Anyone who reads American martial arts magazines has surely chanced upon the name Burton Richardson. Richardson is among the most well rounded martial arts teachers in the world today with a credential that reads like a who’s who in martial arts. In an interview with FIGHT Times, Richardson, also known as “Lucky Dog” among the followers of Dog Brothers real contact stick fighting, tells of his evolution as a martial artist, the influence upon him of Filipino martial arts (FMA), his involvement with the burgeoning sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) and the uniqueness of the current material he teaches.
FIGHT Times: You are one of the most well rounded teachers in the martial arts drawing from varied sources among them Chinese, Filipino, African, Thai and Brazilian. Can you tell us a brief account of your martial arts career?
Burton Richardson: I was very fortunate to grow up in Carson, California, about a mile away from the original Filipino Kali/Jun Fan Gung Fu Academy headed by Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo. Sifu/Guro Inosanto was Bruce Lee’s right hand man and Sifu/Guro Bustillo was a student of Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto. I started there in 1980, and the philosophy of constant improvement and refinement resonated with me and my science background. I continued to train with Inosanto, and through his guidance was able to train with the luminaries of many different arts. After I became an instructor, I continued to train with Guro Inosanto (as I do to this day) but also set out to travel the world and learn from the very best in as many disciplines as I could. That led me to at least 12 training trips to the Philippines along with journeys to China, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Europe, and all across the United States. Today, I continue to research and put everything to the test through hard sparring.
FT: Can you tell us how much the FMA influenced you as a martial artist and a man?
BR: The FMA has been a great, positive influence. martial arts-wise, I have had so many different points of view on functional combat from Grandmasters of the FMA, including Tatang [Antonio] Ilustrisimo, Bert Labaniego, Tony Diego, Topher [Christopher] Ricketts, and Jose Mena. That was just in the Philippines. I trained with many more GMs in America. Incredible tactics and techniques from men who used the art to survive and thrive.
As a man, I learned from the incredible generosity and good humor of the Filipino masters. Each man merely wanted to share, and showed great joy when I was able to understand a concept or move. Probably the most impactful character lesson that I learned is from GM Bert Labaniego. After a lesson, he told me, “Always avoid a fight. But if you must engage, don’t just fight for yourself. Fight for your family and loved ones, because they will be badly affected if you are killed.” The concept of doing my very best out of love of my family and friends has shaped my life. I am very thankful.
FT: You are an original member of the Dog Brothers, notorious for their “Higher consciousness through harder contact” philosophy of real contact stick sparring; can you tell us what you’ve learned from that experience and how did you earn the moniker “Lucky Dog”?
BR: I learned that theories need to be tested at full speed, power, and intensity in an environment of fear. It is one thing to practice moves against a cooperative partner, or in light sparring. It is something else altogether when failure means severe pain and injury. Being one of the original Dog Brothers helped me to streamline my approach and use only what is proven functional under heavy pressure. This way, I know that my students are equipped for a serious incident. I was dubbed Lucky Dog because, when asked how I pulled off some move, I would often reply, “Luckily, he stepped in the right spot” or “I was lucky that I was able to block that strike.”
FT: You were involved in the training of some professional MMA fighters every now and then; can you tell us more about these pursuits plus your thoughts on traditional martial arts and MMA?
BR: As you can tell from my other answers, I believe in pressure testing before teaching. MMA is the ultimate sport for pressure-testing techniques, tactics, and training methods. When I train UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] fighters, the moves must work. Traditional martial arts often go down the road of theory without real pressure-testing. That said, MMA is a sport and most traditional arts are designed to deal with an initial surprise attack where weapons, multiple opponents, and other aspects take it outside the realm of sport. My answer is to train traditional arts, like FMA, jeet kune do, silat, in the same manner I train MMA fighters. Proper preparation is key.
FT: How would you describe the martial arts curriculum you’re teaching today and what are your current projects?
BR: My main guiding force is Bruce Lee’s jeet kune do (JKD) philosophy of “having no way as way and having no limitation as limitation.” Since people tend to impose limits on themselves, I call my overall method JKD Unlimited (JKDU). Using only what works but not limiting ourselves to a particular method. All of my programs only use the most functional aspects of the martial arts. JKDU is also known as MMA For The Street. My weaponry program is Battlefield Kali; an FMA-based method that safely blends a Dog Brother mentality to functional training. I also include some Zulu stick fighting. I also have a Silat For The Street program, which is the empty hand portion using silat and kali principles and techniques. Next year my Brazilian jiu-jitsu For The Street program will be out. So, I am all about using what works to protect those we love.
I have been hired to do the fight choreography for a major motion picture on the exploits of David and his Mighty Men from the Bible. Lots of sword fights where I will draw heavily from the FMA.
I would just like to conclude by giving my sincere thanks to the people of the Philippines. Your culture continues to have a very positive influence on my students and me worldwide. Maraming Salamat sa inyong lahat!