It started in Miami with a glass storefront window and a man wearing “white pajamas.” Reeling from the recent death of his mother, the future Shihan Roberto Hernandez-Velez, then aged 10, stumbled upon a school of martial arts and was taken by what he saw. “A few weeks after my mother’s passing, I was walking back and forth to school and I saw this big, huge storefront with a glass window on it and then I saw like a Buddha on the wall and I kind of wondered what all of that was about,” says Hernandez. “All of a sudden, I see this guy coming to the curtains with the white pajamas; back then I didn’t know what it was, and a black belt holding on to it. And I just got curious as to why this guy was coming out in pajamas.” In learning the significance behind the man in the window, young Hernandez found a pathway out of the depths of despair and a source of constant and continuing comfort. On August 23, 1961, Roberto Hernandez-Velez was born in Miami, Florida. His father abandoned the family when Hernandez was three-years-old and he grew very close to his mother. When she passed away, he was devastated; both of his parents were gone. It was in this context of grieving, burdened by the sense of loss and searching for answers that Hernandez encountered the school storefront. At the time, he was also watching episodes of The Green Hornet starring Bruce Lee. The ideas began to align. “I was wondering why this little guy, this small guy, was beating up on everybody. And that kind of relates to when I saw this guy in the glass window and storefront, that it was martial arts.”
For a young man questioning why his mother died, the arts offered solace. “I needed some sort of comfort, some guidance and peace in my heart to understand why my mother passed away and I needed to get an outlet for how I really started to feel within myself,” says Hernandez. “Losing my father and then my mother passing away, not realizing that my whole life was going to change then, I chose to see this art as a way of life for me.” Soon after, with his father a no-show, his aunt adopted his family and took him to Puerto Rico, but not before he was able to use the money he made from selling sodas to obtain his own pair of “white pajamas.” When he left for Puerto Rico, he took his new Keikogi (uniform) along with him. Hernandez continued his pursuit of the arts by watching movies and practicing what he saw. In 1975, the family moved back to Miami. Hernandez would often come home late in the evenings because he had spent his time after-school peering in the windows of martial arts schools, fueling his passion. The following year, he began training in Chinese Goju, studying in Miami with Ruben Font, a student of the legendary Gogen "The Cat" Yamaguchi.