Article by Chuck Hardin.
The late Richard Gilliland was a North Carolina karate instructor who claimed to have been a Navy SEAL in Vietnam. He also claimed several black belts, including one in judo. Unfortunately, the record is clear: Gilliland was never a SEAL, he never fought in Vietnam, and his highest known rank in judo was three grades below a black belt. His criminal history also calls his ethical judgment into question.
The evidence of Gilliland's claims is largely second-hand, as Bullshido had not learned of his claims until after he died. The San Shin Kai Karate school at which he taught hosts a eulogy page in his honor in which they claim: "Mr. Gilliand started his journey in the Arts in 1963 when he joined the United States Navy and became a member of the S.E.A.L. teams. ... Master Instructor Gilliland held Black Belts in Karate, Judo, and Okinawan Kobodo."
By itself, this does not prove that Gilliland made claims of SEAL service while he was alive. However, another student of his posted a lengthy essay in praise of him, in which he stated: "Having served as a Navy Seal in the Vietnam War has greatly increased [Gilliland's] life skills and augmented his prevailing abilities in karate."
It is extraordinarily unlikely that two different sources would make a mistake in this regard. The most plausible conclusion is that Gilliland claimed to have been a SEAL.
As for Gilliland's judo black belt claim, it appeared on his school website in 1999, well before his death in 2006. Thus, Bullshido concludes that Gilliland made both claims.
What The Records Show
Steve Robinson, a former Navy SEAL with access to the comprehensive SEAL Database (1943 to the present day) and over a decade of experience in exposing military impostors, was unequivocal in his assessment of Gilliland’s claim: "His name IS NOT LISTED in the SEAL Database. Gilliland is not now, nor was he ever, a Navy UDT 'Frogman' or Navy SEAL."
Chuck Hardin, also known as Bullshido member Cy Q. Faunce, requested Gilliland’s military service records from the National Personnel Records Center. The response revealed that Gilliland had served six years in the US Navy, only three of which were served on active duty, and that his specialized training was as an Aviation Electrician's Mate. Gilliland was never assigned or transferred to the Navy’s Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Training. Successful completion of BUD/S Training is a prerequisite for subsequent attendance at SEAL Qualification Training and ultimate accreditation as a Navy SEAL. Gilliland did not attend that training course and thus was never a Navy SEAL.
The records also prove that Gilliland never served in Vietnam. He was assigned to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron Twelve, a training center in Norfolk, Virginia. He was never issued any decorations for participation in the Vietnam theater of operations, such as the Vietnam Service Medal.
Bullshido therefore concludes that Gilliland's military claims are false.
Gilliland's judo black belt claim is similarly exaggerated. The USJA lists him as a sankyu as of 1999, the same year in which he claimed a black belt on his website. There is no record that he was promoted past that. Sankyu is three degrees below a first-degree black belt, so his judo rank claim is false.
Unfortunately, Gilliland's ethical issues appear to predate these claims. In 1984, he was convicted of receiving stolen goods and sentenced to probation. The light sentence suggests that this was his first serious offense, and there is no record of any subsequent felonies in his record, but it does suggest a troubling pattern of opportunistic dishonesty.
Richard Gilliland claimed to have been a Navy SEAL, a Vietnam veteran, and a judo black belt. Unfortunately, all of these claims are proven false by public and government records. He appears to have struggled with honesty issues for decades, given his criminal record. He was respected by his students, but as we have seen before, this is not a reliable indicator of the truth of a subject's claims.
We thank Steve Robinson for his help in researching this article and ensuring its correctness.