Sandbox:Richard Gilliland

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From The Martial Arts Encyclopedia




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, and his highest known rank in judo was sankyu (first degree brown belt), three full grades from a black belt. His criminal history also calls his ethical judgment into question.


The evidence of Gilliland's claims is largely posthumous. 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 and maintainer of a private database of former SEALs, was unequivocal in his assessment of Gilliland's SEAL claim: "His name IS NOT LISTED in the SEAL Database."

Chuck Hardin, also known as Bullshido member Cy Q. Faunce, requested Gilliland's service records from the government. XXX

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. 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 in Vietnam and a judo black belt. Unfortunately, both of these claims are falsified by public records. He appears to have struggled with honesty issues for decades, given his criminal record. He appears to have been respected by his students, but as we have seen before, this is not a reliable indicator of the truth of a subject's claims.