written by Paul Taylor
“Mad dogs and an Englishman beat the living daylights out of each other in the mid-day sun.” Apologies to Noel Coward for the misquote, but it seemed so apt.
IN September, 1998, Richard Killick flew to L.A. to fight at the tenth anniversary meeting of the infamous Dog Brothers. In doing so he became the first person from the U.K. to be invited over to participate in the “gathering of the Pack”.
The twice-yearly gatherings are seen as the ultimate test for the serious stick fighter and boast some of the very best exponents in the States. October’s event, held in Hermosa Beach, saw thirty-five such fighters take part and over three hundred spectators.
In the following interview, Richard talks about his preparation training, both mental and physical, his fight with “Top Dog” Eric Knaus, for which he received a standing ovation from the crowd, and his thoughts on the whole experience.
Paul Taylor: Can you give he readers a brief rundown of your martial arts experience to date?
Richard Killick: I started boxing at eighteen when I was in the Army and was also introduced to Thai boxing by a guy I served with. That was between ’83 and ’85. When I left in ’85, I continued my Thai training with Master Booncum in Epsom. I was self-employed then so I was training all the time and doing three or four classes per week. In ’87 I started training with Bob Breen. At that time he was teaching a mixture of Kali and kickboxing and I was also lucky enough to train under Gary Derrick, in Thai boxing, who taught at the Academy as well.
In March 1990 I took part in the first BKEA stickfighting tournament under WEKAF rules and didn’t do very well. I won my first fight but by the time my second match came around I was so knackered I lost to a guy who had minimal stick experience but was a professional aerobics instructor! In 1993 I started to train privately with Sifu Dave Carnell, this was fantastic and also helped to heal a back injury I suffered at work. Then in 1996 I met Doug Tucker who used to come along to my Sutton classes. Doug is Krishna Godhania’s London representative for the Institute of Filipino Martial Arts. Richard Hay, my training partner, Doug and myself hit it off straight away and every now and again he would show us something from the Warriors system of Eskrima. I’ve been with Doug for about a year now and also attend regular workshops he hosts for Krishna in London.
Paul Taylor: How does Warriors Eskrima compare to other Filipino systems you’ve been exposed to?
Richard Killick: Overall, I would say that it’s quite similar in terms of the areas it covers but it’s more practical in a lot of respects. The way that it’s structured makes it easy to learn. It’s very good at taking fighters from A to B to C, etc., from the viewpoint of fighting full contact. It’s not a tournament-orientated art, it’s very traditional in the sense that it prepares the student for the realities of an actual stick fight. That’s what I like about it, it’s very realistic.
Paul Taylor: Recently, you fought at the Dog Brothers’ tenth anniversary gathering in L.A. and stood out as the only overseas fighter there. How did it all come about?
Richard Killick: There was a time when I couldn’t make it up to Dave’s for a while and was a bit down, so Richard Hay gave me some tapes of the Dog Brothers to look at. I watched them, liked what I saw, and thought maybe I could start training in that. I got in touch with Doug and the three of us (Rich, Doug and myself) got together every other week or so and began to spar full contact. From there I got in contact with Guro Marc Denny (Crafty Dog) who’s the head instructor for Dog Brothers Martial Arts and he gave me some training tips. At the same time I was attending some workshops given by Krishna and he gave me some pointers to work on too. After that it was just a matter of getting some money together and getting out there.
Paul Taylor: Where did the desire to participate stem from?
Richard Killick: As you can see from their (Dog Brothers) tapes it’s very realistic. Even more so with a fencing mask, i.e. you can actually get knockouts so you can’t afford to stand toe to toe and take big hits. In fact when I was out there one guy took an angle one hit straight through the mask and it took him out.
Paul Taylor: Knocked him out?
Richard Killick: Yeah, took him off his feet! Another one took a punio in ground grappling and it went straight through the mask. I realised that’s about as close as you can get, because if you take the mask away people are going to lose eyes and worse. So it was that really, plus the fact that the Dog Brothers are very articulate people. For example, Marc’s a lawyer, and they’re all excellent martial artists and high up in a lot of systems. So I view these gatherings as a kind of Olympics for stick fighting with some of the best fighters in the States in attendance.
Paul Taylor. Can anybody attend the gatherings or is it by invitation only?
Richard Killick: There’s an open invitation but you have to have a certain standard. I mean, realistically speaking, you couldn’t just walk in off the street without a high level of training because if you did you’d get yourself into a lot of trouble very quickly. Some of the fights last maybe only twenty seconds. When Eric Knaus fought a guy, after me, he stopped the fight with just one hit!
Paul Taylor: What’s the purpose of it all?
Richard Killick: It’s really to test your skills and theories and try to improve upon them by taking it as close to the wire as you possibly can. It’s a bit like Geoff Thompson’s “Animal Day”. You put yourself under pressure and see how your techniques come out, or don’t come out as the case may be! Naturally you find out a lot about yourself and what you need to work on. I now have a long list of things to go through.
Paul Taylor: How did you prepare for it?
