On Finding a Trainer

To place this story in context, Jimmy Fusaro runs one of the best one-on-one boxing gyms in the country, I train there personally and am impressed not only with his gym but his training methods. He's currently helping me rid myself of the bad habits I've picked up in traditional martial arts over the years, (specifically karate). During our conversations Jimmy mentioned that many of his clients initially received their martial arts training in health clubs, and when they showed up for training, it became apparent they had no skills. Having taught boxing/kickboxing at one of the elite health clubs in New York himself, Jimmy shares his unique insights about finding a good trainer and why you won't find good martial arts instruction at the health club.

Publisher, Realfighting

With Whom Are You Training?
By Jimmy Fusaro

I recently strolled by a popular health club in New York City when I saw an ad in their window about three martial art workouts they were offering; they were called "Power Strike, Urban motion and Gotham Box." Experts in their field I presumed, my curiosity got the better of me and I walked into the club to take a look. I saw someone running to one of these classes with hand wraps, and thought, why would someone bring hand wraps to an aerobic class?

I peeked into the aerobics room and noticed a group of elderly women led by an anorexic instructor demonstrating the latest martial arts moves she learned in her three-hour certification course. This girl couldn't break an egg with her best shot! She couldn't punch or kick to save her life but she had plenty of attitude. The next guy was a flaming ex-cheerleader who probably took the same three-hour course and ripped off Billy Blanks dance classes.

Most exclusive health clubs in New York City teach this stuff as authentic Martial arts, and the sad thing is, the members believe it! I feel sorry for them if they were ever to get into a fight. I know this first hand, since I used to work for one of these exclusive clubs; I was the boxing/kickboxing instructor.

The intra-trainer relationships at these clubs resemble a shark feeding frenzy, and the management actually encourages this. The politics that goes on behind closed doors is almost as bad as the U.N. One instructor I knew was notorious for peeking through the window while you were teaching your class, and he would steal your routine and present it as his to the management. Before you knew it he was replacing you.

The way they let you know your class has been cancelled is when you don't see your name on the roster for the next month; and the guy who stole your routine has your spot.

I used to laugh when managers would tell me this is not a fighting gym so don't try to make it one, then a few minutes later introduce me to a client who wants to learn how to defend himself/herself, and say, "you'd better do a good job because I sold her a 20-pack."

I never got along with the typical slackers working at the health club, I'm a pro and that's the last thing they want around. The only thing that saved me (for a while) were my skills, and I quickly built an extensive client list.Before long management asked me to teach the other trainers, show my skills, teach them how to wrap hands, how to punch correctly, how to kick without hyper-extending their knees. Little did I know I was training my replacements!

When the cardio-kickboxing craze exploded I knew my time at the health club would be ending soon. While still there, I opened up my own place. It had a simple ring, bags, gloves and we offered hard sparring. After that I moved to a building in Mineola, right next store to a martial arts school. Ray Longo, the owner helped me a lot and I still call him today for advice. I also recommend him to anyone seeking a trainer in the long Island area.

By 1999, I was tired of teaching at the health club and dealing with all the politics. The managers urged my students not to follow me for obvious monetary reasons. But I had a dream, and that was to open a facility where I could provide good training without being interrupted.

I also wanted to do something that was unheard of in the industry; that is, run an efficient boxing gym offering professional services, with locker rooms and clean bathrooms/showers, new equipment, and most important of all, one-on-one training, where the trainer spends a full hour with his client, and no people hanging around!

I couldn't believe I was the first one to think of this; and even to this day new clients coming in are not only impressed but also shocked that a gym like mine exists. I get most of my clients through referrals. The phone rings, we chat for a while, I find out if the person wants to learn to fight or just get into shape.

Once the big day arrives the new client comes though the door, I greet them and ask them to read and sign my wavier. I show them around the facility including the bathroom and showers. I want the client to feel as comfortable as possible, which makes for an easy segue into training. I always wrap their hands personally (and I mean everybody's hands, I want to make sure their done right.)

I start all my clients with warm ups, anything is fine depending on their condition or experience and what they want to accomplish. I start by showing them proper stance, working with balance, and just starting them off with basic moves. If someone has experience I usually request they do some shadow boxing, I can tell a lot from that.

I usually start them off with the jab and then move them to the bags, and then to mitt work in the ring, finishing off the session with double bag work and some ab work. Wraps off, session done, nice work! Now I don't profess to be the best trainer in the world but I would like to be considered one of the good ones. My background? 23-years of Boxing, Kickboxing, Olympic lifting, plyometrics, muaythai, wing chun, and I'm still learning.

There will always be people making outrageous claims, and you won't know the difference, so do your research. Many people walk through my doors and tell me they have experience and have trained before and when I ask them with whom, and what their qualifications are, I hear the funniest stories, lines that would make even a comedian laugh.

Here are some of them:
My trainer is Golden Gloves, (or ex-Golden Gloves).
What does that mean? Do you know how many thousands of Golden Gloves contenders there are? Golden Gloves does not equal pro!

My trainer is semi-pro!
There is no such thing as semi-pro, it doesn't exist!

I trained with master so-and-so!
Well did you spar with the master?
No, master doesn't spar; he only fights to the death!

I trained at the health club in their "get tough" program.
You can train all your life in a health club, but you won't be able to fight!

I'm not asking these questions to be mean, I just want to get an idea of what they've done, if they've trained with someone I know it helps me out. A good trainer needs to know what you've done so he can start molding you into the fighter you want to be.

So whom are you training with? Is it a flaming x-cheerleader, or some new-age guru, a grizzled old veteran, or a personal trainer who is an ex-Golden Gloves? What are you looking for?Traditional Martial Arts, Boxing, MuayThai? I hope you know what you want! Nothing is worse than paying for something you didn't want to start with anyway.

Once you've figured out your goals, make a list of all the training centers and visit each one of them. Check out the facilities, the fees, the attitude of the instructor. But don't expect to pay bottom dollar for a well-run, well-kept facility. There seems to be this myth in martial arts/sports that it should be cheap, well in martial arts as well as life, you get what you pay for.

When hiring a private trainer, go over everything; price, time, location, method of payment. Is he reliable, are you? How did you hear of him, were you referred? Most of my clients are referrals from other client's so they have an idea of what they're getting into.

Make sure the two of you are in sync. Be sure you like him as a person, nothing is worse than training and paying someone you don't like! Also don't try to bargain after you start training, be like a professional.

If this person fits the expertise you're looking for and has answered every question to your satisfaction, and schedules are compatible, and you've got the money, then start right away.

So "whom are you training with?" Some health club slacker who doesn't even understand how to wrap your hands or a professional trainer. An ex-Golden Gloves contender or Master Woo, who only fights to the death?


Jimmy Fusaro runs X-FIT Gym in New York City, a one-on-one training facility for boxing, kickboxing and physical conditioning. He was formerly the boxing and kickboxing instructor for Equinox Fitness in NYC.
X-FIT is located at: 28 West 27th, Street, NYC.
You can reach him at: www.xfittraining.com
or call X-FIT at: 212-725-7991