December 26, 2019

BJJ Gym Review: BJJ Swamp Academy

In this post we review the strengths and weaknesses of one of Gainesville's finest BJJ gyms: Swamp Academy BJJ.

BJJ Gym Review: BJJ Swamp Academy

Welcome to another new post series!  This series was recommended by my coach, Ken, at Swamp Academy  and I felt it was a good opportunity to document some of my experiences.  Since I am a young student, I tend to travel to other towns to visit family, vacation, or for work opportunities.  One of my favorite things to do when staying in an area for a couple weeks is to visit the various BJJ gyms to explore different instructor's styles.  This series will hopefully provide insight into the various gyms I visit, give customers an idea of the environment, and provide publicity for the quality BJJ gyms in the area.  First up is my home gym, BJJ Swamp Academy!

Gym Information

Address: 3300 SW Archer Rd #100 Gainesville, FL 32607

Website: https://www.bjjswampacademy.com/

Email: bjjswampacademy@gmail.com

Phone: (352) 284 6563

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bjjswampacademy/

Quality and Style of Instruction

Summary:

  • Credentials: The head instructor, Ken, has decades of experience in BJJ and comes from a respected lineage.
  • Instructional Style: Varies depending on instructor, typically 2 to 3 fourths drilling and the remaining time is spent rolling.
  • Length of Class: 45 minutes to an hour
  • BJJ Classes Offered: Gi and NoGi, Beginner or Advanced, some kids classes
  • Weaknesses: My personal standup training has been mainly done in the wrestling class
  • Overall Ranking: 9/10

One of the most important qualities in a gym is a solid foundation for teaching techniques.  Swamp Academy is no slouch in this department, housing many knowledgeable and friendly people.  The head instructor, Kenneth Panagiotakos, is a black belt under Pablo and Jorge Popovitch.  He has over seventeen years of BJJ experience, with over ten years of competition experience.  Needless to say, Ken has a wealth of experience to share with his students.  

Swamp Academy offers both Gi and NoGi BJJ classes.  The style of teaching at Swamp Academy is what most people would expect from a martial arts gym.  At the beginning of class the students move through warmup and stretching exercises.  After stretching completes a movement is shown, with various elements of the technique explained through the progression.  Typically, multiple variations of a move will be shown for different skill levels or body types.  After showing the move multiple times and answering questions, the students break off to drill the movement.  During drilling, Ken will walk around to answer questions or aid students with the movement.  This progression will occur 2-4 times during a one hour class, depending on how many moves are shown in the class.  Finally, the last 15-25 minutes of a class are reserved for rolling (live sparring).

First and foremost, Ken displays the highest level of enthusiasm for the sport I have seen.  His style of teaching is a mix of "if this, do this" and explaining the fundamental idea of each position.  This style of teaching, in my opinion, builds a strong base of knowledge which allows students to understand the why a move works.  Various techniques are shown, ranging from highly advanced to basic (depending on the class).  Explanations of the techniques include statements about the application of the move to competition (more on this in atmosphere).  Finally, there is a split between advanced and beginner classes for both Gi and NoGi.

One quality of Ken's which I value highly in an instructor is his ability to show moves for the purpose of developing skills like movement.  In the past he has said the technique shown is not necessarily going to "work" and the main purpose is to develop the student's ability to move and understand how their body moves.  This is a very common technique used in sports and academics.  A simplified version of something is presented to open the mind of the student, allowing them to better understand more difficult concepts quicker when they are taught in the future.  To me, this is the mark of an excellent instructor as it reveals their expertise in the subject.

Along with Ken's teaching many other higher belts choose to teach classes at the school.  This is a great opportunity to learn from different people with different styles and body types.  Many of these classes are taught once or twice a week, and allow students to be exposed to many different teaching styles.  Also, every now and again a higher belt will give a seminar class.  These classes are gold mines of knowledge as they typically are a crash course through many different positions, moves, and ideas.

One area where I believe Swamp Academy may be lacking standup training.  For a beginner or hobbyist, this is not a big deal as rolls will begin sitting unless both students want to do standup.  Also, while gearing up for competition the focus on standup is increased.  This is not meant to imply there is no standup training at Swamp Academy, but there is less of a focus than some other gyms.  Of course, standup training highly depends on the classes you attend (due to space) and the instructor teaching the class.  For students who would like to train standup, there is a Wednesday wrestling class which is highly valuable for standup training.

Overall, Swamp Academy is a great outlet for new or old BJJ practitioners to train and improve their skills.  The instruction quality is phenomenal and allows hobbyists and competitors to thrive.

