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  • Writer's pictureTLALOCO

ÓRALE PRESS presents another classic: My "First" Tournament

The following is an excerpt from the autobiography of Lorenzo Rodriquez,

"LimaLama Warrior," tentatively scheduled for release in November 2023:

Editor's Intro: In 1965, American born (Pago Pago) Samoan fighter, Tino Tuiolosega, created the martial art, LimaLama in Los Angeles, California.

The term, LimaLama, is loosely translated as "Hands of Wisdom."

His new martial art style was a mix of Samoan and Lua fighting techniques, Kenpo karate, Chinese kung fu, nearly every Japanese martial art, plus American boxing, and wrestling.

The year is 1968 and the story begins with a 12 year old, named Lorenzo or "Lencho," as he was known in his youth. He was curious about martial arts after watching the popular Television series, The Green Hornet.

Every week all the neighborhood kids in El Monte and throughout the United States would be sure to watch the masterful karate fight scenes with "Kato," the Green Hornet's driver.

Lencho didn't know it then but Kato was played by the famous martial artist Bruce Lee.

Lencho's Uncle had just paid the one dollar charge for Lencho's first martial art lesson.

The instructor was a 18 year old brown belt, the son of the LimaLama Master, Sal Esquivel. Lencho watched as his Uncle and older brother got hit and knocked down by the brown belt as he demonstrated a gut punch and kick.

When it was his turn to take a punch he just couldn't do it. Instead, Lencho punches the instructor and a fight erupts. The fight is quickly broken up and Lencho is banished on his first day of training!

Lencho had never had any formal fight training but he was a courageous and determined individual when he put his mind to something.

Getting thrown out of the Teen Center didn't matter. He was determined to learn martial arts. He went back to the Teen Center in El Monte and quietly watched the training of the students.

After the session ended, Lencho would run home to practice the moves he saw the students doing so he wouldn't forget.

As luck would have it, Humbos, one of the assistant instructor's, took an interest in him. Humbos knew that Lencho was spying on the practice and really wanted to learn martial arts. Without being noticed by Master Esquivel, Humbos, would show Lencho a technique to practice at home. He practiced earnestly and would go back to Humbos the following practice day and proudly demonstrate the moves.

Humbos would then show him another technique, then another. He did this for nearly 3 month. Lencho avoided the one dollar payment per lesson. But the real reason he wasn't in the school, he was too proud to humble himself and ask for Master Esquivel forgiveness. But Lencho was driven and eager to learn more LimaLama. Here is Lorenzo's recollection of his first tournament:

Master Sal’s LimaLama school was getting ready for a karate tournament, so I decided I was going too. I wasn’t a student in his school, and I had no karate gi.

I didn’t even have the money to sign up for the tournament. But I convinced my Uncle Manuel to take me to the tournament.

He bought my white uniform gi for 10 bucks and paid my entrance fee.

I didn’t know how to tie the white belt and just put it in a knot.

I ended up using a piece of cardboard for a mouthpiece.

I folded it up, with the white color showing, and I put it in my mouth.

For a cup, I borrowed one from a guy at the school—and just stuck the dirty thing in my underwear.

I fought. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I just did whatever Humbos had taught me, plus my instincts from street fighting.

The only thing the judges told me was, “No hits to the face; they are illegal and if you draw blood, you will be disqualified.” So, without any reservations, I went for it! I made it all the way to the semi-finals.

I began to get attention from the crowd during my fights. I guess the people in attendance could see I wasn’t trying to score points; I was just fighting. My opponents were trying to score points, but I was trying to hurt them—kicks to the groin, body shots to the ribs. I just fought as hard and fast as I could. One of the LimaLama students, Danny Esquivel, noticed me. Danny was the younger son of Master Sal.

He knew that to participate in the tournament, you had to belong to a recognized school, but I didn’t belong officially to any martial art school.

I wasn’t training with the LimaLama school. I wasn’t paying the dollar a class. So, Danny told the main referee, “Hey, man, that guy don’t belong to no school.”

The referee realized I had no martial arts patch and I was wearing a brand-new uniform. They decided to disqualify me as I stood on the mat ready for my next fight, which was the semi-final.

They wouldn’t let me fight anymore. I realized I was in real trouble. Suddenly, everybody started clapping and chanting, “Let him fight, let him fight, let him fight.” Danny told his dad, Master Esquivel, “Look, Lencho is fighting, but he’s not representing us. But he already made the finals.”

I think Danny convinced his father to let me continue to fight. Master Esquivel spoke with the tournament referees: “He already made the finals, so let him fight.” The referees agreed and allowed me to continue.

So, I was allowed to fight as an independent. I had the crowd support. I was one of the four remaining fighters. If I won the first match, then I would fight for first or second place. If I lost, then I would be fighting for third or fourth. I was ready and excited.

As soon as the referee said “Go,” Bam, bam, bam, I attacked my opponent just like Humbos taught me, and, without realizing it, I instinctively punched the guy in the face. The poor guy started bleeding, and the referee separated us, and he disqualified me. I was looking around confused, shouting, “What did I do wrong? It’s a fight!”

The referee shook his head in disagreement. “No, no, no, you can’t hit the face.” So, then all I could do now was to compete for third place. This time, I really tried not to hit my opponent in the face, but the guy kept sticking his face out, almost inviting me to hit it.

Bam, bam, boom, I kicked him right in the face and I got disqualified again. You don’t get a trophy for fourth place. So, I guess I had won the battles but lost the war.

After the tournament, Master Esquivel pulled me aside and chewed me out. “You have to represent a school, and you have to have permission. The only reason I let you fight was because all these people were rooting for you, and you had already made the final round.” He was right. And I was wrong. I held my head down, nodding, but inside I was proud of myself.

The following day, I was a little bruised and sore, but really happy. I had survived. I sometimes wondered how my opponents must have felt after I had been pounding their bodies. Most of the time, when I got into a street fight, I never got hurt but I’d get in trouble.

I recall some neighborhood kids who lived about three houses away from us. They sent the youngest of their brothers after my little brother just to make him cry. They were bullies. I would go after the little kid for hitting my brother.

Then, they’d come after me, thinking they were going to kick my ass. I ended up fighting one brother, then the next brother, until I got to the oldest one.

Like a family tree, I would knock all those family limbs down. But their mom would come to our house and tell my mom that I kicked her son’s butt.

So, my mom would give me a spanking and then my dad would get home and give me another one.

The next day I would start another fight with those guys because they had gotten me in trouble at home. It was a never-ending story.

The thing about competing in my first martial arts tournament, it was different. There weren't any gangs, only judges. There wasn't any victims or witnesses, only a happy audience. I wasn't angry or mad, I was excited trying to win. I had made it to the finals and got fourth place, not bad for a beginner.

I told myself, Hey, I’m not going to get in trouble with my parents for fighting in tournaments! Besides, I appreciated all these strangers applauding and patting me on the back and saying, “You know, you got something there boy…” and “You did good, young man.”

Thinking back about my first tournament, it was a lot of attention for a kid my age, and it was from people I didn’t even know. I was just fighting instinctively. I was a beginner, and I knew I could be better with more training. It was not that I was trying to hurt anybody. Okay, maybe I was, but I was doing something I liked to do—fight—and it felt good winning. I wanted more.

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