Richard Killick: Lots of sparring. I have a regular Thursday night class with Richard Hay and because it was such short notice (originally I was planning to go out there next May) we got together with Doug, put the helmets and gloves on, and just sparred. We’d do anything from seven to twelve rounds concentrating mainly on isolation drills. The only thing was, we didn’t have any fencing masks, so the first time I actually fought in one was when I went up against Eric Knaus ? nothing like starting at the top!
Paul Taylor: With regards to the stickwork, did you find that the training you did beforehand stood up well to the pressure they put you under, or was the reality something different?
Richard Killick: Sifu Dave Carnell has always emphasised good strong basics, with good footwork and Doug and Krishna always stress tight defensive skills, so I was really pleased that we worked on tight defences in our preparation as that helped me enormously in my fight against Eric. He swings incredibly hard, but I managed to block a couple of them and counter hit off them as well. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the training I’ve been doing this year.
Paul Taylor: With the benefit of hindsight, what would you say were your strong points in the fights you had, and what were the ones that left you thinking, “I’ll have to work on that”?
Richard Killick: Well, because I’m six-feet six-inches tall, my strong point is long range so I worked a lot on that with Doug. I learnt the hard way on the bad end of the Warriors system that at long range your set point can be controlled, so I learnt to move my stick hand and use my footwork. My shortcomings were that although I’d been working on empty hands grappling, I hadn’t done any stick grappling, and believe me it changes everything! Also I need to work a lot on trying to stop people from crashing in, which of course the Dog Brothers are excellent at.
Paul Taylor: If you go out there again in May, how else would you change your preparation?
Richard Killick: I’d actually train more in fencing masks and put up with the lumps and bruises. To reach the next level, which would mean being regarded as being good enough to be accepted into the “Tribe”, I’ll have to work more on being the total package, i.e. grappling with the stick, counter-grappling, and medium-range stick work, which I was just starting to work on with Doug. Also I think I’ll bring back some of my old Thai boxing drills?especially the clinch work.
Paul Taylor: The Dog Brothers have established a formidable reputation as hardcore martial artists. It must have been hard not to let that reputation overtake you. How did you deal with the build up and any pre-fight nerves?
Richard Killick: I read Geoff Thompson’s books and they helped me a lot in understanding the adrenaline dumps and stuff like that. Especially as my first fight was with Eric. Initially, there was a lot of “Oh no, it’s Top Dog”, but as soon as he swung and nearly took my hand off I was OK. I’ve found that once the first exchange takes place the nerves usually settle down. It was only afterwards when I watched him fight other people that I stopped and thought about it. But you definitely have to be able to deal with his power.
Paul Taylor: I would imagine that after ten years the event is quite polished now. How is the day and the fights organised?
Richard Killick: You turn up at 1l AM and there’s an opening talk. “Be friends at the end of the day…Everybody leaves with the same I.Q. that they came with”. The Dog Brothers administrators, Cindy Sheeley and Marc Denny, work really hard to find fighters somewhere to stay and to make sure everyone knows what’s going on. The cameramen and Brent Lewis, who plays the drum, are excellent. The idea is to build fighters, not to break them, so there’s a lot of respect amongst the fighters and a feeling of comradeship throughout. You get applause just for getting up for a match. As far as picking fights are concerned it’s a bit like asking someone to dance at a club, except you’re asking them if they would like to fight! And you just keep going until everybody’s exhausted.
Paul Taylor: What other weapons were used on the day, and what are your thoughts on what you saw?
Richard Killick: Crafty Dog fought staff against staff. I believe that was his first time fighting with a staff at a gathering. That was great to watch, a lot of power and skill involved and he got a disarm on the guys as well. In the next series of tapes to come out there’s stick against chain and double stick against stickle.
Paul Taylor: Can you talk us through the fights you had?
Richard Killick: My warm-up fight was knife against knife which I found good because I’m a long-range fighter. Obviously in a knife fight you just want to get in and out and avoid extended exchanges and if you do find yourself in that situation the crowd start to shout “It’s a knife fight!” But again, because of my height and range I found I could control the guy’s set point and the Warriors knife work we’d been practising came off really well. After that I thought I’d try to line up a match with Tom Stillman who was fighting with double nunchakus. I wanted to go double sticks against him, but he got his ear smashed up in a previous single stick fight. While I was waiting for him to recuperate I got talking to someone else. As we were chatting, Eric went up to him and asked him for a fight. So Eric fought him with single stick and did a very good job. The first stick fight I had was against Eric and basically it wasn’t too bad at long range (even though he almost sent my kneecap into next week), I got a few counter hits in which I’d been practising because I know he likes to go low. At one point I was thinking “This guy’s going to close any second now” and the next thing I knew his head had hit my chest and he took me down with a leg vine. He got side control straight away and tried to get a fang choke on which I managed to just about fend off. From there he got the mount. He could have fanged me again from there but as I tried to fend it off again he decided to switch and made me tap out with an arm bar. The idea, especially amongst the original Dog Brothers, is that you fight as hard as you can and as soon as the guy submits, that’s it. If you’re in trouble, tap out, so that’s what I did!
Paul Taylor: Eric Knaus is renowned for his footwork and power. Did you feel it and how did you cope with it?
