Gym of the Month: Dynamix MMA

Story by Joe Wilhelm
Photos by Stephanie Drews

Post-class tradition at Dynamix Martial Arts (Photo by Stephanie Drews/University of MMA)

A hard class of striking closes with team salutations at Dynamix Martial Arts (Photo by Stephanie Drews/University of MMA)

It’s Friday in beautiful Los Angeles, California, and Antoni Hardonk has just finished teaching his afternoon kickboxing class. Post-workout euphoria is thick in the air of the gym; that distinct sense of relief and joy that can only be brought on by an hour of intense martial arts training.

The ordeal is over, the sun is shining, and the weekend lies ahead. Life is good.

Hardonk’s students bow off the mat, a gesture of respect for the former K1 and UFC fighter. Though some leave to get an early start on the weekend, many stay and gather around Hardonk, who confidently holds court for an eager audience.

It’s a scene that lends special insight into the culture of Dynamix Martial Arts, a gym that offers both elite instruction and camaraderie.

“I’m a big fan of the team,” Hardonk said. “I’m a team builder. Nobody is bigger than the team, including myself. I want everyone here working with the team spirit in mind. It’s impossible to become a champion by yourself. At some point all champions had great people around them, pushing and supporting them.”

In this gathering, there exists no separation between Hardonk and his students. No rigid formality created by his position of authority. As the 6’4” mountain of a man tells the story of his “physical conversation” with a disrespectful bar patron, it’s easy to see that Hardonk occupies the role of friend as well as mentor.

Antoni Hardonk (right), demonstrating technique to his students. (Photo by Stephanie Drews/University of MMA)

Antoni Hardonk (right), demonstrating technique to his students. (Photo by Stephanie Drews/University of MMA)

Crystal Lagunas, an amateur kickboxing and MMA fighter, is one of the students gathered around Hardonk, visibly enjoying her coach’s post-workout anecdote.

“When I moved to Los Angeles, I tried a few gyms and wasn’t very happy,” Lagunas said. “When I came to Dynamix, the environment was great and Antoni was a wealth of knowledge. Despite his fame and skill, he’s a very humble man. The people here are good people.”

Hardonk’s wealth of knowledge stems from twenty-four years of martial arts training, beginning at fourteen when a friend asked him to try kickboxing. By 25, Hardonk had proven enough to compete in the K-1 kickboxing circuit, posting a 10-5 record as a professional.

But with K-1’s dwindling popularity and the rise of the UFC, Hardonk came to California to get involved in MMA. In Los Angeles, Hardonk began his training with Rickson Gracie and made his UFC debut in 2006 at UFC 65: Bad Intentions. Hardonk has fond memories of his time with the UFC, where he posted an 8-6 record highlighted by six knockouts. And yet, the 38-year-old admits there were difficulties in his transition to MMA.

“I was still learning while competing on the highest level,” Hardonk said. “Most Jiu-Jitsu blue belts go to a local tournament and compete against other blue belts. When I was a blue belt, I was fighting in the UFC against Frank Mir. You get taken down and suddenly you are grappling with a heavyweight champion and high-level black belt.”

In addition, Hardonk had to make a quick adjustment to the athletic culture of the United States, one obsessed with the longball, slam dunk, and knockout.

“In Europe, people are a little bit more focuses on the technique, whereas here there is more focus on the physical,” Hardonk said. “For instance, a lot of MMA fighters start off getting big and strong before learning the game. In Europe, it is the complete opposite. I didn’t start lifting weights until I came here. When I came to the UFC, I realized that a lot of these guys were so much stronger than I was. I’m a big and heavy guy who’s stronger than the average person, but dealing with professional athletes is a whole different ball game.”

What Antoni Hardonk brings to a "physical conversation." (Photo by Stephanie Drews/University of MMA)

What Antoni Hardonk brings to a “physical conversation.” (Photo by Stephanie Drews/University of MMA)

As Hardonk says this, it’s difficult to imagine someone physically dominating him. Though nearly five years removed from his last UFC fight, Hardonk remains an imposing physical specimen, the kind of man with whom most would avoid a “physical conversation.”

