Creating a community: Couple opens jiu jitsu gym in Chelsea

Published 1:08 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By EMILY SPARACINO | Special to the Reporter

CHELSEA – When Cole and Anna Dobbins decided to open a jiu jitsu training facility near their home in Chelsea, they saw the opportunity as much more than a business venture.

At Cobra BJJ Chelsea, the couple’s focus is on providing a place for Brazilian jiu jitsu training while also cultivating a strong sense of community among members.

“It’s not just my gym or my school,” Cole Dobbins said. “It’s our school. It’s our gym. We share life stories, and we help each other through tough times.”

Cole, 33, started his jiu jitsu training 12 years ago in Tuscaloosa.

When he and Anna, 27, met in 2018, he was training full-time and working full-time in IT.

Initially, Anna said she declined to join Cole in jiu jitsu because of her full-time work and school obligations.

“The thought of adding something else was out of my reach,” she said.

However, the more time Anna spent with Cole and his friends from the jiu jitsu world, the more interested she was to try it.

Anna took a fundamentals class once a week for about six months and became hooked.

“Once I decided it was something I wanted to do, I kind of dove in head first, and it’s been that way since,” she said. “I did my first competition nine months after training.”

The couple relocated to Birmingham and married in 2020.

Cole said they were going to open a jiu jitsu gym in Gardendale, but the COVID-19 pandemic halted their plans.

In the meantime, they started training with a different team and moved to Chelsea in 2021.

“When we moved in, we saw the spot we’re in now,” Cole recalled. “We thought that would be a great spot (for a gym).”

But they did not immediately pursue the space, located off Foothills Parkway near Cornerstone CPA. They explored other options in the area before concluding that they needed to return to the first space—the one that had drawn their attention two years ago.

“The first time we stepped into the facility, we were like this is it,” Cole said.

Since opening the doors of Cobra BJJ Chelsea in April, Cole and Anna have enjoyed building their own jiu jitsu community and sharing the benefits of it with others.

“Jiu jitsu has always been a huge passion of mine,” said Cole, who earned his black belt after only seven years of training. “I love the sport aspect of it.”

Cole said jiu jitsu also serves as a good method of self-defense, which appealed to Anna as someone who is smaller in stature.

“Knowing that if I were ever put in a position that was questionable, I would be able to defend myself and hold my own against someone, it’s very empowering and encouraging,” Anna said. “It minimizes anxiety and fear when you go out into the world.”

Anna said the community aspect of jiu jitsu also has been extremely important to her, especially after working from home for nearly three years.

“Everything we do is going to be with a partner or opponent,” she said. “You learn quickly to make friends. Some of the people I’ve met through it have become close friends.”

According to Cole, jiu jitsu also can be a positive outlet for many people to cope with daily stress and strain.

“Jiu jitsu helps with your mental space so much,” Cole said. “Just living in that moment, fighting in that moment, inside those walls, on those mats, you can’t focus on distractions. You have to focus on the moment. It keeps people grounded.”

That’s why Cole made sure Cobra BJJ Chelsea was one of the first three gyms in Alabama to join a nonprofit organization called Buddies Over Bullies, whose purpose is to help children who are being bullied to find hope and healing through jiu jitsu.

“I personally have helped many kids when I was teaching in Tuscaloosa who had bully problems,” he added. “They competed in jiu jitsu and had a blast. It’s a healthy outlet to help them deal with the stresses of bullies and school.”

Helping people no matter what circumstances they are facing is what Cole and Anna aim to do every day at Cobra BJJ Chelsea.

“We take care of each other,” Cole said. “We’re all in there to train, learn and come out better at jiu jitsu and, hopefully, at life.”

For more information about Cobra BJJ Chelsea, visit and follow @CobraBJJChelsea on Facebook and Instagram.