A deep thank you to all who participated in the memorial training to celebrate the life of our student Ken Del Toro. Ken passed away in March after battling cancer. In conducting his life, Ken demonstrated true warrior spirit (Budo). And for that, we are all humbled.
Martial Arts practice, and especially that of Okinawan Karate, goes well beyond techniques for self defense. At its core, I believe that martial arts teach us to be better people, to embrace life, and to learn to face and overcome our fears. Ken conducted himself as a true warrior — confronting cancer and death head-on and with no fear. He has been a great inspiration to our entire extended dojo family. May he forever be blessed and remembered.
I could not have wished for a better way to honor Ken than with a karate training on the beach with friends, followed by a beautiful qigong session as the sun was setting into the Pacific Ocean.
I first met Ken Del Toro online. He found the dojo web site, and was inquiring about martial arts training. We had a long email discussion. Ken had trained in other martial arts, and was very interested in understanding the type of martial art that we study at the Full Potential Martial Arts dojo in San Diego. Ken came to the dojo, and tried a few classes. After the first month, he was ready to quit. “The classes are not for me,” he told me.
I am really glad that Ken changed his mind, because my life and the lives of other members of our dojo family have been enhanced by Ken and his warrior spirit.
Ken committed himself to martial arts training. He rarely missed a class. Other than the sporadic travel out of town for a vacation, Ken was at the dojo every Tuesday and Thursday. He always arrived early. He always worked to help set up the room for class. He always bowed and greeted all members of the dojo as they walked in. He was always prepared and engaged.
Ken was very helpful to other students in the dojo. He had a special ability to remember kata. In preparing for belt tests, Ken was always happy to assist other students in polishing their kata and other martial arts drills.
It was with shock that we learned, in early 2014, that Ken was diagnosed with cancer of the tonsils. The doctors thought that the prognosis was excellent. They thought that Ken would have a tough road ahead of him enduring the cancer treatment, and that he would emerge fully cured.
As the days of treatment wore on, Ken demonstrated his warrior spirit. Despite fighting the brutal side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation, Ken trained at the dojo like clockwork. The only time he missed a class was when his radiation session overlapped with martial arts class. And in every class, Ken was 100% present in the moment. Ken did not give himself any discounts for his “condition.” While in the dojo, he stayed focused and worked as hard the other students. (As some of you may know, our classes can be physically rigorous at times).
While the doctors cured Ken of the cancer in his tonsils, the cancer spread to the rest of his body. In the fall of 2014 the doctors told Ken that there was nothing more they could do.
Although the cancer spread trough Ken’s body, it never consumed Ken’s mind. Ken showed all of us how to live in the moment, do the best with what you have, and conduct yourself as a warrior. Even as his body weakened, he still wanted to train. Ken loved to practice martial arts. When his physical state would allow him to arrive at the dojo, he trained with vigor and dedication. No one could tell that this exertion was a struggle for a body fighting lung, bone and brain cancer. A true warrior!
Miyamoto Musashi, the famous Japanese swordsman who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, wrote in his Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No sho):
“A warrior learns the Way of the Martial Arts with certainty, makes strong efforts in other martial accomplishments, and is not the least bit in the dark about the Way of conducting himself as a warrior. He has no confusion in his mind and is never lazy at any moment of the day. He polishes the two hearts of his mind and will, and sharpens the two eyes of broad observation and focused vision. “
Ken kept polishing his mind and will to his last day.
I am grateful to have known Ken, and for having the opportunity to learn the ways of the warrior from him.
Farewell my dear friend.