Podcast EP15: Burton Richardson on Training and Performing under Pressure

Burton rolling with Chris Leben before a UFC event

Stephan’s note: today I interview Burton Richardson who has spent decades researching the training methods that make martial arts techniques practical, reliable, and functional.  His approach is very applicable to street self defence, but is equally valid for anyone wanting to compete.

You can listen to, read, or download this interview in several different ways…

  1. Listen to the interview in the audio-only video at the bottom of this list, and/or
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  3. Subscribe to the Grapplearts Podcast in iTunes (RECOMMENDED, because this allows you to also listen to previous interviews and podcasts), and/or
  4. Scroll just a bit further down and read the transcript.

Stephan: Hi, everybody. Today I’ve got Burton Richardson on the line. Now I’ve know of Burton for years; I remember reading his articles in Black Belt Magazine, Inside Kung Fu and all those older magazines about jeet kune do.

And at that time I was training a lot in jeet kune do and was fascinated by it. I was fascinated by all the sub-arts within that group of people – the kali, the jun fan, the Indonesian martial arts – and wherever you looked Burton was always in those magazines showing really cool techniques.

But since that time Burton has really evolved his game and evolved his whole philosophy towards the martial arts and I’m super stoked to have him on the line today where he’s coming to us from Hawaii.  We’re going to pick his brain and see what he’s been up to. So Burton how are you doing?

Burton: Oh, I’m well as always. I figure if wake up breathing it’s a good day so, yes, it another good day.

Stephan: That’s awesome. You just got back from class, right?

Burton: Actually I had guys come over. We were rolling in the car port out here. It’s a nice beautiful day in Hawaii and we rolled, put the mats out and have a good time with a nice two-hour session. So we’ve got a lot done and, yeah, now it’s like wonderful post-roll kind of your whole body is buzzing and so we had a great time.

Stephan: Another day in paradise.

Burton: Exactly.

Stephan: Well, can you take us quickly through your martial arts journey from beginning to end and maybe I’ll jump in and ask questions as we go along. But can you take us from the beginning why did you ever start swinging sticks at people or rolling around the ground with men wearing spandex?

Burton: Yes, we kind of stay away from the spandex guys but it does happen occasionally. So basically I grew up in a place called Carson, California which is the neighboring city to Compton, California. And I spend a lot of time in my childhood playing baseball. In my early teens I spent a lot of time in Compton playing ball where I was the only non African-American guy in entire league: Carson is very diverse racially.

And so what happens is that 5% of the population is bad and I just saw violence growing up and guns being shot towards me and this whole thing. And so basically I think growing up in that environment naturally you were drawn towards questions of “how I am going to defend myself.”

I was at the local park, a park where I first saw a shooting when I was about ten years old. Not long after that I was walking by this gymnasium and I heard this sound emanating from the gym. It was like this “Huh! Huh! Huh!” sound.

And here I am, this little guy, and I peeked in and there were probably a hundred people in gi’s throwing reverse punches. They’re in line in horse stances – “Huh! Huh! Huh!” – and for a young guy I was just fascinated. It was just amazing but my dad wanted me to play baseball and so he said “No, you’re playing baseball, none of that.” And so the fact that I didn’t do it helped pique my interest.

Stephan: The forbidden fruit…

Burton: Right. And then some years later – interesting enough it was in that exact same park before a practice – some guys had a magazine and I saw Bruce Lee’s pictures, this Chinese guy, and he was like unbelievable – the physique and all – and it was from the movie called Enter The Dragon.

And so they’re telling me about this guy Bruce Lee. And many some years later when I was 17,  my very first girlfriend in our very first date, came to my house and asks me if I want to go the movies.  And she took me into the Enter the Dragon. How’s that?

Stephan: Perfect!

Burton: Yes. And she was training in kali…

Stephan: She was a keeper!!

Burton: Yes, for a while, she was great. But she happened to be training at the Filipino kali academy with Danny Masan and Richard Basillo and she took me over there.  I watched a class and that was pretty much it. I was just hooked.

