In the wake of the 2016 presidential elections and incidents of violence that followed, several groups of people are feeling unsafe and wondering if they should brief themselves in self-defense. As someone who trains, I know that regular practice is much more likely to save someone's life than a one-off 90 minute workshop.
But many of those people who are scared right now also don't feel safe at gyms - especially LGBTQ+ (particularly trans) youth and adults. With that in mind, I wanted to start a living document of martial arts and strength training gyms across the nation that are welcome to all. Every gym on this list is there because someone in a leadership position at the gym expressed their commitment to create a safe space where people of all stripes can become stronger and safer, together.
Chandler: Chandler Martial Arts (Jiu jitsu and martial arts)
Berkeley: Orange Kettlebell Club (strength and conditioning)
Hollywood: Nerdstrong Gym (strength and conditioning)
Los Angeles: EveryBody Gym (strength & conditioning)
Los Angeles: Westside Training Center (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, Sanda)
Oakland: Four Elements Fitness (strength and conditioning, self-defense, Jeet Kune Do, Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Oakland: New Ethic (strength & conditioning)
Sacramento: Bodytribe Fitness (strength & conditioning)
San Diego: Crossfit Hillcrest (strength & conditioning)
San Francisco: Ascend Body (personal training & fitness, submission comment: "trainers at this studio are proficient in martial arts and will share their skills in a safe and helpful manner")
San Francisco: Okinawan Karate Club (karate)
Locations in San Francisco, Oakland, Castro Valley, Scottsdale: Body Mechanix (strength & conditioning)
Locations in Santa Clara, San Francisco, and Oakland: Krav Maga Institute (Krav Maga)
Denver: Crossfit Elevation (crossfit/strength)
Eustis: Mount Dora BJJ Academy (Brazilian jiu jitsu and MMA)
Jacksonville: American Top Team (Brazilian jiu jitsu and MMA)
Jacksonville: Combatives Unlimited (Brazilian jiu jitsu, Muay Thai, Jeet Kune Do)
Orange City: Darkwolf MMA (mixed martial arts)
Chamblee: Lewis Global Karate (karate)
Chicago: Cheetah Gym (strength/weight training and kickboxing)
Delkab: Northern Illinois University Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Club (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Indianapolis: Broad Ripple Martial Arts (karate and kickboxing)
Portland: Prevention. Action. Change. (empowered self defense)
Bowie: Level Up Training Center (Brazilian jiu jitsu, Muay Thai, kickboxing)
Gaithersburg: The Foundry (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu)
Glenmont and Silver Spring: Bartman MMA (mixed martial arts)
Monrovia: Urbana Academy (Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Cambridge: Redline Fight Sports (mixed martial arts, Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Salem: North Shore Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Shelby: Mada Krav Maga (Krav Maga and Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Minneapolis: Minnesota Kali Group (mixed martial arts, self defense)
Minneapolis: x2 Fitness (strength, Brazilian jiu jitsu, Muay Thai)
Troy: Sauer Thai Boxing at Full Contact Fitness (Muay Thai and boxing)
Billings: ESP Wellness (strength)
Reno: Freestyle Martial Arts Academy (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Montclair: North South Jiu Jitsu (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Albuquerque: Invictus (Brazilian jiu jitsu & Muay Thai)
Brooklyn: South Brooklyn Weightlifting Club (powerlifting)
Brooklyn: Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
NYC: Babs Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
NYC: The Wat (Muay Thai and boxing)
NYC: Prepare (offers self-defense programs)
Staten Island: Staten Island Karate (karate, jiu jitsu, MMA)
Chapel Hill: Chapel Hill Quest Martial Arts (ninjitsu)
Durham: Triangle Jiu Jitsu (Brazilian jiu jitsu, MMA)
Nags Head: Momentum Fitness (Brazilian jiu jitsu, strength & conditioning)
Raleigh: Master Boxing (boxing)
Columbus: Queer Self Defense (self defense workshops)
Dayton: Present Tense Fitness (personal training and yoga)
Beaverton: Academia Duellatoria (fencing)
Bend: High desert Armizare (historical European martial arts incl grappling)
Sherwood: NW Armizare (same)
The Dalles: Salvos Training (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga)
Portland: Bold and Badass (strength training/conditioning and self-defense/mixed martial arts)
Portland: Point Gym & Kitchen (strength/agility)
Portland: Kim Stout Fitness (strength)
Portland: Elevation Kinetics (strength)
Portland: Mighty Steady (strength)
Portland: Sweet Momentum Fitness (strength)
Ardmore: Main Line United Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu)
Philadelphia: 8 Limbs Academy (Muay Thai, they offer a class on Monday evenings called "The People's Muay Thai specifically for LGBTQ folks!)
