A Talk with Matt, Head Instructor at Total Martial Arts Center

I got interested in martial arts a little more than 10 years ago when I saw a much smaller Royce Gracie dominate larger, stronger, and meaner opponents through grappling. My friend Steve and I looked into a variety of disciplines in which to take classes. Eventually, Steve invited me to attend a judo class around my 18th birthday. It turned out my friend Ty was there as well and some of my friends were willing to try it out. I can still recall how sore I was the day after, necessitating frequent trips to the public pool to sit in the hot tub until I got used to getting thrown around. Shortly after I got my green belt, my teammate Dave invited me to go to Total Martial Arts Center (TMAC), another martial arts school that showcased Muay Thai, Kali, and the martial art that started it all, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ). Suffice to say, I quickly figured out (via frequent tap outs and further soreness) that judo wasn’t the be-all-end-all and that I needed to expand my game (although it really helped). Thus, my foray into grappling was solidified by joining a gym that had and continues to have significant impact on my health, my career choices, my friendships, and who I am as a person.


Matthew Poulin is the head instructor at TMAC and is my BJJ and Muay Thai coach. He currently teaches Self Defence, Kali, MMA, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Matt is affiliated with Gelinas Academy Of Mixed Martial Arts (GAMMA) for Muay Thai Kickboxing, Pekiti-Tirsia Kali, and MMA.  Matt is also affiliated with Brazilian Top Team (BTT) Canada and has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Fabio Holanda. He has been running TMAC for years, becoming part-owner and eventually full-time owner at aged 22 when he acquired the business from Richard Webb, a great and influential coach in his own right. Now 33, Matt has had a profound influence on many people, the local and provincial martial arts community, and the community overall, whether he likes to admit it or not. I asked Matt to have a chat about his martial arts journey to which he accepted. For more information about Total Martial Arts Center, check out their Facebook page or log on to www.totalmartialartscenter.com.  Without further adieu….

Matt’s rising through the BJJ belt system. He is pictured with Fabio Holanda in all photos and Phil Gelinas and Fabio Holanda in the top left.

When did you start doing martial arts?

I did Kung Fu for a week then karate for like a week. Got into judo that was more to my liking maybe lasted a couple months. In 1994 – we (bro, dad, me) started at Red Mustato (sp) Boxing Club, (my grandfather was a founding member with Red). We really enjoyed that, long practices. But as Red’s health declined (passed away in 1995), the other coach wasn’t as personable and most people left. In 1999, After not going back to basketball (which I was not gifted in at all) After my dad had been trying to get me involved with the Total Martial Arts Center (he had been going over a year). Me and my friend Signed up for Muay Thai kickboxing lessons. I did a couple months of just Thai boxing then they asked me to join Russian Sambo Class, I really enjoyed that as well. Then some time in 2000, the instructors convinced me to join the Fong Wei Do Program (Blend of Thai boxing, Boxing, Self defense Kali and Silat etc.). Also, we had a class in Jun Fan and Inosanto Kali. In 2001 Inst. Webb brought in Phil Gelinas for a Pekiti Tirsia Kali seminar and I was hooked on that too after. And lastly after I started traveling for training in 2004, I found myself heading to Montreal to upgrade in training there, he and had guys who taught Muay Thai and BJJ there, so I Joined Gamma Muay Thai and Kali and BTT Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I had done some BJJ training from in the sambo class in 2000, after one of the instructors came back from training in LA with JJ Machado at the Inosanto academy.

Eventually, all this lead up to a point where this was a possible career choice, what were the deciding factors that made you open up a gym?

I was in high school and training which wasn’t bad at all. But after high school was done, my only concern was being able to train as much as possible, so begin the years of odd jobs and jobs that were good for my training routines. Back then there was no lunch training or weekend training so that’s how I tried to find jobs that would work around that schedule. Also having my family, wife, and 1 son at the time was tough to make time for everything. I had one job at Mac’s where I’d work from 6am till 3 pm, go home till 5:30, then teach and train till 8:30/9:00. I left that to have a better paying job at a radio and ATM repair shop but the boss was a nightmare. So one day out of the blue I said, “screw it”, packed my tool boxes and boots and left at the lunch break and never worked for anyone since. About 10 years now give or take a couple months. The gym when I bought it had 26 members, maybe half paying members. I made 300 a month at first, but I knew if I wanted to do this full time, I needed to change things around. I went and did marketing at Northern collage and studied business – Added more classes and started teaching private lessons.

Was Richard selling the business when you decided to pursue this?

No. He just offered me to buy it one day. Pretty cheap couldn’t say no. It was my need to continue to train that lead me to open full time.

The best of both worlds! Running a gym must be difficult but rewarding.

Working for others you show up to work and get a paycheck. Working for yourself is very hard. You have to do everything: sign people up, training them, etc., pay all bills then hopefully have enough for a paycheck.

But training everyone and they become effective and efficient makes it awesome.

You’ve become pretty involved with the provincial scene when it comes to MMA and Muay Thai. How did that all come about?

The simple answer is there was no provincial scene when we first started fighting. We had to go to the states to get our MMA in. Quebec started to be more active again so we stopped heading to the US and started focusing on Thai and MMA there. We also started one or two fights that started to appear in Ontario which was pretty Wild West stuff compared, but we never really turned down any offer to compete. Just in the last 2-3 years Ontario scene BOOMED having fights pretty much every weekend almost to the point of being overdone. I never really believe to have to join a single organization to compete under as we were fighting everywhere. But in the last few years we have joined organizations like QC Ammy Muay Thai, recently WKF(world kickboxing federation) Canada and MTO (Muay Thai Ontario) which has made things easier to get match ups

The availability for competition must have had a positive impact on the students as well.

We have always had a above average ratio of fighters compared to other gyms, about 20%. We have been lucky to keep them very active over the years and the results they get is fantastic and keeps them motivated.

You have an event coming up as well! First of its kind here in Timmins.

Sept 23rd MMA and Muay Thai show with some K1. Before this we had one boxing show. This will showcase mostly northern fights and some southern. None of the Timmins athletes have competed at home before and this will be amazing opportunity for them. Some of the guys on the card have been traveling non stop for 8+ years. No boos for once.

Where is the event being held? And who can people contact for more information?

The Mac curling club. Facebook has the most updates, True North Fights at www.truenorthfights.ca


 I’d talk about training for a bit, what methods you feel are effective, etc.

Everyone that trains with me or in my classes knows I’m a firm believer in Repetition Training. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Classes for example: I believe once you do a technique it always should be done a minimum of 20 times, and I think you should try to get in 100 reps so you don’t forget it and depending on technique, your first goal should be 1000 reps. After that, you can change your method of drilling for that technique, start getting the person to resist more, etc.

All the time looking for and experimenting in rolls with that technique, Slow Rolls (Roll is a term for sparring) and Hard Rolls. Making sure you remember how it worked out in both, then you can go rep the parts that didn’t quite work in the live sessions.

In Muay Thai I really like combination training and repping out technique in flows, or offence based combos and defence following combos. Sequence training in shadow boxing, bags training, pads, and timing sparring. I don’t like hard Thai sparring, it’s not as safe as hard BJJ rounds, the risk of injury is just to high, especially if there are new people involved.

Repetition is the mother of all skill. You must master the timing of each technique.

Was this something developed based on past experience? Or are the methods similar to ones you were taught?

All based on testing in club and results

Thanks again for agreeing to chat!

I usually hear the opposite haha.

 Anything else you would like to add?

Come try out a class at our beginner friendly gym. Total Martial Arts Center, something for everyone.

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