Grandmaster Richard Bustillo
nterview with Anthony Pillage
The Way of the Spiritual Warrior has a reputation for bringing some of the world’s greatest martial martial artists to its Honbu Dojo in Coventry. No bigger name has graced its mat than Bruce Lee’s direct student Grandmaster Richard Bustillo. It was with some trepidation that I set off to Heathrow on a cold Friday morning to pick up the legend himself. I had met Richard at the SENI Show in 2008 and had popped over to a seminar that Andy Gibney had put on in Wellingborough with him. I also was fortunate enough to be invited to his centre in Los Angeles for the IMB instructor’s conference.
I was immediately struck by his humble and gentle manner, as well as a sense of humour bordering on the outrageous. Just ask my wife Sarah about rattlesnakes! However, it was not until the seminar was over and I had a chance to chat with the attendee’s that I truly realised just what a profound effect Richard has had upon us. The training itself was of course first class. The very persona of the man leaves a beautiful calm upon the soul that has lasted for weeks afterwards. Richard Bustillo is a master of his craft. In today’s throw away, black belt in a box type martial artist he is a true beacon of what I believe is good and true in the martial arts world. I see people in magazines being called Master this and Master that who have only just been awarded their black belt all for the lure of the filthy buck. To be in the presence of a true Grandmaster was a privilege that I will hold dear for many years to come.
At the IMB in America, Sifu Richard had assembled a who’s who of American based martial arts superstars for us to train with. The conference was kicked off with the redoubtable SGM Cacoy Canete who was celebrating his 90th birthday ably assisted by world escrima champion Anthony Kleeman. The legendary Dan Inasanto gave an amazing two hour Kali class, Gokor Chivichyan, who has coached Bas Rutten and Randy Couture led us through leg locks, Kelly Woorden on Arnis and Renegade JKD and of course Richard himself. What was apparent even over the incredible martial arts shared, was the love and respect that these world-class athletes had for Richard. The man has a magic around him that makes it impossible not to be moved and empowered by his very presence.
Grandmaster or Sigung Bustillo has spent over 45 years studying, re-evaluating and rewriting the development of world martial arts from his base in Los Angeles, the IMB (International Martial Arts and Boxing). His credits are almost too numerous to mention. Internationally recognized as an expert in the martial arts, Richard Bustillo is frequently sought after to conduct seminars throughout the world. Drawing from over 45 years of experience, Bustillo possesses a wealth of knowledge and a very unique and motivating teaching style. With a long list of accomplishments and credentials, Bustillo is a member of Black Belt’s 1989 Hall of Fame – Co-Instructor of the Year, an inductee to the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame, Martialinfo.com 2001 Hall of Fame, and United States Martial Arts 2002 Hall of Fame. Richard Bustillo is a certified law enforcement defensive tactics instructor and a member of the American Society of Law Enforcement trainers. He is also certified with the Olympic Training Center as a coach and official with USA Boxing, and a Kru in Muay Thai. Credited as being one of the major contributors to revive the Filipino Martial art of Kali/Eskrima/Arnis, Bustillo is recognized by the Council of Grandmasters of the Philippines as Tenth degree Black Belt (Grandmaster) in Cacoy Doce Pares Eskrima. However, he is best known for his training under Bruce Lee and Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do.
Although Richard has a busy schedule with 300 students at his L.A. Centre, he travels extensively throughout the world, bringing his form of reality self defence called Simultaneous Response, Reaction and Reflex to hundreds of knowledge hungry students. His courses also include Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do, Kali/Eskrima, Ju-Jitsu and Muay Thai. Although now in his late sixties, he has the energy and drive of a man half his age. At the very core of Bustillo’s teachings are the skills of what he calls Range Fighting. This is the ability for the exponent to deliver the most efficient skill set depending on what distance he has to work within to deal with his/her attacker.
For close encounters, the arts of Brazilian Ju Jitsu (he has trained extensively with the Machado brothers after being introduce to BBJ by the Gracie’s) are the best suited with their extensive groundwork and finishing skills.
For mid range, the destructive and explosive Muay Thai and Western Boxing which teach the development of a person’s individual weapons, emphasising feet, elbows, fists and knee strikes and the ability to develop evasive body movement.
