Article by Chuck Hardin and Matt Phillips.
- 1 Summary
- 2 Background of Bullshido's Interest in Matthew Morton
- 3 Martial Arts Claims
- 3.1 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Credentials
- 3.2 Judo Certifications
- 3.3 Hapkido Rank
- 4 Military Claims
- 5 Morton's Response to the Investigation: An Unlikely Story
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 Acknowledgments
- 8 Footnotes
Matthew Morton is a St. Louis martial arts instructor who claimed black belts in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, heroic service in the Marine Corps, and one-time membership in the All-Marine Judo Team. When his Brazilian jiu-jitsu certificates were exposed as digital forgeries, he claimed to have been the victim of a scam by two of his fellow Marines. His claims of military heroism are inconsistent with his service records, and his story about the forgers is inconsistent with all of the known facts. He was never a member of the All-Marine Judo Team. His judo credentials were found to have been either forged or obtained on the basis of forgeries, as a result of which he was ultimately suspended from the USJA and made to admit and apologize for his forgeries.
Background of Bullshido's Interest in Matthew Morton
Matthew Morton joined Bullshido on February 1, 2009, introducing himself as a judo instructor. He was known to Bullshido member and former student ZenOfAnger, who promptly welcomed him to the forum. Morton weighed in on the investigation of St. Louis area martial arts instructor S.C. Ray, and in every way appeared to have the makings of a productive member of Bullshido.
The first indication we had of a possible problem with Morton's background came from ZenOfAnger, who asked about a dubious-seeming judo technique he had been taught. The alleged technique led prominent Bullshido members and judo teachers Mark Tripp, Josh Artigue, and Mark Hunter, not only to dismiss the technique as invalid, but to become immediately suspicious of the credentials of ZenOfAnger's judo instructor.
Morton entered the thread, identifying himself as the instructor in question, confirming that he taught the technique, and claiming that he was a legitimate second-degree black belt with the USJA. Artigue and Tripp remained skeptical, and Morton grew intransigent and confrontational in response, and later cited prior military heroism and membership in the All-Marine Judo Team.
In another thread, Morton made more claims of martial arts rank, including a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as well as judo.
These were extraordinary claims, given his unorthodox views on throwing technique. This attracted the attention of several members of the Bullshido community.
Martial Arts Claims
Bullshido member DarkPhoenix found several certifications posted by Matt Morton in his picture album on the MartialTalk forum in support of his claim of a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Morton confirmed that the certifications were his. All of the image analysis on the certifications was performed by Bullshido member War Wheel.
All but one of the credentials was found to be a forgery. The sole exception was probably obtained through the use of a forgery.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Credentials
Level One Instructor Certificate from the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu academy
This is the Level One Instructor certificate posted by Matt Morton on MartialTalk.
There are some dubious details about this certificate before we even consider the evidence of forgery. Most martial arts certificates bear a date; this one does not. Also, it appears to have been signed by Carlson Gracie, who is not affiliated with the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu organization.1
However, once we perform an image enhancement on the certificate to emphasize contrasts and variations in the image, we see evidence of tampering:
Note the rectangular artifacts around the names, dates, and signatures in each image. These indicate that those elements were cut and pasted from other images. One doesn't see such artifacts when enhancing real certifications:
Even more damning, however, is the evidence that the tampering was done digitally, rather than to a physical certificate. A physically altered document would not show such distinct evidence of photomanipulation. For example, here is an enhanced scan of a printout of Morton's Gracie Jiu-Jitsu certificate:
This is especially suspicious because martial arts certificates are generally provided in physical form, not as digital images. The only way Morton would have had these certificates is if they had been manipulated in digital form. This suggested that he was the likely forger.
When Matt Phillips overlaid Morton's alleged Roger Gracie certificate over the genuine article by Chet Schemahorn, the imposture became even more obvious:
Notice that Chet's cert contains the full border, name in smaller and different font, and is signed by Rorion and Helio.
Notice that Mr Morton's "cert" is a cropped fragment of this very image, with his name and Carlson's sig added in Photoshop?
Morton's other certifications proved to have similar issues.
First-Degree Black Belt Certificate from the Roger Gracie Jiu-Jitsu academy
Morton posted this certificate for a first-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu:
When enhanced, this certificate shows evidence of digital tampering consistent with the use of Adobe Photoshop or similar software. Here, the telling details are the curious uniformity of the background, and the step-box pattern that emerges around the major details. As we see with Carreno's certificate above, physical documents that are scanned do not have uniform backgrounds. Digital forgeries often do.
