Ten years ago, a dream was born in a small basement. Today that dream has grown into something so much bigger.
Driving through the Peterson Industrial Depot, you wouldn’t really recognize building 669 which now houses that dream: Tooele County’s largest martial arts gym, the Tooele Martial Arts Academy.
The gym is located at 10 Garnet Street #4.
The front lobby is adorned with trophies and belts won by local students and the owner, Keith Azbury, along with photos of famous martial artists and fighters.
Walking through the gym, you will find punching bags, training mats, a conditioning area, lockers, a sauna, a dream pod cold plunge tub, and students hard at work training.
The Academy is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month. It was first opened in April 2013.
Its first location was in Azbury’s basement shortly after Azbury fell in love with martial arts.
“I worked with a guy at the Walmart Distribution Center who was into martial arts and I was interested in martial arts too,” Azbury explained. “That guy invited me to a seminar to learn how to do jiu jitsu and wrestling and stuff like that… From day one, I just fell in love.”
After the seminar, Azbury purchased several mats and set them up in his basement, so he could practice the skills he had learned. A few of his friends also came over often and trained with him.
“We decided to do a tournament and we ended up doing well,” Azbury said. “Then, I started teaching classes in my basement.”
Shortly after Azbury began teaching martial arts in his basement, he decided Tooele County could benefit from a mixed martial arts gym.
Azbury opened his gym at 15 South Main Street with just over 1,000 square feet of space.
Each weekend, Azbury worked his warehouse job and during the week, he worked at the gym teaching classes.
“I worked seven days a week to get this off of the ground,” he said.
Azbury was challenged with figuring out how to become a business owner.
“Opening up this business was hard,” he said. “I did everything from handing out fliers at Walmart, to being in the parade, to paying a homeless guy to put flyers on cars, to going to people’s churches and doing free classes, and doing everything I could to spread the word.”
Azbury started out teaching grappling classes, like Brazilian jiu jitsu.
Grappling refers to fighting techniques that do not involve striking or the use of weapons. The goal of grappling is to gain a physical advantage over an opponent, improve relative position, escape an opponent, or force an opponent to submit.
Grappling involves taking opponents to the ground, throwing an opponent off balance, defending against throws or takedowns, and holding an opponent so they aren’t able to get away.
“Being in the fight community, there are two sections,” Azbury explained. “You have the striking art and the grappling arts. I was never formally trained as a striker, so with my skill set, I taught grappling.”
A short while after Azbury opened his gym, a kickboxing instructor visited and Azbury hired him to begin teaching a kickboxing class. Kickboxing is a striking art.
In 2016, Azbury moved his business to its current location.
Now there are many classes taught at the academy including judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu for both kids and adults, women’s self-defense and kickboxing, anti-bullying, and a class for police teaching them non-lethal tactics to detain.
Azbury enjoys the jiu jitsu classes best.
“I’ve been doing jiu jitsu for 13 years, so now that I am getting older, I like doing it in a uniform better,” Azbury said, speaking about gi, which is a traditional jiu jitsu uniform. “With the gi, it’s slower and a little more methodical. The no-gi [no uniform] is a little bit more intense and a little bit harder.”
Jiu jitsu happens to be the fastest growing martial arts sport in the world currently.
Azbury also enjoys teaching classes to kids, especially his anti-bullying class.
“I feel like my calling in life was to be a teacher,” he said. “I like dealing with the bullying problem. Ten years ago, Tooele had the highest bullying rate in the nation, so I wanted to put a dent in that. It was a rough road dealing with all of that … I like teaching kids that they have a right to defend themselves, because bullies go to the path of least resistance. Just having confidence will keep bullies away.”
Despite the class, Azbury enjoys teaching and training martial arts, because there is always something new to learn.
“I’m the type of person who wants to know everything about everything,” he said. “With martial arts, there’s always something new to learn and new techniques.”
He is very proud of his students who have won many championships and titles, fought all over the country, and became state champions.
Over the past year, community support for the gym has really grown.
“In the beginning, I had zero support,” Azbury said. “I didn’t have any connections in the county … Now that we have received state recognition, people have been more open.”
To give back, Azbury wants to continue to help the community by putting on benefits and doing fundraisers.
In the future, Azbury wants to continue to grow his business.
“I want to continue to make champions, making sure less and less people in Tooele County get bullied, and try to take a fighter to the national stage,” he said.
One day, Azbury hopes to open a bigger building.
Azbury encourages everyone who is capable to try martial arts.
“Being active makes changes in your body,” he said. “It’s going to take you an hour and a half to two hours to burn 800 calories on a treadmill, but here you can do that in an hour. You’re also learning how to defend yourself and learning knowledge … These techniques are with you forever after you learn it here.”
The Tooele Martial Arts Academy accepts students as young as four years old.
They offer three different payment options: $120 for 10 classes where gym-goers can come whenever they want, a one-year contract for $100 per month with a $50 sign-up fee which includes unlimited classes, and an annual contract which costs $1,145 at sign-up. This option includes unlimited classes and a free uniform.
Azbury also offers one free week for new students, so they can explore the types of classes they like.
The Tooele Martial Arts Academy is on Facebook and Instagram, and online at tooelemartialartsacademy.com.
Azbury grew up in Arizona near the Mexico border in a poor family. Growing up, he said he was always fighting at the bus stop.
Azbury is now a proud husband and father. He attributes his success with his gym to his work ethic.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” Azbury said.