28 Jan 2017

Review: Roll Out Mats

Roll out mats are the perfect solution for people like me, instructors who require mats for part time use that are easy to transport, store and set up. I have been using these mats for over 7 months and they are perfect for my current needs. The most impressive aspect, aside from their portability, has been their durability and ability to withstand and absorb breakfalls and other high impact activity. There are of course some compromises and niggling little aspects to using these mats but the cons are more than outweighed by the pros. Read on for my full and detailed report.

PVC Tatami roll out mats - www.mmamatting.co.uk/
Size - Mine were 6m x 1.5m x 40mm. I bought three of them.
Cost - £324 each plus VAT and shipping (I paid for courier service, roughly £90)
Colour - black, but they also sell blue.
Surface option - I opted for tatami finish (slight faux weave effect), they also sell smooth version.

When I first established my BJJ club in Borehamwood, I rented a large dance studio at the local leisure centre. The krav maga instructor who also teaches there kindly let me use his jigsaw mats and it was a big help while I was busy setting up the club, acquiring new students and generally finding my way. But after a few months I felt the leisure centre was not the right place for me, I needed more time slots to expand my class and the centre was just too expensive while I still only had a small handful of students.

My first club location, I borrowed the use of jigsaw mats

Jigsaw mats were not ideal...
So I found a new and more affordable place to rent a studio space and therefore needed to have my own mats. Cue much googling and researching. I asked around the BJJ community to find out what mat solutions they used. I was mainly interested in the people who rented rooms and only taught couple times a week - people who had to put down mats and then put them away again, like me.

For most of these folks, jigsaw mats were their surface of choice. Cheap, very tough, easy to store, moderately easy to lay out and remove and easy to buy. With a bit of online searching, you can purchase them for around £17 plus VAT, like this one for example. Second hand ones are often on sale and whole batches can be bought for a more than reasonable fee. For their purpose and ubiquity in the martial art/fitness world, they do the job.

But in my opinion jigsaw mats are not pleasant to use for BJJ training. If you have a lot of 1m x 1m mats to piece together, it can take a long time to prepare. I remember arriving at that leisure centre a good half and hour early and it would take me that long to piece all the jigsaw mats together (roughly 35 mats iirc). Jigsaw mats are also very hard, even the 40mm ones (which is the UKBJJA and judo recommended minimum thickness for absorbing throws) are pretty brutal for beginners to learn breakfalling on. Another problem is that no matter how diligently you piece the jigsaws together, there will always be little kinks, bumps and exposed mat edging along each segment join. This is a bit dangerous as you can easily catch your toe or finger while sliding and grappling across the surface. But the really annoying thing about jigsaws is that they're so heavy and bulky when not in use and stacked somewhere. In my case, the new location I was renting from had very limited storage facility, meaning I would have to somehow find a place in my home to store them and a method of transportation.

Roll up roll up!
So thank goodness for the invention of roll up mats. I never even heard of these things before but a couple of people I knew raved about them. These were the answers to all my problems. Just three 6 metre long mats were all I needed to fill out the studio room I was renting (room = 7.8 metres x 5.8 metres). I was told that they were so incredibly easy to prepare and to remove that once tried, people vowed never to use jigsaws again. I was told they were very light and that someone like me could easily lift and transport a 6 metre rolled up mat. I was told they were ideal for martial arts and soft enough to withstand even the biggest of judo throws. I was told they were tough as hell and more than up to the rigours of repeated use and re-use...all of those promises were true to their word.

Purchasing, Delivery, Transport and Storage 
There are a couple of big name companies that offer roll out mats, including Zebra and Dollamur. Instead of those, I bought my mats from this company - www.mmamatting.co.uk/product/tatami-roll-out-mats/ and buying three of the 6 metre ones, if you include the courier cost, set me back a touch over a thousand pounds (I got a small discount thanks to a friend). Given the size of my room, I knew that 6m x 4.5m coverage would be good enough to still leave room around the edges for people to walk around.

The equivalent cost for jigsaw mats to cover the same area would be roughly £650-£700 brand new, cheaper if you can find second hand ones. It's understandable if on a tight budget you might consider the roll out mats, at twice the price per metre square, to appear poor value compared to the jigsaws. But in my opinion, and my experience, the extra cost was more than worth paying for.

