Interview With Burton Richardson

Interview with Burton Richardson
Conducted by Adrian Wise

About four years ago I was fortunate enough to interview Burton Richardson for a book I was writing. As the direction of the book changed the interview no longer seemed to have a place to call home, but it was such a great conversation there was no way I could discard it.

Burton is a fantastic guy who is both honest, and caring when discussing his interpretation of Jeet Kune Do. As well, he took time away from a class session to give me this interview simply because I asked.

For any of you who have ever attempted to interview someone, this is a remarkably unique circumstance, as some instructors would prefer not to interview at all, let alone take time away from their students to do so!

So to Burton Richardson I say many, many thanks. You continue to inspire everyone around you!

A. W. :Give me your idea of what makes martial arts effective.
B. R. : Okay. I’d say martial arts can be effective if we think of it first of all as an athletic endeavor, rather than something kind of mystical and magical, and you know if you do this form for ten years then you’ll magically somehow defeat any attacker. If we think of it more in terms of
athletics, we can look to athletics and see what sort of things actually work.

If you play football, then you practice football, and then you go actually play the game. If you play baseball, you practice baseball, and then actually play the game. Now what happens in martial arts is that most martial artists practice martial arts and never actually play the game. In other words they never take it to a level in which you have somebody really coming at you like someone in a streetfight. I think we have to realize that looking good when someone throws a punch and holds their hand out for you is a lot different than actually being an effective fighter.

So that means that in our training, we have to be practicing against someone who’s resisting. Really, absolutely resisting!

I used to teach a lot of things that I don’t teach anymore because I was still in that mode of “Well, I’ll show people everything I’ve got, everything I’ve ever learned, everything I’ve ever seen and they can make up their own minds.” But then I started to say “You know, I’ll just start showing things that have worked for me, and worked for my friends.” Things like this, you know!

As far as being effective, I think it has to be tested. If you don’t test it, how do you know that it actually works?!

A.W.: Now, in empty hand fighting, you practice four ranges of combat. Of those four ranges, which is your personal preference?

B.R.:If I had my preference, empty hand wise, I’d say probably if you practiced well it would be the close range that people would call trapping, or standing grappling range. But again that’s if you’ve practiced it correctly.

If you’re in kicking range, someone can step in really quickly with a punch and get you. Or a kick. And someone can shoot in and take you down if you’re not expecting it. A lot of things can happen out there, and it’s based on speed and surprise and things like that.

If you’re in punching range, these same things apply. Everybody can throw a punch. Almost everybody can throw a punch that might be able to knock you out, or at least hurt you. Just by swinging, even if it’s wild.

So again, if someone surprises you, or you don’t see something coming there is that chance that you’ll be knocked out. But when you can actually put your hands on someone and physically control them and you don’t have to see or use your visual sensitivity, you can use your tactile sensitivity and feel what they’re doing. Then you can physically control them.

The whole idea in martial arts is to control an aggressive attacker, and so, one way to control them is to, let’s say, kick them in the groin. But when you’re in closer you can control them by striking, but also by holding on to them, putting them in a position where you nullify their tools. In outside ranges you nullify their tools by either blocking or evading and that’s a good place to end something, but inside you just have a little more, if your competent.

Same thing goes for grappling unless you’re on the ground and his buddy comes around! You have to know how to ground fight, but in a multiple opponent situation it’s hard to run away if your on the ground.

A.W.: I know that instructor preference is present in every school, so would you say that your students tend to perform better in trapping range?

B.R.: Well, what I try to tell people is that we may prefer a range because we feel safe there, the theory being that we’re past the punching range so we probably wont get hit with something we don’t see, especially when you tie up those arms, but you can’t dictate where a fight starts, and often, even though maybe your favorite range is trapping, it may be difficult to get there.

So I really emphasize training completely, and training in all the ranges, making sure the training is very functional, rather than saying “I think it’s like this so I’m only going to practice here.”

I want to make sure that if they (students) get into something where they’re in kicking range then they’re good, functional kickers. If they get into something where they’re on the ground, they’re good groundfighters. I want them to be good at every range. Then when they spar certain people, maybe they’re a little bit smaller let’s say, and they don’t feel comfortable stepping in there and trying to grab some guy that outweighs them by 50 or 60 pounds so they say “Forget this, I’m going to stay outside!” because it works better for them.

It’s the same with me. If I get someone who’s a lot bigger than me I may stay outside at first, and if that doesn’t work then I’ll get closer and try to do something. So I try to give them the tools, and work on those tools, and be sharp in every single range. Then they can blossom and they can grow in the direction that’s best for them.

A.W.: When do you first introduce sparring into the training progression?

B.R.: We usually introduce sparring at about phase three, and it’s isolated sparring. Light sparring, say just with the jab, or just the cross, and maybe just the front kick. Working those things to see what it’s like when somebody’s resisting you. And then we also start some light ground sparring.

But from the very beginning we do drills that are similar, but not actually sparring, but trying to add that element of a moving, resisting opponent.

A.W.: I recently picked up a copy of your book, and I was wondering if there was anything you wish you had included or better explained?

