I walk up to the second floor of a building on Tremont Ave in The Bronx where I saw a sign say “Karate.” I go up an in to the room that’s the dojo. I look into the office and see two ladies giddy and gushing chatting with someone sitting on his desk, sweaty, towel around his neck, a good looking dude with a great smile who stops when he sees me says hello…
“Hey! You’re the guy in the movie I saw the other day at the Arthur Avenue movies.” Yes, it was Charles Bonet, AKA “La Pantera.” The ladies disperse and I start speaking with Sensei. We’re both former Marines, live in the area, and I’ve been looking for an affordable dojo to train in, well here it is. Sensei had made a movie with another NYC martial artist, Ron Van Clief AKA “The Black Dragon,” and local area theaters were showing it; it was the era of the chop socky movies, lots of kung fu in the theaters.
At his young age Sensei Bonet was a quite masterful Karateka. The style was Shorin Ryu and he was at the height of martial arts popularity in New York City, circa 1975. He was competing, teaching, doing movies and documentaries, and now running a dojo in one of the highest crime areas of New York City. It was a small group then; it was Sensei, Louie (Hanshi Luis Fernandez) myself, Jorge Figueroa, a couple of ladies, David Gonzalez, and later a couple others. Many came and went. Many came once and never again. The training was serious. No goofing around. Basics. Forms. Sparring. Besides a gi we wore a cup, mouthpiece, and hand wraps. That’s how we sparred, years later we added gloves of any sort and then a little more.
A stickler for the precision and power that was demanded of him and made him exceptional, we did lots of reps. I was a little older than the others so besides being a student I developed enough trust and confidence to be dare I say, friends. But that did not spare me from the hardships of training.
Here’s one story. One evening I show up to class, there’s a group there, but no Sensei. And, no Luis, who was our Sempai (Senior Brother). Elba? and I decide to run the class, I can’t remember if we were still green belts or brown belts yet. It was Winter. A cold winter. So, we decide to let students wear sneakers since we had no heat and it was a cold wooden floor.
We’re doing great teaching just like Sensei would. Soon someone signals and we turn and there’s Sensei at the door. We stop command the class to face the door and bow. “What’s this?” “We started class for you Sensei!” “Oh! And we wear shoes on the dojo floor?” OOPS! Quick thinking me, I pop my sneakers off my feet with my feet step to the side of them and go “No Sir!” As if we hadn’t really been wearing them! Instantly Sonia and the rest of the class follow suit. Ha! I saved us from this one. “Oh! So we wear socks on the dojo Floor?” Yikes! I do the same with my socks. “OK, line up.” In a cold dojo What followed was a hard training session on a very cold floor with our wet sweaty gi tops on and a talk about endurance, chi, and zen. That’s probably against martial arts HR rules these days, lol. But, Thanks Sensei. The lesson was righteous, valuable, and lasting.
To this day I quote Sensei frequently in my teaching. Forty Years later, Sensei Bonet’s influence is still with many of us.
Thank You Sensei!