In the image below, Magic Wand was used to select features from an image of an authentic Roger Gracie certificate on the same form as Morton's. Everything not selected in this manner was deleted and the selection itself was pasted over a blank white background. Enhancement reveals the same step-box artifact seen in Morton's certificate. It is important to note that this is not the precise pattern found when Morton's certificate image is enhanced, and that there is no reason to believe he edited this particular image to create his forgery, but rather some other image using the same form.
Overlaying the unenhanced version of the true certificate with the Magic Wand pattern from Morton's document clearly shows that major features such as the decorative designs in the four corners were present when the tool was originally used. It is the nature of the edge detection in this tool to select right up to a boundary, but avoid selecting beyond any obvious edges.
At this point, it became transparently obvious that Morton's Brazilian jiu-jitsu certifications were digital forgeries and highly probable that he had forged them. This naturally led Bullshido members to scrutinize his other certifications.
USJI Judo Coach Certification
Morton posted this certification from the U.S.A. Judo Association, certifying him as an authorized judo coach:
However, as Bullshido member DCS noted, Morton's name did not appear on the USA Judo Coaching Certification List. Furthermore, Phillips posted an overlay of Morton's certificate with a genuine article from James Carmer:
The differences in fonts for the name and date might be explained by a change in the USJI's typographic presentation between 2007 and 2009, but the pixel-for-pixel identicality of the rest of the image could not result from a scan of a separate document. Even the same document will not scan precisely the same twice in a row. Morton's certificate is obviously a forgery based upon Carmer's real certificate.
Kodokan Membership Card
Matt Morton posted an image of his Kodokan membership card:
This image also looks suspicious, and Phillips soon showed it to be as phony as the Brazilian jiu-jitsu certificates. Note the uniform background and discoloration around the name, number, and registration date:
Bullshido member llyr24 noticed another troubling detail about Morton's card, comparing it to his own, genuine article:
Firstly the date is written differently, next, the membership number is codified to the individual. Mine is 671024005. My birthday is 24 October 1967 - hence 671024xx. The card is a fake.
Here is llyr24's card for comparison purposes:
The evidence that it is your card in in the fact that your image is off center and tilted in a very specific way, and his is identically imperfect. Also, his image was exactly 10% reduced in size from yours, to the pixel.
Additionally, Morton's forged card has a registration date of 12/10/08. Interpreted according to the Kodokan format, this indicates a registration date of October 8th, 1912.
Kodokan Certificate of Judo Rank
Morton posted an alleged Kodokan certificate of rank:
This showed the usual evidence of digital tampering:
Here is a genuine Kodokan certificate for judo expert Neil Ohlenkamp:
Note the handwritten lettering in the original, compared with the obvious digital lettering in Morton's certificate.
Bullshido member danniboi noticed something even more incriminating:
…you don't even have to compare or analyze. "Neil Olenkamp" is WRITTEN in Katakana in the second line. It straight up SAYS Neil Olenkamp with "Matthew Michael Morton" in the English box.
Bullshido member futabachan found another problem with the Japanese portion of the certificate:
…"Matthew's" certificate is dated April 20, Showa 51 (1976) in the Japanese text.
Note that this is the same date as the one on Ohlenkamp's genuine Kodokan certificate.
For what it is worth I can also read the name on the certificate - it is of course Neil Olenkhamp. Also I have a Kodokan diploma of my own. The font in the fake is wrong and early certificates said Grade not Dan.
Also, the Kancho of the Kodokan in Neil's certificates is Risei Kano (this is the name in Japanese in the top of the fake) but in the Latin script of the fake it is Yukimitsu Kano. For the date of the forgery, the Kancho had indeed changed.
It was obvious that Morton's document was a digitally altered version of Ohlenkamp's original, performed by someone who did not know enough Japanese to alter critical portions of the document.
Judo Tournament Victory
Morton posted an image of an alleged first-place trophy from an unidentified "Regional Championship" in Belleville, Illinois on Marich 19, 2009:
This image also appears to be a fake based upon the enhanced version:
As Phillips commented, the total lack of noise in the image except for the antialiasing around the text and image is not normal in a scanned document. Furthermore, Bullshido member Kintanon found that this judo tournament did not exist.