Two 6m mats fit into my car, albeit with a squash

When the mats arrived by courier, I stored them in my living room. My wife balked at their size. Standing upright, each mat is 1.5 metres tall and when you have three of them, even when rolled up, they pretty much dominate the room. No worries though, as I allocated a part of my home where they could be stored that was out of the way. Two would be stored at home while the third I could store at the venue I rented.

The mats come tied together with a basic tie-down straps and are protected by acres of plastic wrapping. The first problem I had to how to carry them in my car. My first attempt at trying to fit them in resulted in a comedy of errors as I pushed and squeezed hard but there was no way two fully rolled up mats would go into my vehicle. However, as you can see from the photos above, I had to fold and squash one mat, while the second one is inserted into the space fully rolled up. My car is a large family vehicle, the equivalent length of an estate car. I also own a roof rack and sometimes I use this if I'm carrying other stuff plus the mats. I recommend people who are considering these mats to also measure up their mode of transport, these mats will not fit into a small or even medium sized hatchback or saloon car. (assuming you need to transport them outside of the place you hire).

As you can see from this photo below, the mats reside in my spare living room and they don't really seem to take up too much space but crucially, they're super easy to move around. If I had a stack of equivalent jigsaw mats, they would be harder to shift around, though arguably, would occupy less floor area.

Materials and construction quality
Each mat is made from two components: the surface layer which is coloured black and textured to simulate Japanese tatami mats; the base layer with is thicker and constructed from stiff foam. My initial concerns were on the bonding between tatami surface and foamy base layer, but any fears I may have had have disappeared - those two layers are bonded for life! Not even the remotest glimmer of peeling away or coming apart.

Thin upper surface layer bonded to thicker foam layer
From the photo above, you can see all the little air bubbles that comprise the foam layer. Despite appearances, the foam is still very stiff and hard to bend, however, all those little bubbles mean it has reduced density and therefore is very lightweight in proportion to its size. It also means the foam is able to absorb a fair degree of impact (from landing throws) without deforming. Each 6 metres mat weighs around 20 kilos. At first, I found the bulkiness a struggle when lifting each one in and out of my car and into the dojo, but I quickly got the knack and now I move these about with relative speed.

The base foam later is split into multiple sections to enable it to fold. At first glance, the splits might seem a bit fragile and prone to tearing, but nothing like this even came close to occurring in the 7 months or so of usage. The foam layer is very tough and the bond to the top layer so strong, that it is very durable and able to to withstand repeated opening and closed. The one drawback however is that the foam layer is prone to chipping. On the odd occasion I knocked the mats against the wall while carrying it about, and the edge of the wall or doorframe chipped off a small bit of foam. Nothing really to worry about as it doesn't affect the functionality a a whole, it's just something to bear in mind.

Textured surface layer
The upper surface layer is made from a thick layer of PVC. It seems really tough and has so far withstood our training activities without any problems. No cracks, no tearing, not warping, nothing. It is like brand new each and every time I roll it out.

Despite being textured, it is still a little slippery. When you run around on it wearing socks, and you aren't careful, you might slip a little, or, on a hot day your footing might slip under sweat. Still, I find it much more preferable compared to most jigsaw mats, which are either too grippy, or too slippery. It is also very easy to clean. We wipe it down with antibacterial disposable floor wipes after each class.

One area that might be of interest to some people, is custom logo printing. I have seen some mats that contain a graphic or logo of the gym. I am not sure where they get these done or by what method. I'm assuming it is some sort of heat transfer vinyl press. See photo below.

Logos on the mat surface might be an option
(image rom the MMA Matting Facebook page)

Overall, the quality of materials used and the construction of the product is excellent.

Functionality and usage
As you can see from the video above, it is incredibly straight forward preparing the surface ready for use (the video was speeded up x6). It is as simple as unfurling each mat and then applying vinyl adhesive tape along the joins of each mat. This is necessary because the foam underlayer doesn't grip the wooden floor leading to mat slippage. Even if it did grip the floor, there would still be minor gaps between each mat - a danger for toes or fingers to get caught on during intense rolling - so tape is an essential addition to the preparation.

