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Budo Code: The Moral Standard of Martial Arts

by Richard Bustillo

During feudal Japan, many of the samurai clans recognized a code of conduct called “Bushidō”.  Bushido when translated means the "Way of the Warrior" and outlines the way a samurai should conduct his life based on principles of morality frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and honour until death.  Many martial disciplines have recognized the same principles and in many instances the key reason for the longevity of these systems is due to the reputable individuals who train in those systems.  It would be simplistic to conclude that a true martial art discipline is only based on the physical acts of punching, kicking, and grappling.


The martial arts are based on much more than punching, kicking and grappling just as the tallest buildings are based on much more than walls, floors and windows.  Both stand the test of time only when built on a strong foundation. Overtime, the principles of Bushido have been referred to as the “Budo Code”.  One may easily conclude that only a true martial system will have as its foundation the recognized principles in the “Budo Code”. 


In today's times the Budo Code embodies moral, social and ethical standards and is followed by the world’s most-enlightened martial-arts teachers and practitioners.  The Budo Code, which has stood the test of centuries, is about respect for one’s teacher and school, one’s elders, and for each other.  Moreover, this code endorses perseverance toward worthy goals; loyalty to one's school or team; self-confidence without arrogance; honoring one’s responsibilities; and truthfulness in character.


For the past 35 years, I have followed the powerful and uncompromising principles embodied in the Budo Code.  In accordance with the Code, I have always strived to teach one of the highest skills of humankind: How to gain self-confidence and increased self-respect in the martial arts. What’s more, the Budo Code of loyalty and respect has meant the very survival of my IMB Academy and of my role as academy president and chief instructor.  I believe that this academy is here today because of our adherence to the Budo Code of honesty, responsibility, respect, loyalty and perseverance.


After 35 years of teaching the IMB Academy has survived the best of time by being based upon the Budo Code.  Unfortunately, 35 years of studying and teaching in the martial arts community, I have witnessed different people violate the Budo Code.  In some instances, the person’s violation of the Budo Code is minor and a caring approach to helping this person recognize their error is all that is needed to correct the situation.  


Ask a competitive martial artist about being psyched out by his/her opponent. When you’re susceptible to external, negative forces, you allow weaknesses or openings to exist in your defenses. The martial artist shouldn't allow outside negative influences to rule emotions and distract from achieving goals.  In such a negative state, martial artists have given up control of the present challenge and their future circumstances.  They have relinquished the responsibility for their actions to someone or something outside of them.  


Unfortunately, when one violates some of the basic tenets of the Budo Code there are repercussions on the entire martial arts community.  For example, as an instructor, I experience  negative and depressed feelings when a student violates the traditional Budo Code.  However, when one of my students does violate the Budo Code I am spurred to action.    I realize that this problem does not disappear by itself.  On the contrary, a student, associate, colleague, or even acquaintance that has acted with dishonesty, disloyalty, or disrespect is a reflection upon my teaching.


I have been sincere in my efforts to counsel those who have lied, cheated or stolen.  In some cases, I was able to guide the person back to the Code; but, unfortunately, in other cases, the individual gave no acknowledgement, showed no remorse nor offered any restitution for the immoral behavior.  In these instances it is important for others to know of this person’s transgressions so that others may take the necessary precautions when dealing with such a person.  While one cannot undo the violation perpetrated by the offender, one may warn others of this transgression.


From my own personal experiences, I clearly remember a time when a fellow martial artist conducted himself with deception and lies during a trip I took to Hawaii.   During the 1980s, I was invited by an individual to perform at the Filipino Martial Arts Exhibition at the Festival of Martial Arts in Honolulu.  This individual host paid for my group’s airfare and hotel accommodations and he guaranteed to pay for our time spent at the Exhibition.  I invited Dan Inosanto, who chose Cass Magda to be his demonstrating partner, and I chose Steve Martinez for my partner.


Before our performance, this individual informed me that we would be paid at the conclusion of the event. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the event his individual was nowhere to be found.  That evening, all of us tried to locate him at his home and were unable to find him.  Not only did I feel cheated by this person's deceit but I had also felt responsible to my partners Dan Inosanto, Cass Magda and Steve Martinez.  I could not accept this fate, so early the next morning I made a "surprise" visit to his person's home at 5 a.m.  After the shock of seeing me on his front door step, he promptly paid the money he owed to my partners and me.  From this experience, one easily understands the devastating effects upon the martial arts community when a person associated with that community violates the principles of the Budo Code.