Morton's second degree black belt rank through the USJA was quickly confirmed by the organization. However, Bullshido members considered it likely that the USJA had granted this rank based upon the forged Kodokan certificate. The USJA did not respond directly to a followup query about the basis for Morton's rank, and it was speculated that they had begun their own inquiry into Morton by that point.
Membership In The All-Marine Judo Team
Our records only contain those who competed on the All-Marine Team. We only have rosters of names, but no results. We looked from 1993 to 1995, which were the last years of All-Marine Judo, and we did not see a LCpl Matthew Morton on that list.
While Morton"s 1st Gyup in Hapkido not been Challenged, he is pictured here with the head of the Lee H. Park Moo Sul Kwan Institute (his father's organization) wearing a black belt.
Closer inspection reveals the details of the embroidery
"Matt M Morton, 2nd Dan"
"Moo Sul Kwan Institute, Lee H. Park"
User Runitboy, a member of Park's organization, explained that the rank was honorary in acknowledgement of his (now proven invalid) Judo Nidan. Whether or not his MSK organization modifies Morton's Hapkido rank in response to the USJA development remains to be seen.
In addition to his martial arts claims, Matthew Morton made several claims regarding his service in the Marines. Almost all of them are contradicted by the documented facts of his service.
Wounded in Action
His military claims started with his fifth post on Bullshido:
I myself am a disabled combat veteran so I understand hardship and pain.
He expanded upon these claims in a later post:
Oh by the way, not that it has a lot to do with it.....however I am a disabled combat vet......
Anyway, I love Judo because with my disabilities.....(Knee Braces, Traumatic Brain Injury, Bad Back, P.T.S.D.) I can still do judo.
As the investigation developed and Morton was under more pressure, he began to make more references to his claimed combat injuries:
I am an unemployable, disabled combat vet on 12 meds a day with 2 leg braces and a back brace. So, judo is my physical therapy. I was told, range of motion or wheel chair.
Rather than drawing sympathy, his claims caused people to question his military past as well. Bullshido member Cy Q. Faunce made a post asking Morton to sign an SF-180 and submit it to the National Personnel Records Center to release his military records. Morton declined, offering instead to show a photocopy of his DD-214 discharge certificate. Cy expressed the reservation that such documents can be easily forged, but Morton  still refused, so Cy agreed to accept the document as examined by local Bullshido member Sam P..
Morton showed Sam P. a photocopy of his DD-214 along with his other certifications. Sam described the document: "a xeroxed copy with the embossed seal of the National Archives and Records Administration over the signature of Chief Warrant Officer D.A. Roberts. ... This document appeared to be without alteration or fabrication."
Sam also posted a scan of the DD-214. Cy referred this scan to Chuck and Mary Schantag of the POW Network, an organization to help former U.S. military prisoners of war stay in touch. The POW Network also documents false claims of POW status, military heroism, and the like. They have assisted Bullshido in previous investigations, including the Richard Guerra case.
Mary Schantag looked at Morton's DD-214 and immediately noted: "This one clearly states NOT A FINAL DISCHARGE, Usually the only reason they use that rather than the LAST which counts... is there is something there they don't want anyone to see." Thus, even if the document were authentic, it was not the final and authoritative reference on Morton's service.
Cy referred the documents to Steve Robinson, a Bullshido member and former Navy SEAL, to interpret the records. Robinson's conclusions were as follows:
I find no reference to medical situations or circumstances which involve injury or disability resulting in extended hospitalization. Minor cuts, scrapes, and injuries would be normally handled by unit command's medical personnel without notation other than a medical jacket entry. Longer recoveries which still permitted a man to return to his unit and continue serving might normally be expected to result in some notation marking a man as "TAD" to a hospital. There is nothing here which I find/understand to indicate that Mr. MORTON was transferred to a hospital for an extended stay, or that he was injured sufficiently to warrant a discharge on the basis of medical circumstances. He completed his four years of Active Duty without apparent interruption. There is no evidence that he was wounded or injured, however slightly or severely, in any sort of conflict. An injury sustained in actions against hostile forces would normally result in the award of a Purple Heart Medal. Mr. MORTON's records do not contain authorization for that award.
Phillips also discovered a photo of Matthew Morton performing a high kick at a Hapkido tourney:
This appears inconsistent with his claimed injuries. Morton posted the photo in a 2006 discussion on the MartialTalk forum, so it postdates his alleged injuries.
Bullshido concludes that Morton was not injured in combat during his service, in contradiction of his repeated claims.
