find there was no ego. Everyone worked to figure out the combinations. They were kind, showed a lot of respect, and were careful not to injure each other. They answered my questions when I was confused and didn’t make me feel dumb. One guy was even training for a competition fight this weekend and he had a great attitude about fighting someone with less skill (me).

It was fun. There’s a community in this gym and it’s clear I could easily become a part of that community if I keep showing up and I’m not a jerk.

Afterwards, Charlie asked me what I thought. I smiled. “It was great!”

“Come back and train the rest of the time you’re here,” he said and we shook on it.

As I walked out to the parking lot, Cole, a guy from the class waved at me from his car.

I could definitely train here.

As an aside, I’ll say training in this new gym made me miss my gym and my fight friends back in Austin. That community is exceptional. That’s where my fight family is located. I love those people and I miss them so much. </ end sad time>

A Big Announcement – Kravazon Goes on the Road

I’ve been sitting on this news for months and I’m super excited to finally share it with you!

In May, my husband and I will begin traveling the world indefinitely! We’ve quit our perfectly wonderful jobs. We’ll be leaving our best friends, our family, our city, the best gym in the whole freakin’ world (I’m pretty convinced) to pursue this dream of ours. You can follow along with our food and travel adventures over on our website The Chris and Kaci Show.

What does this mean for Kravazon?

Kravazon will NOT go away. I’ll continue training and writing about it, albeit on the road. If a country or a city doesn’t have Krav Maga, my plan is to train in the martial art of that area. For example, if/when we visit Brazil, I’ll train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Do you have any experience training while traveling? I’d love to hear your experiences! Write ’em in the comments.

Seeing Better by Seeing Less

Doing Krav Maga or Sparring with glasses sucks. They always go askew on my face. They get in the way.

So I was frustrated when I realized my eye doctor sent me the wrong contact prescription and I’d need to wait a week for the correct prescription to arrive. I’d be in glasses for a week.

10 minutes into my first sparring class I took them off. It was distracting having them slide off my face. I’d deal with seeing blurry people.

But then something amazing happened.

I could see strikes coming at my face more easily. I was suddenly able to get out of the way or block strikes like I’d never been able to see or block them before.

Usually, when I’m sparring I keep my eyes focused at the person’s chest and use my peripheral vision to “see” the attacks coming. I watch their shoulders for the tell signs of a strike.

With everything out of focus, I could sense general movement more easily. Dodging and blocking was suddenly easier.

If you can, try to unfocus your eyes while sparring or doing Krav Maga. It might help you see strikes.

Women’s Only Self Defense Seminar(FREE!)

There’s been some ugly violence against women happening in Northwest Austin these last few months.

The safety of myself, my friends, my family, and my community is one of my biggest priorities. In response, I’ve set up an informal self-defense workshop for this Saturday!

*******This workshop is free and open to the public.*******

Come practice crucial assertiveness skills, boundary-setting, and self defense skills.

Skills covered:

  • Vocal assertiveness
  • Physical assertiveness
  • Front kick to the groin
  • Defense against bearhug from behind *
  • Defense against knife from behind *

* These last two skills are in direct response to the kind of assaults this attacker has been using.

Please come train and learn some skills to make yourself more aware and more prepared! Turn your fear into action.

Details and Location:

February 27 from 2-3:30pm
Fit and Fearless Studio
2800 IH 35 South #100, Austin, TX 78704
FREE!

RSVP now

Bring your neighbors, your friends, your mothers, your daughters.

How Very Little Krav Maga in January Affected Me

My January focus was to be a professional coach for 20 awesome ruckus-makers (an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world). It required a fair bit of time and decreased my priority to be in the gym.

As the month progressed, I could feel something different happening. I was tired. I was doing all this great work with and for other people, but it was draining.

Then I was handed a major, high-impact project at work. The stress mounted. My grumpiness increased.

“You okay, Kaci?” a co-worker asked. “You seemed so happy earlier this month and now you’ve lost that glow.”

I could feel it too. I didn’t have my usual outlet for breaking the tension. I wasn’t taking care of myself.

My first Krav Maga class back was amazing. I could feel the pent up energy in my limbs slowly releasing with every punch, kick, drill, and combo. By the end of the class I wasn’t even tired. I could have kept going. I wanted to keep going.

The very next day, several people noted how buoyant I seemed.

The major, stressful project at work suddenly seemed like not such a big deal.

When you find something that keeps you level and happy, make room in your schedule to keep it a priority. 

I could have chosen to go Krav Maga once or twice a week, instead of not at all. Lesson learned.

Tips to Improve Your Sparring Technique

I’ve been sparring (kickboxing style) for the last six months. It’s been exhilarating and eye-opening. And it’s been doing a great job of keeping my ego in check.

When I first started, I felt myself pinwheeling my arms in front of my face, chin jutted out, feet heavy. Luckily, my partners knew I was a beginner. We went slow and light.

