Puerto Rico circa 1966.
I hear that there’s a Karate group meeting in the “Alcaldia” basement, that’s the city hall. I’m around 11 years old and I get a friend to come with me to check it out. Wow. It’s true. The teacher had a blue gi with a yellow belt, the 6 or 7 other students had white gi’s with white belts. I was told I could watch but my parents had to be there to sign me up. I was aware of martial arts since I’d seen a storefront school in New York years earlier, but this was an opportunity to really start and learn.
This was in Manati, Puerto Rico.
The Instructor’s name was “Feyo” a nickname for Raphael. He was a Kyokushinkai practitioner from “La Universidad” probably in San Juan. I ran home, begged, cried, and cajoled my grandfather to sign me up. He gave in and went with me next time to sign me up, it was $5 a month, and I couldn’t wait. This was the start of my martial arts training.
I was the only pre-teen in the group, I think a couple of the older kids didn’t like it, but I was in. I was taught a few calisthenics, then breakfalls. It’s 50 years later but I do remember breakfalls: back falls, front falls, side falls, front rolls. This is before learning to punch or anything else I thought was Karate. Then basic stances, punching, blocking, some self defense combinations, then the Pinan Katas. I don’t remember how long that lasted but Feyo was patient and a good instructor. One day I did sparring with one of the older kids near my size, I popped him in the forehead with a weird uppercut backfist that shocked him and especially me. We trained in the Alcaldia, and even in “Mar Chiquita,” Manati’s beach.
It would be several years before I did any other training under a real instructor, but Feyo set a good foundation. I knew stances, I knew the basic punches and blocks, I knew Pinan 1, 2, and maybe even the others. I especially know breakfalls, which was seldom taught in karate, especially at the beginning.
I have no clue what Feyo’s full name was, but he taught me well. The next time I trained under an Instructor was years later in the Marines, and the instructor promoted me to green belt within a month, because I knew the stuff and knew it well enough. If Feyo was 20 at the time today he’d be 70.
I’d like him to know that that kid he accepted appreciates him, stuck with it for a lifetime, and never forgot him.
Gracias Sensei Feyo.