Franco Kickboxing & Pankration
Numerical ratings, although objective, don't tell the whole story.
Point by point:
The school used to have an actual fight team, now it's just regular members who compete in local tournaments, and a couple for Ring Fights. I think it's around 10-15 that regularly compete, just in the adults. I think kids is around 6-10, but both are just rough guesses, and it varies each time. There are a couple tournaments where only 2 of us were out there.
In terms of aliveness, the number reflects what it is now, not how it was when I started. Because of the lack of space, it's much harder to fit sparring in so it happens much less.
Equipment is sold at the gym, and there are some communal gloves and pads that can be used. The rating here is also pretty accurate here.
The gym size... relative to the number of students, is horrible. It's commercial space, but it's small commercial space. When the classes were about half the size, I still felt cramped. I don't like having mirrors on both sides. I've talked to some people who really like the mirrors though. Either way, sometimes you'll only have a square meter to yourself, sometimes more.
Instructor to student ratio varies, depending on the class. With the striking classes it's either 1 instructor, or 1 instructor with 1 assistant. With the grappling classes it's 1 instructor with 1 to 3 assistants.
The atmosphere is pretty good, there have been the odd problems, but overall I'm happy with it.
In terms of striking, I didn't do many of the classes. When I started it was the striking classes that were more packed, and I liked my room to move, so I never attended them. Now the classes have gone from 2 to 3, so advanced kickboxing has a few students with a lot of room to move. Intermediate has some room to move and sparring depending on the class size. Beginners is pretty packed, and no sparring, so it's alright not having as many students. Instruction wise, my striking isn't really good enough to be able to comment one way or the other, but it has improved since training there and in my opinion it's good.
Grappling instruction took a hit. With striking classes going from 2 to 3. Grappling went from 2 to 1. I don't think it was exactly the same time that it happened, but that's the gist of it. There used to be a beginner's grappling class. Now it's everyone in one level. And it's cramped. Also, with it being a small space it's limited. It's not feasible to do the kind of takedown training I did when I was wrestling. The mirrors also make it risky. Mirrors are definitely much better suited to striking than grappling. Also, with 1 level, it's hard to find a good balance between teaching beginners and more advanced students. Sometimes you'll have beginners working on things they really have no business learning. It sucks to be learning the godfather sweep when you don't know half guard, or even full guard for that matter. Seems to be standard in grappling. I remember having the same experience going to Marcus Soares' and learning an advanced shoulder lock from guard (the one Mir used on Williams... I still don't know the name for it), without knowing armbars or kimuras. It'd be cool if they still had the beginner's submission wrestling class. Standing work is pretty hard to do, some ground work is too. When Dan Rizzuto had us doing sitouts, we were smacking into each other. Not fun. Standup wise, takedowns are almost always a no-no, there'd need to be about 1/5th the people in the class with the space available. With the influx of students, the instructor to student ratio went down, and the space available went down with it. It was good with the space available before, people heard about it, signed up, now it's just a lot harder. Grappling wise, my skills took a trade. My takedowns are crap compared to when I wrestled in high school, my ground skills have shot through the roof. From the knees I can outwrestle my old coach, standing up, I doubt I'd land a single takedown anymore. Franco is very knowledgeable, he brings in very good instructors like Dan Rizzuto and Paul Lazenby, and there are several top notch grapplers to practice with and learn from. As far as no gi grappling goes, the instruction is very good. In terms of a wrestling skill set, there just isn't the space.
There is no weapons instruction. It's no longer in the new schedule but there are still people calling in asking about the weapons program. There's apparently knife defense, but I've never seen it so I can't comment on that. The self defense class isn't something I'd be eager to do. Franco can make the stuff he teaches work, I wouldn't be confident trying it though, and I wouldn't recommend by girlfriend take it if she were looking at self defense. The whole way it's taught goes against my MMA instincts. I guess it's there for people who can't stomach MMA type training.
The kid's program actually works a lot better. There are a good number of assistant instructors for the classes, and he has an advanced kids class. The students in that class help out and participate in the regular classes so the entire program benefits. Instruction is also much more constant, despite the high number of assistant instructors, Franco or Mighty are usually there the whole time. There are also 2 levels and 2 age groups. Beginner and advanced and 5-9 and 10-14. The beginners only work on basics. The advanced students do a mix. The kids also individually take up about 1/3rd of the space adults do, and there are less students total in the class. For the size of the gym, the kids class sizes are quite good. Instruction is distributed well according to skill levels. The way it's set up makes me envious.
The cardio program, aside from being cramped is also very good. The workout is very intense, and the lack of space doesn't end up being a huge problem. With the sweat that is worked up, the lack of shower facilities are a bit of a problem if you don't have a car. It would sometimes take me an hour to get home from where it is, with only one bus going by. If you've got a car and can get home in 20 minutes it's not such a big deal.
Compared to the way it was when I started, in 2005. If I were to walk into a different gym, without any background experience, I wouldn't be that impressed. At times it's like being on the skytrain when someone just tried to commit suicide. Subtract half the students from the roster (preferably the less serious ones), and it'd be quite a bit better. If lack of space bothers you, and you're claustraphobic, it's probably not for you, a couple guys have left because of the space. If you're fine in crowded areas, then it might not be a problem. With grappling you can get extra space with the Friday open mat time, and with striking if you train long enough you get into the intermediate and advanced classes with more space.
The bus schedule of the 8 also really sucks. With the last class, it ends just at the right time that by the time you're finished, the bus has just gone by and it switches from running regularly to running every half hour. With class ending at 9:45, you're waiting until about 10:15-10:20 until it gets there. I used to get home just around midnight. Most people who train there have cars. If you're not within about 20 minutes walking distance, I'd recommend you have one too. 90 minutes by bus, 2 ways, plus sometimes an extra 30 minute wait before getting on the bus... that'll wear you down after a while. If this doesn't apply to you, that's fine, but if it does, I have to point out how much the transit sucks. Even the 41 isn't good, at that time half the 41s just go to Crown instead of all the way to UBC. Inconveniently, it also happens to be the Crown bus that comes by after class finishes, so that's 30-40 minutes to wait for a UBC one. 25 also runs every half hour at that point, and both of them are a 10 block walk away. Going east isn't much better. I've walked home from there to Metrotown and it didn't take me much longer than transit. Location isn't in the rating, but it's important nonetheless. It really started wearing on me after 3 years. Scheduling no longer works for me anyway, with school and work, but thinking about how brutal the trip to and from the gym was, I'm not so keen on trying to make that work. They used to have lunch time classes... buses are much more frequent then. 8 runs every 10 minutes, and there's both the 41 and 43 running which are both quite frequent, and again the 25 is also every 10 minutes. No 41 to just Crown BS either. Depending on where you're going, travel time is about half at lunch. Pity there aren't any regular lunch classes anymore.