I was privileged to personally meet Grandmaster Richard Bustillo in 2013 when I was invited to a seminar that Master Gerry Arrechea put on in Mexico with him. Now I’ve been fortunate enough to attend for a second time.

Grandmaster Richard Bustillo is a living martial arts legend who has earned his place among the best in numerous Halls of Fame around the world. Among a wide list of credits, he is a former member of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, Kru in Muay Thai, Coach and official for U.S. Boxing, Guro in Kali/Escrima/Arnis, holding the title of Grand Master 11th rank by the Cacoy Doce Pares organization of Philippines and an authority and Sigung on Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.  GM Richard Bustillo is one of three remaining active first generation students under Bruce Lee. Together with Dan Inosanto he cofounded the Filipino Kali Academy in California in 1974; he later founded the IMB Academy in 1984 and is a founding member of the Bruce Lee Foundation, founded in 2002.

Attending one of his seminars is a unique experience, not only for his wealth knowledge in martial arts, but for the opportunity to learn about the philosophy and concepts behind Jeet Kune Do from a true protector of Bruce Lee’s legacy and the Budo Code.  GM Richard Bustillo possesses a highly motivating teaching style. Starting the Seminar with a kind conversation with the students, openly answering and asking questions while sharing his experience in a humble and gentle manner, which combined with his natural sense of humor, makes you feel like talking with an old friend.

During the conversation, he shared experiences of his life as martial artists, his philosophy, his research of the martial arts of the Philippines in the 60’s, as well as some of his personal anecdotes with his mentor and friend Bruce Lee. This time, I particularly appreciated his answer when asked about what he considered his most important learning from Bruce Lee, which was “Being honest”.  He shared with us how Bruce Lee taught him that what works for somebody may not work for someone else: GM Bustillo was teaching self-defense technique to a group of women who were grabbed from behind by a group of men; when Bruce Lee saw the demonstration, he asked Richard Bustillo if he honestly believed that technique would work on a real situation, considering women were smaller than men; GM Bustillo asked his mentor for a recommendation and Bruce Lee taught him how to modify the technique to make it effective. Then, any person should honestly define what works for himself. In the words of Bruce Lee: “The individual is more important than any style or system”.

We also talked about the differences among some martial arts styles and how they evolved, how Bruce Lee transformed martial arts, his influence in modern MMA, and an inspiring story about how Bruce Lee was able to overcome his back injury even when doctors would have him believe he may not walk again.

After the conversation we started the practice which included Ju Jitsu and Judo for close encounters, followed by Wing Chung, Muay Thai and Western Boxing for mid-range, and Filipino Arts of 3 ranges, making emphasis in evasive body movements and block and strike techniques.  GM Bustillo starts by teaching the entry of offense or defense, then, he encourages his students to create their own individual Jeet Kune Do. During the seminar he individually explains how to correct techniques making them effective for each man, woman and a child.  At the end of the day, he asked us to think about specific threat situations so the next day we could make our questions and he could teach us how to react. This way, we could make the most of our seminar as he remarked.

Second day was dedicated to the Filipino martial arts of Eskrima/Kali/Arnis training, both armed and unarmed. We started training with Eskrima sticks, followed by daggers and finally empty hand fighting, which is automatically acquired after training with weapons since these are merely an extension of the limbs.  GM Bustillo explained some history of how early Filipinos landed in Acapulco, Mexico while working on Spanish ships.   He spoked of the possibility of the Mexican machete were adopted into the Filipino bolo swords.  It was interesting to know that the Mexicans and the Filipinos had similar culture because of the historic period during the Spanish reign.

During a short break GM Bustillo also told us the story about how King Kamehameha III of Hawaii sent one of his chiefs to California in 1832 (part of Mexico at that time) to hire “vaqueros” (cowboys) who could teach Hawaiians cattle and horse handling skills. Hawaiians quickly learned from Mexican vaqueros and to date Hawaiian cowboys traditions are strongly shaped by the Mexican vaquero heritage, as expressed in the beautiful song “Na Vaqueros” (Kuana Torres Kahele, 2012) which he enjoys playing with his ukulele.

Another great learning experience for me was to listen GM Richard Bustillo emphasizing how important is to avoid unnecessary conflicts, to take care of our life bearing in mind what really matters, such as returning safely to our family, and fighting only when it is truly unavoidable.  Both days of the Seminar were conducted in an environment of respect and harmony, with an increasing sense of fellowship among the students.

At the end of the Seminar GM Bustillo delivered Certificates of participation to the students and we were lucky to witness the promotion of Master Gerry Arrechea and Master Fernando Meza to the high rank of IMB Master Instructors. To close the ceremony, GM Bustillo, on behalf of Supreme Grand Master Cacoy Cañete, delivered to Master Gerry Arrechea his promotion to the rank of 8th Grade Black Belt by the Cacoy Doce Pares World Federation.  Master Arrechea now holds the highest active Cacoy Doce Pares 8th rank grade in Mexico.  He is Mexico’s only Cacoy Doce Pares former champion who have competed in 3 World Cacoy Doce Pares Championships.
These two days passed quickly but the experience will remain in all those who were present. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to meet and learn from the Iron Dragon: Richard Bustillo.