B.R.: Well, the first thing I’d say is that the book came out maybe three months ago or so, and the photos were taken about three years ago, and I would actually change every single photo sequence now. Other than that I think the philosophy is pretty sound, and mainly I would say as far as the techniques go there are elements now that would change those techniques, especially in the trapping range.

As far as adding other things we have new influences from Greco-Roman Wrestling that is really helping things out in that trapping range as far as controlling an opponent and working to takedowns. So that would definitely be something to add.

A.W.: How long have you been training?

B.R.: I started my training in 1979, and I started at the Kali Academy in 1980. I was training with a friend who was training at the Academy, and he was showing me some things, and I really liked it. Then when I graduated from high school I went over and looked at what it was like and said “Wow, I sure like this!”

A.W.: I notice that you are heavily influenced by Silat. Just how big is that influence?

B.R.: Well it’s interesting because when I was showing just whatever I had seen myself, there was a lot of Silat that I was showing, now we’re concentrating more on performance and making sure we can do everything we’re looking at against someone who’s resisting rather than somebody that’s holding their arm out for us.

Still there is a lot of Silat in there, but I think what happened is, in most martial arts there is a core base of techniques that work pretty well, and then what happens is the practitioners get tired of working on those and they start going “Well, how about this, and how about this…” and pretty soon they’ve got a bunch of possible techniques that may not be very probable, or practical, and I think that’s happened quite a bit in certain types of Silat.

But still a lot of the sweeping and takedowns and types of striking, and certain training methods and philosophies on multiple attackers that I use from Silat, and it’s been very helpful.

A.W.: What is your personal training regimen like?

B.R.: What I do is try every single day to practice in all of the ranges. That’s the goal. What usually happens is I get one or two of the ranges in. Now what I’m talking about is I’ll work with the weapons, I’ll work my kickboxing, I’ll work the clinch, or trapping range, and I’ll work on the ground.

On a good day, I’ll be able to work every range, or some days like tomorrow I’ll do about 45 minutes of ground work, and then later in the day someone will come over and we’ll do some stick sparring, and then later in the evening I’ll probably do some knife also.

A.W.: Given the chance to formulate a complete martial system, how would you go about doing so?

B.R.: Actually, I’d have to say that’s what I’m constantly working on. That’s the work in progress!

I think the main philosophy, if you’re talking about functional martial arts that actually work, is that you have to be good standing in the boxing, kickboxing sort of range, you have to be able to work in the clinching range where you’re closer, trapping, grabbing, standing grappling, which includes punching and knees and everything, including throws. And you have to be good on the ground.

Same thing with weaponry, you have to be good on the outside, and in the middle range where you can also kick and so on, and the close range. And you have to be able to use weapons on the ground as well.

You know a lot of people say J.K.D. is scientific streetfighting, well, that’s good if we actually follow a scientific approach which means that we may have a hypothesis for a technique, like against the jab I can do such and such, so if that’s my hypothesis then what I should do is take into the lab and test it to see if it works or not.

Now if I get the results I was hoping for, then I need to test it again, and again, and then change the conditions it was used under and test it some more! Then, if I’ve gotten consistent results with it I can teach it.

Whereas in martial arts what usually happens, and I’ve done this myself many times in the past, is that you get a neat idea and start teaching it, but you haven’t tested it against a resistant opponent, and then from that technique you say “hey, here’s a new variation,” and that leads to another variation, and another, and pretty soon you’re so far away from what really works because you haven’t tested it to see if it works or not.

I’d say the basis would be to make sure you’re working in all the ranges, that you test anything you’re going to teach, and you should really test it in the lab, as in sparring, and this is really important, that you don’t just spar against people in your own system. And then after testing, if you get the results you were looking for then you go ahead and add that to your method.

A.W.: Now, I’ve seen two video series that you’ve done, ’Jeet Kune Do Concepts’ and ’Defining Jeet Kune Do’. Do you have any future videos in the works?

B.R.: As a matter of fact, I just finished some awhile ago, and they’ve recently hit the market. They’re from a company called “Straight Blast Gym Productions” located in Portland, Oregon, and I’m really happy with them. They’re being advertised in Inside Kung Fu and Black Belt magazine.

A.W.: I notice you do a bit of fight choreography, are there any starring roles for Burton Richardson in the future?

B.R.: Well, who knows (laughs)?!! Like a lot of other people I have a script I just finished, and actually there are some people interested in that, but that's an old Hollywood thing to say "Yeah, I got a script, and everyone's interested!" But I never count on anything until we're actually doing it. But I think it may happen.

A.W.: Is there anything you would like to add?

B.R.: Yeah, I just want to reiterate my thanks to all my instructors, because so many people have been so generous with me. For example Egan Inoue trained very hard for years, and he can show me something in minutes that may have taken him years to understand. It's the same with all my other instructors, and I just want to give my thanks to them all for helping me out so much!


Dreamgirl's picture

I love Burton Richardson! He's a super cool guy and one of the nicest people I've ever talked to.

Adrian's picture

Yeah, I will say Burton is a very laid back guy with a great, sharing attitude!

Lucky is the man who never has to confront what he is truly capable of.

CombatChaz's picture

Dreamgirl, Did you train with him?