Punching up the confidence meter: Sumter mixed martial arts gym owner uses training to boost self-defense, fitness in kids, adults

Posted 2/15/19

This series is in honor of Black History Month, where each February, as designated by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, founded by Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson, as well as The Library of Congress, an …

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Punching up the confidence meter: Sumter mixed martial arts gym owner uses training to boost self-defense, fitness in kids, adults

Jerome Robinson helps a customer of Team Robinson MMA with training on West Liberty Street.
Jerome Robinson helps a customer of Team Robinson MMA with training on West Liberty Street.

He started with training two people in his garage and today trains 200 in a 7,000-square-foot multi-purpose martial arts and fitness gym, but his main impact may be on something more indirect.

Jerome Robinson, owner of Team Robinson MMA, which moved into the former Jack's Shoes on West Liberty Street in September 2018 after a continuous trend of growth and expansion, has always been interested in martial arts, but by the time he started training full-time when he was 20, he felt like he had to make up for lost time.

He started training two people in his garage while he also managed the Food Lion in Sumter.

"The stresses that came with managing the Food Lion, I didn't get that stress when I was training people," he said.

When he found a space near Patriot Hall to rent, he took it and trained between five and 10 students. When a client offered Robinson a bigger space to operate out of his Cross Fit gym on Broad Street, he took it and started training 20-30 students.

When he expanded into a space on Pike, he started at 1,200 square feet. In the six years he was there, he added another unit about every year and a half, adding kickboxing, fitness, boxing, a kids training unit.

The downside to that location was that they had to walk to a different unit for every one of those.

Now, on West Liberty, it's all one space for the 200 people he trains, which spans from kids to adults.

Starting a growing business has taught Robinson, a Sumter native, about business licenses, building permits, overhead and everything in between.

He said his time at Food Lion helped introduce him to customer service and managing other people. He has six or seven coaches who help him with classes, which includes training at the gym, in Hartsville and at Miss Libby's School of Dance and Gymnastics - footwork and cardio training helps the girls there with stamina for their dance routines.

His time working for the City of Sumter also helped him with being a business owner. He worked in zoning enforcement for six years and is in his 10th year working security for the city, both of which he said helped him learn about aggressive people and how to handle them. Working in zoning taught him about signage and permits and what you have to apply for through local government.

The business side is one thing, but the true value for Robinson is in the physical, emotional and psychological impact on both the kids and adults he trains.

"I'd say 90 to 95 percent of the kids who come here are getting better grades, some of them have less behavioral issues, like they'll do their chores because if they don't they can't come to the gym," he said.

He said he has had parents tell him their son or daughter, after training for a while, no longer has to take medicine for behavioral problems.

Robinson said he tries to talk to his groups before and after class. If you open it up, he said, they'll ask anything. They want to know what kind of car he drives, what is his house like, does he have a girlfriend? (He married his wife, Crystal Robinson, two years ago this November.)

"With the adults, it's based on their goals," he said.

Whether he is helping an adult gain self confidence, lose weight or train for competitive boxing, or whether he is helping a child learn self-defense or a way to channel teenager aggression, he said he feels like that is the most rewarding part.

"I saw the effects bullying has and kids not wanting to go to school. I never wanted to be in that situation. And that was all face to face. Now it's all in texting and online," he said. "I always teach them never allow someone to take advantage of or touch you if you don't want them to. Go tell someone and always try that, but always be able to defend yourself and get out of the situation."