For long range, he employs self-defence from the Filipino Arts, using Cacoy Doce Pares stick fighting and knife defence. Richard said “Lee taught us techniques where you are striking at the same time as you are blocking. He used to say “let your opponent feel it before he sees it” to emphasize speed by non-telegraphing a strike. The Filipino arts are the same. So I combined these two philosophies and began to teach my students ways of self defence and opponent control that really work”. For me though, his “Self Discovery Range” in which the student taps into his own personal Jeet Kune Do is perhaps the most interesting. This area is based upon the student’s philosophy, body type, fitness and skill level making the student in fact his own personal master. This form of JKD no doubt increases an individual’s awareness through the understanding of his own personal abilities and limitations. This I believe is what Lee’s philosophy to training was all about, making the student in fact the shaper of their own martial arts destiny. His comment of the most important martial arts award you will ever receive is your own birth certificate struck a huge chord with both my students and myself. One is proud of his birth name and one should never ever embarrass his/her family name.
I was fortunate to spend alot of free time in Richards company and was enthralled by his tales about his life and of course his years of training with Bruce Lee. It struck me just how much Richards’s life has been shaped by his relationship with him and the genuine love and respect he still has for his old mentor and friend.
Richard you have been practicing martial arts nearly your entire life. How did you get initially involved?
I grew up in Hawaii and when I was eight my Japanese friend Jeff Tanaka used to go to a Japanese Language School. My friends and I would walk him there every day and wait for 45 minutes for him to leave. His school was next door to a Judo Dojo and so we used to watch the guys in there practicing. Though we wanted to join in we had no money to pay for the classes. One day the sensei came out and gave us a Judo Gi. He said, “Wash your feet and you can come in”. In Hawaii we ran around bare footed, and I trained there for a year or so until my family relocated to another town. Where we settled was a boxing school where most of my new friends went, so I joined them. Although many kids give up martial arts in their teens, I kept on because of my environment. I grew up in the housing projects with a brother and 4 sisters. There are so many people living in the projects where problems of fisticuffs occur. One had to learn how to handle oneself. My Dad wanted me to learn how to protect myself so that’s what I did. This training and its teachings have stayed with me until today.
After Hawaii you moved to the mainland and met Bruce Lee for the first time
I met Bruce in 1964 at an exhibition host by Ed Parker in Long Beach. When I saw his performance and listened to his lecture on the martial arts, everything he said was exactly what I believed. Bruce said things like “The individual is more important than a system or a style.”
Having been trained traditionally where everybody does everything the same, and alot of the time certain techniques couldn’t work for certain people, I knew Bruce Lee’s way was something special.
So when did you start training with Lee?
When I first met him he was living in Oakland. Then when he moved to L.A. a year or two later, he sent me a letter telling me that he was opening his Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in downtown Chinatown of Los Angeles. This was in September 1967. I was twenty-four years old. I of course literally ran down to the orientation meeting wearing my gi pants, sweatshirt and took off my shoes when I got there. He looked at me and said, “This is the modern times, 1967. We wear shoes on a daily basis. We wear jeans. This is how we should be training-not with comfortable sweatpants and no shoes. Sometimes we are going to wear dress shoes and dress trousers, just so we can feel the limitations of the various types of clothing that we wear. In reality, that’s how we are going to be defending ourselves, so in reality is how we will train”.
His training was obviously quite radical, what other techniques did he use?
His lessons were mostly based around sparring and fighting, so we could really test our new learnt skills. Bruce Lee wanted his students to experience what it was like to be punched or kick from full contact sparring. He wanted 110% from his students kicking or hand strikes. Training above and beyond our physical limits was Bruce Lee’s goal as a teaching.
After he died you developed your own system and signature style of training. How did you decide on what was the right path to take? With Bruce’s demise in 1973 wouldn’t it been easier to quit?
Both myself and friend Dan Inasanto were devastated by the news of Bruce’s death, Inosanto in fact wanted to quit martial arts completely. I told him that if he quit I would quit also. Dan was a very close friend and teacher at that time.
During this period we had a core group of students that were training in Dan’s backyard. After a couple of months Dan called me up and said, “Let’s open a school together. There are a lot of people who want to learn Bruce Lee’s method”. We both felt it was up to us to keep his legacy alive so we became partners and opened the Filipino Kali Academy in Torrance in 1974. We had two reasons for opening the Filipino Kali Academy, one was to share our Bruce Lee experiences and two was to revive and promote the Filipino Martial Arts of Kali-Eskrima-Arnis.
You and Dan were in fact instrumental in the development of the Filipino Arts in America and the world, how did that develop?