Vinyl tape, an essential addition when using roll out mats
I bought my dance floor tape here: Gaffatape.com
A box of 18 rolls costs me £79.72 incl VAT and Postage.
Each roll measures 33 metres in length. Very roughly, I find I get around two and a half sessions worth of putting out the mats per roll. This tape is ideal because it does not leave any sticky residue when you peel it off, yet, when in use, it is strong enough to adhere to the surface and prevent the two mats from sliding apart. It is also thin and doesn't unpeel itself or get caught when you are running or rolling around on top of it. In addition to this tape, I also use a bit of standard duct tape as the far ends of each mat tends to curl upwards, so I use the tape to keep them held down to the ground. Duct tape leaves a sticky residue on the mats so I don't use too much of it.

Update: I see on the MMA Matting website that these roll out mats are now offered with an option for hook and loop connections. See here. I still think you'll need the dance tape though as there seems to still be a gap between the mats, although of course there isn't the worry over mat slippage.

My students are more than happy training on the mats. Many of them come from judo or MMA backgrounds and they're used to proper judo or wrestling mats. They all tell me these roll out mats compare very favourably to their other training surfaces, especially when performing throws.

My current concern is mat space. As the club grows, the small studio space I rent may not be enough and I'll need to expand. Right now, the 6m x 4.5 m mat area is enough to comfortably hold around 12-14 students for drilling in pairs. But for sparring, it's really only best to have two pairs on at once. Sometimes I'll fit in three pairs as long as they take care when rolling and avoid clashing. For now though, we're at the right level and I'll worry about expansion later.

Roll out mats aren't perfect. They cost more than twice as much as jigsaw mats per square metre. They also require the addition of floor tape in order to keep from slipping. The foam base is prone to chipping and the vinyl surface can be a tad slippery. Despite those things, for me, the roll out mats have been the single most important physical contribution to the success of my BJJ club. They are so easy to set up and put away and they're easy to transport from my home and to the venue. Plus, they're tough as hell and can easily withstand the rigours of BJJ training. As for cost, well I estimate it would take me a year's worth of student fees (minus rent, advert fees, insurance and all the other expenses) to pay off, which isn't all that bad. Honestly, without these mats, I doubt I would persist with running a BJJ club as I really didn't want to have to deal with jigsaw mats. If I do expand in the future, it would be a simple matter of ordering another mat or two to expand the floor area. In fact, I know of some clubs that use these same mats as a permanent flooring solution. They are also easy to chop up and fit around an awkward shaped area. Plus, you don't have to buy 6 metres like me, there are also options for 12,9 and 3 metre units too, the latter a better option perhaps for home use.

Roll out mats - kids play!


About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


jiujiubjj.com said...

I hate jigsaw mats so much! I'm really glad you found an option that works.

Do you think these are a good option for people who have space in their garage or extra room, or is the price point too high for non-commercial, home use?

Meerkatsu said...

Yes absolutely ideal for home garage or spare room use. I'd get a shorter 3 metre long version though, maybe even two and use them as square matted area rather than one long one.

Jimbjj said...

Hi,if you had a choice between these or judo type mats which would it be?

Meerkatsu said...

If it was a permanent fixture, judo mats of course. For this situation, where I have to literally carry the mats from my home to the training facility in my car four times a week…it’s a no brainer, roll out mats each time.

Anonymous said...

Hi, if you was to hire a venue for a temp place to do a few classes a week and then eventually move to a premises what would you opt for, Judo mats or roll out? Thank you

Meerkatsu said...

I would probably still use these roll out mats except there would be no need to lay them out each week. I know several gyms who use these mats on a permanent basis. You can even cut them up and contour them to shape around odd shaped walls and pillars.

Greg said...

What are these mats like for drilling take-downs?

Are they relatively soft, how would they compare to the mats in a typical BJJ gym?

Looking for some mats for home use that can be stored away.

Meerkatsu said...

Greg, they're quite soft in my opinion. That may or may not be a good thing. They absorb the impact well but you feel the hardness of the floor beneath it so it's not like a crash mat, it's definitely fine for drilling.


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