Atmosphere

Summary:

  • General Atmosphere: Laid-back or highly competitive depending on the student.
  • Competition Requirements: Competition is not required, but many in the school choose to compete.
  • Inclusiveness: Extremely friendly and helpful people who are happy to help anyone.
  • Gym Aesthetics: Very nice aesthetics around the gym.
  • Cleanliness: Standard cleaning of matts & requirements to be clean.
  • Overall Ranking: 10/10

Hands down the most appealing thing about Swamp Academy for me is the atmosphere and community.  Due to the population of practitioners in the gym there are subgroups of training partners for hobbyists and competitors.  Some days you'll want to go hard when rolling, while other days you'll want a relaxed training session where you just move and flow.  There are training partners for each of these styles, allowing you to decide how to build your training experience.

With regards to competition, Ken uses it as a tool to accelerate growth in students who want to get better quickly.  There is no official requirement of competition to progress through the belt ranks or to train at the gym.  Personally, I earned three stripes prior to competing for the first time.  This allows those who do not care for the competition aspect to train without worry of being harassed to compete.  For those who do want to compete Ken has techniques to ensure you are prepared, and will support you during the competition if possible (cornering, psychological advice, etc).

Of all the aspects of a community inclusion of those outside the community is the most important for facilitating a growth environment.  Coming into the gym you will be instantly greeted by Ken.  For me, this interaction was semi-formal until after the necessary paperwork and waivers were signed to train.  Immediately after this occurred it felt as if the gym were my new home.  Every training partner I met at Swamp Academy was friendly, introducing themselves and providing assistance in any way they can.  As with other things discussed, there are enough people at the gym such that you can find the training partners you enjoy training with the most!

Another standout quality of Swamp Academy's atmosphere are the aesthetics around the gym.  Of the gyms I have seen or trained at there are none which have decorations as pleasing.  Plus, there are chalk board walls which have the current schedule and moves of the week!  Ken also makes a point to sweep and clean the mats on a regular schedule to ensure the gym maintains a quality standard of cleanliness.

Price

Summary:

  • Lowest price gym I have trained at so far.
  • Free Gi when signing up for 2 months
  • Overall Ranking: 10/10

Simply put, Swamp Academy is the most affordable gym I have trained at so far.  Other gyms can range from $140-200/mo for the services they provide.  As of Dec 2019, Swamp Academy gives a bargain base rate of $110/mo when paying for a month at a time.  Apart from this rate, there are shorter/longer term contracts which can vary the monthly rate from person to person.  As always, with prices it is best to discuss in person to find the right fit for you!

Mat Space

Summary:

  • Allows for ~15 pairs of people to roll at a time.
  • Sometimes hinders ability to do standup in larger classes.
  • Can feel cramped at times due to high popularity of the gym.
  • Medium size: not massive, but not small
  • Overall Ranking: 7/10

The mat space at Swamp Academy is more than enough for training jiu jitsu.  Of the gyms I have been to, Swamp Academy is a medium sized gym.  It does not have the grand mat space that you would find at a large gym, but it does not often feel cramped.  Overall, with the amount of people in each class mat space is never truly a problem except at very populated classes.  Ken is also beginning to create solutions to this by splitting popular classes into multiple separate times.

Misc

Summary:

  • Physical Therapy: Numerous foam rollers, resistance bands, and other PT devices
  • Other Classes: Kickboxing/Muay Thai, Wrestling, and SwampFit (fitness, flexibility, and balance exercises)
  • Miscelanious Misc Items: Weighing scale, heavy bags, boxing pads, coffee, etc are provided.

If the previous sections weren't enough to convince you to try out Swamp Academy, there is more!  Apart from BJJ classes there are a plethora of other benefits to being a member of the gym.  Variety classes such as kickboxing/muai thai, wrestling, and fitness exist to allow anyone to find a niche they enjoy.  Also, almost all items in the gym are free for the members to use at their leisure.  This includes things such as PT devices (foam rollers, resistance bands, etc), other MMA related items (heavy bags, pads, a digital scale, etc), and last but not least COFFEE!

Summary

As you can probably tell from this review, I love my home gym.  I began training on a whim with no expectations for the sport.  Had someone told me I would end up training practically every day, thinking about jiu jitsu all the time, and competing I would have called them crazy.  In large part I believe this occurred due to the communities I experienced when I was a beginner, and Swamp Academy is the largest influencer.

If you made it this far through the review, thank you for taking the time to read!  With 2020 right around the corner it is a perfect time to try something new and give jiu jitsu a try.  If you are in the Gainesville area I highly recommend Swamp Academy as your first stop in the jiu jitsu journey.  See you on the mats!