Precision MMA (Lagrange, NY)
Precision MMA, run by Brian McLaughlin
1097 Route 55
Lagrange, NY 12540
Brian McLaughlin is arguably the best BJJ black belt in my area of the Hudson Valley. He has a respectable MMA record, and a fairly impressive BJJ competition record as well. As I will describe in this review, it is my opinion that he runs a good MMA school that is tainted by unsettling marketing practices and too much salesmanship. All I can do to describe this opinion is relay my personal experience.
I visited (and reviewed) the previous incarnation of this gym a long time ago, when McLaughlin was running it under the name Hudson Valley Jiu-Jitsu in a different location. The short version is that I thought they trained hard, with good instructors, but it was too far away and I thought it was run more like an amateur club than like a well-oiled school. (That opinion was informed by my wrongheaded and deprecated opinion about how a professional gym should look.) Unfortunately, it seems that McLaughlin has oiled some parts of the operation too well.
First, the training is solid. This nuts-and-bolts description of classes is accurate. They offer muay Thai, Western boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and MMA classes for kids and adults. They have classes seven days a week, including evening, midday, and morning classes, and different classes for beginners and more advanced students.
The facilities are fairly impressive. They have lots of mat space, a boxing ring and several bags (heavy, Thai, speed), padded walls, and a crash mat for once-weekly judo. The only real downside I saw is that the mat material is of a kind of foam that is more grippy than I'm used to, which is fine for sparring but bad when doing shrimping drills.
Classes are run well. Generally there is a brief warm-up appropriate to the type of class (pummeling, shrimping, and rolls for BJJ, jumping rope and footwork drills for Thai boxing, et cetera). They usually show two to four techniques, sometimes do some positional sparring, then spar for several rounds.
That being said about the good training, I must address some problems with the way the school presents itself.
Precision MMA has more than one website, some of which are outdated, and none of which match the name of the school to the URL. Specifically, in trying to find the place, I found:
Now, my requirements of a MA school website are few, and simple. All I need is:
- To know I’m looking at the right site (so show me the address, the name of the school, and the name of the instructor)
- The schedule, because I want to show up and train
- A phone number (maybe)
These should be the top priority of the website. If the website has the name of the instructor and gym, and the address and schedule are posted prominently, I show up. Done. New student. Everything else isn't gravy, it’s vomit. It’s vomit covering the turkey dinner of training. Unfortunately for McLaughlin, there was a maze of websites disagreeing on the name of his school, and all of these websites looked like an ad for an overpriced DVD. The information I needed was not available, or hidden behind internet marketing crap.
Instead of a schedule, the websites have auto-play video that treats me like an idiot and gimmicky highlighting and they want me to get a free training video and sign up for the newsletter. Guess what? You don’t want me watching videos and signing up for the newsletter. You want me to show up. Why throw barriers like a phone call or email sign-up between me sitting at home and me walking in your door? If I were advising McLaughlin, I would tell him to delete all but one website for his gym as soon as possible.
Precision MMA's website approach is not just disjointed, it’s disrespectful. Its target audience is neckbearded nerds with the mental capacity of a Stormtrooper interrogating Obi-Wan. Going there makes me feel like McLaughlin thinks I am weak-minded. Treat me like a person who wants to train with you, not like a marketing target. These Lloyd-Irvin-style websites scream “I AM TRYING TO TAKE YOUR MONEY” to me and the everyone else who doesn't appreciate pressure sales.
The website thing wouldn't be such a big deal--plenty of schools have silly websites--but the walking-wallet treatment continues when you show up to train. Instead of trial classes, you get a sales pitch “consultation”. And get this: I **** you not, there are no physical schedules. I guess they don't want someone coming in, grabbing a schedule, and leaving without entering the sales cycle. This means I've been there for weeks, I've signed up as a student, I've paid money, and I’m still without a printed schedule. I’m flabbergasted. They literally do not have any copies of a class schedule that I can put on my fridge (or in the hand of my friend who might also want to train).
