When Stoughton’s lone martial arts school changed hands in December 2014, Matthew Griffey seized the opportunity to step in as head instructor.

Griffey, who had long dreamed of becoming a martial arts instructor, received his chance to help 22 students continue their pursuit of the rank of black belt when Stoughton Martial Arts became Kicks Unlimited Stoughton under new owner Jason Huett in 2014.

Located at 1740 E. Main St., Griffey’s school now instructs almost 175 students in various martial arts from 3 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, as well as 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. The academy features three age-based martial arts programs, with “Lil Ninjas” for children ages 4-6, an intermediate program for kids ages 7-12 and an adult class that begins at age 13.

“Sometimes the 12- and 11-year-old kids will go into the adult program because it’s a little bit easier for them,” Griffey said.

Kicks Unlimited also features a competitive performance team, along with a “university” program for students who wish to continue their training after receiving black belts. University students learn about weapon-based martial arts such as kobudo or American bo staff.

“They also get to learn how to teach, how to instruct, how to lead the (training) floor, so that way they can be leaders themselves in and outside of the karate school,” Griffey said.

Griffey’s team of instructors — Nikkia Kohn, Savannah Kohn, Jacob Lorenz, Elly Everts and Marissa Grooms — all were former Kicks Unlimited Stoughton students.

“If you look at a lot of the kids that we’ve worked with, you see them grow from inside of their shells to out there and leading 20, 30 people at a time (as instructors),” Griffey said.

Kicks Unlimited Stoughton also features one other employee, program director Kamryn Richardson, who Griffey described as “crucial” to the academy’s operations.

In 2018, the martial arts school won the City of Stoughton’s Business of the Year award, an honor recognizing the business’ commitment to the community’s youth, including programs at elementary schools focused on bullying. Griffey cited bullying as an influence in pushing him toward martial arts.

“I had been bullied a lot when I was younger,” he said. “I didn’t really know how to defend myself and I thought martial arts was the key to that.”

Discovering discipline

Aside from teaching martial arts, Kicks Unlimited Stoughton serves as an important educational resource for schools and parents. The academy has led classes at Sandhill and Kegonsa elementary schools and has even contributed to Kegonsa’s “social emotional learning” program.

Kicks Unlimited Stoughton also introduced a “Stand Up to Bullying” program last April, with a goal of spreading the martial arts school’s positive influence beyond the training floor.

“Individuals that are getting bullied are having the possibility of coming in and learning how to stand up and how to recognize those emotions when those issues come up,” Griffey said.

Kicks Unlimited Stoughton has also played a part in transforming children who would kick and punch instructors upon starting out at the school, Griffey said.

“With our training, we’ve been able to turn them around into really upstanding citizens of the community,” he said.

Changing leadership

The Kicks Unlimited family of martial arts academies began with a Fitchburg school under professional stuntman Jason Huett in 2002. Next, Huett opened Kicks Unlimited Sun Prairie with Seth and Jen Degnan in 2004, with the duo taking over full ownership of the location in 2007.

Kicks Unlimited also spawned a Middleton school, though it would break off and become Silver Lining Taekwon-do in December 2016.

Kicks Unlimited Stoughton originated in 2013 from Murphy’s Martial Arts Academy, under the ownership of head instructor Pat Murphy and his business partners Tim and Renee Scot. The school became Stoughton Martial Arts with the departure of Pat Murphy, and Tim Scot took over as head instructor.

In 2014, Huett purchased the operation from the Scots, making it the fourth school to feature the Kicks Unlimited name. Finally, Seth and Jen Degnan bought the Stoughton and Fitchburg locations from Huett in October 2015.

Last December, Griffey became co-owner of Kicks Unlimited Stoughton, with four years as head instructor under his belt. The Stoughton Area Chamber of Commerce presented Griffey with this year’s Business Person of the Year award, while Griffey’s involvement in the community also helped net him the City of Stoughton’s Friend of Youth award.

Griffey told the Hub that it was an “amazing feeling” to be surprised with these awards.

“I really appreciate them being so nice and recognizing the hard work that we’re doing,” he said.