These last few weeks, I’ve been improving in a noticable way.

Here’s what I’ve changed, practiced, or paid attention to in the last month:

  • I study fighters and fights. I’ve been watching more mixed martial artists, especially kick boxers and boxers. I’ve been watching their footwork and combinations. Specifically, I’ve had my eye on Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Holly Holm, and Valérie Létourneau. These fighters came at the recommendation of Jeff, a more advanced martial artist and someone I highly respect.
  • I focus on one technique per sparring hour. When I became aware of my poor foot work, I focused on keeping myself light, fast, and balanced on my feet. I found myself dodging more strikes just by moving out of the way.
  • I listen to my instructors and other students. When someone makes a note of something I could improve I try out the change. This hasn’t failed me yet. I work with really smart people.
  • I record sparring sessions to see my mistakes. Having someone tell you that you pin wheel your arms is one thing. Seeing yourself do it is much more effective (and embarrassing!).
  • The fundamentals always come first. I keep my chin tucked, hands up (this is a constant struggle), breathe throughout the whole session, and try not to fight angry. No fancy techniques until I’ve got these reset.
  • I spar as many fighters as I can. It’s helpful to practice against different styles, sizes, and experience level of partners. I learn something about myself or the way they fight every single time.
  • I pay attention to my bruises and scrapes. My nose was sore after a few classes and it helped me realize I’m letting people hit me right up the middle. Ouch! In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to see where you leave yourself open to attack. The bruises and sore muscles will teach you what to watch for next time.
  • I try to throw more than two strikes in a given exchange. It finally clicked in Amy’s sparring glass that I’ve been treating sparring like I do drills. Two strikes and reset. Two strikes and reset. Instead, I’ve been focusing on throwing three, four, fix strikes in an exchange. It means I’ve been landing more hits. I’m more successful.
  • I move my head even as I’m throwing strikes. This one is really hard. It requires coordination that feels similar to playing the drums. Feet move forward, hands strike out, keep chin tucked, move head left to right. This is a huge work in progress.
  • I’ve been watching YouTube videos for tips. A few of my favorites: FightTips, Sensei Ando, and Mitt Master Matt.

It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been working on my sparring every week. It’s hard not to when it’s so darn fun.

What else can I do to improve sparring? What’s helped you? Have you never sparred before? Why?

The sweet and generous gift of mitt holding

Before we get too far away from the moment, I wanted to tell you about something really, really cool that happened to me a few weeks ago

I took a ground fighting class. I was worn out afterwards, but I wanted to stick around for the yoga class an hour later. I ducked into the bag room, put my 16oz boxing gloves on, and stared at the punching bag.

Hands up.

Chin tucked.

Rotate. Strike. Step. Repeat.

I took my time at the bag thinking through combinations. If my weight is distributed to the right, can I throw a right round kick, I’d ask myself while playing with my strikes and weight distribution. Is it better if I do a right side kick here instead?

A few of the regulars were holding mitts for each other. The mitt holder would call out combinations and the striker would rotate into the fastest, smoothest combinations they could manage. It was background noise to me. I tried not to draw attention to myself or take up space.

It wasn’t their room, but I was self-conscious. I kept my eyes on my bag: hyperfocused on my own breathing, my head movement, my weight distribution.

I stepped out a few times to get some air or just watch the two Krav Maga classes in progress.

Omar pokes his head out of the room, nods to me, and says quietly, “hey, we can stay on one side of the room if you want to keep practicing.”

“Oh, thanks!” I return and keep hitting the bag.

A few minutes later, Ron, the striker at the time, steps over to me. “Do you want us to hold for you?”

I thought for sure I’d heard wrong. “Sorry?”

“We can hold mitts for you, if you’d like. I could use the break,” he says with a laugh.

“Oh, yeah! Sure! That’d be great!”

Omar calls out a simple combination and I focus with all my effort to execute it properly. I fumble some of them and laugh nervously.

“Again,” he calls. We do it over and over until I get it.

“Okay, rest,” he says softly.

I’m grinning like an idiot.

“What?” he asks.

I don’t understand.

“The smile. What’s funny?” he asks.

“Nothing! I just love this so much,” I tell him. He smiles back.

They hold pads for me once more.

30 minutes later I gather my stuff to head to the yoga room. Before I do, I walk back over to them.

“Thank you,” I say. “It means a lot that you’d hold mitts for me.”

“If we’re in here and you want to fold into our routine, just ask. If we’re not doing anything specific we can hold for you.”

It was the nicest, most awesome thing. They never had to do any of that, but they did. It made me feel like a part of the gym, a part of the community. I’m still feeling warm and fuzzy about it. To those guys, a deep and sincere thanks.

This simple act of kindness also reminds me that I can do more to help the folks new to the gym feel more welcome. They’re part of this community. As a higher level student, I have a responsibility to encourage that feeling of belonging.