MARTIAL ARTS HISTORY "THE OKINAWA OF THE CARIBBEAN" By William “Bill” Solano, 10th Dan, Hanshi, PhD/MAThere have been many articles written regarding the history of the Martial arts indifferent parts of the world including Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.I would like to share with you some of the research I have done regarding thedevelopment of the Martial Arts in Puerto Rico. During this research I havediscovered certain aspects that had not been given enough importance before whenit comes to the true development of the Martial Arts in Puerto Rico, especially inthe art of Karate. As a native and resident of this beautiful Caribbean Island since1969, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the development of Karate and otherdisciplines in the Island. Through constant research I have discovered the truthabout who were responsible for its development and when.Let’s go back to when Karate really started to grow in the Island. Even thoughthere were Karate practitioners in the mid 60s the Karate boom really started in1969-70. During the years 1964-67 there was a name of a teacher that stood out,his name was and still is Hector Montijo, considered the father of Karate here inthe Island. Almost every so called “traditional” Karate practitioner of today haspracticed or has been a student of Sensei Montijo in one way or another. SenseiMontijo during that era was THE Maestro, the first independent instructor toestablish a Dojo and system. According to his own account, Sensei Montijolearned Karate while serving in the US armed forces and upon his return to hishomeland, decided to open a Dojo and teach what he had learned.Even though there were already a few traditional Karate schools in the Island,Montijos Karate Dojo was the first to really have an impact in growing andspreading throughout the island. In those days traditional styles in Puerto Ricowere limited to a just a few and really had no true or exclusive impact in thedevelopment of the Martial Arts here in the Island.I believe 1969-70 marked the beginning of a new era for the Martial Arts in PuertoRico. This was the time when Martial Arts actually started to develop and spreadall over the Island. Most of the largest organizations here in Puerto Rico were andhave always been established by independent martial artists.
We must give credit to those brave Puerto Rican martial artists that decided to gotheir own way, they are considered to be the true leaders and pioneers of theMartial Arts here in the Island. Another legend in Karate, Gilberto Rodriguez,returned to Puerto Rico from the US mainland around 1961-63. Hanshi Rodriguezis also one of the pioneers of the new Karate era that started back in 1969-70.Around 1966-67 he associated with Roberto Rios, they became partners andopened a Dojo in the San Juan metropolitan area. Eventually they associated withMasatoshi Oyamas Kyokushinkai Karate organization. Mr. Rios mostly gave theclasses while Mr. Rodriguez was more involved in the administration of theschools. Mr. Rodriguez, on his interview for this article stated: “Roberto Rios wasnever my teacher, he was only my partner or business associate”.In 1968-69, like many partnerships, Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Rios had differencesand finally split up. Mr. Rios stayed with the Kyokushinkai organization while Mr.Rodriguez decided to establish his own system and organization, better known as"Garyu Rico Do Karate". Master Rodriguez has proven to be a true leader in theMartial Arts. He created an empire with over 25 schools all over the Island. Over1,000 students that were all proud of the style they represented. Mr. Rios, soonafter the break up decided to return back to the US mainland where because of hisjob and a personal situation is no longer active in the Martial Arts.Mr. Rodriguez is still living in Puerto Rico; he has a very successful Satellitebusiness and still practices his Karate. He named Marcelino Torres one of hismost loyal students and black belt in charge of the system.Also during the 70s there was another great leader in the Martial Arts that was alsoresponsible for the development of the Martial Arts in Puerto Rico. His name isJose A. Pabón, better known as Tony. He established his own system betterknown as "Tai Fu Shoi Karate-Do". He uses a Red Scorpion as his symbol ortrademark for his style. He has always been very successful, with over 28 schoolsat one time all over the Island. As a teacher, leader and friend he has helped manyMartial Arts Instructors get organized and become more successful in the stylesthey teach.Most of the successful free styles of Karate organization and Instructors in PuertoRico are related or have been students at one time of Tai Fu Shoi and Hanshi TonyPabón, Soke. For example, International Kyodai Ryu Karate, headed by KyoshiFreddie Medina, Soke, Shihan Ruby Camacho International Karate, ShihanLourdes Báez Karate-Do, Shihan Omayra Romans Ki-Zen Ryu International