Everybody in sweat pants and t-shirts: it’s very much like a baseball athletic environment. And they’re hitting this and they’re kicking, kicking shields and sparring and some guy got a bloody nose in front of me and I thought it was fabulous. And then a little bit later they pulled out the weaponry and they started moving. I was hooked. I was all over it. So it just lit a fire that’s still burning.

Stephan: And you were associated with Dan Inosanto for years and years, right?

Burton Richardson and Dan Inosanto

Burton Richardson and Dan Inosanto

Burton: Yes. And just to be clear, he’s coming here to visit me in a few months to do a seminar over here for me. Every few years I have him teach a seminar and I contact him very often.

Now there was this Dog Brother group that was associated with this heavy…

Stephan (interrupting): You’re going to have to break that down for the listenership. What on earth are these Dog Brothers?

Burton: What is that thing? Okay, I’ll give you the brief rundown.

Basically, I was at the Inosanto Academy late at night in mid-80s. One of the guys training there named Marc Denny.  Actually he was a student of mine, I taught him private lessons in Indonesian silat amongst other things. And he was one of the senior students at the Academy.

One night he came up to me and said, “Hey, you like actually stick sparring,” as I would actually go to tournaments and compete in stick fighting with the big head gear.You’d have this giant suit on so you’re protected, along with very, very thin light sticks, big gloves, the whole thing. We need protection and all the deal.

And Marc said, “This friend of mine he likes stick fighting.” He’s somebody he met recently. And he was “Do you want to spar with him?” “Of course, yeah, sure.”

So this guy comes down. His name is Eric Knauss and he’s a big, tall guy, strong. To make the long story short he takes a big, very big, heavy rattan stick and he goes “Do you mind if we use these?” I’m like “Oh, that’s fine.” We put on the helmet. We only have fencing helmet and hand protection I think, maybe not even knee pads, just that. That’s all.

I figured because we had no protection that we were going to go really, really light especially because these sticks are so big and heavy because, gosh, you could kill somebody with those things. So we started and he just tried to take my head off.  Like swinging so incredibly hard trying to take my head off.

And I found out that night that all I was doing was to block his shots. I just had nothing going. Under that kind of pressure, that kind of fear of actually getting your knee blown out or arm broken or getting knocked out , I just didn’t have anything  there even though I was an instructor and supposedly really good at this art.

So that started a big evolution. And I just want to talk about that a little more later. But the idea was to go in and try it out. This guy, Eric, who is just an amazing stick fighter, after doing Filipino martial arts for years and years, his question – which was brilliant – was “What actually happens when guys really fight for real and hit as hard as they can especially with not much protection so you’re afraid of getting hit? What actually happens then?” So he went and tested it like a scientist.

I had been doing drills and drills and drills and cool techniques and impressing everybody and all that, but that type of training was more reality. So that helped really change my focus.

Burton Fighting in the Philippines

Burton Fighting in the Philippines pre-Dog Brothers

Stephan: So the elements of pressure and fear were added, that showed you that you needed to train in a different way, and that you needed to test it in a different way?

Burton: What happened after that first night, my mind was racing the whole drive home that night. It just did not compute. I have been doing Filipino martial arts for many, many years and I had a reputation as being a very, very good practitioner of it.

And you go from this environment where you think everything you know you can do – “You can do this. I can do everything.”

And then you get to this thing where like, “woah, I couldn’t do.” The only thing I could do is block and also when he tried to smash me in the knee I was able to move my leg out of the way; fortunately I had done enough sparring where we just hit at the hand or hit at the leg. I had practiced that, moving my leg, so I had some good defense there. So luckily I didn’t get beaten up but I just was lost basically. I was just totally defensive and just had that “deer in the headlights” sort of feeling.

So over the years I found out that the first thing is that you have to be able to function under that kind of pressure.

Look at jiu-jitsu, which I love of course – I’m coming up on 20 years doing jiu-jitsu – it’s one thing to do jiu-jitsu.  But when you add striking, especially hard striking when the other guy is really trying to hit you hard and you don’t have protection, then it’s a whole other thing.  Now there’s not the fear of losing or getting your guard passed or getting submitted – there’s the fear of physical damage and that’s whole another level.

