Photo by Sara Alouh
On the first floor of the Frances Wilson Thompson Library, inside an office, inside an office, inside of another office, UM-Flint Librarian Matthew Wolverton does most of his work. Dimly lit and occupied by carts of books and bookshelves, his relatively large office feels more cozy than vast.
Children’s paintings splash the far wall of the office, all of them framed. Stacks of newspapers and books cover every square foot of the office. Though the sheer amount of stuff in the space is initially overwhelming, spending more than a minute taking it all in will reveal a neatly organized mess.
Upon first glance, Wolverton leads a mild-mannered and unassuming life. During the day, he works as the university’s electronic resources librarian, making sure students have access to digital media through renewals, paying invoices and liaising with vendors.
Additionally, he serves as head of the Technical Services Office and oversees all the library’s acquisitions, both print and digital materials. Once a month, Wolverton goes to Ann Arbor to meet with their electronic resource librarians to expand and maintain the university’s academic resources. He also provides reference services to the students.
At night though, Wolverton doesn’t have to worry about acquisitions and references and citation analysis. No, at night he’s too busy being a badass martial artist. Every Monday and Wednesday at 7 p.m. he attends jiu-jitsu classes, where he sharpens his skills on the grappling-based martial art and self-defense system, Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He trains at Wolverine Martial Arts in Grand Blanc, run by Scott Atkinson, English professor and jiu-jitsu brown belt. .
There are a number of reasons Wolverton is drawn to jiu-jitsu. For one, he gets to have something in common with his son, which is why he initially started in January 2019. Another reason he trains like a ninja is to exercise his problem-solving skills, which he finds useful during his day job.
“I do like the pain and discomfort aspect of it. I think that it builds character. It’s like this guy was choking me out in class, and I survived that so I can survive this,” said Wolverton.
He says he had tried jiu-jitsu before last year. In fact, he took a class 10 years ago. However, he quickly learned it wasn’t for him. At the time, Wolverton’s schedule was packed from being a student and playing in a rock band. Though his life is busier now than it was 10 years ago, he has learned to manage his time better to make room for other things. For now, he says, he plans on sticking with jiu-jitsu, as long as his son does, too.
“So as long as he likes to continue to do it, it’s something that he and I can do together,” said Wolverton.
Wolverton’s jiu-jitsu partner is also his friend from work, Jacob Blumner, Writing Center director and English professor at UM-Flint. Blumner and Wolverton had known each other before, but it wasn’t until their sons started jiu-jitsu together that they became friends.
“We really started the friendship when we started jiu-jitsu,” said Blumner.
As their coach tells it, Wolverton and Blumner are a pretty tough pair. Purportedly, a man once walked into the gym who had been in lots of fights and just “wanted to see where he was at,” After demonstrations, Atkinson paired the man with Wolverton and Blumner.
“He stands up and he’s out of breath … and says, ‘Scott, man, these guys are tough.’ And I said, ‘[Once] you start rolling with librarians and professors, it gets rough in here.’ And his jaw kind of hit the floor,” said Atkinson.
Librarian, martial artist, former rock band member, jack of all trades. But to the public, he looks like an average straight-laced librarian. Probably boring, probably reads all the time.
People make a lot of assumptions about Wolverton and that frustrates him. He feels that too often people will pass judgment on others based on their appearances, backgrounds or professions. Though the misconceptions bother him, he doesn’t exactly feel the need to let everyone in on his interests.
“I like to sort of have [a] career and that’s one thing and that’s in this box. But then I also do these other things that are in this box. And doing those things that make me who I am just like being a librarian doesn’t necessarily make me who I am. It’s just those are all pieces of the person,” said Wolverton.
Though an objectively cool dude, Wolverton chooses to remain anonymous. Or at least he thinks he does. He sighs and shifts in his seat, thinking about what to say next.
“I can’t explain what it is. But I’ve always been like that. You know, when I played in a band everybody had tattoos, everybody in the scene. I’ve got no tattoos … Part of that was I didn’t want to be like everybody else. I think that I don’t want to be just like a librarian who goes home and does research on library stuff and publishes things in library generals,” said Wolverton.
He doesn’t want to be defined as one thing–the boring librarian. And to a large extent, he isn’t. Wolverton is dynamic. He just sometimes doesn’t want people to know that.