And yet from this experience, I still was not going to let my trusting and caring nature be changed by what I considered an anomaly.  I wanted to believe that this person was not reflective of the martial artists that I knew and trained with. Unfortunately, this was not to be so.  Another incident occurred to me in Sydney, Australia.  An individual in Sydney claimed to have made all the arrangements for a 14-day seminar tour between Sydney and Melbourne.  He told me that he would be paying me at the conclusion of all the seminars.



The seminar went very well and there appeared to be no problem with the series of events.  However, on the morning of my flight home to Los Angeles, the individual told me that he would be mailing me a check instead of paying me as he had promised.  Still willing to believe in the honest nature of a follow martial artist, I accepted his explanation and boarded my flight.  A year went by and I never saw a check.  Several years later he sent me a letter stating that he would be paying me the money he owed me upon his arrival in Los Angeles.  In his letter, he claimed to          be coming to Los Angeles in order to attend a tournament.  I informed him that it would be great that he finally compensated me for my time at his seminars since it was about 2 years since the seminars had been completed.  Finally, after 2 years he finally paid me.  However, to me it was another clear example of the breach of ethics of the Budo Code.


The Calgary, Canada incident wasn’t too bad in the scheme of things.  My host owed me well over $700 for my seminar.  He told me that he had the $700 in checks from the seminar participants, but that were made out payable to him. He gave me all the seminar cash and said that he would be mailing me a $700 check once the deposits cleared.  That was in 2003, and, that’s right, to this day I have not seen any $700 check -- nor have I worked with this individual again.  I tried contacting him, but he never replied.  I even had my friends in Calgary try to make contact with him.  Nil, nada, zero.  Another lesson learnt from a bad experience. 


One would think after two instances of failed promises, I would learn from my past experiences.  I was not willing to believe that the ethical standard in our community had dropped to such a degraded level.  And yet, I suffered through two more episodes of deceit and betrayal by martial artists.  Perhaps the most outrageous was a seminar that I did in Spain.



I conducted three successful seminars for Fausto Jimenez who lived in Benalmadena Malaga, Spain.  These seminars occurred over a four-year period.  I thought I knew Fausto well, in spite of hearing talk in the Spanish martial arts community about Fausto's questionable business practices.


The day before my flight departure from Spain, Fausto arranged for me to be interviewed by a local TV show.  I promoted Fausto, telling the reporter what I believed was the truth about Fausto.  During the past few years, I found him to be a good martial artist with good integrity.  I concluded the TV interview.  Boy, did I turn out to be wrong!  


Previously, Fausto told me that he had my seminar fee in U.S. dollars before I even landed on Malaga. During the seminar, I reconfirmed with Fausto that he had my fee in US dollars.  But right after the TV interview, on our way to the airport, Fausto told me he did not have my seminar fee; instead he would be mailing me a check for the seminars.


As I had been taught since birth of my loving Hawaiian Spirit, it is right to trust your fellowman and to not believe the negative gossip that surrounds some people. I recalled how some of Fausto's former students did not trust him, and I wanted to believe that our relationship would be different and that he would not be unethical. 


Once back in the U.S., I did not receive the promised payment from Fausto Jimenez.  We exchanged a few letters, and his auto-response was that the check was in the mail.  As of this writing, three years have passed, and Fausto still has not paid me my fee.  All communication from Fausto has ceased.  I have, naturally, scratched Fausto Jimenez off my list of instructors in good standing.  Fausto and people like him will be lonely because they build walls made of negative actions instead of bridges made of positive friends.  But if we who can speak out, these individuals will not be able to continue their dishonorable, fraudulent ways.


Out martial arts training is so much more than a physical exercise.  A true martial instruction has a moral and ethical framework that builds the foundation of the individual.  If one only seeks to develop their physical prowess to survive a deadly encounter then go buy a gun.  It is a simple and barbaric solution to self defense.  However, if one wants to develop a methodology that will survive all types of worldly encounters. then train in a system that embraces the Budo Code and primarily develops the inner character.  The physical skill will come through physical training but your integrity will only grow by ethical living. 



I hope my unfortunate experiences will benefit the entire martial arts community. Recognize these examples of poor character and try never to emulate them in your          own lives.  Yes, one can forgive.  But one never forgets.   Remember, knowledge alone is not power.  Applied knowledge is power.  We need to protect each other from the disrespectful, the thieves, and the undesirables.  The good times will become good memories; the bad times can become good lessons.   I look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.  Likewise, I look to the Budo Code to protect the future of our martial arts.  


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:: Sifu Richard Bustillo, President, IMB Academy,

:: 22109 S. Vermont Ave., Torrance, CA 90502        



The Iron Dragon is available

for seminaring all over the world. His busy schedule  enables a seminar appointment only after a long waiting period, often more than a year.