So full contact stick fighting really helped me to be calm under pressure.  I’ve got to say though that all the times I did that, and I did for many years, I never once wanted to go and do it. When someone said “Oh, Eric is coming tonight,” I was always like “Oh, God…”

But luckily, happily, whatever something inside me just compeled me I have to go and do it and I’m glad I did.

Stephan: But it’s funny because one of my defining memories was watching a couple of guys who have been doing a lot of traditional martial arts spar for contact for the first time with boxing gloves. And the traditional martial arts stance lasted for about three seconds until the first guy got hit in the face. And within five seconds it degenerated to two guys standing with their hands down at their waists throwing these gigantic right-handed haymakers over and over.

They forgot using both hands. They forgot the “Leaping Monkey Fist Steals the Peaches” or whatever their cool moves were. It was just right hand to face with a straight arm, thrown like they were throwing a baseball from behind the guys body, and they were trading back and forth.

I had done a little bit full-contact sparring at that time. So I was sitting there finding this pretty amusing, but it showed that anybody under enough pressure goes back to the primal instincts. We’re not that much evolved from cavemen.

Burton: It is true.  You know Bruce Lee talked about the truth in combat. That’s the truth in combat. Once you get hit really hard, okay, now we’re talking about the truth in combat. And when we talk about discipline in the martial arts sometimes people have this separation. I think you’re a good example, Stephan, of somebody who doesn’t do this because you have the whole picture.

But there are a lot of people that separate it – “Oh, this fighting and that’s martial arts.” And sometimes people forget those attributes that we look for from traditional martial arts like discipline and such. But it’s so important to really look for that in actual reality-based, actual fighting.

For example, you get hit in the face like you’re talking about, everybody goes back to that haymaker thing until they have developed the discipline to respond well even when they are under that kind of pressure. That’s what it’s all about in our training: if we can develop ourselves to be calm under that kind of pressure, and we can actually implement a well-thought out game plan, and we can then take tha to our everyday life.

You can be calm everyday when everything is great.  When things start going wrong that’s when we have to draw from our martial arts training and all that pressure we’ve been under and say, “No, it’s best to just be calm and do the right thing here. Don’t go off the handle. Don’t start screaming or whatever.” I just think that’s probably the most important thing we can learn out of martial arts.

Stephan: I think that’s a really good point, Burton. I do want to move on to jiu-jitsu and grappling and MMA. But before I do that I want to play the devil’s advocate for a second with the dog brother style sparring where you’re wearing minimal protection and heavy sticks.

The argument has been made that it teaches you bad habits for when it comes to bladed weaponry.  When I’ve done dog brothers style sparring you’re sometimes willing to take a shot or two if you know you can get a good one in or you can charge into the clinch.

The naysayers say, “Well, you’re just training yourself to get your arm chopped off” if we had machetes or swords or bladed weaponry. So how do you square that circle, and reconcile blades versus blunt weapons, and possibly developing bad patterns and bad habits when you’re going between those two weapon systems?

Burton: Right, exactly. So to me the key question is what are we training for?  If I’m training to go on a sword fight that’s one thing, but chances are that I’m not going to be in a sword against sword fight.  People also say “Well you’re never going to get into a stick fight” but I saw a stick fight in L.A one time.  Living in downtown in L.A. I saw two guys with sticks and they were swinging at each other with that caveman sort of thing. They’re both just swinging like crazy and if either one of them knew how to actually use a stick then they would have been fine.

One thing is that with the helmets on, there are certain techniques that do not work with that helmet, even if it’s a light helmet. You have to hit really hard and generate lots of power to knock somebody out when that helmet is on, whereas a quick jab without the helmet will still give you the stunning effect and then you can follow up. So anytime you add protective equipment it changes the way you can actually implement techniques. Like in MMA with the gloves… Put the gloves on and, wow, getting to the choke is a different thing. Guys can grab on your gloves.

I trained Chris Leben for three years. I was his head coach for three years. He just moved to San Diego and we worked against that all the time, getting that choke. I mean we would reach in and grab the gloves – if the referee doesn’t see it’s okay!  So the point being, when you add equipment it changes everything.