Participation in the Scott O'Grady Rescue
(Haiti, helped rescue Scott O'Grady-Who was the Air Force Captain shot down in Bosnia-, Albania)
As members of Bullshido began questioning Morton's martial arts credentials, he made more references to his military past:
It's cool. I had been raised with the idea that without integrity there is nothing. The Marines were certainly a big part of that. I had just got off the phone with Steve Scott. I talked with him a bit as to my time in Judo and what I am trying to accomplish. Here's the deal, I was on the USS Kearsarge in 1995, this is how I was part of the Trapp mission to help rescue Scott O'Grady.
One problem with this claim was that Morton's records showed that his sole specialization throughout his service was that of a Field Artillery Cannoneer. Such a specialist would be an unlikely participant in a rescue mission. As Steve Robinson observed:
...since a helo can only carry a limited number of people (with the anticipation of adding the rescued pilot for the return trip), it seems elementary that only necessary troops would be along for the ride. This would reasonably include Special Operations guys (USMC Recon, Navy SEALs, or the like), medical personnel, communications guy(s), and an OIC. So why would they also have a FIELD ARTILLERY CANNONEER on board the helo?
Furthermore, Steve examined Morton's list of decorations and found "no indication of either such incident - helo accident or at sea rescue - nor of any awards that might be associated with 'heroic conduct in saving the life of another, while totally disregarding one's own safety'."
Bullshido concludes that Morton did not participate meaningfully in the rescue of Scott O'Grady.
Operation Royal Dragon (a.k.a. Purple Star)
Morton claimed that he participated in "Operation Purple Star" in 1996. He asserted that he was involved somehow in a helicopter wreck during this operation. He later clarified that his involvement was as a witness, and possibly in a corpse retrieval effort.
This account seems extremely improbable. "Operation Purple Star" was called Operation Royal Dragon by U.S. Forces; only the British participants in this training exercise referred to it as "Purple Star". It is possible that Morton got the name from an article in the L.A. Times about the helicopter crash, which for some reason used the British name for the operation. It is unlikely that a U.S. Marine who was involved in the incident would call it by the British name, but a person who only looked it up on the Web might have.
Additionally, as with the rescue of O'Grady, there are no decorations which would correspond to the heroic action Morton described.
Bullshido concludes that Matt Morton did not participate meaningfully in Operation Royal Dragon.
Rank of Sergeant and L.I.N.E. Instructor Credentials
Morton also claimed an honorary ranking in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), and claimed to have earned the rank of sergeant:
Since being a L.I.N.E. training instructor at the company level and having done all the MODs some currently enlisted Marines helped me nail down the cirriculum. And yes, you have to be at least a Sgt. and have 300 hours I believe.
However, Steve Robinson noted that the highest rank Morton had achieved was Lance Corporal (E3), which falsified his claim of having been a Sergeant.
Bullshido concludes that Morton was never promoted to the rank of Sergeant, and was therefore never a L.I.N.E. instructor.
Morton's Response to the Investigation: An Unlikely Story
Victim Of Fraud And Forgery?
When the falsity of Morton's Brazilian jiu-jitsu certificates became evident, he claimed to have been sold the false Level One cert by "Gunnery Sergeant Eric Thompson", and the false Roger Gracie black belt cert by fellow Marine Michael Garcia. Morton was vague about their whereabouts. According to Morton, Thompson and Garcia each emailed him the digital scans of his certificates and then sent him copies, probably in response to the point that the forgeries were digital in origin.
Bullshido members attempted to track down the alleged forgers with no success. Phillips found an Eric Thompson in the Marines Corps who claimed martial arts experience, but Bullshido member Kintanon found that this person's service dates did not match Morton's. Morton offered an alleged email address for Thompson after repeated requests, but that address was invalid. This seemed unlikely, since Morton claimed that he had only recently been emailed the certificate by Thompson.
There was another large problem with Morton's story as well: He claimed he had not corresponded with Michael Garcia in any way since 1996, yet the Roger Gracie certificate was dated 2009.
In any case, it seemed very unlikely that Morton had been conned in exactly the same way by two different fellow Marines on two occasions 13 years apart, both of whom used identical forging techniques, and neither of whom was reachable. When Morton's judo certifications were also found to be forged or obtained on the basis of forgeries, this explanation became even less tenable.
