Mass MMA: NEXUS Martial Arts

Posted: April 4, 2011 in Local MMA

The Mass MMA series continues this month as we focus on NEXUS Martial Arts located in Wareham, MA.  With more than 20 years martial arts experience and relationships that stretch across the upper echelon of martial arts, NEXUS Chief Instructor and owner Stephen Whittier was kind enough to answer my questions regarding his school and his thoughts on the growing MMA landscape.

Instructor Name:
Stephen Whittier, owner & Chief Instructor

Martial Arts Taught:
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, Muay Thai Kickboxing, and Self Defense (including both civilian and law enforcement-specific tactics).

Years of Study:
20+ years

What do you like about Mixed Martial Arts?  What – if anything – would change about it if you could?

When I started doing what we now call MMA, it was just “crosstraining,” or called by the early terms “Vale Tudo” or “NHB” (no holds barred). Of course, the UFC was much less evolved and more brutal in the early days, but in terms of functionality and effectiveness the martial arts world quickly got to see up close what actually works and what doesn’t against fully resisting opponents in a live environment. As NHB evolved into MMA — a regulated and fast-growing sport — we have seen a rapid evolution in the fighters as well. Now it is not representatives of various styles competing against each other, but highly trained and well-rounded professional athletes competing against each other. While some people still can’t get past the violent spectacle of the fighting itself (which I understand, it’s not for everyone), I have always seen the efficient and effective execution of technique to be inseparable from the art, and as a martial artist I enjoy seeing what the top fighters are doing and how they are applying their technique. Seeing the level of practical application of the martial arts grow with the sport is probably my favorite part.

What would I change about it? A couple of things. I could do without the whole “macho fighter wanna-be” identity that has grown up around some of the MMA culture. But the thing that mostly annoys me and other legitimate and experienced instructors I know is the fact that along with the rise of the sport we now have so many rebranded karate instructors and overnight experts claiming to teach MMA. Having put in many years of blood, sweat, and tears both training and learning how to teach — and not just martial arts but real MMA, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, and Muay Thai, etc. — it is a hard pill to swallow to see how many people are jumping on the MMA bandwagon in recent years. Nowadays it is very easy to hook up with a name organization, fly their flag, and pass as an expert.

With the success of UFC 118 and the Fan Expo in Boston last summer have you seen an increase in new students?

I would not say that particular event really drove a lot of new traffic to us, but just the general popularity and interest in the sport has continued to make it appealing. The main thing I have found is this: interest in MMA brings bring people to your door, but it is what you can do for them that will keep them interested, and that is what we focus on.

As a sneak peek for MMA fans, any young talent at your school you’d like to call out as the next big thing?

No specific names right now. Although the majority of our students are not fighters, we have some monsters on the mat coming up now, and if they chose to focus on competition there is a ton of promise there. One of my students, Cesar Barros, won a big show in Brazil last year beating a 4x BJJ Black Belt national champion in 32 seconds, and is preparing to come off a layoff and fight again soon.

Nexus is in good company with SBGi, Team Sityodtong, Northeast BJJ, Burn with Kearns – how did you become affiliate with these groups?

I have always sought out the best to train with in terms of skill, instruction, and the right “vibe” or mindset. I am really proud and honored to know these people, and have made some of my best friends through these associations. I have trained with Roberto Maia, founder of Boston BJJ (now Gracie Barra Boston) since the late ’90s. I was hooked after my first lesson there and it was basically my second home for years, and would train there often even after I started the original Nexus Martial Arts in early 2003. it was around that time, 2002 or early 2003, that I first trained with Mark DellaGrotte (of Sityodtong) and brought in Matt Thornton of SBGI. I had really good Muay Thai instruction for some years before I worked with Mark, but the Sityodtong style just blew me away and I immediately became his private student and continue to work with him to this day. I am very honored to be one of his higher level trainers. Matt Thornton is a great friend and another truly world-class coach, and was a big influence on me and many others way before I ever met him in person. He is low-key so many in the MMA world have not heard of him, but suffice it to say that SBGI was the first proper “MMA” organization, and a ton of top-level talent worldwide in MMA and BJJ has come from this group of phenomenal coaches. All the instructors get together a couple of times per year to network, train, and share coaching technology. I became the East Coast Regional Director back in 2006. And as for Burn With Kearns, Kevin and I have been friends for years and even with a personal training background he’s shown me a lot of great stuff and helped me personally with my recovery and training over the years. I helped form the initial connections to get him in training MMA fighters, but he is a workhorse and he ran with it, and now has a great reputation as a top MMA strength & conditioning coach. As someone who knows his protocols inside and out after working with him for years, Nexus became the world’s first Burn With Kearns certified MMA conditioning center.

What separates Nexus from other martial arts schools in MA? Why should new students select you over another school?

We have a really unique thing going on at Nexus. In terms of training, we teach at a very high level, and not just in one discipline but in all the arts that comprise MMA — Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Submission Grappling, etc. In MMA itself, my instructors and I have also worked with some of the top athletes in the world. However, what we really excel at and have spent many years refining is how to take not just young athletes and get them results, but to really take men, women and kids of all ages (we have students from 3 years to 66 years old) and help them reach their goals. We also have a very professional operation with a multi-faceted program, so it is not “one size fits all.” Different people come to train and study for any number of reasons, and we have developed specific curriculums to fit their different needs. When it comes to a combination of technical expertise, professional service, and teaching methods, we are hard to beat if I do say so.

Are you using any social media tools to promote your school (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc)?  Are you reaching new students with those channels?

Yes. We have a lot of tools to reach and educate new & prospective students. We have our own YouTube Channel, MMA Blog, and our Facebook is I also have a regular series of videos and articles called The MMA Performance Professor which comes out online, and have written a lot for Ultimate MMA Magazine.

For additional information on Nexus visit


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