Updated: Nov 15
Plus more on his remarkable career mastering multiple disciplines.
This is part one of a written Q&A with Burt Richardson. Subsequent Q&As feature his thoughts on BJJ, Kali/Filipino Martial Arts and more.
A master in Jeet Kune Do, Burt Richardson has spent his life in pursuit of the mastery of martial arts. Under the tutelage of such greats as Dan Inasantos, Tony Diego, the Machado Brothers, and Carlson Gracie he is on a constant quest for knowledge. He’s an author and teacher working with people from law enforcement to civilians. We are thrilled to reconnect with Black Belt Hall of Fame inductee Burt Richardson.
You are constantly growing your knowledge base including a recent Black Belt in Krav Maga. Many masters in martial arts would be afraid to “start as a white belt” but you have done this over and over, what drives this appetite?
It is a passion for my own personal development as a martial artist and to be able to offer more insight and understanding to my students as a martial arts teacher.
I am still fascinated with the intricacies that improve performance under pressure. I don’t study various styles just to learn a new art, but to discover new approaches that will help me perform better in an extreme self-defense situation. Instead of just dabbling in an art to pick a few things up, I have found that there is great benefit in taking the time to study martial systems completely.
I understood Brazilian jiu-jitsu at a much higher level as a new Black Belt than I did as a blue belt. 17 years later as a 4th degree Black Belt, I understand the art significantly deeper than I did when I was a new Black Belt. This is true of all the arts I have studied.
With these greater insights, I can better prepare my students to be their very best in a shorter period of time.
Let's talk about JKD, we all know it was Bruce Lee’s art and Dan Inosanto was so close to him. In your experience how has the art evolved from Bruce’s dna?
To be clear, we first need to define “Bruce Lee’s art”. Sigung Bruce started with Wing Chun, then, after moving to Seattle, evolved it into his Jun Fan Gung Fu (Bruce Lee’s Gung Fu) by changing the stance and adding particular techniques.
Years later in Los Angeles, Sigung Bruce started gearing up and sparring hard with various types of fighters from boxers to wrestlers to elite level karate practitioners. This new method of training elicited a paradigm shift and an explosive evolution. Lee added boxing then fencing principles and tactics along with other influences. After this growth, Lee wrote a letter to his Wing Chun senior Wong Shun Leung explaining his new approach to training and testing, saying, “I had a lot of prejudices and I found that they were wrong. That’s when I changed the name of the gist of what I do to Jeet Kune Do.”
So when we say “Bruce Lee’s art” there is Jun Fan Gung Fu, Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do (what Bruce Lee did himself), then there is the personal expression of those who apply JKD principles but modify the approach to fit their own personal needs. The base principles are still there, but it isn’t exactly what Bruce Lee did himself. Much like the best basketball players who are extremely skilled, but have slightly different styles of play.
Bruce Lee already evolved Jun Fan Gung Fu into Jun Fan JKD. After Lee’s unexpected passing, Guro Dan took the approach and expanded his own personal JKD. To be clear, I learned Jun Fan JKD just as Bruce Lee did it from Guro Dan with no other arts added. I also learned several other arts from Guro Dan, and he also taught us how to do research and development to find our own way.
For me, EVERYTHING I do is greatly influenced by the principles of JKD. When it comes to Jun Fan JKD, I have evolved my teaching of it not by adding any new techniques to it, but by having a deeper understanding of what makes it work due to my decades of sparring and fighting experience.
There are many JKD instructors who mix Jun Fan Gung Fu and Jun Fan JKD, but don’t want anything to be changed at all. That is one approach and I respect that as a means to preserve and perpetuate exactly what Bruce Lee did. But when it comes to preparing a student to become a complete combat athlete, I suggest that we all look at what Bruce Lee did himself as he pressure tested approaches from various styles then added those aspects that enhanced his extraordinarily effective system.
If that isn’t convincing, examine the JKD logo that Lee created to describe his Jet Kune Do. The Chinese characters around the yin yang are translated as “Using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation.” I think that makes it quite clear what Sigung Bruce wanted.
Today there is a lot of focus on reality based and tactical defense, specific to street self-defense. How do you see JKD in a real-life selself-defense situation?
Straight Jun Fan JKD can be extremely effective when trained correctly. That means following Sigung Bruce’s example and regularly engaging in sparring with stylists from various arts to sharpen skills under pressure. It is street-specific both technically and tactically.
One issue with Jun Fan JKD is that the approach generally starts in a fighting stance with the opponent at a distance, both squared off. That is what we now refer to as dueling mode. To truly be prepared for the realities of street self-defense, we also need a lot of training dealing with various scenarios including ambush attacks that can put you at extreme close range standing or on the ground. We also must be experienced with weapons defenses and train in a manner that programs us to expect a weapon when under pressure.
So Jun Fan JKD is a fantastic, highly functional approach against an unarmed attacker. But we need to expand that training to become the complete fighter that Bruce Lee advocated.
Who are the leaders in JKD today?
This can be a political hot button and I’m sure many JKD proponents reading this will disagree with my choices, depending on what side of the approach they are on. Nonetheless, I will give my opinion.
First, Sifu/Guro Dan Inosanto. He was with Bruce Lee during the transition from Jun Fan Gung Fu to Jun Fan JKD. He knows the art inside and out and is the primary leader.
We then have second, in no particular order, 2nd generation instructors:
Sifu Andy Kimura
Sifu Chris Kent
Sifu Tim Tackett
Sifu Gary Dill
Sifu Joaquim Almeida
Sifu Tommy Caruthers
Sifu Richard Torres
Sifu Lamar Davis
Sifu Dwight Woods
My apologies to anyone I overlooked.
I am also recognized as a leader in JKD, and I am actively developing programs to help students everywhere learn and benefit from Bruce Lee’s incredible creation that helps us to succeed in combat and in life.