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THE IRON DRAGON – 1942 to 2017

We are born a handful of kilos of vulnerable flesh and tissue, ultimately despatched on a conveyor-belt of experiences that make or break us, our lives affected by those we meet on our extended journey. During the course of a so far eventful life I have met many, from happy if relatively humble beginnings to the upper echelons of sporting and entertainment celebrity. Along the way I believe I have been consistent, treating all with similar respect and regard. When asked to write a tribute to my friend and mentor, Richard S. Bustillo for Martial Arts Illustrated I simply froze. With open heart, I felt wholly exposed, dreadfully aware of the potential for failing to give due and appropriate justice to a man who greatly affected my own life path.


Richard S. Bustillo was no ordinary man. He was not simply a husband, father, grandfather or greatgrandfather. Neither was he just a part of the duo that extended the philosophies of the late Bruce Lee. Nor was he peripheral to iconic side-kick, Dan Inosanto, who together took martial arts to an extended philosophic level and were revered for ‘influencing their followers as much as Plato or Pythagoras’. As impressive as all of the these may seem and above all he achieved, Richard was very simply an incredible human being. One of the greatest of men and one that I had the immense pleasure of calling friend.


I first met Richard in 1984 on holiday in L.A. with an actor/martial artist friend, John Carrigan. The break was intended as a diversion from the reality of my life gradually slipping off the rails of normality! Richard proved a strong, outgoing and warm individual, and after a while, casually requested, ”Hey. Come to a party tonight. Chuck Norris will be there!”. I’d soon realize Richard was no name-dropper and you’d have struggled to know he was celebrated, such a lifetime achiever, unless you’d nailed him down and beaten it out of him. He showed me all of Bruce Lee’s fighting equipment and invited me to use his custom-made, extremely-heavy, punch bag. Even then the thought came to mind that through Richard the will, the legacy of Bruce Lee, was taking the path of my life on a drastic detour.


In 1999, Richard came over to visit the converted church that housed I.C.E. martial arts school in Tonbridge. We talked of life and loves, and the changes and emotions therein for both of us. Richard was, for once, knocked over by the aesthetic beauty of our unique location. By then, he was on a global mission to spread the Bruce Lee gospel and we’d often arrange to meet at various functions, in the U.K., the States or Philippines; anywhere that fighting sports were being marketed, sold or shown. He was a phenomenal worker and ambassador, coming to watch me fight for the U.K. Eskrima team even though he represented the U.S!


This was a man who remained 100% consistent, loyal and true. He exuded a warmth rarely seen, constantly seeking the path of right, both in his capacity as physical and psychological mentor and his various roles as law enforcer, teaching defensive tactics training to the Police. He man believed in doing the right thing through to the end, for the good of all.


The last time we met, Richard clearly wasn’t his old self. The man who’d honoured me on my journey from IMB Apprentice to Master level, turned to me in the car while en-route to a Coventry seminar saying, ”I don’t want to go, Lee. Let’s just hang out”. It just wasn’t him. Later on that same journey he told me, ”Lee, you know I love you for all we’ve been through?” I replied a casual, ”Yeah, and I love you too Richard”. I don’t know if he knew then that the liver cancer was going to take him, but that wasn’t like my friend of thirty years!


Now, the world is an emptier place and the one component of his death that I still find hard to come to terms with is that I’ll never see him again. That’s tough. Tougher than any training, any fight or any adversity that I’ve had to overcome in my life so far. I can’t believe, that of all thepeople I’ve encountered, that the one with the greatest; humour – which he skilfully weaved in to every facet of life, generosity, humbleness and respectfulness – that he instilled into those who met him, is no more. Whilst expressing my gratitude to Martial Arts Illustrated for my induction in to the Hall of Fame the tears I shed on receiving my award I dedicate to my great mentor and inspiration, the legendary Iron Dragon.

Lee Banda

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