It Takes All Kinds to Make a Dojo

When after years I read about how in the olden days of the Higaonna-Miyagi Dojos everyone who ambled into a dojo acted in Bubishi reverence, with Zen-like smiles, and mouthing Tao aphorisms, my brain made a sound like one hand clapping. Cultural and historic reasons give weight to this view, but it has rained a lot since Miyagi did his first kata. My experience in the Ochoa dojo, and afterwards for that matter, differed somewhat. The reasons people approach any martial art now is possibly as diverse as the people themselves. There was a boom in the early ‘70’s in the martial arts, fueled by the Kung Fu TV series, the Hong Kong cinema, and by the very exploits on and off camera by Bruce Lee. It was in the public eye. When I looked around the dojo, what I saw was a Whitman’s sampler of Puerto Rico, meaning to say that most would think that Bubishi was the latest style of an Hibachi. There were high school and college girls giggling in a corner, nut cases throwing punches at the mirror, silent types in haphazard zazen, completely lost souls struggling with the first kata (me), barrio types who checked their nunchakos at the door, university professors with an itch to philosophize, persons who were told by somebody to get in shape, and the proverbial guys who got sand kicked in their face and were looking for retribution. A motley crew, to say the least. I guess the sensei felt like the Drill Instructor in a Marine boot camp the first days of training. And like all dojos, membership contracted and expanded according to how each of those persons saw or didn’t see their wish fulfilled. The karate fantasy met the karate reality. The ten-step pushups usually did the trick. Of course, there were those who caught on quick to the inner forces lurking beneath the surface of any martial art, but most just muddled through, changing reasons, attaching others. I dare say that none of us white belts then would have been accepted by Miyagi, or by his wayward cousin for that matter. Another time. As many can attest, any martial art must morph somewhat to the terrain where it is practiced. And where we practiced was an island in the Caribbean, a United States possession, booty of the 1898 Spanish American War. Of course, Okinawa was also war booty. There were points in common, tangents, or so a group of us believed it to be so. But those of us who persevered throughout all the years, surviving the internal politics, the factions, splints, the dry years of no public interest, the competition martial arts that with time took over the Island and attracted the most promising students (our nemesis being Tae Kwon Do that sprouted like crabgrass), were able to cut through the crap and finally realize that is was truly a “WAY,” a sojourn ever evolving in the paths within.

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