Karate and many other free styles that are well known here in Puerto Rico and theUS.The truth is that these are some of the few living dinosaurs responsible for thespread, development and improvement of the Martial Arts in Puerto Rico. Creditshould go to those who really deserve it. Another martial artist who establishedhimself as great leader was Joaquin Casado. He also moved back to Puerto Ricoin the 60s. A student of Aaron Banks and Goju Ryu Karate, he is the founder of theSansei-Do Goju Karate system. As a leader he established many Dojos, promotedand helped many black belts and instructors up the ladder of success. As a leaderand teacher he was responsible for the spread and development of manyindependent Goju organizations and free styles in Puerto Rico.Mr. Enrique Pabón, a Law Enforcement Police Officer was well known since theearly 70s. He was the Director and Chief Instructor of the Puerto Rico ShorinjiKempo Ryu organization. His system was well known for having excellent Sportscompetitors specially in sparring. One of his most famous students and tournamentcoordinator was Shihan Luis Gonzalez. Shihan Gonzalez was not just a goodpromoter and leader; he was also a very good competitor. Gonzalez later on in the80s also establish his own organization better known as Nippon Kempo-Karate-Do Kyokai. Shihan Gonzalez passed away on October of 1994. The NipponKempo-Karate-Do is still active and is run by his top student Shihan EmilioPerales.When we mention Tae Kwon Do in Puerto Rico there is no other name betterknown than that of Danny Ortiz. Danny is from the southern part of the Island,Ponce, where he had established himself as a great Instructor, leader, promoter andcompetitor. He is considered the Pioneer for Tae Kwon Do in Puerto Rico. In themetropolitan area, Benny Rivera is the name when it comes to the ITF Tae KwonDo. Benny has been the most successful Tae Kwon Do Instructor in Puerto Ricowith schools all over the Island.When we talk about Kung Fu the name Carmelo Munet always comes up, he wasvery active in the metropolitan area. He was highly respected as an Instructor andas an excellent competitor, known for his demos and beautiful forms.Kung Fu credits for the Western and Southern region of the Island goes mostly toDr. Mariano Rivera and his Independent Shaolin Tsu Kempo organization. Theyare known and respected for having excellent fighters and competitors. Dr. Riverais now living in Columbia. His son Jose G. Rivera is head of the organization inPuerto Rico.
Sifu Christian Paniagua was also one of the most outstanding Kung-FuInstructors in the Eastern Central Region of the Island. In the South Eastern part ofthe Island, Sibok Orlando Gonzalez gets the credit for being the pioneer andteacher of the Eagle Claw system of Kung Fu.In the early 70s there was also a free style called Sikaran, which was founded byMaster Lagarejos from Guam. Mr. Lagarejos lived in Puerto Rico for many years.He is now living in his homeland. There is still a small group still in Puerto Ricothat is headed by his loyal student for many years, Marcelino Collazo, who is theChief Instructor here in the Island.Like in any country there are good and there are not so good martial artists. In thisarticle I’m not judging whether anyone is good or bad, I’m just giving credit tothose who really deserve it, to those leaders that truly promoted the Martial Artshere in the Island.As a traditional martial artist (Okinawan Karate) some may wonder, “How dare hegive credit to the free styles and not to the so called traditional styles”? The truth isthat some of these so called traditional styles and teachers in Puerto Rico duringthe 60s, had in those days, and still have a misplaced superiority complex. Theseso called traditional Dojos, were, and still are run more or less like a clan type oforganization. They were mostly small groups (and still are), where the teacher ishighly worshiped. They seem to have confused the meaning of the words “respect”and “discipline” with “idolize”. Some Dojos were more interested in who was thebest, strongest and most traditional.Thats why some of those so-called traditional groups never developed or grew likethe independent and free styles did. I cannot give credit to a bunch of high-headedindividuals that kept their training mostly to themselves and believed themselves tobe Gods.When I moved to Puerto Rico in the end of 1969. About the middle of 1970 or so Ibecame interested in learning Karate. My first Karate teacher was Sensei GilbertoRodriguez of the Garyu Rico Do Karate system.After visiting various traditional Dojos I was certain that Mr. Rodriguez was goingto be my Sensei. He had the qualities of what I believe a martial arts instructor andleader should have. No wonder he had so many good students. For moreinformation regarding my martial arts biography take a look at my web sitehttp://www.geocities.com/okinawa_bill .
