One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can create your “five year” or “ten year plan” with the best of intentions. You can map out your goals and where you’ll be by such and such a day. The one thing you can’t count when you’re mapping out your future is the unexpected. What comes out of nowhere can move you forward, set you back or take you in a whole new direction.
I had a plan when I came to the United States in 1979. I wanted a career in martial arts movies. The first step in my plan was to gain some notoriety. I learned that one way you can do this in the United States is to get into tournaments. The concept of tournaments made no sense to me. I grew up in a rural area of the Dominican Republic where men settled disputes with their fists. There we no pads, no rules and no referees. My code on the streets was to never strike the first blow and to only hit back in self-defense. My parents enjoyed the reputation of having raised very well mannered children. Some of the neighborhood kids were jealous because everyone, including their parents, commented on how I was always very well behaved and respectful.
I tried a few of these “point” and semi-contact tournaments, but I just couldn’t grasp the starting and stopping by the referees which through off my momentum. I learned quickly that they were just games of “tag” like the ones children play and decided that it wasn’t for me. Bruce Lee was maligned for not getting into tournaments, but I respect the man for it. There are still blowhards who, until this day, say he couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag. The man had too much skill to play games. Besides, the whole purpose behind learning the martial arts was to defend others and myself, not for trophies.
I revised my plan and concentrated on my original goal of making a movie. In the meantime, I had to pay the bills, so I worked as a waiter. It made the most sense since I could have my days free to train and earn lots of money during nights and weekends. One night at the restaurant, this guy started mouthing off. He thought I was an easy target since I weighed only 135 pounds. He came after me with all his might and I taught him a “lesson.” When I say I taught him a “lesson,” I don’t mean I beat the daylights out of him. Instead, I used my skill to deflect his attack. I threw him all over the place, deflecting his attacks over and over again to the point where he couldn’t touch me.
After this incident, five guys who had witnessed the incident begged me to train them. It was the first time I became a teacher, a role that was totally unexpected, something I had not included in my “plan.” From then on, I created a name by teaching lessons to martial artists, street fighters, and bad guys who came through the door of my school looking for a challenge. I fought them without fighting. I never believed in violence for violence sake. I taught “lessons” by skillfully applying techniques that sent the message, not by pummeling people to death.
In 1990, I decided to promote my name and school by hosting a seminar with Frank Dux and Paco Prieto. Frank Dux was very popular at the time due to the movie, Bloodsport, starring Jean Claude Van Damme, which portrayed his involvement in the “kumite.” I spent close to $65,000 on this event hoping that it would draw a lot of potential students. While the turnout for the seminar did not go as well as expected, with only 100 people in attendance, the publicity surrounding the event eventually paid for itself. Over the next three months, I enrolled hundreds of new students and enjoyed a surge in popularity.
Between 1982 and 1992, I stayed close to my dojo and concentrated on training both street fighters and tournament competitors to create my name in the business. From 1985 to 1988, my reputation in the martial arts was at its peak. I trained over 60 street fighters who represented the school in tournaments and brought in new students through word of mouth. We also promoted the name heavily through effective merchandising. We had hundreds of people around the city sporting our logo on sweatpants, jackets and bumper stickers. I didn’t go out much because as I was creating a name, more and more people wanted to challenge me to fight. I wouldn’t turn anyone away if they came to my dojo, but whenever you start gaining some notoriety, all the crazies want to challenge you and it gets dangerous. I didn’t want to expose myself to civil lawsuits or criminal charges. I was trying to build a name in the business so I could position myself to make a martial arts movie. That was my goal and I focused intently on it, vowing not to make any more public appearances until the movie was made.
During this time, a young student of mine who had aspirations of becoming a movie director began talking to me about the possibility of making my own independent film. For the next six years, he tried to convince me that this was the way to go. In the meantime, I had talks with people like Ron Howard and Jean Claude Van Damme about going to Hollywood to audition for a number of movie parts. In 1992, I prepared to audition for the movie, Only the Strong. I spent a lot of money studying Capoeira in New York City, and then continued my training with Efrain Silva in Connecticut.
I auditioned for a scene where I had to fight Mark Dacascos. I was down to 2% body fat and looked great. We were to improvise a fight scene that didn’t include Capoeira and gave us no time for rehearsal. I choreographed a great fight scene but unfortunately, the studio then turned around and said they weren’t going to use the scene because it didn’t include Capoeira.
The producers loved my audition and wanted to hire me on the spot. So I came back to Connecticut. I prepared for filming and started training very hard. I received a phone call from the studio to come for rehearsal on a given date. Frank Dux, the choreographer for the movie, then contacted me and said that I didn’t have to show up since it wasn’t time to work on my scenes. I trusted Mr. Dux because of our history together when in fact; the information he gave me was inaccurate. I didn’t appear on the date the director had originally scheduled and it had negative consequences. I tried calling the director and producer, but no one took my phone call. Mr. Dux was later replaced as the film’s choreographer.
Determined to make a movie, I revisited the idea my student/aspiring film director proposed about making my own independent film. Over a six-year period, he was able to convince me that this could be done. We had no written contract between us, just a handshake or gentlemen’s agreement. I trusted this young man to put my vision in motion. In the meantime, I began training for the movie film, Crossing the Line.
On December 24, 1993, just two months before filming, Crossing the Line, the unexpected happened. Remember I said earlier that you can make all the plans you want, but you never know what will change or derail you on the way. Well, one of my students asked me to go to lunch at a local restaurant with him and five other guys from the school. I was hesitant at first because I did not want to have any problems while I was training and planning my movie. Over the last few years, The Calasanz Show, aired on public access cable and I received a lot of notoriety, as well as new students because of it. Whenever you are in the public eye, however, you have to deal with positive as well as negative consequences. One of the negative consequences is that you always have someone who wants to “challenge” you. When I had nothing to lose, this was no big deal. I wouldn’t back down.
