A nondescript brick building sits next to the Starbucks and CVS on York Boulevard.
At the back of the building are two industrial-sized garage doors, leading into a large loft space that has been converted into a training facility.
The doors are kept wide open during classes, with the breeze keeping patrons cool as they sweat and toil under the tutelage of owner and head trainer Joey Alvarado.
This building is home to SoCal MMA, a Mixed Martial Arts and fitness gym.
Alvarado, who has over 30 years of martial arts training, often reminisces about one of his former students that competed at an elite level.
“I remember like it was yesterday; Nick Arrow was his name,” Alvarado said. “Real big, athletic kid from Occidental. I trained him for two months before his first and only MMA fight.”
Due to Alvarado’s coaching, Arrow was able to fight to a draw against an opponent with far more training in martial arts than himself.
But Alvarado understands that fighting is not for everyone. Therefore, his gym is open to serious martial artists like Arrow and also to people with varying abilities in strength, fitness and training.
Two such students are Occidental’s Michael Cao (first-year) and Nina Aaltonen (senior), both of whom recently began training at the facility.
“It’s a great place to work out,” Aaltonen said. “It’s so close to Oxy. I don’t have a car, so I can walk, and I can come in here pretty much any time. Not to mention, I really think it makes you push yourself a bit harder when you’re working out in group like this.”
SoCal MMA offers martial arts classes in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts under the guidance of Alvarado and his co-trainers, Chris Baca and Jason Parry. Baca fought on the Navy boxing team and teaches striking, while Parry and Alvarado are high-level Jiu Jitsu practitioners.
Alvarado won the Pan-American Jiu Jitsu Championships twice, and his gym also hosts a small number of amateur fighters and competitive Jiu Jitsu players who spar live in preparation for their upcoming matches.
“We don’t give off that, ‘Oh, fresh meat,’ vibe you get in some gyms,” Alvarado said. “Some people just want to get in really good shape, and that’s been a big part of our success here.”
Along with traditional martial arts, SoCal MMA holds alternative classes, such as Kettle-Jitsu, that are more accessible to everyday clients and beginners.
Kettle-Jitsu, Alvarado’s brain child, is a workout routine that blends kettle bell exercises with movements from martial arts.
According to Alvarado, the result is a full-body workout that fosters functional strength and athleticism.
Alvarado’s Kettle-Jitsu students squat, clean, punch and maneuver around a matted space, all while controlling the unruly exercise tool that is the kettle bell.
“Kettle-Jitsu has been my claim to fame as of late,” Alvarado said. “It’s bringing a lot of people into the gym who were tired of the same old routines.”
Alvarado’s students are willing to let him know when his workouts need adjustment, a collaborative process that has been essential to the gym’s recent success.
“You can always teach an old dog new tricks,” Baca said while smacking the pads with Eskrima sticks, a Filipino martial art he has picked up to improve the angles of his striking.
The adaptability of SoCal MMA’s coaches and their willingness to learn as they teach has contributed a great deal to their recent success.
For them, MMA is about much more than just getting hit.
“They won’t push you to do anything you don’t want to do,” Cao said. “My favorite part is the kickboxing, but some people aren’t here for that. If you’re committed to the workouts, you can really get a lot out of it.”