Finding a dojo in Cuba is harder than it probably should be.
Google Maps coverage is weak and Yelp is nonexistent.
Cellular internet does not exist in Cuba and you can’t get internet to your home or hotel either (at least not legally). Want to surf the interwebs? Head to any public park with a prepaid card. It’ll cost you about a buck per hour.
So as we explored this friendly and beautiful island, we searched for a dojo the old fashioned way — by asking complete strangers. Not surprisingly, this didn’t work very well. Many people knew of an acquaintance or distant relative who practiced martial arts, but they weren’t sure exactly where. Given the weak electronic communication network, we didn’t track too many down. We found one early on in Vinales but they were closed by the time we got there.
Vinales was stunningly beautiful. The dojo, when we found it, was a ten minute walk from endless fields and trails through mogotes — small hills with steep sides and covered in stunning tropical vegetation.
However, two minutes after arriving in Cienfuegos, our luck changed. We asked our host about a dojo and he said there was one only a couple of blocks away. He also offered to stop by in the morning to check their hours! The next day at noon we were chatting with the friendliest group of martial artists you could ever hope to meet.
The facility is run by the government — this is Cuba after all — and directed by Bernaldo Perez, a high ranking Shotokan instructor. It was an honor to chat with him and discuss our arts. My Spanish is pretty weak and even with my wife’s help we had some trouble communicating. Eventually we realized we both knew Japanese terminology and we did much better.
When we met he had a book, “Manos Vacías,” awaiting publication. It is now available, though not here in the States.
After sharing ideas for a while he invited our kids to take a class and for me to teach one. The kids had a wonderful time — language barrier notwithstanding. I also had a wonderful time teaching, again — language barrier notwithstanding. At their request I taught half Kali and half Kempo. The Pekiti Tirsia Kali that I taught differed slightly from the style of Filipino Martial Arts that they practice. The Kempo was a vast departure from the Shotokan to which they are dedicated, but I think they forgive me for that.
It was an honor and a privilege to meet such kind and talented people. It is always inspiring to see that the Martial Arts can bring people together regardless of country, culture, or language.
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