By Vern Hee
“The neighborhood was rough in the 1960s when I grew up in the Bronx, New York. Often times, I would find myself at an early age in fights and I would be thrown to the ground and on my back giving the guys whatever they want.”
That was Jose Hernandez prior to learning karate at age 10.
Today Hernandez is 6′ 3″ tall, built like a brick house and of course is in better shape than most men in their sixties. Anyone even remotely thinking of taking on Hernandez now should have his head examined.
Hernandez is the owner and master karate instructor at Dragon Cloud Dojo, 2160 E. Calvada Blvd. #C. He is a third-degree black belt who still stresses teaching karate in the traditional way. He is the only traditional karate instructor in Pahrump. He said today with mixed martial arts being really popular on TV traditions are important.
Hernandez has been involved in the martial arts for 49 years.
“My primary goal was learning to defend myself. At the time, I was a 10-year-old. I remember getting bullied and I remember getting my lunch money stolen and I wanted to put a stop to that quick.”
Hernandez said he has a hard time explaining the sixties to the kids of today. He recalled watching TV back then on his black and white. He would see images of German Shepherds attacking African Americans.
“I remember back then the draft was in place. And you would have a lot of guys from the ghetto going into the service. A lot were going and a lot of them coming back hooked on junk.”
In his opinion, this made for a lot of turmoil and a lot of violence.
“So my motivation for learning karate was not getting my butt kicked everyday. I grew up in very dangerous times. My karate had to work for me.”
His first dojo was in a dirty basement at the bottom of an old tenement building. “It was not long, just a matter of weeks that one guy broke his shoulder in a throw. Bam, we were getting hurt.”
He described a bit of his early training.
“On cold days, a coal truck would pull up and supply the building with coal. I remember the sensei on those days would have us in a circle in a horse stance punching into the coal. Your hands would get all black and this would mix with the blood,” he said.
Hernandez found out after six months that he was not even learning karate — the sensei taught ju-jitsu.
Hernandez recalls moving around a lot after that. He joined several dojos looking for the right one. Finally, after training hard for several years, he said he had to make a decision.
“Then after awhile of learning I asked myself while sitting on a stoop how I was going to get to Japan. I wanted to go to Japan to fight against real Japanese karate guys. And, of course, while I sat there, I came up with the military as the solution. That was in 1969-1970.”
He had made up his mind to join the military and also become a sensei. He joined the Air Force first for four years and then the Navy for seven. He got his first black belt while in the military in 1974.
When he did go to Japan he went to look for a master named Ometa. He said learning from a real traditional Japanese master was his dream. The master never charged him anything either.
“My goal in Okinawa was to become a sensei and I already knew that this was going to be my career. I trained with Ometa and he gave me that license hanging on the wall for me to train and he told me to name the first dojo in the U.S., Dragon Cloud.”
Hernandez has trained ever since under that name, first in San Jose, Calif., and then in the Central Valley in California near Stockton. He then brought Dragon Cloud to Pahrump in 2004 and has been open ever since. Hernandez currently lives with his wife Holly. Together they have raised five children.