September 30th 2002, Pontefract, UK

Interview with Straight Blast Gym pioneer MATT THORNTON

Submitted by: Carl Fisher, Posted On 10/13/2002

September 30th 2002, Pontefract, UK

Back in the UK, again, Matt, how are you liking it?

I always enjoy visiting the UK. Everyone is always very nice and I like the British sense of humor. Plus, British women are beautiful and brilliant, so it’s all good.

Let me get this question out of the way because you must have been asked it a million times, your JKD isn’t anything like the JKD we have become used to seeing. Why keep the name, as opposed to Matt Thornton’s Freestyle or something?

That is a good question. At my gym nobody that walks into the door and asks, or really cares, about JKD. The clients that walk into the gym are interested in self defense, getting in shape, having fun, things like that. The subject of Jeet Kune Do just doesn’t come up. However, when it comes to the seminar circuit, there are a lot of people who come through JKD and eventually find their way to our gym. I think this is because people believe what they read about the theory of JKD; that you should train all ranges of fighting and use what works. Often, they find the reality of it to be just another traditional martial art, complete with ritual, hierarchy, titles, forms, katas, and tons of two person forms, and one or two step sparring. Those people tend get tired of the nonsense and politics, and give up on the idea of JKD. Then, they hear about us, attend a seminar and realize we are all working towards the same goal. So they find their way to our gym. That’s why we continue to use the name “JKD”. I believe, absolutely, that the SBG represents what JKD is supposed to be.

For the benefit of people in the UK that are not familiar with the Straight Blast Gym’s training philosophy, give them an overview of Aliveness.

That’s easy. Timing, which cannot be found in a two-person form, Kata, Djuru, or anything that follows a script. Energy, by which I mean progressive resistance, and motion. That is footwork, hip movement, and just plain un-patterned, non re-rehearsed footwork. It’s LIVE. . .it’s ALIVE, it’s not a choreographed demonstration. It’s funny, in a recent interview someone asked Burton Richardson what the biggest thing was as far as his turning towards all Alive training. Burt’s advice was that when it comes to training stick, NEVER have your partner swing it, and lock it out so you can perform your movement, disarm, or technique. Never do that! Just always pull through, always swing with some realistic energy. It’s funny, but something as completely simple as that, can totally change the way someone practices an art like Kali. That is Aliveness.

Why do people then find the Aliveness concept so difficult to accept?

I think that is because when you train Alive, and expose your students to alive training, you have to throw out a major portion of the JKD curriculum, as well as most traditional martial arts curriculum. This is because they simply don’t work well when applied against a resisting opponent. All of the sudden the premium is placed on performance and arts that perform well like boxing, wrestling, Judo, Muay Thai, BJJ, and others, become the base. You can’t pretend to be a Sifu, with all the mystical powers. You have to spar, roll, and lay it on the line. That is VERY different.

Would you say that your honesty and opinion has caused offense to some people?

They are worried that their audience will discover they have been teaching them bollocks for the last decade, and their self image will be blown.

There are many traditional martial arts schools over here claiming their art is for self-defense only, with no sporting application? Is there such a thing?

If it’s trained Alive, it will be by its very nature ‘athletic’. If it’s not trained Alive it won’t matter how supposedly ‘deadly’ the move is. Under pressure you will be able to apply it. It’s really that simple. That’s why Judo athletes can actually throw people and most traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu or Aikido people cannot (unless they have trained Judo or wrestling themselves). Everything they do is choreographed. It’s not real.

A lot of these martial arts still use forms, Kata-whatever as well as traditional methods such as one-step sparring. Do you think there is any value in this type of training?

None. In fact, it’s actually very counter-productive. It all needs to be thrown away for the real growth to begin.

Who would you say has been your biggest inspiration in the martial arts world? Why?

No one particular person. I admire many people. The one individual I probably find myself drawing from the most would be Krishnamurti. He was not a martial artist but, nevertheless, he has been a big inspiration to me. As is Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, and Joseph Campbell. As far as martial artists go, I would have to say Rickson. He has the most presence and his timing is out of this world.

Whilst I was in the States, I met Chris Haueter at the Machado place. I believe he is a good friend of yours. A very talented guy, wouldn’t you say?

Chris is a fantastic guy. Very laid back, very intelligent coach. He is also a superb BJJ player.

You have hooked up with a good set of people over here in the UK, how did that come about?

I have to thank Chris for that. He hooked me up with Andy Norman’s group, and I have been doing workshops for them. Also, I met Karl Tanswell, and Karl and I have been training since.

Are we going to see a Straight Blast Gym over here?

Yep, Karl Tanswell is our first UK coach. He has all the qualities we look for. A good, well-rounded game, stand up, clinch, and ground. He trains Alive and understands how to coach athletes who are just starting in an Alive manner. He, also, has the best knife defense program I have ever seen. Karl just spent a few weeks over here. He met and worked out with all the SBG coaches from around the USA. He fits right in, and we are all proud to have him represent SBG.

How does the level of guys in the UK compare to the level in the USA?

The level is good. The heart and skill of the UK Athletes is just as good as the USA. The BJJ level is a little behind the west coast of the USA, but it won’t take long to catch up. I think the biggest problem UK fighters will face is the fact that they don’t have wrestling in schools in the UK. A lot of the American athletes come from a background of wrestling since they were little kids, and that’s a big advantage.

Your gym seems to be doing well in competition, did you have a competitive career?

Yes. I still like to actively compete in BJJ and submission wrestling when I can, and when my body is healthy and injury-free.

The Straight Blast Gym has produced some of the best training videos on the market today:  Haueter, Henderson, Bass & Williams, Inoue, and yourself. What’s next?

Right now I have a series by Rodney King that I think will rock the martial arts world as far as stand-up fighting is concerned. I also have another series by the Singer Brothers that I think will be great, and a second series on BJJ by Bob Bass and Rick Williams. All that stuff is sitting on the drawing board, waiting to be edited and released within the next twelve months or so.

Plans for the future?

Always, but they are secret! Just kidding. If you plan ahead, you cannot go with the flow. All I ever have is a broad vision. I will leave the day to day goal setting to Tony Robbins.

One final question Matt, Darren Currie asked me to ask you, how can you consider yourself the most handsome martial arts instructor when he clearly is?

Wow, I have heard that Karl Tanswell bills himself as the best-looking UK martial arts instructor, but it really doesn’t matter when I step off the plane in the UK does it? The ladies know what’s up.

Thanks very much for the interview; I hope to see you on your next visit.

Absolutely! Thanks very much.