Galing Pinoy: A Pinoy Fighting Master

by Joseph Pimentel/

ALTHOUGH Bruce Lee passed away more than 30 years ago, his legacy lives in the hearts of a handful of students. One of these students is FilAm Richard Bustillo.

Now in his 60’s, Bustillo looks like he’s straight out of a kung-fu flick in the 70s. He may not have ever appeared in a film but in real life he’s a master in more ways than one. Bustillo holds a 10th degree black belt and holds the title SIFU Grandmaster at the IMB Academy in Torrance, CA. He is also recognized as being one of two persons for reviving and promoting Eskrima, the Filipino national martial art.

He credited much of his 40 years of martial arts success to the legendary Lee.

“When I was young I thought I knew everything,” recalled Bustillo. “But Bruce changed my whole life. He always said ‘knowing is not enough, you must apply’.”

And applied, he did.

For the past 30 years, Bustillo has been inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame, the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame, World Karate Union Hall of Fame, United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame, and the Filipino Martial Arts Hall of Fame. He’s been honored by the Los Angeles City Council, the City of Torrance and Cerritos, and a large number of other world- wide organizations for his contributions to martial arts.

On March, he will reap another award when the Cacoy Doce Pares World Federation meets in Cebu, Philippines for their first Hall of Fame Banquet Ceremony and International Training Seminar.


Born and raised in Hawaii, Bustillo began martial arts training at the age of eight. The son of a hard working Ilocano and Chinese Filipino mother, he learned early on that nothing in life is given. He was one of six kids who grew up in the projects of Hawaii.

“I used to walk six blocks barefoot to the judo studio,” recalled Bustillo.

He studied judo before learning kajukenbo in high school.

After high school he moved away from the island to attend college in California. He continued to train, this time as an accomplished amateur welterweight boxer. He won a few novice boxing championship awards and placed second in the Los Angeles Golden Gloves competition.

But the idea of becoming a professional boxer did not intrigue the adventurous Bustillo. Growing up in Hawaii, he had a luxurious outdoor life. He knew he could not just focus on one sport.

“Boxing is about dedication,” he said. “I didn’t think I was that good. I loved to box. I loved to fight but I hated putting the time in training. I like to go out and go surfing. I didn’t want to concentrate on one thing.”

That is until he met Lee. In 1964, Bustillo was among those in attendance when Lee made is debut and demonstrated his martial arts style at the Long Beach International Karate Championships.

“When he [Bruce] said, ‘the individual is more important than any style or system,’ I fell for it. I saw him demonstrate his speed and power. I said this is the kind of guy I want to learn from.”

Bustillo wrote to Lee about wanting to learn from him. However, Lee at that time was based in Seattle. Bustillo had to wait three years before Lee opened a martial arts studio in Chinatown Los Angeles.

The wait was well worth it.

Lee’s teaching of Jun Fan Jeet Kun Do and life philosophy inspired Bustillo to be a more confident person.

“He’s the one who told me to express myself,” said Bustillo. “Asian people like you and me are really humble but we really don’t express ourselves. You don’t have to show off [but] you have to learn to express yourself.”

During that time, another martial arts prodigy was studying under Lee. FilAm Dan Inosanto was became known as Lee’s right hand. Bustillo and Inosanto became close friends because of their shared Filipino heritage. Together they were known as the “Stockton Pinoy” and “the Hawaiian Pinoy.”

Lee advised the two Filipino fighters to revive and promote the Filipino art.


During the time Bustillo and Inosanto trained under Lee, they also practiced Eskrima on the side. Eskrima is the Filipino art of stick and/or sword fighting. They soon realized that there was a lack of Eskrima instructors in the US.

“Back then, there were all these Filipino fighters, who were good fighters but fighting under a different national martial arts,” said Bustillo. “So we came together and we wanted to make Filipinos proud of their own culture and heritage and to start developing it.”

Bustillo and Inosanto went on a manhunt. They began by looking for any Filipino Kali instructors.  Inosanto asked around and searched all over Northern California. Meanwhile, Bustillo asked his family and found more Eskrima instructors in Hawaii.

Their perseverance paid off. The two together found more than a dozen elder Filipinos willing to share their art.

Before being contacted, most of the elder Filipinos kept their knowledge of Eskrima a secret.

“You have to remember in the early days when the Filipinos were being colonized by Spain, they were forbade to practice Filipino martial arts,” explained Bustillo. “Anyone caught would be executed.”

“So it was hidden and put in dance form,” he added. “It was passed down from father to son. And sometimes the father never shared it with the family. He wanted to protect the family and didn’t want them to get hurt.”

Since then Bustillo has made it a point to add Eskrima to his martial arts curriculum for his students.

Even in his ripe age, Bustillo continues to tour the US promoting the teachings of Lee and the elder Eskrima instructors.

He recalls one seminar in which an older Filipino approached him and Inosanto after an Eskrima demonstration.

The older man said to Bustillo, “Thank you very much for showing my son and my grandson our Filipino art. For years, they didn’t believe me that we had a martial arts.”


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