In case you did not know, Grand Master Peter Urban had a high impact in thedevelopment of the martial arts here in the Island also. He was the first AmericanMartial Artist to say "No Way" to the Orientals. He is responsible for the spread ofmostly all the free style Goju systems and other styles in the US and Puerto Rico.Many well-known Instructors in Puerto Rico developed and organized their ownsystems and organizations during the 80s. To name a few, Hanshi HumphreyGomez, Saizen Goju Karate, Hanshi Carlos Paris, Yosei Goju Karate, KyoshiHector M. Rivera, Go-Jutsu-Do Kai Karate, Shihan Luis Gonzalez, NipponKempo-Karate-Do Kyokai, Shihan Vicente Guzman, Borinquen Ryu Karate,Hanshi Carlos J. Lopez, Semai Do Karate, Hanshi Carlos A. Diaz, Zen RyokuZenyo Karate among many others.One of the pioneers of the Goju System in Puerto Rico since the early 70s isHanshi Humphrey Gomez, Soke. He is the founder of the Saizen Goju RyuKarate system with schools not only in Puerto Rico but also in Florida, USA andthe Dominican Republic.Hanshi Carlos Paris, Soke a student of Hanshi Gomez has been one of the mostinfluential Martial Arts and Teacher when it comes to the development ofindependent Goju Karate system (Yosei Goju) in Puerto Rico. He has always beenhighly respected as a Teacher and Leader in the Puerto Rican MartialArts community.When it comes to traditional Karate do in the central part of the Island the nameTony Mendez always comes up, a Shito Ryu practitioner he is highly respected forbeing the pioneer and founder of the Puerto Rican Karate do Federation(FE.PU.KA.) and also responsible for organizing the WUKO Karate doorganization, known today as the World Karate Federation (WKF) here in theIsland. The FEPUKA is the only Karate-Do Federation that has been officiallyaccepted by the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee and other world organizations.Shihan Mendezs achievements as a leader in World Karate Federation (WKF)Karate Do in Puerto Rico have been outstanding.Unfortunately some martial artists are very upset because of this article. The truthhurts sometimes. We have an old saying here on the Island,"If the Shoe Fits, Put it on".As a dedicated martial artist and witness here of, I believe it is my duty to informeveryone the true facts regarding the martial arts in Puerto Rico. I dare notquestion if these martial arts leaders responsible for the development of themartial arts in Puerto Rico were legitimate, had credentials, Ranks, titles,knowledge or what ever negative thing we may think of. The purpose for this
article is to inform the reader and give credit to those responsible, for thedevelopment of the Martial Arts in Puerto Rico.During the 80s and 90s the Puerto Rican martial arts keep on spreading. Studentsof some of these Pioneers and Founders became independent themselves and havecontinued with the development of other martial arts systems and organizationsthroughout the Island. The Martial Arts system that had the most influence on thedevelopment of other eclectic styles has been Goju Ryu. In the 80s a student of thewell-known Soke Carlos Paris was Hanshi Ruben Rossi, who has always been wellknown for his excellent Kata and for being an excellent teacher. He is the founderof the Tanren Goju System, considered as one of the most outstanding Goju Ryu-Ha in the Caribbean.Hanshi Miguel Arana was another excellent teacher. A student of Grand MasterCarlos Paris, he developed the Tetsu Goju Ryu Karate System. Having been aKung Fu practitioner for many years I can notice and appreciate the Chinese aspectof his art in his eclectic system.Kyoshi Freddy Medina, Soke, a student of Hanshi Tony Pabón, founded theInternational Kyodai Ryu Karate system has representatives in different parts ofthe Island and also in Venezuela, Mexico, Dominican Republic, U.S. and othercountries. Kyodai Ryu is highly respected for their excellent competitors, both in anational and International level. They have represented the Island in a manyInternational tournaments throughout the world. Kyoshi Freddy Medina has alwaysbeen highly respected as person and Leader.Shihan Arturo Vasquez, Soke, also a student of Soke Paris develop and organizehis own Ryu-Ha better known as the Shigoryukai Karate-Do. Shihan Vasquez iswell known for being an excellent teacher especially with children.When it comes to Ninjutsu in Puerto Rico there is no one more mention thanHanshi Arnold D. Vargas. Vargas is the founder of his own system, Tsunami Ryuand other Bu-Jutsu systems. He is highly respected for being an excellent Teacherand seminar instructor especially in the teaching of Japanese Bu-Jutsu. Excellent inJo-Jutsu and other Japanese weapons use in the Ninjutsu arts, he has always one afavorite when it comes time to choose an instructor for a seminar.A student of Hanshi Paris and of Kyoshi Freddy Medina is Shihan Luis AlbertoHernandez, founder of the Ryoshi Goju system. He has always been anoutstanding competitor. For over 16 years he has won almost every sparringcompetition in Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. As a black belt he has also won
every International open tournament he has attended in and out of Puerto Rico. Hisnumber one student is Juan Ramón Fernandez who has won almost everycompetition he has attended. At the “Disney Martial Arts Festival 2000" he tookfirst place in every black belt division that be competed As Martial Artscompetitors these men are Puerto Rican legends in their own time.Shihan Miguel Quiñones is another Puerto Rican legend when it comes tocompetition and demonstrations, an excellent Kata and Kobudo practitioner. He isthe founder of the Universal Martial Arts Academy, an eclectic martial arts systemcomposed of Jhoon Ree’s Tae Kwon Do and Isshinryu Karate.From the central part of the Island we have Kyoshi Filiberto Matias, Soke,founder of the Bushikai Karate-Do & Kobudo Association, Inc. He was a studentof Sensei Jose A. Colón, and Hanshi Hector Montijo and he is now affiliated withHanshi Bill Solano. He has always been highly respected for his excellent martialattitude, discipline and for being a very humanitarian person.There are many excellent martial artists in Puerto Rico who have developed theirown systems and organizations. Some are no longer active for some reason oranother. I will try to mention some of those that I know and have knowledge ofbeing active. Please forgive me if I have forgotten anyone in particular. There are afew martial artists that are not interested in publicity; they mostly keep their art tothemselves. As Martial Artists we should always respect other people’s feelingsand opinions.