Moreover, the school gives you two options for signing up, as they will tell you after your one-on-one private lesson consultation:
- Sign up the same day as your “consultation” and get a free gi, gloves, and headgear.
- Take a 30-day trial, but you don’t get the gear and you have to pay a $190 registration fee.
This is separate from the three options for paying. The way they present it is a little confusing, which if you’re familiar with pressure sales you’ll recognize is a feature in their minds, not a bug. There is no month-to-month option. You must commit to a 6 month contract under one of the following:
- $0 down, $179 a month (which is $1074 total)
- $150 down, $154 a month (which is $1074 total )
- Six months lump payment: $774 all at once (which is $129 a month)
The calculations in parentheses are mine, and not part of the pitch. I omitted the steaming piles of horseshit that they throw at you when they explain this: “FREE Technique video ($20 value)!”, et cetera. Remember, this is a 6-month contract, and you haven't had the chance to try a regular class.
I really wanted a month-to-month option, or a 3-month option, or a cash option, or a lump-sum credit card payment option that didn't involve the billing company auto-renewing me. I've heard enough stories about people getting injured, cancelling the contract, and getting stuck with another month or four of payments. I am willing to pay extra for these alternatives, but Precision MMA made none of them possible.
I wanted to do at least one class before committing a thousand dollars and six months of my training time. I reluctantly went for the 30 day trial, seeing that the $190 registration fee was essentially a slightly increased monthly fee. (I already have a gi and boxing gear, so I don't mind too much that I missed out on them.) However, there was a (benevolent) bait-and-switch: their strategy is to wait about a week into the 30 days, then offer to waive the registration fee if you sign up then instead of waiting the full 30 days. This is what I wanted originally: a chance to, you know, try class before making a 6-month commitment. I was happy, but still felt like I had been tricked. They intentionally withheld information from me.
I wish Precision MMA had just been up-front with me. I wish they had used simpler numbers, and presented them simply, instead of this obvious attempt to exploit innumeracy and the lack of a calculator at hand. I wish McLaughlin and his instructors didn't try to hide things from prospective students at every step, to trick consumers with convoluted membership and payment options. I wish he would be confident enough in the services he provides, in the competence of his instruction, in his facilities and program, to just let people try it. It would work, because he has a quality gym.
I want to train with them. They have good jiu-jitsu, good boxing, plenty of training partners, and a clean space. I signed up because I want to learn from them, but I am frustrated that they insist on using such demeaning sales tactics. Their payment structure is clearly not for my benefit. If it was, then they would have the option for a higher month-to-month rate or other alternatives in addition to multi-month contracts. It's clear that the goal is to provide maximum benefit and convenience to the school.
An aside: I have a hunch as to where this marketing bullshit is coming from. McLaughlin has mentioned attending several internet marketing and Lloyd Irvin seminars. Some of these may be martial-arts-related, but I suspect at least a few were BJJ-marketing seminars where one pays thousands of dollars for advice on how to extract more money from your students, how to treat people like walking dollar signs, how to make money from quick-and-dirty over-hyped instructionals and cookie-cutter websites. I have enormous respect for Lloyd Irvin’s martial arts accomplishments, and those of his students, and for McLaughlin. I have zero respect for Irvin's hucksterism, which degrades the quality of the internet and accentuates the worst aspects of the martial arts business. There’s nothing wrong with making money from martial arts; but it’s important to do it with respect for the people we’re doing business with, and to avoid deceiving or manipulating them.
However, the training is great. Precision MMA has well-run classes and plenty of them. The instruction is good, the facility is good, there’s copious drilling, friendly training partners, blue belts and purple belts and boxers with fights under their belts and kickboxers with championship belts on their waists, and well-enforced hygiene rules. If you can stand the sales pitch, it’s good martial arts.
Here’s the question Mr. McLaughlin needs to ask himself: does he value his students as people, or as wallets to pump? He’s already got our money. So far he is doing his best to prevent himself from getting our trust as consumers.