It was through out curriculum that made the Filipino Arts popular. The Filipino Arts were a new discipline that wasn’t exposed to other martial artist. Our seminar circuit and tours expose others to the FMA. Bruce Lee always taught that an individual should be well rounded in all martial arts ranges, not just the kicking, not just the hands, not just the grappling and not just the weaponry. As I developed I chose the Filipino Arts as my weapon for long range for defense. In addition Muay Thai & Boxing for my striking middle range, and my Wrestling and Jujitsu for my grappling close range training. This allowed me to integrate all ranges for my self defence system. With an around fighting using sticks I could test myself during the sparring sessions using sticks, striking, kicking and grappling.
When you trained in the Philippines in a more rigid system, how did that differ from Lee’s methodology?
In the beginning it was completely different, as they had to teach us the formal ways of striking. For example, the majority of the Filipino Martial Art systems are designed around twelve lines or twelve angles of attack. They all have a counter defence to match. Once you understand the concepts and philosophy of the FMA, you can develop your own creation. It’s like dancing; once you can do the foxtrot or waltz and their movement and rhythms then perhaps you can create your own dance. Bruce Lee once said, “Everyone has two arms and two legs. In martial arts fighting there is no different”. The difference in the FMA and Bruce Lee’s JKD is for each individual. The individual is more important than any style or system.
I love that analogy; it makes a lot of sense.
In the UK there has been a trend over the past few years towards reality based self-defence training, something you are noted for. How did this develop for you?
Throughout many years of intensive training with some incredible instructors – the Filipino arts teaches you that you can’t do a passive block or you’ll get hurt because a the combination of strikes that will follow. We have learned that blocks need to become strikes. I feel that it is necessary in today’s world to teach weapons as part of the development to become an overall martial artist. I teach at my seminars that if someone comes at you with a blade and you try and block it you will be cut. But, if you block the weapon and strike simultaneously then you have a chance to survive. You have to face the fact that you may well get cut, but one cut is better than multiply cuts to survive. One needs to think he is fighting against a blade weapon in training and train offensively with violence. One needs to treat violence with violence in training and self defence.
So that’s the basis of you simultaneous defence and offence you talk about?
Yes of course. We study reaction. One needs to learn to react from an act simultaneously. From reaction training we know how a person is going to strike – you can see it coming. From this, you can attack simultaneously. You can cover yourself and attack at the same time. That’s the theory behind my reality self defense. Your defense is simultaneously your offense.
Richard I have to say that your seminar with us was a superb event from start to finish. My students and myself loved every minute of it. As soon as people knew you were coming we sold out within hours, but how does your seminar training differ from what you teach at the IMB.
Bless you. I’ve got a word for efforts like yours – THANKS. It may be a small word, but it carries a ton of gratitude for your support and contribution to my Seminar .The nice thing about events like this is seeing old valued friends and meeting new ones. The event may be temporary, but the friendships are lasting. Your students and the seminar participants are the best. They are a reflection of their instructor – You. Now your juice bar with that pretty bar-tender Zeta is absolutely beautiful!
At the IMB Academy I of course have much more time. I have the time to do repetition. The students have time to memorize the muscle movement of the techniques. At seminars like yours we can only show techniques and then explain how to correct it because of time element. We covered ten hours this weekend, which is a typical weekend seminar time slot. As you know, in a 10 hour seminar which is not really enough time, we covered the weapons range, striking range and the grappling range as well as some of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do training methods and his philosophies and concepts as well.
Without hinting, do you often promote seminar students to instructor level?
We do. Some people in fact follow my seminar circuit throughout America. For people attending several events I can see their progress. Once they know all the ranges, they get to spar. So when this level is reached they may be ready for certification. They start off as an apprentice instructor, which is learning to teach under a full instructor’s supervision. With this I give them permission to teach as I always find that students really do learn quicker when they are teaching. At this level they work normally in small groups. When they satisfactorily complete with level become an associate instructor where they don’t need supervision.
You see all the time in the UK people breaking away from their instructors and opening up schools themselves, has this happened to you?
It’s not only in the UK that disrespectful students leave their school to open their own. All martial art schools have this same dilemma. Only a Few times in my 35 years of teaching have some of my champions have gone on their own without our Blessings. For those who ask our blessings by saying they would like to open a school then of course we give them full support. For those who believe they do not need any more training, when in reality they do, and go off and open up a centre within a five-mile radius of the IMB Academy, I pray they don’t get their students hurt. These types of disrespectful students show no respect or loyalty to their teacher and school. They are flying their true colors, which I wouldn’t want in my school anyway.
The budo code is important to you can you explain a little more about this? From our conversations I am intrigued by your thoughts on martial arts being more than kicking and punching perhaps you could elaborate on this as I think it fits in with your thought on Budo itself.