Richard Killick: Basically, at long range his footwork and power are superb and he’s an excellent technical fighter as well. I would say that as far as the closing on opponents goes he’s got that
down to a fine art and his grappling is very good too. I worked a lot on keeping my hands out of danger, i.e. moving them out of the way. I learnt that the hard way from sparring with Doug all night! As for the power, as I’ve said before, that’s something you have to learn to deal with, especially as they use bigger sticks.
Paul Taylor: Heavier than what’s normally used here?
Richard Killick: Just slightly, but slightly longer too, probably thirty-one inches. Although, having said that, it does vary from fighter to fighter.
Paul Taylor: What’s it like being on the end of a crash by Eric Knaus? What went through your mind?
Richard Killick: I actually thought just before it happened, “He’s gone low a couple of times. This guy’s gonna crash”. I had a counter worked out for it, and then he just bombed straight in. The skill level is so high. Once he had the standing grapple he took me to the ground easily.
Paul Taylor: How big a part would you say endurance plays in these bouts? Is it as critical in preparing for something like this as it is for tournament fighting? What did you do?
Richard Killick: I didn’t really change anything in my regular training. I was at average fitness for me. Not as fit as when I was Thai boxing, but I will work on my fitness level because it needs it and also it means I can have more fights next time around. I think one of the biggest problems for me was the heat out there. One of the best tips I got was from a friend, Ewen Campbell, who said, “Duck and drink a lot of water!”
Paul Taylor: I notice that they use fencing masks instead of the “buckets” we use over here. How did you adapt to that? Did you take any headshots?
Richard Killick: The next day I was sparring with this guy and took a mild head shot to the side of the head and it really cut into the ear. But they don’t offer that much protection. The vision was much better than I expected though and I’ll definitely be training in them from now on.
Paul Taylor: Eric Knaus has said that once you experience a fight like this (a hard, full contact stick fight) it changes you. Would you agree with this?
Richard Killick: Absolutely! It also highlights your weaknesses straight away. You have to become a total fighter rather than just someone who fights at a specific range.
Paul Taylor: No spiritual enlightenment then?
Richard Killick: No, but then I’ve been under enemy fire while I was in the Army and have been through the fear thing before. I would say though that as in all hard fights it makes you close to your opponent. There’s a feeling at the end of it that you’ve been through something together. So there’s that comradeship and it’s stressed a lot because at the end of the day your opponent is helping you to grow.
Paul Taylor: Do you think that everyone involved in the arts should experience this kind of intense pressure just once?
Richard Killick: Yeah, absolutely. I cannot compete in Muay Thai any more because of my back injury but I can get the same pressure test by doing this. I hope to still be taking part when I am fifty, like John (Under Dog) Salter who really impressed me.
Paul Taylor: How did you fill the rest of the week once the gathering was over?
Richard Killick: I was lucky enough to train privately with Crafty Dog, which was a real eye opener for me, as he introduced me to stick grappling amongst other things. Sometimes great fighters are not great teachers but Crafty Dog is excellent in both areas. I took Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lessons with Chris Haueter, who is a Machado black belt. I also got to see the Machado classes at their academy. I saw Higan and John Machado who to my mind were out of this world?and really nice guys as well. Also, I was able to watch Guro lnosanto and Crafty Dog train with the Machados, which was just great to watch.
Paul Taylor: If you had to choose one moment out of the whole trip that stood out above all else, what would it be? What made the biggest impression?
Richard Killick: As they shouted time when I fought Eric! I think the lasting impression for me was that these guys fight to the max and are highly intelligent. They stress that this is a brotherhood and everyone is willing to bring you up as a fighter because that in turn makes them better. Also, training privately with Crafty Dog was an unforgettable experience.
Paul Taylor: If anyone’s interested in this type of training what should be their first course of action?
Richard Killick: Buy the first series of Dog Brother videos, study the material on them and learn the lessons they’ve already learnt the hard way. Then find a reputable instructor in the Filipino martial arts. Crafty Dog will train private groups or individuals if you contact him and go to Hermosa Beach which is also a great place to hang out. I, of course, recommend my instructors but if you train elsewhere try to spar with fencing masks, not the buckets. I start my students off with the bucket, gloves and groin guards, then move them onto fencing masks as soon as possible.
Paul Taylor: What are your plans for the future?
Richard Killick: I’d like to go back out there for the next gathering in May and take some of my training partners. Tom Stillman has promised to fight me with his double nunchakus next time. At the moment I’m writing around trying to get some sponsorship. It doesn’t cost too much to get out there, but to do it twice a year with training fees and living expenses all adds up. Also, I’m working on plans to bring them over here for a seminar and maybe for a pre-gathering gathering to help bring us up to scratch. I am trying to build a core group of people who want to fight the Dog Brothers way. I encourage my students in my class but of course some of my students do not want to fight this way. That’s all right by me because I can pass on some of the lessons I have learnt to them. It makes me a better instructor.
Paul Taylor: Thanks for giving up some of your time to share your experiences with us, Richard. I’m sure everyone interested in the Filipino arts will find this interesting.
Richard Killick: Thank you, it’s been my pleasure.