Three five years ago when my wife and I purchased our current house, I was able to finally work on a life-long dream of having a dojo in my home.
NOTE: I originally wrote this article for Examiner.com as the Seattle Martial Arts Examiner, but I long ago stopped writing that column (favoring instead my PC Gaming Column). Instead, I thought I’d update and bring some of that content over to this site.
Our new home was equipped with 700 square feet of extra space — an RV garage essentially that had power, light, and even limited heat. It was used as a woodshop by the previous owner. It was attached to the house, had power, light, limited heat, and even phone connections. It also has twelve-foot ceilings.
I’m a menace to society with power tools and wanted my own fully-featured training space (100 square feet of mats and a heavy bag dangling from the rafters wouldn’t cut it). I wanted a room big enough to invite friends over and spar or train every once in a while.
I also wanted a room big enough to double as an exercise room and a play room for the family. And it had to be reasonably safe for my two sons, aged three and five at the time, now five and seven.
My ambitions were big, but my wallet wasn’t, so I started to see how I could turn this large room of possibilities into a suitable dojo and workout room on a reasonable budget.
Craiglist is your friend
First and foremost — for all the equipment you can’t build yourself — Craigslist, patience, and an occasional bit of ridiculous luck are your friends. What you get first ultimately depends on your priorities and what fortune allows you to find.
Finding fitness equipment like weights, heavy bags, treadmills and the like is pretty easy on Craigslist. In my experience, there are always plenty of folks looking to get rid of these things.Craigslist again afforded me a huge score — I found a Gold’s Gym that had remodeled and was selling off old equipment at fire-sale prices. I was able to pick up a complete set of iron dumbbells (10-55LB), 2 racks to hold them, an old Preccor Treadmill, and about 500 square feet (more than I needed) black rubber floor mats for a grand total of $400. Just to put that in perspective, the cost (at that time) of a comparable, used Preccor treadmill was $1700.
Another very lucky score came in form of free weights. I found a complete (375LB) set of rubberized, barely used Olympic free weights for $75. The owner “didn’t like the smell” which was apparently pretty strong in the tiny workout room they were kept it, and the seller (the husband) had no idea that the value of the weights was probably around $600. Another lucky score.
Rounding it all out, I picked up an old squat rack and weight rack for $25. I eventually sold the two dumbbell racks and bought a more space-efficient one for dumbbells, roughly breaking even in the process.
The biggest challenge for me by far was finding mats for the floor at a reasonable/affordable price.
There are great ways to make your own–check out this video by Renar Gracie.
Fortunately, Craigslist helped me again, and I found about $4000 worth of Swain Gold Premium mats for about $1100 from a kickboxing studio that had gone under. The mats were by far the biggest single expense in outfitting my home dojo.
Even though the mats are 1.5″ thick, I don’t recommend just tossing them down over concrete — especially if you’re a Judo/Jiu-Jitsu guy. I also purchased a 3/8″ layer of carpet padding (consider a 1/2″ layer) which you can get for as little as $30 wholesale. I found quite a few good deals on carpet padding courtesy of Craigslist as well.
The same lady that sold me the floor mats also sold me a 125LB 6ft Muay Thai style heavy bag for something like $100 (or less — I forget now).
Rounding it all out
Some equipment that I wanted I had to buy new or build. I’ll talk about the home-brew stuff in another post. The equipment I bought new includes a Concept 2 Model D rower and a “Crossfit” Olympic Weight bar.
The End Result
The end result is a gym with about 450-500 square feet dedicated to mats and rolling/martial arts space, and about 250-300 square feet dedicated to weight training/workout space.I was able to end the 24HR Fitness memberships entirely for my wife and I, and I’ve had numerous informal training/practice sessions with friends in the martial arts to supplement my training.
The room has also been a great play room for the kids and I, where “Ninja training”, Nerf sword battles, RC cars, and general shenanigans all find a home.