“Secrets” of the Filipino Fighting Arts
Words from a Modern-Day Warrior

Searching for Ama Guro Billy Bryant

I have sometimes mentioned on the boards that I am good friends with a gentleman named “Ama Guro Billy Bryant”, a very talented martial artist who, in my opinion, was the East Coast version of Bruce Lee. You will meet people who either bad mouth him or love him to death, and every time I talk about him I get private messages and emails asking his whereabouts or to tell them more about him. He is something of a phantom martial artist these days, but one that nearly everyone will agree was a great martial artist and fighter, so I’d like to talk about him a little.

I first met Billy around 1983, in a tournament in Philadelphia, PA. I was fighting in a plain black Karate gi representing no one (I was 13 and had loyalty issues with my martial arts teachers), but I had a Filipino flag patch on my uniform, which caught Billy’s attention. (Now that I think of it, that patch has introduced me to several other masters, including Master Apolo Ladra, GM Don Bitanga, and many more.) While Billy was interested in meeting my grandpa and talking FMA, I was more interested in picking his brain about point fighting because I admired his fighting style. At that time, Billy was in his late 40s and was quite dominant. At that time, he was going by the name “Jabba”, and representing Chinese Kenpo. He never talked about who he learned from, but I remember asking him for matches (as I did Billy Blanks, Leroy Superfeet Taylor, and many other great fighters I looked up to) and remarking that he seemed to have kicks as good as the Tae Kwon Do fighters–which he answered that he also had a Black Belt in Moo Doo Kwon (or some other Korean style).

Years later he ended up living in the Washington, DC area, and had visited my school several times, attempting to learn from my Jow Ga Sifu, Master Dean Chin. Sifu refused him as a student, saying that he did not trust him (as my Grandfather said as well). Billy came back several times, worked out with some of my Si Hings, impressed everyone, but was never allowed to join. I would run into him occasionally at the tournaments, and each time I saw him I learned techniques and strategies that I would work on until the next time I saw him.

To say that Billy’s quick lessons influenced me was an understatement:  I use to this day nearly everything I’ve learned from him, and when I spar I envision him and mirror his fighting style.

In 1986 I won my first division as a Black Belt Adult and was handed my first $100 prize money. Billy was there to coach me, and talked to me about using competition martial arts as a form of income. I have to say this, when he was around I was more confident and for some reason almost always placed high. He spoke to me at that time about learning Arnis–which I knew well, but had little interest in teaching–from GM Remy Presas. We promised to get together and compare notes about what he knew vs. what I knew. He asked me at that time about forms, and I informed him that I didn’t know any and he said he would teach me some. We did not talk about FMA much after that until 1988, when I left the country to visit my Dad in the Philippines. Billy had me go to Angeles City to look for Luis Amador Oliverez, his Kenpo teacher.

I ended up staying in the Philippines for two years to study with Boggs Lao, Ernesto and Roberto Presas, and two other gentlemen whose names I have forgotten–one taught only Espada at Daga, and the other taught Hung Gar. Billy and I communicated via letter every month, and I reported on the lessons I learned, and my failed attempts to find Kuntaw similar to what I was learning at home (all I could find was Karate/Kuntaw), and searching for “Kali”.

When I returned to the US in 1990, I immediately hooked up with Billy–who by that time had become a student of my Si Hing Raymond Wong and had learned quite a bit of Jow Ga by then. Billy had a school in the Annapolis, Md, area and had forged a good reputation for his fighting and forms ability. I returned to the tournament scene, but had more of a taste for kickboxing, as I had kickboxed in the Philippines and liked it better. I joined a boxing gym (Palmer Park/Ray Leonard gym) and started working more on boxing skill, while working for a Tae Kwon Do chain teaching sparring classes and doing sales part time. Billy by this time was knee-deep in his FMA, and was all over the seminar circuit. He often introduced me to colleagues from the circuit, whom I found to have very poor skills despite being arrogant and cocky because of who they were learning from. He confided in me that Jeet Kune Do people were into Bruce Lee and his concepts more than they were into fighting skill. But they were good for attending seminars, and Billy actually made a nice income teaching them. So he befriended and complimented everyone even when he thought they were lousy martial artists. It was here that I developed a bad taste in my mouth for the video tape and seminar market:  everywhere I looked, I would find poor skill combined with a lot of certificates and name-dropping.