And yet, a five-minute spoken conversation with the retired fighter proves the brains behind his brawn. A highlight-reel of his UFC contests would feature devastating knockouts, but Hardonk is more interested in the minute details that set-up the victory. The knockout blow may make ESPN’s top-ten, but in truth, it is the final ingredient to a complex recipe. It’s such details that have always captivated Hardonk, who has always taken a technical approach to martial arts.

“I think I’m a better coach than fighter,” Hardonk said. “There’s some aspect of my personality that made coaching come naturally. I remember learning techniques from instructors who weren’t that good at explaining it, and in my head, I was already thinking of how I would explain it better.”

Dynamix isn’t loaded with weight lifting equipment. Instead, Hardonk’s gym features a spacious sparring area for his students, an ideal atmosphere for fighters to nourish the technical elements of their game.

“Antoni has a way of teaching and explaining things so that they make sense,” Lagunas said. “He doesn’t demonstrate a technique and just expect us to execute it. He makes sure to answer our questions, demonstrate it multiple times, and correct us in a way that we don’t feel undermined or belittled.”

Dynamix Martial Arts' co-owner and head BJJ instructor Henry Akins.

Dynamix Martial Arts’ co-owner and head BJJ instructor Henry Akins (Photo by Stephanie Drews/University of MMA)


Hardonk has built a team of instructors who nourish this healthy learning environment; martial artists who have competed and studied on the highest levels. On Saturdays, you can come to Dynamix and learn from six-time Soviet wrestling champion Vladimir Matyushenko, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor Henry Akins, a prized pupil of Rickson Gracie and black-belt who ran Gracie’s Jiu-Jitsu academy for ten years. Yet, in spite of their pedigree, Hardonk’s staff does not exclusively reserve their care and attention for seasoned professionals and rising stars.

“I try to make the sport accessible to everybody,” Hardonk said. “I don’t want to be a fight gym. A lot of guys will come into a gym and put on their TapouT, Assassin, Hitman, blood and skull t-shirt and shorts, and from day one, try to be the best in the gym. I think that creates a very unhealthy atmosphere. It stops growth. It’s very hard to learn new things when you’re in survival mode.”

That isn’t to say that Dynamix is a place where training is taken lightly. Kate McGray, a professional Muay Thai competitor, has experienced a handful of martial arts schools since beginning her training in 2006. But now, focused on the goal of launching her professional MMA career, McGray is sold on Hardonk and his staff.

“The coaching is top notch,” McGray said. “They have such a complete understanding of the game and they really want you to learn. The team is amazing. It’s so supportive and everyone has fun. There isn’t a lot of chest thumping or ego and attitude.”

The positive feelings shared by McGray and Lagunas are not only a reflection of Hardonk’s acceptance of varied levels of experience, but also the female-friendly nature of the gym. Walk into Dynamix for Hardonk’s kickboxing class and you will see male and female fighters working together as peers, sparring, sweating and learning together.

Pro fighter Kate McGray working out in class, while teammate Amanda Jones looks on. (Photo by Stephanie Drews/University of MMA)

Pro fighter Kate McGray working out in class, while teammate Amanda Jones looks on. (Photo by Stephanie Drews/University of MMA)

Men and women hitting each other is typically associated with an abusive environment. At Dynamix, such “physical conversations” are representative of mutual respect and a shared pursuit of martial arts knowledge.

“There is no fear,” Lagunas said. “I don’t fear coming in here or getting hurt. It’s the kind of place where after a day of working from 8-5 I can’t wait to get in here for my class at six. I love my teammates, they’re good people. Our gym is very friendly to women.”

So on a Friday afternoon, when the grind is finished and the weekend has just begun, you’ll see fist bumps and embraces shared by male and female students alike. It’s the kind of sight not often seen in the sports world, a place so often divided by uncompromising gender barriers. But at Dynamix, this is commonplace; a product of the team-first atmosphere Hardonk envisioned when transitioning from fighter to coach.

Dynamix Martial Arts is located at 11870 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles. For more info, visit www.DynamixMartialArts.com or call (310) 584-1700.

 

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