A Dojo by the Bay

Kimo Wall's dojo atop La Violeta became part of the my boomer generation's reimagining of Old San Juan in the 80's as an all-inclusive 24 hour a day movable feast of the senses and experimentation in lifestyles. My generation's last stand before reality kicked in. So when they talked about a karate school in the 400 year old and fully restored historic zone just steps away from art galleries, pubs, fine restaurants and the like, it had a different ring than a stinky dojo in a garage in the burbs or a padlocked hell hole in the barrios. Kimo was lucky to get in quick and get in cheap before real estate in the old city skyrocketed.

The downside was that with all the delectable distractions it took zen-like discipline to trek through all the partying to sweat for 2 hours and come out smelling like a hog. Because of its location in one of the most travelled streets in the city, the dojo got a spillover of the ritzy crowd of boomer professionals, artists, and pub crawlers that provide a healthy turnover of students in 2 to 3 month stints. But it didn't become a boutique dojo. That was, ironically the problem in the long run. Kimo stayed true to the roots of his Okinawa training, and the dojo remained as always a temple of wisdom and pain, marinated with the sweat and tears that give meaning or strip it all away.

Kimo sensei lived on the premises in small room the size of a walk-in closet, with just a curtain for a door. He'd prepare his frugal meals of rice, vegetables and fruit in the tiny kitchenette alongside the shower where the students were obliged to rinse their feet before entering the practice area. You'd find him eating with chopsticks from a bowl of rice, watching that you washed your feet well.

Practice would start around 6:30 and last to 8:30, after which the brown belts would stay for 30-45 min. longer for either kata training, kumite or kobudo. As in Ochoa, we'd do exercises for close to an hour, this included endless punching, blocking, and kicking drills, then go on to kata and kumite.

I'd get there straight from work three times a week to do penance for my sins. My sins? I'd party after the dojo and drink myself silly, smoked too. I'd go to the most out-of-the-way and Kimo-proof bar to have a few, accompanied or otherwise. Karate was a before the fact bodily confession for the sins of the flesh. Kimo did not judge, but Kimo knew.

And he'd whisper a reminder in my ear when I grunted and collapsed during a push up, or when my eyes wandered during kata and found his gaze and he'd yell: "come on Jorge san, lets see some kime."

He knew who you were, what you were, and how you were. After all, he was my sensei.

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