Kimo Wall´s Dojo: White Belt Redux

It was in 1980 when my ¨friend¨told me that Kimo Wall had set up a dojo in Old San Juan, the historic zone of the city by the bay, and very close to where I had begun working as a legal translator in the Puerto Rico Supreme Court. I had been out of a fornal dojo for almost 4 years. I knew Kimo was the first teacher of my previous senseis and almost a legendary figure in karate circles on the Island. What I did not know was that he had split from the Shoreikan organization, setting up his own school: Kodokan. And all the time I practiced with him it never occurred to me to ask why all the subtle changes, it was all Goju to me. In retrospect I see why, it was basically a Shoreikan syllabus with a slightly different take. The most important and dramatic change was the sensei himself, Kimo was a whole new ballgame, he was truly the first real sensei I practiced under, and the difference was telling.

Kimo had set up his dojo on the upper floor of a newly opened bar-restaurant called La Violeta on the corner of Cristo Street and Fortaleza. It was an old colonial building with red terrazzo floors, a stone´s throw away from the Governor´s mansion. He lived there as well. The dojo occupied half of an open courtyard, with the practice area in a huge room overlooking Fortaleza street. I remembered going to lunch on the first floor of the building with my father in my early teens in the 60´s when it was still a worker´s bodega called La Danza.

I took off early from work one day for the dojo, hoping to talk with the sensei about joining. I scrounged the house for my Dirty Old Gi, tried to clean it as best I could, and took both my white and green belt to accomodate both my enthusiasm and my fear.

I got there an hour and a half before the scheduled class but the dojo was empty. I let out a timid onegaishimasu, and waited...and waited. Finally students began to arrive, I knew nobody. Suddenly Kimo appeared and smiled my way, asking if I came to practice. I froze and just nodded. That decided the issue. When I finished dressing I took out the white belt and swallowed deeply. Of course, when by habit I yelled out onegaishimasu as customary, Kimo shot me a glance, piercing and knowing. He strode over. White belt redux.

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