Review of SASSOM MMA, a BJJ/Striking/Martial Arts and Gym in Brisbane, Australia

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This is a fairly long review of my months of training at SASSOM MMA, a martial arts gym in Brisbane, Australia.

Short answer — I loved my time at SASSOM MMA and recommend it to anyone who wants to get started in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or MMA.

When looking for a gym near me in Brisbane, I came across SASSOM MMA and Fitness.

I had wanted to start learning BJJ / MMA as something to move on from after getting bored with general fitness classes. I had always wanted to do martial arts, and thought it’d be a great way to travel and meet people.

Note: editing this article a couple of years later, it has been. See my article on tips and tricks for visiting other gyms.

I couldn’t find out much about it on Reddit or in online reviews — although I noted SASSOM had a 4.9-star rating on Google Maps.

I stayed in the area for two periods, each a month at a time. In that period, I really came to like SASSOM and the people there. So, it’s time I do a review so other people know what to think.

In between my two times at SASSOM, I was at Fusion Fight and Fitness in Cairns. See my review of Fusion here.

Chris East and the morning gang at Fusion
Chris East and the morning gang at Fusion

About me quickly

Just for context, this is a quick blurb around me. Prior to SASSOM, I hadn’t done any martial arts, other than a bit of TKD as a kid.

By the end of my training at SASSOM, I was a four-stripe white belt with what I considered to be a way to go until blue. (I’ve since gotten the blue belt, and also since started to focus a lot more on no-gi and MMA.)

I’ve also done a lot of powerlifting, and have used the lifting racks at SASSOM for a month.

I’m generally fit from a history of CrossFit and have visited a ton of gyms in the past, so I’ve spoken to a lot of gym owners.

About SASSOM overall

Marcus Collings started his first SASSOM gym in an independent space in 2005. He’s since relocated once, and owns the property that it’s built in.

Marcus has been in the general “fitness” industry for ages. He was early in CrossFit, as well as in general powerlifting and a range of martial arts disciplines.

These days he’s a second degree (as of 2022) BJJ Black Belt, which means he can award black belts as needed. He used to compete regionally in MMA. So, the focus of the gym is decidedly MMA — the striking classes mention takedowns, and the BJJ classes sometimes mention what you can do when you’re holding someone down.

On the ground floor, there’s a full weightlifting room with cable machines and five barbell racks with plates. Marcus used to be involved in CrossFit in Australia in the early days (though I don’t remember the details he told me!). He doesn’t do that anymore, but he knows all the people, the moves, and the style.

Upstairs, there’s the martial arts room, with padded floors and walls and bags on one side. There’s a ring in the corner.

And upstairs is where all the action happens. If you come in to train downstairs and there’s a class, there’ll be a lot of thunder upstairs from people hitting bags and rolling around on the floor. Many of the downstairs weights room users are training in support of their MMA work.

So — in case you missed it in the name, SASSOM is an MMA gym.

One consequence of SASSOM being an MMA gym is that it’s light on formality. There’s no bowing in or out. There are no Thai greetings at the end of any Muay Thai style classes. I like this!

Oh, and by the way, SASSOM stands for something. I can’t remember what. One coach told me, and he only learned what it meant after a year of working there! I just remember that it’s a bunch of personal qualities that define someone trying to get better.

The SASSOM BJJ gym

SASSOM MMA training space with air conditioning web
SASSOM MMA training room. It’s big and air-conditioned.

When I first joined SASSOM, they principally had two black belts (maybe more, but I didn’t come across them in the evening class that I started in). There’s Shawn King, the head coach, and Marcus Collings, the owner. Marcus is very present in evening classes, especially with newbies, but I rarely see him in the other classes.

Since then, SASSOM has acquired quite a few new black belts, some through promotion, and some moving across from other gyms. I’ve rolled with quite a few purple, brown, and black belts in the morning and midday classes.

The different coaches have different approaches.

Shawn considers himself “old school”, even though he’s not old (actually, he’s a year younger than I am). But he really prioritises reps and mat time and tries to make sure everyone gets that. Warm ups with him are brief / non-existent; it’s often straight into positional sparring.

I definitely see Alistair (another younger coach, currently purple belt as of 2022, and has now moved to Melbourne to train at Absolute MMA) with a similar attitude.

SASSOM is quite unique in that it has really frequent morning, midday, and evening classes. Morning classes are mostly white and blue belts. Midday classes gets the full spectrum of white through black — though the whites are experienced whites with a couple of stripes.

And evening classes are the busiest and get the full spectrum too, including the absolute rookie white belts. When I want to practise some new moves, I go to an evening class and train with the beginners. That’s where I can work on things I can’t pull off during a roll with a more experienced practitioner, where things are going faster.

I thought that many gyms would have morning and midday classes. But since leaving SASSOM and especially since leaving Australia, I’ve realised that most martial arts gyms only have evening classes. The huge range of classes SASSOM offers is quite special.

Apart from preferring smaller groups, one thing I like about the morning and midday classes is that I get to roll with everyone. I rarely roll with people above purple belt (there’s not much point at my level), but it’s nice to have the blue and purples as options.

