Show Your Stripes: Emerge Jiu Jitsu

Emerge Jiu Jitsu is a Vancouver, Washington-based facility that offers BJJ training and kids martial arts programs to its growing base of students. Led by brown belt Don Cooper, a former wrestler, gymnast and triathlete who has been training BJJ for over 10 years, Emerge Jiu Jitsu’s goal is to help their community “grow in strength, character, confidence, and discipline through the martial arts of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.”

Zebra Athletics teamed up with Don to completely revamp his start-up facility, completing a wall-to-wall renovation that included brand new mats and wall pads and the inclusion of several heavy bags as a finishing touch.


“At Emerge, we went with the 2” Pro Series Mats, and Zebra wall pads all around. It was the best decision ever.”


See what Don had to say about his facility and his experience working with Zebra.

How were you introduced to Zebra?

The first time I experienced Zebra Mats was at Mark and Kristi Munoz’s gym, Reign Training Center in Lake Forest, CA. The Munozes had put in a great facility whose centerpiece was Zebra Mats. Since then, I’ve been biased toward the Zebra Mat experience. I’ve been on many mats over the years, from wrestling at high schools, training at clubs, and even when I was a gymnast back in the day. Zebra Mats have been the best to train on of all of them.

Why did you outfit your gym with Zebra products?

Two main reasons: number one, of all the equipment in our gym, the most important for the safety and longevity of our students was the mats they train on. If our students were on sub-quality mats where they were more likely to get hurt, that was unacceptable to us.

The second reason is that we wanted our gym to give a good first impression and look professional. We wanted the look of our gym to immediately say to our prospective members the truth — that we know what we are doing! People suggested to us that we could save money finding used mats on eBay or other places, but I calculated that, while one might save money doing that, it would also be a sacrifice in the safety and professionalism of our gym. Zebra Mats are the best, not only in my personal experience, but in many gyms around the world who have made the choice to use them, not to mention the largest BJJ tournaments in the world use Zebra Mats.

Which Zebra products do you have in your gym and what are some of your favorites?

We went with the 2” Pro Series Mats, and Zebra wall pads all around. It was the best decision ever. Our facility is a joy to train in and it is impressive to all who visit. When parents walk in to meet us and consider if they want their child training at our facility, they see the mats and literally say, “Wow! This is awesome!” The kids are thrilled beyond measure when they kick their shoes off and step on the mats for the first time. It is exactly what we want for their first time on the mats. We have hosted multiple seminars with high level black belts teaching and all have been impressed with our mats. We later added the Zebra 100lb heavy bags to supplement our BJJ fighting with striking basics, conditioning, and drilling for our students and coaches.

Describe your experience working with the Zebra team?

The customer service from Zebra Athletics has been nothing short of exemplary. We primarily worked with Charlie Blanski as our sales representative, and Charlie always treated us like we were customer number one. Even though we were a small start-up gym, Charlie has always been and continues to be quick to answer my questions, do us favors, and bend over backwards to get us what we need. I cannot praise the customer service highly enough. 

What advice would you give to other gym owners who are considering a re-design of their facility?

Call Zebra! They have experience designing gyms and have all the tools to give you multiple options so you can consider what is best for you. They have computer aided design tools to do simulated drawings that will give you a great idea of what the facility would look like with the different options. These guys really are good at what they do and I know that we have zero regrets in going with Zebra.

How did you get started with Jiu Jitsu?

It was a slow and natural progression. We have always been an active family in sports and recreation. I grew up wrestling and then later in life my brother, who is in the military and law enforcement, introduced me to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). My wife, Jennifer, and I had enrolled our sons in wrestling programs when they were little. One of our sons, Matthew, began training wrestling with Mark Munoz at Reign Training Center in Lake Forest, CA while I was training under black belt Jason Manly, who was running the jiu jitsu program at Reign.

Later on, relocation took our family to the Portland, Oregon, area where I began training at Matt Lindland’s fight gym, Team Quest (the original Team Quest). Matthew then began wrestling with Marc Sprague at Cobra Wrestling in Portland. As time went on, Matthew began training full time in jiu jitsu. During this time I began to think more about operating a gym in Vancouver, WA. In particular, I liked how martial arts are a great launching pad for teaching character traits, life values, and life lessons that could help all people, but especially kids. The lessons we learn on the mat directly apply to life. There came a point and time where my wife and I started a business plan and began researching the viability of a martial arts school whose focus and priority was teaching kids BJJ. We realized it was something our community could use and we were excited to give it our best.

What differentiates your facility and approach to training?

Our specialty is teaching kids with a faith-based approach. Our priority is to teach kids that they are valuable and worthy creatures, and to help them develop this mindset along with perseverance, focus, discipline, and to have joy even when working hard. Our environment is a safe, clean, and positive place for kids to grow in their skills both mentally and physically. Our priority is to not only help the kids learn that hard work and having fun can be a both-and experience and not an either-or, but also for the parents to be comfortable at the facility while their kids train.

What we have found is that our focus on these goals of making the gym a great place for kids to learn quality BJJ has also attracted adults to the program. Most men and women are not training to be cage fighters but rather want quality instruction for fitness, self-defense, tournament competition, and mostly just the joy of rolling. They want progression and sustainability. They want to be pushed but they also need to go to work the next day. The priorities we have made for the kids are exactly what our adults need, too.

emerge jiu jitsu team

What’s next for you and your facility?

Continue to grow. Our gym membership is growing every day. We are adding new classes and getting better at what we do every single day. Our mats continue to be the key place in our gym where the hard work and sweat happens and we are set for a long time with quality mats to make that all happen.


Ready to Build Your Dream Facility? Contact Zebra Athletics Today.