Ochoa Recap 3: Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting: Karate in P.R. in the 70's

The Shoreikan school in the Ochoa Dojo was probably the first traditional karate dojo on the Island. But since most, if not all, people wouldn't know the first thing about karate or martial arts in general, when they walk into a dojo they are primarily looking for something they saw on TV or the movies, a finished product. The preparation that might go into achieving that is basically beyond their grasp. So they saunter in looking for: (a) "inner peace;" (b) to get in shape; (c) beat the fu**ng shit out of everybody; (d) find out what's the buzz.
Membership in all karate school skyrocketed in the'70's. It was just the thing to do at the time. It dawned on people after a while in Ochoa that peace wasn't coming any time soon, they could get in shape much less frantically at the gym, and there were lots of kids running around with nunchakus for which the basic kata was "useless."

Then came Bruce Lee, the effortless flying kick, and everybody was "kung-fu fighting." He made it look so easy, and plus, the clothes were that much neater. And the nunchakus on the second day of training, well, who can beat that.

The Ochoa Dojo took a flying kick to the chin. Every Viet nam vet grew a fu manchu moustache and got into the act, nailing a board above their garages announcing some exotic martial art with a "wu."

Trying to stop it was like beating back the waves with a Bo. The Ochoa Dojo with its no competition policy, its slow progress through kihon katas, was just not the "in" place to be. The problem was that the term "traditional" was never used. People were never told why things were as they were in the dojo. Why the sweat, why the conditioning, why no nunchakus, why the basics. In fact, I don't thing the sensei knew they were in a traditional school. They expected everyone to be as commited as they were for no apparent reason. I knew nothing of Goju Ryu, Shoreikan, Miyaji, Toguchi, etc., because, I fear, they knew little themselves. They failed to transmit the importance of our lineage and the philosophy that came atached.

Serious Karate in Puerto Rico in the 1970's fell prey to the quick fix schools that promised superhuman powers in ten easy lessons. I don't think that Bruce Lee actually wanted martial arts to be viewed as a craze, but his swaggering through the media, his continuous put-downs, and constant playing to the crowds, took its toll. Ironically, who was probably the most versatile, complete, and gifted martial artist of his time, was also the person who most contributed to trivializing the art. His death only added to the myth. Maybe he got caught up in his own hype...or maybe it was something he could not control. Nevertheless, Bruce Lee became the prototype, the model of the martial artist everyone secretly wanted to be. But this isn't karate, it never has been karate.

So the Ochoa Dojo thinned out. Tae Kwon Do came into the scene, with its family bonus packages, a free gi with the registration fee, tournaments where everybody wins a prize, two or three katas to learn. Aikido promised seamless self-defense, sweat-free, also family packages, martial arts for the whole family. The Shaolin Arts provided more colorful costumes, with particular care taken to achieve the kung fu stare. Then came the thousand variations of the Okinawan styles, with a few extra syllables thrown in to distinguish one from the other, their lineages lost to time in either the South Bronx or jungles of New Jersey.

Ochoa's fate was in the balance, shakily so.

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