About SBG Founder Matt Thornton

brazilian jiu jitsu portland


Matt Thornton was one of the first batch of American’s to receive a black belt in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; and the first person in the State of Oregon to do so.

Brazilian Jiu JItsu is an art now famous thanks to the Gracie Family, as well as the advent of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, and the UFC.

As a Coach Matt has worked with some of the top athletes world wide, including multiple time UFC Champion Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin, and many others.

brazilian judo

The training with Matt Thornton, and SBG has been instrumental in my preparation for reality fighting in the UFC. Matt’s expertise in stand-up and ground fighting techniques has helped me win the Ultimate Fighting Championships. “  –Randy Couture (UFC Legend)

Matt began his Martial Arts career with boxing. After serving in the US Army until 1988, Matt returned to the USA and began training kickboxing and JKD. In 1990 Matt moved to Portland where he managed and taught at a Martial Arts Academy for a little over two Years where the focus was JKDC, alongside one of Mr. Dan Inosanto’s Instructors. During that time Matt was exposed to a multitude of JKD Instructors including Burton Richardson, Paul Vunak and many others who would go on to become a friends.

In 1991 he had the privilege of meeting and training with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend Rickson Gracie. It was the meeting where Matt reports:

“I watched Rickson wrestle a room of Judo black belts. He tapped them all out within seconds, without using his hands, and I knew this is for me!”

It was then that Matt decided to place the emphasis of his Martial Arts career on self-discovery through the practical method of Aliveness.

kids mma

 SBG was doing MMA before the term MMA even existed.

Matt’s training methods, focus, and philosophy were headed in a completely different direction, so he eventually opened the first SBG Academy in Keizer Oregon late in 1992.

A few Years later Matt met Randy Couture, who would come in to work on stand up, and BJJ groundwork. Those sessions completely changed the way the SBG trained the clinch range.

mma for kids
Matt working with UFC legend Randy Couture, and Abu Dhabi grappling Champion Jeff Munson.

Thanks to Randy Couture, long before most MMA fighters had the clinch training which is currently now the standard, Matt and the SBG helped to introduce the proper clinch as taken from Greco to the Martial Arts world at large.

Rickson Gracie awarded Matt his blue belt in 1993.

self defense classed for kids

In 1995 Matt was awarded a purple belt through Chris Haueter.

Chris is known as one of America’s first dozen BJJ black belts. In 2000 he was awarded his brown belt, and in 2002 he became one of the few Americans to be awarded a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and the first BJJ black belt ever in the State of Oregon.

Matt began doing seminars in 1995 at the request of the USA’s first Savate Instructor, and Martial Arts legend, Daniel Duby, who asked if he would fly to his Island of Reunion to teach a series of seminars.

self defense for kids

Since that time Matt has given well over three hundred seminars and traveled all over the world to spread the message of Aliveness, the curriculum of the SBG, and the beauty and Art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Matt has taught in Africa, France, the UK, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, Reunion Island, the Seychelles, Iceland, Thailand, Singapore, Canada and all across the USA, to name just a few.

It has been this travel, teaching, training, and process of self-discovery that has shaped Matt’s philosophy on what training ‘healthy’ in the Martial Arts is all about.

krav maga portland

As a teacher Matt produced a video series in 1999 called ‘Aliveness’ which became one of the top sellers of all time within the industry. They set off a firestorm of controversy, and remained a central catalyst in a Martial Arts training revolution that is still taking place all over the world. They were voted as one of the top five self-defense videos of all time by Black Belt magazine. Martial Arts video reviews said:

If you buy only one set of videos this year, let these be the ones. If you believe that there has been an evolutionary development in the martial arts over the last few decades, from Bruce Lee to the Gracies to the all-round fighters of then you will want to see these tapes. If you have to sell your body to medical science or your sister to an Arab oil sheik, buy these tapes!