Morton's story took a dramatic turn when he claimed to be on suicide watch at the local VA hospital. Phillips contacted the hospital and discovered that Morton had never been admitted there. Furthermore, it is extremely unlikely that anyone on suicide watch would be allowed to access the Internet at all, much less the website which had supposedly driven them to this state. Bullshido members remained concerned about Morton's state of mental health, but were skeptical of this claim.
Victim of Identity Theft?
In what may have been the most bizarre twist Bullshido has ever seen in response to an investigation, Morton then claimed to have been the victim of identity theft, and that he made none of the posts on Bullshido before this, nor did he post the forged certificates.
Aside from the sheer improbability of anyone going to this much trouble to frame an obscure judo coach, it was obviously a false claim...because Morton had already met Sam P. in person at this point in response to the Bullshido thread, and presented identification as well as the certificates he now claimed had been forged by the alleged thief. Sam P. is a banker and trained in the detection of forged identification. Also, former Morton student ZenOfAnger identified a photo as that of Matt Morton which Sam P. verified was the man he had met. Sam P. then asked Morton if he had filed a police report regarding the identity theft. He never got a reply.
Mark Tripp's Generous Offer
Judo coach Mark Tripp made an uncommonly generous offer to the now-discredited Morton:
- I am willing to go and validate Mr. Morton at the rank he is qualified to hold. Whatever that is, Matt agrees to accept it, wear it and go from there.
- I will set Matt up with a legitimate on going training facility I will locate when I am there. From where ever he is, he will train there to EARN what he wants to hold.
- When he is ready, I will personally return, test him, and then should he pass, he can have all the pictures he wishes.
But, before any of that will happen, Mr. Morton will tell ONE story, the truth, man up, and then we go from there.
Most aspiring judoka would be honored to get Mr. Tripp's help, and to have him certify their rank. However, Morton apparently had no taste for being assessed on his skills; he announced his retirement from all martial arts instruction.
Suspended by the USJA
Members of Bullshido contacted the USJA about Morton's forged documents. Neil Ohlenkamp announced the results on Bullshido:
I want to thank the USJA Ethics Committee for the thoroughness of their investigation and their fair evaluation of the evidence. I also want to thank the members of Bullshido who preserved and analyzed the evidence, and shared the results here and on my site at http://judoforum.com.
4 - To protect other members, notice of Mr. Morton's suspension should be posted on the USJA website, and the USJF and USA Judo should also be notified as to our action.
USJA did a professional investigation and took appropriate action. Mr. Morton has apologized to me, and I accept his apology. My offer to test him, or prepare him for a future rank test, remains. I would be happy to help him overcome this and return to judo when his suspension ends.
The USJA Ethics Committee essentially found that all of Mr. Morton's judo rank and coaching certification diplomas were fraudulent, as well as his USJA annual membership card from 1996-1997.
The following Ethics Committee recommendations have now been approved by the USJA Board of Directors:
1 - Mr. Morton should be suspended from the USJA for two years. He can apply for reinstatement provided he has shown compliance with the recommendations numbered 2 and 3.
2 - Mr. Morton should hold no official USJA judo rank until so authorized by examination and verification of his judo knowledge. Accommodations should be made should Mr. Morton supply adequate proof of physical disability.
3 - A permanent "flag" be placed on his USJA record to indicate his judo rank should not be validated without being examined by an examiner selected by the Rank Examiners Committee Chair.
Matt Morton falsely claimed black belt rank in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He did so on the basis of documents which proved to be digital forgeries. He attempted to blame these forgeries on other people, but his explanations were wildly inconsistent with the available evidence. It is Bullshido's conclusion that Morton was the forger.
Morton also claimed heroic service in the Marine Corps, including participation in several famous incidents. These claims are not supported by his service records. Bullshido concludes that these claims are false.
Bullshido thanks Matt Phillips, Sam P., Steve Robinson, Samuel Browning, Chuck and Mary Schantag of the POW Network, Neil Ohlenkamp, Mark Tripp, Mark Hunter, Josh Artigue, and members War Wheel, ZenOfAnger, DarkPhoenix, danniboi, Kintanon, futabachan, llyr24, and mgb, for their many contributions to this article.
1 - In fact, Carlson is a well-known competitor of the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu organization.
2 - Scott O'Grady is one of the most famous rescuees in the American military in recent years. He ejected from his plane over Bosnia after being shot down, and was rescued by the United States Marines 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The movie "Behind Enemy Lines" was based loosely on this rescue.