In the evening classes at SASSOM, white belts are separated from the coloured belts. That’s good for most people — it’s good for the coloured belts, and good for the beginner white belts. But it’s sometimes a bit boring as I feel unqualified to teach anyone anything (I will inevitably teach something wrong — it happened to me), and yet at the same time it can be like sparring against a wet rag.

SASSOM people / Community

Dana and Shawn King at SASSOM MMA web
Me and head coach Shawn at SASSOM MMA

Firstly, people at SASSOM are strong, but nice.

Like all gyms, there are some over-competitive white belts who go a little too hard. That’s fine; learning how to control a white belt who “spazzes out” a bit too hard is part of the game. I don’t like being kicked in the head, but honestly that happens with people from every level.

But most people at the gym have a nice balance of trying to learn and improve and also putting reasonable pressure on. When rolling with the white belts at the gym, if I have a good defence, they rarely push it too hard — they switch out and try something else if they know they’re stuck. I like that!

I admit I have been intimidated to roll against 100 kg walls of muscle covered in tattoos. But I learned pretty quickly that they’re just nice people. They’re not there to hurt me, but to learn. If I feel a little cautious, I’ll say something disarming (of myself) like “Hey why don’t we train this thing — I suck at it and need practise” and then hey presto, they usually admit they suck at something and need practise too, and it defines the mood as two people trying to get better.

Gyms like SASSOM are quite driven by the personality of the owner, and that’s one aspect where SASSOM is wonderful. Marcus is a very experienced martial arts practitioner and coach. He used to compete in MMA and has a second-degree black belt in BJJ, which means he can promote others to black belt.

But on top of the experience, Marcus is a gregarious, friendly guy, who accommodates people with all kinds of schedules and constraints, people with limited time, no experience, and so on. When I met him a couple of weeks after starting, he was shocked that he had never met me. I wasn’t shocked; why would the owner of a business be shocked he hadn’t met the newest of hundreds of members? (It just turned out I had started going to classes during a period when he was away.)

I took some private classes with Marcus, too, learning the absolute basics that everyone else seems to know, and he’s patient and encouraging. I was worried he’d be way beyond my level, but in my 30 minutes each time I came away with a lot to learn.

And rolling with the upper belts is the usual spread of things. The purple-black belts just toy with me. I’m like an 80 kg ball of yarn dancing in the air. Some of them go slow and try to give me opportunities, and some just sub me more than once a minute. It’s always an education, anyway.

The Striking/MMA side of SASSOM

As I mentioned above, I really like that SASSOM is an MMA gym.

In that sense, it’s not a boxing gym or a Muay Thai gym. If you’re after learning one of those disciplines in isolation, you can, but that’s not the orientation of SASSOM.

When you train grappling at this gym, you quickly learn that there are other dimensions to consider outside jiu jitsu — wrestling, and striking someone when they’re on the ground.

Similarly, in striking classes, while a lot of the emphasis is on striking technique and footwork, there are mentions of takedowns.

The people who train striking have extensive experience both in grappling, too. For example, one striking teacher, Shawn, was a Karate black belt before even touching MMA, and also is a BJJ black belt.

The other main coach in striking is Alistair, who is a purple belt in BJJ and a regular competitor on the national scene. (He has now moved on to Absolute in Melbourne.)

A Well Managed Building

I’ve visited a lot of gyms, and one surprising detail is how well-managed the SASSOM gym is.

Unlike most gyms, Marcus owns the building in which SASSOM runs. He’s also a very hands-on guy and takes care of his property.

What this means is that it’s quite a well-maintained physical space. This is no “globo gym”! All the equipment works, the showers are always clean, the air conditioner keeps the gym nice and cool even in the hot sub-tropical climate, and everything is always tidy.

The water coolers produce cool water, the floor is always clean… need I go on? It’s not fancy like a resort, but it’s 100% functional. It may seem trivial, but all this makes for a good experience. I’ve been to lots of gyms with tatty equipment, mess around the weight racks, and so on.

But air conditioning in a martial arts gym! This is really special! It’s also quite expensive to run, which is why Marcus installed solar panelling on the building. He also personally installed the air conditioning, something he proudly told me (rightfully so, that’s quite a skill).

What other people say about SASSOM MMA

Aside from me, I speak to other members of the gym — especially the ones that come from far away.

They say there’s quite a lot that makes SASSOM special. A few of these things are:

  1. More classes than at other gyms, which might just have (for example) evenings and mornings, but no midday
  2. A culture of more sparring — some gyms tend to focus a lot on drilling
  3. Weekend open mat times that other gyms don’t have

These factors make people choose SASSOM despite driving a long way – one black belt drives 35 minutes.

There are many good gyms in Brisbane city, so knowing that SASSOM stands out is special.

Wrap up

Like I said, I’ve loved my time at SASSOM MMA.

I’m not sure when I’ll be next back in Brisbane but given my family live here, I’ll be back some time!

After my second stint at SASSOM MMA, I moved to Mauritius to experience life there, and to train with Jaunbocus Tawfiq at his academy, AJT.

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