The resume of Matt Brown’s martial arts mentor reads something like a modern-day tough-guy manual.
George Dillman has worked closely with Bruce Lee, hung with Chuck Norris, owned two cougars, wrestled a bear and currently owns Muhammad Ali’s training facility in Pennsylvania.
He can also knock you out by simply tapping the underside of your jaw.
Sound like a gimmick? Brown thought so, too, until he challenged Dillman at their first meeting almost a decade ago.
“I first met George at an event, and he just started doing movements and dropping the biggest guys in the room. He was just tapping people and knocking them out. So I went up to him and said, ‘I don’t buy it,’ ” Brown said. “And he knocked me out. I wasn’t unconscious, but he just touched a pressure point on my jaw and my feet came out from under me. If it were a cartoon there would have been little birdies circling around my head.”
That interaction improbably sparked a relationship that has grown beyond teacher-and-pupil, a bond cemented earlier this month when Dillman officially promoted Brown – owner of the Penacook School of Martial Arts – to ninth degree black belt at a ceremony in Indiana. Only a dozen of the nearly 25,000 students in 30 countries studying under Dillman Karate International have achieved such a status, and the only higher rank is held by Dillman himself and won’t change hands until he passes away.
“I owe it all to him,” Brown said of Dillman. “He’s become more of a father to me than a teacher. He opened me up to learning from other people and embracing any and everything I can possibly learn.”
It also paved the way for a few celebrity meetings of his own. Brown has chatted with Laila Ali – Muhammad’s daughter – as well as celebrated boxer Larry Holmes and Kool and the Gang.
Brown had a deep background in martial arts before meeting Dillman, having already achieved 6th degree black belt status, but he reached new heights studying Dillman’s techniques of locating and utilizing nerve points, still a controversial topic in the martial arts world.
Though Dillman is widely recognized and respected – Black Belt Magazine said in 2003 that he’d “probably done more for the traditional martial arts than any other person alive” – there is still a large faction of people who believe his approach is smoke and mirrors.
“When you walk into most martial arts events as a Dillman guy, you are in the crosshairs immediately,” Brown said. “The most common phrase you hear is ‘that pressure point stuff doesn’t work,’ and that usually is followed by that person ending up on the floor.”
Brown was a believer from that first encounter and began taking every opportunity to study under Dillman, even though those studies never occurred near home. He used to travel almost every weekend to learn from Dillman, be it to Pennsylvania or to countries like France, England, Spain or China. He’ll be heading to Austria in February, and perhaps Germany, Switzerland and Sweden thereafter.
Brown said he spent almost $30,000 in one year alone traveling to study with Dillman.
“I’m 1,000 times better as an instructor because now I’m not just teaching my students to mimic me because the sensei says so, but there’s a logical, scientific reason for everything,” Brown said.
Brown blends Dillman’s lessons into his own teaching, a craft he’s been working at since he was 16 years old and opened a small dojo above his parents’ garage. When his grandmother left money to the family shortly thereafter, the Penacook School of Martial Arts was born, and though it had to survive something of a nomadic beginning – the dojo moved six times before settling in its current location – it has established deep roots in a building shared with Infinite Health Family Chiropractic.
“We break ’em, he fixes ’em,” Brown quipped.
All kidding aside, the businesses have developed a great working relationship and have strived to turn the building into a general health and wellness facility, as Brown tries to impart wisdom to his students in realms well beyond the ring, including nutrition and bullying education.
“We hit on more than just martial arts,” Brown said. “We teach self-defense against anything that can harm you.”
Brown’s own experiences certainly influence his teaching style, perhaps most notably the realization that martial arts education never stops. After all, he was 22 years into his education when he met Dillman.
“I look at martial arts as a tool box. At some point in your career, you are going to run into a task you don’t have the tool for,” Brown said. “But you don’t go out and buy another tool box. You learn that tool and add it to your tool box.”
Brown intends to continue adding to his tool box, though his most recent achievement was certainly worth pausing for, even if he didn’t take the time to pause until he had already returned to New Hampshire and the comfort of his dojo and students.
“It didn’t hit me until I got home,” Brown said. “One of my students texted me and said, ‘Congratulations on the ninth-degree, what’s next?’ It was that realization – what is next? This is certainly a milestone accomplishment in my life.”
Brown hasn’t lost his sense of humor through it all, nor has he lost the ability to appreciate the fact that he’s living his own dream every day.
“When I was 15, my dad and I were at a car dealership and the salesman asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said martial arts teacher,” Brown said. “My father scoffed at it. Now here I am doing what I love doing. I have the best job in the world; I get to wear pajamas and hit people all day long.”