Burton rolling with Chris Leben before a UFC event

Burton rolling with Chris Leben before a UFC event

As far as blades go, you cannot enter with the blade unless there’s a very particular way that you do it…

I spent quite a bit of time training with the man in the Philippines who was greatest living grandmaster at the time. You MMA guys, when you step into that cage, man, that takes courage right because that guy is going to try to elbow you, he’s going to try to punch you in the face with those rough hands and these little gloves you’re going to need in the faces, he kicks you, the whole throwing. That is a tough sport!

This guy I trained with, he had two matches which were sword fights with no armor. He actually went in a ring with a sword and fought another guy who also had a sword. So you can imagine what kind of confidence this guy had.

Stephan: Who was he?

Burton: He’s name was Antonio Illustrisimo, Tatang Illustrisimo. He was just an amazing, amazing dude. Obviously he won those matches. His system was a sword fighting system. There are a lot of particular details that are very different than when you go into stick fighting. You try to stay long range…

Look at Anderson Silva in MMA.  His ability to strike from the outside is just amazing. If you put a knife in Anderson Silva’s hands, oh God, it would just be horrible because he is so good on the outside. Well, that’s how blade fighters tend to be: very good on the outside. And if they have to enter into close range then it’s a very quick entry with control of the opponent’s blade of it. To answer the question, there’s a huge difference between heavy contact stick fighting and sword fighting – there’s no doubt.

Stephan: Okay, we’ll let’s move the conversation into more familiar ground for most people which will be the grappling end of things. You’ve been doing jiu-jitsu – I’m assuming Brazilian jiu-jitsu – for twenty years. Who did you start with?

Burton:  Actually my first lesson actually was with Rickson Gracie, my very first lesson. One of my private students does training in kickboxing he said, “Hey, I’m training with this guy…” So I went and it was like wow. It was amazing but at that time my mind wasn’t open yet to it, truthfully. I could tell you all kinds of stuff but the truth was my mind wasn’t open to it yet at that time.

I really started with the Machado brothers. I was actually choreographing a movie. The famous Kickboxer 4 movie (laughing). And I asked Rigan Machado and John Machado to come and be in it as Brazilian jiu-jitsu guys. And so that’s where I really got to know them and all.

So two years after I trained with Rickson I started with Machados. I did a seminar here in Hawaii. I taught a seminar here in Hawaii and a guy named Egan Inoue came to the seminar. And I got to be really good friends with him. So I flew over and trained him in kick boxing and such and he trained me in jiu-jitsu.

Stephan: Is this when he was fighting in Pride?

Burton: This was before any of that. Yeah, he actually quit BJJ because of the jiu-jitsu politics. He’d done well. As a blue belt he won a bunch of tournaments over here. And then there’s this whole thing that happens in jiu-jitsu.

Stephan (interrupting):  Wait, wait a second. There are jiu-jitsu politics in Hawaii as well???!!

Burton: I think it’s the only place that has it, isn’t it?

Stephan: Oh, okay. Okay, glad to hear it. So you’re there with Egan…

Burton Richardson and Egan Inoue

Burton Richardson, Egan Inoue, and a representative of the next generation of grapplers

Burton: Yeah. Anyway, I started training with Egan and the Machado’s at the same time.  It was funny, it was the same things as with stick fighting: the Machado’s figured that I was this guy who was already on covers of magazines and all this sort of thing. I took private lessons with them because at the time of their group classes I was teaching my own classes. I took this privates and they showed me techniques but they never had any roll for maybe eight months or a year or something. I’m taking these private lessons and never actually rolling…

Then I go to Egan’s place and he says, “Well, let’s roll first.” He had his horrified look on his face after I rolled over like 30 seconds. He’s just horrified and is thinking “Oh, my gosh! He doesn’t know anything.” Let’s just say that I had no attributes for ground fighting whatsoever – I was totally a fish out of the water.

But I just put my time in it; that’s my thing.  I was getting submitted every single day. I went a year, without ever submitting anybody. Every day I was getting submitted and never even come close to getting submission myself.

Stephan: Wow.