In 1992, I began teaching at Bolling Air Force Base Gym with the curriculum that my Grandfather and I had devised together. Billy thought my curriculum was too light, and encouraged me to “fluff” it with “filler”, as he found that most students liked to be spoonfed and wouldn’t pay for training the same skills night after night. I tried some of his ideas, but always came back to the original method I planned to use.

In 1993, I opened my first commercial school with a dear friend of mine, Terry Robinson, who was a pioneer from the 70s in the bareknuckle scene. Billy gave a lot of good advice and donated equipment to get me started. He made my first flyers and taught me how to do it myself. I used his wording and found it very effective. Shortly thereafter, I found that one of his students, Kenneth Willis, grew up 20 yards from where my family lived in River Terrace, Washington DC. Kenny was a boxer who studied Eskrima with Billy, and only learned fighting from him. Kenny was my second greatest influence, as he was highly critical of Billy’s ideas, despite admiring him so much. I later moved to Baltimore to open my second location in Reisterstown, and got back on the tournament scene in that city. Billy had introduced me to some serious powerhouses there, and I trained with these gentlemen, who mostly made up their own systems. Some things were striking:  all where African American, all had excellent skill, and all were trying to make their mark in a community dominated by Asians, commercialism and racism.

I had some disagreements with Billy, but none were bad enough that we couldn’t get past them. But but in 1997, I had offered to host Nene Tortal for a seminar in Baltimore, and it led to my last disagreement with him and I never spoke to him again… except for a few times I had called to see how he was doing. Our conversations were very short and contained none of the sage to student intimacies they once had. Last I knew, Billy was back in New York and confined to a wheel chair after a vehicle accident and some personal tragedy.

I was one of those people who knew Billy very closely, I knew his dirt, and I knew his struggles, but it does not bother me that I could not contact him anymore. What amazed me was how many people come to me, not knowing who I am or who I am to him, and offer rumors (some true, some untrue) that attack his character. To tell the truth, if we are talking about a great martial artist, we sometimes look at his personal life and judge his ability or validity as a teacher based on what we know or hear. Bruce Lee, most likely cheated on his wife with Betty Ting Pei, used Dan Inosanto to run his business when he was no longer interested in teaching for a living, and smoked marijuana. Steven Segall is a liar and and asshole. Maung Gyi is a phony veteran and lied about the origin of his martial arts. Others, are drunks, are bad with their money, have false histories, are jerks, has huge egos and small “manhood” complex… but what about their martial arts?

The fact is, Billy was human, but he is a good man (if he is still alive) and I really don’t care to hear about his faults, nor do I wish to share with people I don’t know. As a martial artist, he was one of the best and he influenced many great martial artists to become better. I emulate him when I fight, and he’s never made any movies. I also happen to owe my career as a martial artist to him, and that says a lot.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

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12 Responses to “Searching for Ama Guro Billy Bryant”

  1. Well I must say that this is one of the most comprehensive historys acurate both personal and professional of Sifu Billy Bryant. I can see that your contact with him ended quickly in the 1997 to 1998 range. If you don’t know, and you may, Sifu attempted to launch a school and re start his career in Virginia during which time I spent quite a bit of personal training time with him. I agree personal feelings aside he is the greatest martial artist I ever had the privlage of being involved with. Love to exchange thoughts if you ever want to or if you are interested in the time frame from 1994 to 1997 I spent quite a bit of time with him.

  2. Also is was curioius if when you trained with Sifu Bryant if he often talked about Luis Amador Oliverez as his ultimate teacher and mentor as he did with me. As he applied he art which he always refered to Cadena De Mano or “chain of hands” he constantly credited Oliverez with who he was.

    • hi

      billy did talk about oliverez a little, but said that he learned the stick from him. he mentioned that he was from angeles city, which is where i live in the philippines in 88 to 90. the style of oliverez was panci panci style, which i think he was saing, fancy fancy.

      i will send you email

  3. Anyone know where he is now? I received my black belt from him in 1993, in Chesapeake, VA, but haven’t been able to track him down since.

