By Jachinto Coheira
Over nine years ago when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and Mixed Martial Arts trainer, Stephen Whittier, opened the doors to his new, full-time academy in Wareham, MA (the “gateway” to the Cape Cod and greater New Bedford areas), he did so with a distinct vision:
To truly make high-level training and instruction in the most effective martial arts systems on the planet – BJJ, Muay Thai kickboxing, wrestling, boxing, and of course, MMA – available and accessible to students of all ages, ability levels, and personal goals for training.
Straight Blast Gym East Coast (originally named Nexus Martial Arts) is part of SBG International, the highly successful worldwide network of schools founded by Matt Thornton. Whittier, who has been part of SBG since early 2003, is one of a handful of full coaches within the organization and also serves as its Director. In addition, he is currently a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt under Roberto Maia and one of a small number of senior trainers in Sityodtong Muay Thai under Kru Mark DellaGrotte – making him the highest ranked instructor in both disciplines in the South Coast region.
He also holds black belts and instructor rankings in a number of other martial arts, including karate, JKD (Jeet Kune Do), and Filipino martial arts.
“I’d argue that SBG is not only the original ‘MMA organization’,” he explains, “it also has the greatest effectiveness in terms of delivering that training to a very wide range of students. We have competitive athletes at the pinnacle of the sport like Conor McGregor and a ton of teammates coming up behind him, but more importantly we also span the spectrum from an incredible youth leadership program to my 40 Plus BJJ program for students in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.”
A longtime training partner to 3-time UFC title contender Kenny Florian, Whittier has trained (or currently trains) an impressive number of top professional UFC, EliteXC, and Legacy athletes, as well as local fighters and many accomplished Jiu-Jitsu competitors.
As fun and rewarding as coaching and winning at the high levels can be, however, he sees a very common danger in it, to which many professional academy owners and instructors fall prey:
“I see it all the time. Coaches map their own psychologies and motivations for training onto their students. I’ve also seen this dynamic create a lot of division, even if unconsciously. Trainers often naturally focus just on their athletes, who see the martial arts most like they do, and on some level don’t respect or relate to the students who don’t share the same goals or see the training through the same set of lenses.
“As much as I still love getting on the mat and training with my athletes, my focus is on the benefit of the entire Tribe. There are no ‘cliques’ here… even though we want to challenge and motivate all of our members, we don’t want to dictate where that motivation should take them. For example, I never approach anyone about competing; I’d have a much bigger comp team if I did, but instead we let them come to us, and then set them on the appropriate track to meet that goal.”
For more information on Straight Blast Gym East Coast’s award-winning martial arts and fitness programs for kids, teenagers, and adults,