My goal in IMB is to preserve and perpetuate Bruce Lee’s martial art and to share my experiences in the IMB combative martial arts trilogy. I believe that martial art is an empty box. It remains empty unless we put in more than we take out. The martial arts are based on much more than punching, kicking and grappling just as the tallest buildings are based on much more than walls, floors and windows. Both stand the test of time only when built on a strong foundation.
That strong foundation in martial arts is called the Budo Code – the moral, social and ethical standards followed by the world’s most-enlightened level of martial-arts teachers and practitioners. The Budo Code, which has stood the test of centuries, is about respect for one’s teacher and school, for one’s elders, and for one another; for the perseverance toward worthy goals; loyalty to school or team; self-confidence without arrogance; honouring one’s responsibilities; and truthfulness.
For the past 35 years, I have followed the powerful and uncompromising Budo Code. In accordance with the Code, I have been teaching one of the highest skills of humankind: How to gain self-confidence and increased self-respect.
What’s more, the Budo Code of loyalty and respect has meant the very survival of my IMB Academy and of my role as academy director and head instructor. I believe that this academy is here today because of our adherence to the Budo Code of honesty, responsibility, respect, loyalty and perseverance.
Now certainly in over 45 years of studying and teaching, I have seen people break the Budo Code. In such cases, I believe sincere attempts should be made to guide and to mend the faltering individual. I have seen first-hand how every negative incident can have a profound effect on a person’s mental or physical comfort.
Ask a competitive martial artist about being psyched out by his/her opponent. When you’re susceptible to external, negative forces, you allow weaknesses or openings to exist in your defences. The martial artist shouldn’t allow outside negative influences to rule emotions and distract from achieving goals. In such a negative state, martial artists have given up control of the present challenge and their future circumstances. They have relinquished the responsibility for their actions to someone or something outside of them.
As an instructor, I have these same emotions of negative, external distraction when a student breaks the traditional Budo Code. And my response must be action. The problem does not disappear by itself. On the contrary, a student, associate, colleague or even acquaintance that has acted with dishonesty, disloyalty and disrespect communicates the bad news to everyone.
I have been sincere in my efforts to counsel those who have lied, cheated or stolen. In some cases, I was able to guide the person back to the Code; but, unfortunately, in other cases, the individual gave no acknowledgement, showed no regret nor offered any restitution for the immoral behavior. In these latter cases, I believe the Budo Code requires of me the ethical duty to protect our martial-arts community by speaking out. While I cannot undo that which has taken place, I do believe that “forewarned is forearmed.”
Yes, one can forgive. But one never forgets. I hope my above experiences turn out to be an investment in knowledge that pays high dividends. Remember, knowledge alone is not power. Applied knowledge is power. We need to protect each other from the disrespectful, the thieves, and the undesirables. The good times will become good memories; the bad times can become good lessons. I look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life. Likewise, I look to the Budo Code to protect the future of our martial arts.
A question regarding training that I believe came from yourself although I was first exposed to it by one of your instructors Mo Teague. Please could you explain your colour coding system for danger?
When teaching self-defence I first get the students to be aware of where they are in their daily chores. That to me is the number one most important subject in the whole of martial art reality based training. Then I’ll teach them about the parameter system. We describe this by explaining that if you are in the “white light” you are calm and know that nothing is going to happen. If there’s some loud talking or shouting around you then your overall awareness must be alerted accordingly and one must begin to watch their back. This is what we call the “yellow light” situation.
Then there is the “orange light”. This is where things start to get heated up and you must be ready either to fight or flight. Finally “red light” is when an attack is happening to you. You are in a fight to win at all costs.
After this is primary understanding. I will instruct the students on drills that teach them how to naturally react in a very exact manner. For example, when a right punch is coming towards you, you see it and block with your left hand while you simultaneously strike back using your right hand or a kick.
I’ll also teach seminar students how to block and punch simultaneously with perseverance. In addition I’ll be teaching drills where the student will learn how to react to an act. What this means is that they will learn to react to different attacks by coordinating a kick, a punch, or to a throw and so on.
AP If there is one thing you could pass on to our readers what would it be?
RB Attitude! Attitude is clearly number one. I have seen very talented martial artist who have a piss poor attitude. They think that they are the master and everybody else should bow before them, or they insult others integrity. It is easy to acquire skills. However, it is difficult to recognize ones own enduring attitude. I believe respect is earned. The more you give, the more you get back. One should develop an attitude of gratitude. One should give thanks for everything that happened to oneself, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something something bigger and better than before. Or someone else with a lesser ability will be taking his or her place.
editors note- wow thanks to Anthony Pillage for this amazing post