Best Ass-Kicking Pioneer

In case you missed it, the Willamette Week listed Matt Thornton as one of the Best of Portland. Specifically,

Best Ass-Kicking Pioneer

In case you missed it, here is that article

jiu jitsu portland

Matt Thornton
Credits: vivianjohnson.com

“I classify traditional martial arts as superstition, like religion,” says Matt Thornton. It’s an opinion that has led the Portland resident and owner of Straight Blast Gym International to be one of the most polarizing figures in the international martial arts community. Some consider him a visionary; others see Thornton, a hulking, tattooed 6-foot-7-inch former soldier, as an “aggressive jock.”

You may disagree with his ideas—that you can’t learn to fight or defend yourself with karate katas and goofy Asian mysticism—but it’s hard to lump the guy in with the cliché of a Tapout-wearing MMA redneck. At his gym in the Hollywood neighborhood (1812 NE 43rd Ave., 230-7924), men, and a few women, of all ages—some have tie-dyed their uniforms—grapple competitively but sociably before a class. Thornton, a laid-back California native, slips in quietly and puts a jazz album on the stereo.

A former Jeet Kune Do instructor at the now-defunct Portland Martial Arts Academy, Thornton started rebelling against those “traditional” training methods after meeting legendary Brazilian jujitsu fighter Rickson Gracie in 1993. “There were 18 or 19 other guys—big judo guys—and he’d tap them all out without using his hands!” says Thornton. “I wanted a gym where people actually sparred, doing what was essentially mixed martial arts…. But everyone was telling me: ‘You’re never going to make it. Nobody wants to spar, nobody wants to sweat.’”

Fortunately, Thornton says, he proved them wrong. He left the academy and started the first Straight Blast Gym in Salem in 1993, later becoming Oregon’s first Brazilian jujitsu black belt, and began selling videos demonstrating his methods and ideas around the world. There are now 12 other Straight Blast and affiliated gyms across the U.S., as well as in nine other countries, while Brazilian jujitsu and MMA have exploded in popularity in Portland. When we met, he had just returned from a teaching tour of Ireland, Sweden and Iceland.

Despite fans, students and critics around the globe, Thornton acknowledges that the average Portlander has no idea who he is. He’s not even the biggest name in local martial arts—cage-fighter-turned-Republican politician Matt Lindland gets all the press. But he is certainly the most influential. “I think, one way or another, you can trace 90 percent of the competition that I have [in Portland] back to my own gym,” he says. RUTH BROWN.

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