Shihan Ray Rodriguez | Deadly Art of Survival

In 1975, I was 10 years old in the 5th grade. I had an Asian teacher who was very stern, but she couldn’t stop the bullies from picking on me everyday. I went home crying because I was punched in the face or hit with an eraser that was used to erase the black boards. Most of the time, I went home colored with the white of the chalk dust. Going home on top of that to get a beating from my dad. He was not a role model and was very abusive. Things that I learned were from the streets and not all of them good.

As the bullies persisted in taking advantage of me, I remember one incident in particular. There was a kid five years older than me. He was always in trouble and I always gravitated to this young man because I felt that he was very tough. He lived in my building in the Lower East Side Smith projects and one day he wanted me to go to an abandoned building that was on Market and Cherry Street. As we went into the building, he proceeded to tell me that I was going to join his gang regardless of how I felt and in order to join the gang I had to get 20 lashes from a homemade whip that he put together. At that moment I was terrified and told him I didn’t want to join the gang. But between him and some other boys, he proceeded to rip my shirt and whip me until I bled.

By the time I got home I didn’t want to get hit by my dad so I snuck in as quietly as possible and told my mom what happened. It was her decision to put me into boxing to keep the bullies from bullying me everyday. This amazing woman brought me to a boxing gym on 28th street between 7th and 8th Avenue called Solar Gym. That was the day I met Carlos Espada. He soon became well-known from being the trainer of the featherweight champion Juan LaPorte who was an amazing boxer and one of my heroes in that sport. Soon after, I competed in the Junior Olympics Kid Gloves and after winning various trophies and medals, I realized that the person training me was not a person to look up to. This person turned out to be highly suspect and tried to lure me to his home to train privately. The worst part about it was no one believed me including my parents.

As I got older I always inspired my little sister to do more than me. I was always extremely athletic whether it was in school or outside. I’ve always been a jogger and always tried to keep myself in good shape. Even if I felt there was no one there that was a good role model to me; I wanted different for my little sister. I took her out a lot, taught her how to run track and field. Soon after, my mom put her into karate and it was one of the best decisions my mom made because my sister excelled under Sensei Nathan Ingram, founder of The Deadly Art of Survival Karate School, who also lived in the same project building as my family. He was a good friend to my mom and he was an extremely amazing instructor.

Every chance I got from running or just hanging around the neighborhood, I would always try and pass by his karate school while he was teaching class and watched his black belts train brown belts or under belts train. Because of my reluctance to have someone teach me, I never took that step until one day in the 90s I decided to ask and train with Sensei Nathan Ingram.

I trained as hard as I could, as much as I could. When others were at home, you could always find me in the park training. I was always doing pull-ups, anything to perfect me as a martial artist. In boxing, I did not have two left feet but when it came down to karate I had three. I didn’t have the ability that most people had when it came down to sparring so I had to work extremely hard. I didn’t like to give up and I didn’t like anyone getting the best of me. I believed myself to always have a chip on my shoulder after all the things that I’d been through, but one thing I try to be is as humble as possible. I spoke out when I should have kept my mouth shut but I spoke out because I didn’t like how bad things were either being done to me or bad things people would do to others. I’ve always had the desire to be a better person, a better teacher and to make others better than myself. I knew that by teaching karate I could do just that; perfect others to be better than me. I started teaching at a Green Belt level whenever the high-ranking students weren’t around.

Full article in the Deadly Art of Survival 11th edition. Join our patreon @daostv

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