Most stylish Gym in NYC
Featuring some of the best sweatshirts of the season, worn by the normal guys and badass fighters who train there.
The Renzo Gracie Academy
in midtown Manhattan bears little resemblance to the trendy, belled-and-whistled, juice-barred fitness studios that dominate Tribeca and the Upper East Side. The Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai center looks more like a high school gymnasium: blue and red mats on the floor, simple white walls, exposed piping, (a faint locker-room scent), and men and women in modified school uniforms (all trainees must wear branded team t-shirts) stretching and wrapping their extremities on the floor. It’s raw because the aesthetics don’t matter here and because Renzo Gracie doesn’t need to try too hard to get fashion folks flocking. In fact, it has become an unlikely training spot for photographers, models, musicians, Vogue
employees—oh, and Anthony Bourdain.
Instructor Elijah wears a Simon Miller hoodie and Tateossian London bracelet.
Why do these good-looking guys come to a gym where you literally get punched in your beautiful face
? Is it the shorts? The shorts are cool—multicolored, silky, graphic, and very, very short—but Muay Thai is no place for fashion statements. “These guys are looking for something they can’t get in their daily lives,” says RG instructor, Brent Bartley. In other words, lots of punching, kicking, and grappling on the mat. “If you’re working creatively all day—that’s a luxury,” says Scott Michael Fenn who runs a post-production company and has been training at the gym for over two years. “For me, Muay Thai is primal. It touches on our basic instincts.” The rigidly structured routine (the website features a 17-bullet Academy Etiquette list), encourages students to be disciplined and committed over and above what any Equinox could demand of their customers (despite their Sexy Ads). Tim Wheeler, the lead singer and guitarist for the band Ash, started going to RG following an injury and credits the academy for getting him through challenging times in his life. “You feel like you’re part of a team that’s growing as a collective,” he explains of the allure. “It’s a special culture in there, an egalitarian place. You’re encouraged to have an attitude that is humble, dedicated and focused.”
Wes wears an A.P.C sweatshirt.
Mark (right) wears an Alexander Wang sweatshirt.
Head Muay Thai instructor, Joe Sampieri, wears a Simon Miller hoodie.
Kevin wears a Maison Kitsune varsity sweatshirt.
Muay Thai Instructor Brent Bartley wears a Y-3 Adidas sleeveless hoodie.
The academy’s current popularity might also be down to the appeal of the benevolent owner of the gyms (there’s one in Williamsburg, too), Renzo Gracie. Gracie is a famous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and instructor who comes from a long line of similarly well known martial artists. His grandfather, Carlos Gracie, invented Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, that’s how big of a deal this family is in the sport. When you train there you get to be part of the family and it’s this brotherhood that keeps professional creatives/amateur fighters coming back instead of heading to, say, an off-brand kickboxing class. “Let’s be honest, you’re almost assaulting these people,” says Bartley of a typical class, “there has to be a high level of trust in order for it to be OK that you just punched me in the face.”
Muay Thai Instructor Jamie Crowder wears a Sunspel tee-shirt.
“All the Muay Thai trainers want from their students is punctuality, application, and to be coachable,” says our photographer Alex John Beck who also trains at the gym. “I think if you’re a creative person, these are good qualities to develop.” Whatever it is—let’s call it the martial arts mystique—the fashion industry is rising up to fight. “Sure, everyone wants to look good naked,” says Bartley, “but this is different, this is something better.”
Instructor Josh Brandenburg wear a John Elliott hoodie, Tateossian London bracelets.
Styling by GQ Style Fashion Director, Mobolaji Dawodu