Hoboken Housing Authority Karate Program
Karate for the Body and Soul
The streets of an urban neighborhood have a propensity to swallow up young children looking for guidance. Without a proper mentor, the most vulnerable may pursue the wrong path.
“I had one of my students come to me and tell me that he was offered a job with a drug dealer,” says Sensei Ray Rodriguez, who runs the karate program for the Hoboken Housing Authority. “I told him, ‘Over my dead body.’”
Karate: Teaching kids hard work and discipline
Athletic competition is somewhat of a staple in Hudson County, from school teams to summer leagues, sports and after-school activities are designed to keep kids on the straight and narrow.
Rodriguez recognizes these dangers, and, for the past year, he has been working to help the kids of Hoboken overcome the dangers that lurk around them. Rodriguez, a successful martial arts instructor at the Boys and Girls Club, met with Carmelo Garcia, the housing authority’s executive director, and proposed establishing a karate program for the public housing complexes’ young residents.
“We believe in teaching our kids that hard work, discipline and training can lead to achieving success,” said Garcia. “Our vision for our residents is one of success in all areas of their lives. Studying Karate can put them on that path.”
During the past year, Rodriguez has seen the program grow and witnessed a marked improvement in the ability of the students who come to his dojo.
“My main focus is adjusting the attitudes of the kids, to keep them off the streets. I have a lot of kids who are afraid of their neighborhood, and they ask me why do people try to hurt them. There are a lot of vicious people out there. That’s why if they keep practicing here, they learn how to defend themselves.” The class runs throughout the year in one of the Hoboken Housing Authority’s community rooms. Rodriguez’s roster for the summer includes 41 students of all ages.
“My focus with them is form. It takes a long time to learn. No matter what, you really never master it, there is no such thing as a master.”
Rodriguez isn’t one to throw around promotions; they must be earned. Two of his students have achieved blue belts, and it will take them another two years to get to orange. Rodriguez feels many martial arts academies dole out ranks too liberally without truly focusing on building students into disciplined, strong fighters. It would take roughly eight years of steady training to attain black belt status under Rodriguez’s tutelage.
“If you want something from me, earn a rank and that is it.”
Setting a positive example in the Hoboken Community
Rodriguez acts as his own example of strength and endurance. His knuckles are scarred over because of the bleeding incurred while doing push-ups on gravel, rocks and hard floors as a way to strengthen his forearms and hands.
When Rodriguez notices that some of his students aren’t listening to instruction, he orders the class to drop and do 25 push-ups. If the horseplay continues, the push-ups may increase to 100.
“This is training not a playground,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez looks for students to improve in the discipline of karate and mes that success into all aspects of life, especially the classroom.
On one recent afternoon, a student’s parent showed the sensei a report card with all A’s and B’s . For Rodriguez, improvement in the classroom is evidence that the karate program is working its magic.
“They’re getting better,” Rodriguez said of his class.
One power of motivation for Rodriguez stems from the loss of his daughter, Hope, who died of diabetes at age 13.
“I want my kids to look amazing when they come out of here. I always want to help those less fortunate and those kids that are suffering. My daughter is my light, pushing me to continue.”