Philadelphia: Algeo MMA (MMA and kickboxing)
Philadelphia: Osagame Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)
Pittsburgh: True Believer Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)
Scranton: Scranton MMA (MMA, Judo, Muay Thai, boxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Cayce: Cayce Martial Arts (kickboxing, martial arts)
Charleston: Devine Jiu Jitsu (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Columbia: Carolina Jiu Jitsu and Judo (Brazilian jiu jitsu, judo)
Austin: Cooper MMA
Austin: Dark Clan Fight Lab
Austin: Fit and Fearless (Krav Maga)
Austin: Krav Maga ATX (Krav Maga)
Austin: Gracie Humaitá Austin (Brazilian jiu jitsu and MMA)
Austin: Austin Kung-Fu Academy (Kung Fu)
Austin: Austin Boxing Babes & Kajukenbo Women Warriors (boxing and kajukenbo)
Austin: Alliance Physical Culture (strength and conditioning)
Austin: Chapter Fitness (personal training/fitness)
Austin: GrassIron (personal training/weight lifting)
Arlington: Arlington Martial Arts (Brazilian jiu jitsu, mixed martial arts)
Katy: Katy BJJ (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
San Antonio: Brazil 021 (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Salt Lake City: Temple MMA (MMA)
North Logan: Logan Tae Kwon Do School (Tae Kwon Do)
Winooski: Combat Fitness Martial Arts Academy (MMA, boxing, kickboxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Chantilly: Silverback Academy (Krav Maga, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, MMA, wrestling, Muay Thai)
Richmond: Richmond Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Self-Defense Academy (Brazilian jiu jitsu, Muay Thai)
Richmond: Revolution BJJ (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Richmond: Upstream BJJ (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Richmond: Richmond Aikido Kai
Woodbridge: Yamasaki Academy Woodbridge (Brazilian jiu jitsu, Muay Thai, MMA)
Pullman: Mantis Martial Arts (capoeira, jiu jitsu, kickboxing, aikido)
Seattle: Foster Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Madison: Foundations BJJ Academy (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Madison: Journey Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ)
Madison: Martial Journeys of Madison (taekwondo)
Madison: Caio Terra Academy Madison (Jiu jitsu)
Bristol: Artemis BJJ (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
Add your gym to the list
Want people to know they're safe training at your gym, no matter what their identity or the color of their skin is? Send a message below and I'll add you to the list ASAP. Please include your gym's website.
What does it mean to be safe to train?
This is a huge topic and I can't possibly do it justice here, but I did want to add a note about it before the contact form. Nobody wants to think that someone is unwelcome at their gym, but even if you're well-meaning you can unintentionally create an unwelcoming environment.
Here are a few tips gym/studio owners and employees can follow to make their gym more inclusive:
NOTE: If you aren't a gym owner but would like to suggest a gym, please either fill out the form (but denote you aren't an owner) or send the form to the gym owner and ask them if they want to fill it out. Due to the nature of this project, I'm not adding gyms without the express permission of the gym owners. Thank you!
Need help finding a gym?
It doesn't have to be so overwhelming!
Gym vetting 101:
One question I've had from a few people as I've been working on this project is where they should even start when looking at gyms. What questions do they need to ask? What should they look for?
It should definitely be noted that I'm still relatively new in the realm of martial arts and am by no means an expert, but here's a few tips that I've found helpful in the past and that have been corroborated by the people I've trained with:
What type of martial arts to study: I am super-duper biased here because Brazilian jiu jitsu is all I train but I love it and I recommend it to everyone. I'm small (5'1") and BJJ is great for smaller people (or people starting out with not a lot of strength) because it focuses on chokes and joint manipulation.
That said, I have also heard good things about Muay Thai and Krav Maga for self defense. Realistically, training anything regularly will have some benefits for self-defense, as a large part of the benefit is being able to overcome flight or fight in the moment and react calmly. Once you've had someone twice your size sitting on you trying to choke you (or coming at you with kicks and punches), it's much easier to keep your cool in real-life situations.
What to look for: Most gyms will allow a free class or a tour, if not more than one (both schools I've trained at offer a free week). When you're checking out your potential gym's website, look for:
When you go to your trial class, ask as many questions as you want. Obviously, you don't want to disrupt class, but the teacher should be willing to answer your questions before or after class as long as you're not interrupting other students. Ask about if people there train primarily for sport, fitness, self-defense, or a combination of the three (and what the teacher's focus is on during the training). If you have any pre-existing health conditions, ask about them and if they'll be a problem during training. If they get frustrated or snappy with you for asking questions, it's probably not going to be a good fit.
What to avoid: If anyone at the gym seems unfriendly or snotty, give it a pass - training martial arts is really humbling because of how difficult it can be, especially at first. The last thing you need as a new student is someone making you feel bad for "failing" when you're still learning the basics.
Your mileage may vary, but I personally look for places that train one or two arts (or at least, have different teachers for the different arts) and I tend to steer away from places that describe themselves as MMA or mixed martial arts. I would much rather train under someone who's been doing BJJ for ten years than someone who's trained four different disciplines for two years each (or even two things for five years each). Additionally, a lot of MMA or UFC-branded places can be pretty bro-y (again, personal experience, your mileage may vary!).
Also, if people are talking about serious injuries like they're an absolute inevitability, that's a red flag. Yes, it is absolutely possible that you will be injured at some point during your training, especially if you decide to pursue it as a sport or do competitions. But if every person you meet is referencing broken bones and dislocations, pay attention. Your goal should be to find a gym that teaches students how to be tactful when training with each other so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of training, not a gym that lets its students beat each other into a pulp.