Now I had a business, I was making a movie and wanted to avoid bad publicity or lawsuits. I also taught children and teenagers and didn’t want to give them the wrong impression. This student, who was a beginner in the martial arts, assured me that the restaurant he had chosen was a “classy” place and that there wouldn’t be any problems. I wanted a senior student to come with me that day because he knew how to handle bullies who wanted to create a public spectacle. I waited for him for two hours. Finally, when he didn’t show up, I got into the car with someone with no experience in handling these matters.
When we got to the restaurant, we were seated minding our own business, when the cook came out of the kitchen and asked me to stand up and do a demonstration for him. Later on during his deposition, he testified that he was an experienced Thai Boxer and that he had learned about me from my public access cable television show. My show was very popular and had been seen by many in Fairfield County . Over the next hour, instead of doing his job, this man continued harassing me. Unfortunately, those seated with me were more than eager to have me stand up and teach this guy a lesson, however, this is not how a martial artist conducts himself in public. If I had experienced martial artists with me that day, this would have been over in a matter of seconds.
I finally got disgusted and got out of my chair to shut this guy up. I told him that if he wanted to fight me, he was welcomed to come down to my school at any time. I was trying to have a peaceful lunch with my friends and there was no reason to fight in a public place. This didn’t satisfy him. He came at my head with an elbow strike. Using my Wing Chun close quarter fighting, I deflected the strike and delivered the hardest punch I could throw. I didn’t connect. Instead, the punch passed his head with lightening speed. I didn’t want to make contact in order to avoid problems. This infuriated him! He was hell bent on hurting me and I could see it in his eyes. Then he wanted to see how strong my shins were and asked me to put his shin up against his. We barely touched shins when he realized that mine was more muscular than his. Thai boxers however, have very powerful shinbones, and I respected the level of conditioning they go through. I asked him again to please leave us alone and that I was finished “demonstrating.” I told him to come to my school if he wanted to continue this. During this entire incident, no one from the restaurant or anyone seated at my table ever tried to intervene and stop this man from pestering me. As I went to sit down, I shifted my weight toward my front leg and this guy came at me with all he was worth and kicked me in the shin.
I knew immediately that there was something wrong with my leg, but I was furious and wanted to calm down before I did something stupid. Initially, I thought my leg was going into spasms so I waited for the pain to subside. Again, no one intervened. My friends wanted to pay the bill and get me to a doctor. Personally, I never liked going to the doctors. I was treating a lot of ailments used to using herbal remedies I learned about as a kid on the farm. I thought this was something that I take care of myself. There was a lot of pain in my leg when I put any kind of pressure on it, so I decided to go to the hospital. An X-ray at the hospital confirmed that my tibia was cracked. This was the beginning of a nightmare. I was scheduled to film my movie and a business I had to run. Talk about unexpected events! All my plans were thrown into a state of chaos.
The first doctor who attended to my leg was fantastic and I liked the way he was treating the injury. I really felt we were making progress. Friends of mine had urged me to try their physician and in retrospect, it was one of the biggest mistakes I made. Once this doctor started treating me, I felt as though I was not healing properly. I told him over and over again that I felt something “moving” inside my shinbone, but according to him the X-rays revealed nothing. I still insisted that there was something wrong but it fell on deaf ears.
This injury turned out to be very costly. I had to postpone the movie and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It was hard for me to concentrate when I knew something was wrong with my leg. I still had to run a business and attend to my students. I had a lot of private students who paid good money to train with me and I never missed an appointment. It was also at this time that out of necessity, I developed my floor exercises, which I still use today and have passed on to a lot of my students. I had no other alternative but to keep working if I didn’t want my business to fail.
There is a rumor floating around that I was able to do all the renovations and extensive advertising for my business because I received a large settlement in the restaurant case. The first attorney who was hired to handle the case died in a car accident in the middle of the proceedings. This required a new attorney to step in. My dedication to my business and my students turned out to work against me. Instead of running around to doctors, I concentrated on my business and dealing with issues involving the making of the movie. It is difficult to calculate lost wages when someone is forced to do what they can to keep their business from falling apart. I got so absorbed in the movie that I myself did not pursue the case in the way I should have.
This incident resulted in one of the biggest nightmares of my life. I trusted a doctor that came highly recommended and what happened? He gave me a low disability rating of 5% and in my opinion, did not treat the injury properly. I believed this rating should have been higher because of all the physical problems I was having. I also realized later on that I was taking an herbal supplement improperly. Instead of taking the recommended amount over the course of three months, I consumed this dosage in one week. I did this for weeks. I learned that this supplement may have made my bones brittle and as a result, caused my tibia to crack the way it did. Prior to this incident, my legs were strong and I had withstood numerous kicks to the shin by other individuals with no problem. I should have received a large amount of compensation for the injuries I sustained and the damage to my career that resulted from this incident. These unexpected events cost me a lot of money, aggravation, and lost opportunity, but they didn’t stop me. I could have given up and closed down, but I didn’t.
Eventually, I walked away from this case and decided to put my energy into moving on with my life, I never received a penny for the “Thai Boxer restaurant incident”. I focused on promoting my name and not letting this incident interfere with my “plans.” I built this business through hard work, often putting in 20-hour workdays, 365 days a year. I moved forward. I readjusted my “plans” and decided to take my business in a new direction.
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