Burton: Yeah. And then later I realized that this was because there was just a small group –  four guys – and they were all better than me. And as I got better, they got better. Initially I thought this was because I was the worst grappler in the history of mankind.

Stephan: That’s such a common experience, and as you point out, it’s especially common in small clubs. You’re getting better but everyone else is getting better too. And it’s not until some new people show up and you stomp them that you realize “Wait a second. I don’t suck after all…”

Burton: Yeah. Well, it’s funny because then I didn’t train with Egan for maybe a year or so and I hadn’t gone to the Machado’s for maybe eight months or something. And then I’m back in L.A. and I went to a class and I’m having a great time in class. And then he says, “Okay, now we’re going to roll.” I’m like “Aargh, okay, here we go. I’m going to get creamed again…”

They put me with a white belt and I armbarred him. That was my first arm bar ever!  I’m like “Oh, man. What happened there?” Then he put me with somebody else. I arm barred him too. What? What’s going on here? Then he put me with a blue belt. I’m like “Oh, geez. Here we go.” But I passed his guard and I didn’t submit him or anything but it was really curious.

So all you guys out there, training jiu-jitsu, if you can, it’s important that you train with people better than you so you can work on your defense. It’s important to train with people about the same level, so you can work on your flow and the whole continuity of the game. And you should work with people that you’re better than so you can work on your offence. You need all those three categories.

And in the end you may train with guys much better than you, and then you should get into that offensive mindset anyway even though you may not catch them. Have an offensive mindset so you don’t just get deffensive and you practice working offence and, little by little, everything gets tweaked and improved even though you’re not finishing anything. Then you go with somebody not that good and – bangyou get right to it. That would be my advice on that.

Stephan: Well, at one point you were training not only with Egan. You were also training with Charuto Verissimo and Baret Yoshida, right?

Burton: Yeah. So I’m training with Egan. One day Egan says, “Hey, there is this new guy at our school.” That guy had left the school he was training at because somebody who had been training him for a particular fight had actually bet on the other guy – so there was a little conflict of interest.  Baret submitted that guy anway, but it was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back.

So Baret comes over. I don’t know who he is and Egan says, “Hey, there’s this guy I think you’d really like to roll with him.” I’m like “Oh, cool!”  So here’s this little guy just like shy as shy can be. He barely speaks at all, like barely speaks at all Egan. says, “Go ahead, go roll with him.”

We’re going with gi. I start in his guard. He’s very relaxed and I grab his gi pants – at that time my number one gi pass was the standing torreanda pass – I got outside his feet. I was walking around his legs. And I’m walking all the way to his head. I’m thinking “I’m going to pass his guard” and he had a purple belt on and I was a blue belt. I’m like “I’m going to pass this guy’s guard. I’m going to pass his guard…”

Then I put my head down and as soon as I let go, he spun and triangled me. He’d been setting it up the whole time. He’d just been waiting for me to let go and then – boom – he just spun and then put on the tightest triangle.

I’m like “Ah, how about that!” You know what I did? I really appreciate training with really good people. So for me personally instead of buying lavish things or spending money on going out to dinner or on vacations, I spend my extra money on private lessons. Fortunately, my wife is good with that, thank goodness. So I trained privately with Baret. I was his first private student.

You mentioned Charuto Verissimo.  BJ Penn was on the big island and Charuto moved there, to train BJ. He came over here and started training Egan for a while. And so every week I had the great fortune of being able to  roll with Egan – stocky, very muscular, amazing technician, so precise.  I would train and roll with Charuto who’s tall, lanky, very much with a Nova Uniao game even though he’s tall. And then I would roll with Baret every week as well who is a phenom, does nothing but jiu-jitsu, and is an amazing, amazing grappler.

So that really helped improve my overall jiu-jitsu, of course. I would just go and train and train and train and get submitted and submitted and submitted. And I ended up getting to corner Baret in three Abu Dhabi’s – one in Brazil, one in Long Beach, one in New Jersey. So I was able to get exposed to all these other guys and got to know them. We’re on deck, about 20 feet away, when Eddie Bravo triangled Royler Gracie which was kind of neat.

