It may seem like a silly topic worth discussing, but many people that train don’t even know the real differences between a dojo and an MMA gym. As far as which type of facility is better, that’s ultimately up to you and what you’re seeking to obtain from your instructors. You would have to really breakdown the differences in practicing the age-old virtues of martial arts, versus training to be a combative fighter. Everyone has their own reasons for taking up MMA, be that for self-defense or as a respectful practice to get your kids into; nevertheless, both facility styles have their own advantages.
Years ago dojos were the only means to obtain martial art instruction around the states, but only in the past few decades have we seen boxing gyms rise, MMA clubs, and specialty centers that focus on one layer of MMA such as Muay Thai. Of course once the UFC began to rise to fame, hundreds of MMA schools opened up nationwide to expand on the success of the sport. Dojos however, began to fall behind gaining a reputation for being schools that offer “point fighting” versus full contact. While this may be true at some places, it’s not the case for every dojo.
Some would say that MMA gyms lack in breeding good character; again it depends on the facility. Just like anything in life, there are the good and the bad places; and one bad gym can often spoil the reputation for many others. Many schools just want your money, so they charge you an arm and leg to go through their program or belt ranking system but you learn very little. There are also gyms that strictly open their doors only to breed fighters; this is not where you go if you are new to the sport. These gyms have no belt ranking systems in place, they train students full time for competitive fighting and nothing less.
How can you determine what style gym is best for you? If you’re a parent that is seeking a school that will provide respect, culture, and character development for your child- a dojo is the way to go. If you’ve been in the MMA world for a few months or years and are eager to try your hand at amateur fighting, then enroll in a fighting gym that breeds and molds competitors. I highly recommend visiting both options if at all possible to see what you’re missing on both ends of the spectrum.
The dojo is considered a sacred space, one that doesn’t welcome arrogance kindly, and one that instills Japanese culture into their students. A gym isn’t as cut and dry; there are typically many instructors that provide various forms of MMA skills for their students. Both should be respected, both can have very qualified teachers, and both can be very worthy of your time. Generally, your budget will play a key role in which school you ultimately sign up for, but always read the fine print in your contracts in the event you aren’t impressed with the facility and wish to part ways.