Volume 76, Number 26 | November 15 - 21, 2006


Sticks of power and love of music at 7th St. dojo

By Judith Stiles

Wilfredo Roldan is known as more of a lover than a fighter within his close-knit Lower East Side community. So it is surprising to learn that as a martial arts expert he is a champion stick fighter, with unsurpassed skills of pummeling his opponents with a piece of wood. Stick fighting, one of the oldest types of combat, has evolved over centuries into a sophisticated

Asian martial arts form, in which adversaries whack each other repeatedly with a 3½-foot wooden stick. For more than 30 years out of a loft at 130 E. Seventh St. off of Tompkins Square Park, Roldan has spread the gospel of martial arts, teaching classes in karate, jujitsu, and tai chi chaun, as well as stick fighting. A jo is his weapon of choice because it incorporates attributes of the slashing stroke of the katana, a long Japanese sword, the thrusting motions of a spear, and the striking power of the bo, which is 5-to-7-feet long.

In 1989 Roldan represented the United States in a stick-fighting world championship held in the Philippines, in which stick fighters converged from all over the world to compete. As a middleweight, in the weight category of 161 to 171 pounds, Roldan was known as a “relentless fighter” by judges and critics around the world.

Roldan, who goes by his martial arts name, Hanshi, at the dojo, showed a visitor a videotape of the match. Wearing a facemask similar to an ice hockey goaltender’s mask, along with padded upper body armor, Roldan and Dela Cruz (from the Philippines) whacked each other with their sticks, mostly aiming at each other’s heads. The fighters went at it for several rounds of about 60 seconds each, earning points from four judges.

“In this sport more than others, the awarding of points is very subjective,” noted Roldan philosophically, as he explained that he lost the bout on a technicality. However, the loss did not seem to dampen his enthusiasm for stick fighting. Turning off the videotape, he jumped up from his chair to demonstrate on a punching bag that had the words “BAD GUY” pasted on a target for striking, just about where a head might be.

Hanshi Roldan’s Nisei Goju Ryu World Headquarters in the East Village was founded by Frank Ruiz in the 1960s. Ruiz was a student of Maestro Peter Urban who passed down a wealth of secret oral information regarding martial arts. According to Roldan, these teachings not only improve breathing, muscular development, reflexes and rejuvenation of internal organs, but they also elevate the spiritual and emotional development of any person who seriously studies martial arts. In his school, the pupils are asked to follow a code of ethics and live their lives aspiring to 15 “virtues.”

Students are encouraged to be patient, seize opportunities and “discard the bad,” while practicing humility and kindness. They worship truth, they let their consciences be their guide, while they practice courtesy to all human beings. According to Roldan, the 15th virtue is “Our art and our cause are for the purpose of aiding all mankind.”

While teaching and discussing these virtues with children and adults in the classes, Roldan seems to be constantly in motion, exuding an electric energy that is curiously layered under his serene personality. High energy and serenity are paradoxically equal parts of his teaching method. As a young man growing up in what was one of New York’s most dangerous communities, Alphabet City, learning martial arts helped him become a man, and in a positive way, channeled his fighting spirit.

In Roldan’s comfortable and spacious martial arts studio there are portraits of his teachers arranged on one wall in almost an altarlike setting. On the tables of his office are surprisingly few books about martial arts and several books about opera and music.

“I studied singing and opera and my teacher had me work on one song for an entire year, ‘The Black Orpheus,’” said Roldan bursting with excitement. He added, “My teacher said in that one song is all songs.” Similarly, he admits that in one lesson of teaching the discipline of stick fighting, are all of life’s lessons. And although studying genteel opera and combative stick fighting seems like an unusual combination of interests, one visit to Nisei Goju Headquarters shows how the oil and water of these activities blend together beautifully.

For further information, call 212-674-6477 or visit www.niseinyc.com.

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