There was this very young, shy Brazilian guy in our locker room at the warm-up area. And in ours there’s this little shy Brazilian guy.  It turned out that since this Abu Dhabi was in Brazil he was thrown at the last minute because somebody else couldn’t make it. And so they just found somebody from Sao Paolo and put him in.

Stephan: Let me guess – he had strong little, short legs, black curly hair and a real affinity for the butterfly guard and the X-guard?

Burton: Yeah. Gosh, it’s like you’re reading my mind. That’s amazing, yeah. And I remember thinking “Oh, this poor guy.” I saw that he was shaking hands with Renzo  – in his first fight he had to fight Renzo. I’m like “Argh, poor guy!” Right? Then I remembered looking like “Oh, gosh! He swept Renzo. Oh, wow, he’s on Renzo’s back. What in the world?” so yeah. So fortunately I did get to know Marcelo Garcia.

Burton, Marcelo and Baret

Burton, Marcelo and Baret

We got acquainted there, and we became friends at the next one, and he came over here. My approach to training jiu-jitsu, as far as learning, is as I just go and train with the best people I can possibly train with, whenever I can possibly do it.

What’s nice is that you start to see corollaries. Let’s take the triangle choke, for example.  You learn your triangle from Baret Yoshida who has this phenomenal triangle. You learn it from him and get all the details, his details, great!

Then you’re learning the triangle from Charuto and Charuto says “Hey, flex your toes. Pull your toes back. It makes your calf hard and everything tightens up a little more.” Wow, there’s another detail.

Then somebody else gives me another detail, this one detail you have never heard from anybody.

So if you keep doing that you end up with these details.  And all of a sudden if you throw the triangle on somebody they’re not getting out of it.

It’s like the JKD concept. Let’s go back to Bruce Lee for just a second. The idea is to train whatever you can find including training with different instructors.  You just take the very best of it – it’s a mindset and it’s actually a way of life. It’s just constantly looking to improve yourself and see what you can learn from these different grapplers or kick boxers or whoever; just constantly looking to improve.

Stephan: Okay. Well, so clearly you jumped down the jiu-jitsu rabbit hold big time. How then do you square the circle between training jiu-jitsu for the love of training jiu-jitsu, and the streetwise aspects of it?  Using aspects of this art in the street or in a self-defense situation?  How does this all tie in with the multiple opponents argument? What about weapons or what about striking? How can one adapt one’s grappling to be street-proof?

Burton: Yes. Well, I think it’s interesting. With me I did all these martial arts and was like “this is all for self-defense. It’s not that sports stuff.” Let me say right here that when it comes to my instructor, Dan Inosanto: I’m not saying he taught me wrong or anything like that because he told me and everybody else plenty of times “You know, you’ve got to get your sparring in. And “One competition is worth six months of training.” And he said this all the time but it’s one thing to hear it and it’s another thing to actually grasp it and do what he said.

But what I came to realize was that I was not a functional kickboxer, I was not a functional in the clinch, I was not functional in weaponry, I was not functional on the ground, so wow. I just said, “You know what, I’m not going to teach any more seminars on all that stuff that I was teaching for all those years. At the time I was doing like 40 seminars a year. I just told everybody “I’m not doing that anymore. If you want to have me out for a seminar I’m not showing any of that stuff anymore. I’m only going to show you the things that I know for a fact work because I or someone I know has done it under real pressure.”

And so I went way to the sport side because I knew it worked.

Stephan: I’m sorry, let me jump in here. When you said you went into the sports side, you meant for example kickboxing against somebody who’s really trying to punch your head in as well and grappling against somebody who’s really trying to armbar you as well. Is that what you mean by sports side?

Burton: Yes.  So the aspect of actually competing.  Having someone really trying to do it to you.  Working with really good people, in kickboxing, MMA, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, clinching and such. So after doing that for years, it came back. You know what, okay, my students are doing well. I am very comfortable now and, you know, my original thing was self-defense and I just decided “Yeah, I’m going to go and delve into that again.”