Matt’s first series still remains a top seller and has sold all over the world in over 60 countries.

krav maga vs bjj

In addition to running his own Academy in Portland Oregon for over twenty years, acting as the Head Coach for SBGi, an organization with over forty affiliate gyms in more than eleven countries, coaching top- level athletes, and giving Aliveness workshops around the world, Matt has also been published in multiple Martial Arts publications. These include Black Belt magazine, Inside Kung Fu, Martial Arts Legends, Fighters, Martial Arts Illustrated, etc.

In addition, the recent July issue of Black Belt magazine features an article on the Aliveness concept written by Matt.

portland krav maga

Matt’s main emphasis over the last decade has been addressing superstition as it relates to the fields of sports training, combat sports, and martial arts; the methodology known as aliveness was designed as a tool to help people distinguish between fact, and fiction.

krav maga portland oregon
Matt introducing best selling author, and publisher of Skeptic magazine, Dr Michael Shermer

Matt still teaches weekly classes himself at the Portland Branch of SBGi, the SBG Martial Arts & Fitness Academy, located in NE Portland; where he can be found on the mat, having a blast, alongside other athletes of all levels.

muay thai portland
Matt with his daughter Anika. Matt is the father of four children.

Here is the December 2012 Portland Monthy Feauture on Matt Thornton:

Matt Thornton has a skeptic’s approach to fighting—and life.
Published Nov 21, 2012, 4:25pm
Matt Thornton with the Straight Blast mascot

Matt Thornton with the Straight Blast mascot

at Northeast Portland’s Straight Blast gym, a string concerto echoes from the stereo. The atmosphere feels like a well-behaved library, not a macho sweatbox. Even so, within martial arts Straight Blast is known for its full-contact training style: students are more likely to battle each other than execute karate’s traditional kicks into thin air.

This two-fisted approach lends gym founder Matt Thornton renown as a trainer, but he’s now gaining notoriety for a different combative pursuit: philosophy. In blog posts, videos, and interviews, Thornton propounds an arch-skeptic’s approach to both fighting and life. He takes issue with both rival schools of martial arts and anyone who pursues what might be called faith-based thinking. “Belief absent evidence is a vice,” says the imposing 6-foot-8 fighter. After establishing a pugnacious rep online, Thornton is at work on a book that could introduce his muscular personality—and reverance for scientific method and rigorous testing of any belief— to a wider audience.

In the gym, Thornton holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and adapts that style’s emphasis on sparring to disciplines like boxing, judo, and Thai kickboxing. He meanwhile rejects traditional noncontact exercises and martial-arts mysticism as having limited self-defense value. “Once you train my way, you can’t do other stuff anymore,” he says. “It would be like being a doctor, but also practicing witchcraft on the side.”

“Once you train my way, you can’t do other stuff anymore.”
—Matt Thornton

After 20 years, Straight Blast enjoys global appeal: 15 affiliated gyms or training groups in the US and 10 abroad, in places like Seoul, Cape Town, and Dublin. Traditionalists, on the other hand, don’t care for Thornton’s criticism of “dead” martial arts. San Francisco–based instructor Gary Moro scoffed: “The only people practicing ‘reality based’ fighting skills are … in the military.”

Meanwhile, quotes from British philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell and astronomer Carl Sagan weave through the tattoos that crosshatch Thornton’s forearms. Peter Boghossian, a Portland State philosophy professor and Straight Blast student, hopes the fighter’s book-in-progress can strike a blow for rationality. “Thornton can make complex ideas clear to a wide audience,” Boghossian says.

In all, Thornton seems to apply the spirit of contact sports to intellectual argument. “To get good at jiu-jitsu, you have to lose thousands of times,” he says. “If you say, ‘I’m never going to tap out,’ you’re never going to be any good.”

Here is the 2011 article from the Willamette Week, where Matt was voted as one of the Best Of Portland:

Best Ass-Kicking Pioneer

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.