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.

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.)


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.



[Switch to a new partner]


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>