So instead of going and saying “Here are the techniques that we have. We can grab and throw. We can hit him on the ground, blah-blah-blah,” I said, “Now I know what I’m doing. Now let me look at it again.” Because we all know that there are a lot of traditional martial artists that just don’t know how to fight at all. And they think they do and they look at the sport and say, “No good. Look, you just hit him on the groin.” This is not true…

Stephan: I’m sure you’ve seen that wonderful clip of the Dim Mak Chinese kung fu master fighting this MMA guy and —

Burton: Yeah.

Stephan: First they show this guy throwing his students around without touching them. And then the next thing you know he gets demolished.

Burton: This is the best example and especially since the MMA guy was no high level guy or anything. He’s just some guy. Yeah, that’s a great example. That’s why I went to the sports side and then was able to say, “Okay, I know this works,” and when I wanted to go back to self-defense I just built everything around that base first.

I mean it’s so simple. I’d say “Okay, we’re going to do Greco-Roman for MMA, not Greco-Roman for the sport of wrestling but for MMA.” I trained with Randy Couture for years, a little bit with Matt Lindland, and a lot with a guy named Robert Follis who was the head coach of Team Quest.

And now we take that kind of clinch and we start throwing knees to the groin and striking to the groin with my hand.  Okay, guess what, the structure changes but the basic elements are still there – the underhook is there, the snapdowns, and the sweeps, and armdrag to the back; everything is still there but you just make little adjustments.

Then I made the adjustment of “Hey, we have to deal with weapons” – and that includes on the ground as well.

For self-defense, the priorities are different. Imagine if you’re training jiu-jitsu for a jiu-jitsu match. Once you have somebody in your guard, you have certain priorities – where are you’re going to get your grip and such…

If you change that to nogi, okay you’re grips are going to change. You’ll have different priorities.

If you change it to MMA, it’s really going to change because now you have to control posture so you don’t get smashed in the face.

Then you change it to street situation your priority becomes to stand up as quickly as you possibly can in a lot of situations.

So that’s why I trained a former UFC fighter Nate Quarry. He was one of the Team Quest guys. Nate is awesome at standing up. His skill at getting up off the bottom is so amazing because – I’ll just tell you a funny story that he told me –  because he trained with Randy Couture and all of those guys, Nick Lindland and Team Quest, people would come up to him and say “Gosh, you must have great takedowns.” And he was like “What are you talking about? I’m getting taken down constantly. I don’t have great takedowns. I’m great at getting off the bottom because I’m always on the bottom.”

And so you prioritize it differently. And then we add in that at any time someone can draw a training knife. So we have put training knives on guys. So you’re in there and you roll. Maybe you sweep the guy. You get to the top and here comes the knife. You have to always be looking for someone to draw a knife, especially you guys out there who train in jiu-jitsu… If you have to use it in a self-defense situation, if you take someone down and mount them, that’s when they may pull the knife that you didn’t know they had. So we just have to always be aware. We just always expect the weapon. You always have to expect a weapon.

So guess how I came up with different techniques that work very well under real pressure… Just put a training knife in the guys’ hands. You say, “Here, you know, just try to hit me as hard as you can with that thing: slash, thrust, do your best. Do whatever you possibly can.” It evolves over the years. It just evolves and evolves and evolves until you have something that works quite well.

Stephan: I think you’ve just ruined my punch line but I was once training at my jiu-jitsu club and I had just come back from a Dan Inosanto seminar. And one of the things I’ve picked up was a little kalambit, which is a curved Indonesian which you hold in an ice pick grip which has a ring around your finger. So it’s almost impossible to disarm.  Virtually impossible to disarm without breaking the guy’s finger off. And one guy in the class said, “You just went and did that silat thing, eh? Show me a silat counter to the triangle.”

I’m like “Oh, okay.” So I go back to my bag and hide this dull training knife in my gi and I let him put me in the triangle. He had a really good triangle. While he’s there, I take this knife out and ‘cut’ his femoral artery, then his other femoral artery, then his armpit, then the throat, then in the stomach… There was just this look of dull shock for about five to ten seconds. The guy had no idea what was going on…

I was like “Well, that would be a silat person’s most likely answer to being caught in a triangle choke; not playing by the rules of the situation that got them into that triangle choke in the first place.” I don’t think I made a convert that day but I was amused and that’s the important thing…

Burton: You know, again, that’s the truth. And there are always people who are not ready to go outside.  People in our country  we’ve developed with all these rules, all these laws that people go by.  People think everybody else in the rest of the world does that too. “Oh, they should just say that they’re sorry about this or that when they’ve been trying to kill each other for the last 5000 years…” It’s like we’re in this set of rules, but guess what, somebody else might be playing outside those rules.

