Good-bye Chito

Virgilio Fernandez passed away this week. He was driving his trike, which is kind of like a mini taxi in the Philippines when a bus hit him. It was dark and the rainy season over there may have already started. The bus driver apparently did not see him until it was too late. We all called him Chito. He was my first sensei.

My family lived on San Miguel, one of the four military based the United States used to have in the Philippines. My father was black belt in karate already and by coincidence Chito was teaching the same style of karate on the base. He and my brother were both training with him. I held out for a couple weeks but finally joined and I stuck with it.

None of us kids called him 'sensei', but we referred to him by the more familiar Chito which was his nickname. Don't mistake this as a lack of respect on our parts. He was the real deal and we knew it. He worked us hard, but wasn't a brutal taskmaster. We'd heard about some of his experiences, and were all scared to death of the prospect of having to possibly fight him. He never had to threaten us. He'd merely suggest the possibility of maybe sparring a bit with him and we'd get to work very diligently working on anything else we possibly could that could get us out of it. It wasn't that we didn't like to fight. We had no qualms about beating the snot out of each other. We just didn't want to fight him.

Thinking back about how he ran his classes and how I run mine now I'm seeing a lot of the wisdom in how he ran things. He'd drill us properly on the basics in the first part of class. He'd have us try things that were different and fun. I never did manage to do a backflip despite his and my best efforts. I think I landed on just about every part of body except my feet. He also would turn us loose to practice by ourselves or in smaller groups while he roamed the room to make corrections. Seems odd to turn kids loose to their own devices, but it certainly made who was motivated abundantly clear. His method of teaching kata piece by piece is very similar to mine.

I do remember when my family was ready to come back to the States and we stopped by the teen center where Chito held classes. He told my father "Don't ever stop doing karate."

My father answer, "Yes, of course, Sensei."

"No, really, if you stop you get old really quick."

Nice guy. Really funny. Hell of a karate man. A damn fine Sensei.

Good-bye, Chito. Thank you for everything.


And if you find Bruce Lee up there, I've got five bucks on you.

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