2.02.2009

Kinship of Poets


I've made several references in past posts to one Jaime Acosta. He was to be my last sensei in the mid 90's to early 2000's. He was one of Kimo Wall's first students in Puerto Rico along with the senseis in the old Ochoa Dojo. When Kimo had first left the Island, Jaime took classes with an old army buddy of Kimo who practiced Isshin Ryu. Somewhere along the line he made his way back to Goju.

Jaime was one of the island's first homegrown sensei in Okinawa Goju Ryu. He was a black belt in Isshin Ryu when Kimo came back and convinced him to switch. Jaime had been practicing karate seen his early teens in the 6o's. Competed and went to the Olympics in Mexico as part of the Puerto Rico team in karate well before coming back to Goju.

The important thing about Jaime in terms of me is he came from the same barrio. It was the same rough and tumble streets that I walked in my teens, with all the different gangs and inviolable territories. The long avenues of tract houses, bars, colmados, billiard halls, and broken down open-air basketball courts with missing nets, movie houses you got in for soda pop bottle empties and condensed milk wrappers to watch Tarzan, third run westerns, and Mexican comedies. His older brother was a black belt judoka, later to become a union organizer. We grew up seeing the first junkies on the island, streets where barrio style kobudo was executed with trash can lids and baseball bats, and girls could cut you with safety razors they hid under their tongue, sweet kiss.

I never saw much of Jaime in the Violeta dojo, he gave morning classes and rarely showed up when I came at night. As I got to know Kimo better I found out that he grew up in Hawaii in a poor neighborhood with a high oriental population, and also a Puerto Rican community dating back to an early 1900's immigration. Tangents and concentric circles. Kimo spoke English with what I wrongly assumed was an affected oriental accent until I learned that he was brought up hearing it spoken that way on the street. Small island mentality is different from a continental one, horizons are water, and you can just walk so far.

I was streetwise enough but my university years made me more bookish. Kimo and Jaime had a corporal intelligence that had its own bodily syntax. They liked the fact that I was a poet though neither had ever read a line. They told me the ancient practitioners were mostly artists, poets and philosophers. It took me awhile to realize that they also practiced an art and felt a natural kinship with practitioners of other arts.

It took me decades to realize what they meant.

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