Just a little sideline – I think you’ll find this interesting and I hope everybody listening will find it interesting too – there were researchers who went down to Indonesia years ago.  They were looking for technique and were asking guys in the different villages about knife techniques. They were thinking knife disarms and how you would take a knife away from somebody…

And they asked this one guy and he thinks a little bit and then says, “Oh yeah, I have a knife technique. It works every time.” They’re like “Works every time! What is it?” He goes “Well, what you do with the person, you know, the other guy, you have to know what he likes.  Maybe he likes books. And so you get a book and you go give him the book and you hide the knife in your other hand underneath the book, and when he grabs it you stab him. There’s your knife technique.”

Stephan (laughing): Yeah, there’s your cultural shift!

In my experience it doesn’t actually take that much to adapt. It’s not like you have to throw knives into every single jiu-jitsu training session to become sensitised to that. If you do that once every ten times… I guess any time is better than no time. If you’ve done it a couple of times then it’s like having gone to a tournament.  Like one competition being worth six months of training. One sparring session that’s completely outside the norm of what you’re used to is also sometimes worth six months of training.


Burton: Yeah, exactly. I totally agree. It doesn’t have to be all the time.  I mean we really love jiu-jitsu. I just finished training BJJ for two hours with some guys. It’s just great and it’s kind of fun: one guy is in his late 30’s. The other guy is 19 and here I am in my 50’s and we just train and go at it for two hours and that’s a wonderful thing.

But if you’re thinking self-defense – if you think that you would like to be able to use your jiu-jitsu for self-defense someday – then it’s very wise if just every once in a while you throw a knife in with the mix and see what happens.  Just so that you’re aware of what can actually happen for you…

Stephan (interrupting): But the lawyer in me feels compelled to point out that “throw a dull knife into there please.”

Burton: Boy, thank you very much. Go extremely safe.  What we use is actually a small padded knife so it’s quite safe and of course the person wielding the knife is careful not to injure his partner. So when I test things I test them at very high intensity levels, but when we’re training it’s at a lower intensity level because guys will say “Yeah, I’m training myself for self-defense so I won’t get hurt.” Then I ask “How do you get hurt?”  And they’re like “Ummm, training for self-defense.”

So safety first!

Stephan: But Burton people do want to train in self-defense with you, without getting too badly hurt, what’s the best way for them to get hold of you?

Burton: I do have distance learning programs on DVD. I have some straight stick fighting, and some straight knife DVD’s. I have the empty hand program as well.  And I’m going to start shooting the next thing in a few months: BJJ for the Street. It will be a program specifically for street self-defense. I think it will be very interesting for all you guys training jiu-jitsu because it will show you how to tweak it every once in a while.  This is really, really interesting to me, the way you can set your jiu-jitsu up. It’s a lot easier to set up things when you can grab a guy’s throat… Like the old hip bump sweep, where you have a guy in your guard, he sits back, you sit up and bump him over with your hip… Boy, it’s really easy to get that sweep when you grab them by the throat first and start pushing.

Stephan: Interesting…

Burton: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. But I travel and do seminars also. So if you like you can always contact me at jkdunlimited.com or if you want a referral just let me know and I’ll put you in touch with someone in your area if I know somebody. I just want to help everybody enjoy their training.

Stephan: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today.  I really enjoyed this chat and I think that my listeners will also get a lot out of it. Thank you so much and good luck with your training and teaching.

Burton: Well, thank you Stephan and I really appreciate what you’ve done as well. You’ve really done a wonderful job getting top level technique and training methods out to people, so thank you for that.

To find out more about Burton Richardson’s training programs check out www.jkdunlimited.com 

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