  4. Hello.
    Im not quite sure what to say. Billy in a lot of ways was like a 2nd father to me. He was a good friend and I was like a son to him. (He was my teaher) I’m sorry to hear that hes in a wheelchair now. I learned much from sifu in the years he came to VA. to teach and when he moved to VA. I have nothing bad to say about him, tho that is not to say that there wasnt anything bad to say about him. We to had a falling out many years ago. I have spoken to him a few time over the years but do not no where he is now. I wish him the best and will never forget him ………..
    Anak Guro M. Cabiara Pickett

  5. I think I know you Shawn and or far as Lena; if you got your belt belt in chesapeake then I was there at your testing but I cant remember you.

  6. Wow. Like the FMA, it is interesting to see how the connections cross over. I was fortunate enough to train a little with AG Bryant and Guro Willis along with my instructor in the early 90’s in Buffalo, NY. I then moved to the Baltimore area and trained extensively with Master Ladra and his brother Guro Bobby from 2002-2005 in MD. They had mentioned AG Bryant but I don’t think they realized that I actually knew him. I’ve never forgotten the lessons he taught me and I still review his instruction and analyze his movement to this day. It saddens me to hear that me may have fallen on hard times and physical impairment. Thanks very much for this posting.

  7. Hello,

    My name is Tyrone Georgia, I’ve had the absolute pleasure in training with sifu Billy from around 92-94. As a martial artist, he was the best I had ever seen in person, I owe my entire martial art career to him. I’ve learned more from him about the arts and being a man in two or three years than decades of training with others. He was and still is my hero, like others I have lost contact with him and seeing this blog has brought back not only memories but sadness that I didn’t get to say good bye to him. He and I did a couple of magazine articles and photos together, we trained together at the Kim’s Karate here in Baltimore, MD. I was an instructor there when it was in the Harundale Mall in Glen Burnie, MD. I also had the pleasure of participating in several seminars with both Sifu Willis and Michael Cabiara whom I was honored to have a tradictional Filipino dinner with his parents during Sifu Billy and I trips to VA. In closing I would like to say that I am overjoyed to know that Sifu has touched others as he has touched me! Please contact I would to share MORE!

  8. Thank you for sharing these memories where they can be found by others. I’m not sure about your estimate of his age above. I would have guessed him to be in his early or mid 40’s when I met him around 89 or 90. But even then his speed and agility were elite.

    Sifu Bryant was my first and only teacher for parts of 89-91. Though our time together was brief, I’m clear he had a big impact in my overall development as a man. As my youngest son is beginning to train for the first time, and I reflect on all the ways I expect the arts to benefit his body, his mind, and his character and I’m reminded of my own history.

    I’m glad to know Sifu continued to contribute to others’ growth. When I left his school I was around 20 years old.

    Now at 45, I’d really like to sit down for a meal and reconnect, and, to offer an apology. In a parting conversation, I made a judgmental remark that I see in hindsight I had no business making.

    Forgive me Sifu, my youthful arrogance, life has taught me better. You helped me in ways I couldn’t yet see. If I had been more ready to know and keep my own center, I’d like to think I would have stayed and continued to learn from you.

    • Bless you, Justin. I can hear the regret your feeling in your comment. I’m just a little older than you, and I trained with him on and off from 84 until 97. Like you I was young and made some mistakes as well. As a young school owner I did not always taked his advice and I know I made him mad many times. It it’s like a relationship to a father, we don’t always understand when we’re young but we do remember and use the lessons when we’re old.

      I’m retiring in a few months and going back to the Philippines. I hope I can get some closure–find out where he is or something–before I leave. Thank you for your comment

  9. Everyone I just wanted to let you know that Kenneth Willis opened a boxing gym in Baltimore it’s called Golden Aces Boxing Academy. Check him out on Dacebook or google he would live to hear from you, and share some techniques he’s been working on. In my opinion he is probably the best fighting instructor in the area that I can think of. Thanks!


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