Sensei Leo Dokutoshi Pimentel
Leo Dokutoshi Pimentel, 5th degree Black Belt and owner of SKH Quest Center NYC, trained with An-shu Stephen K. Hayes, the foremost expert on Ninjutsu, for nearly 25 years and continues as an ardent student of To-Shin Do Kasumi-An Ninja martial arts training. He is the longest active student in the Mid-Atlantic area and holds multiple high-level black belts.
In addition, he completed over 10 years of self-development and educational systems training individuals to unlock the power to be in action effectively.
Q: What first attracted you to the martial arts?
I recall when I was a young boy at the age of 5, it was “so cool” to watch these super martial artists fly around on the television set, with their cool screams, pronouncing their fearlessness in battle. Now admittedly, these television shows reflected the exaggeration of the martial arts, the death-defying ability to overcome fear, large groups of oppositions, or even gravity itself in the quest to restore peace and safety. I vowed at age five to learn those fighting secrets so I too may one day be able to protect the ones I love and maintain peace.
Q: When did you first get involved in the martial arts?
It took several years from those days of youth before my first days of Karate. I recall to this day learning the simultaneous blocking and deflection methods of the Okinawan style at age 11. While this seemed contrary to the quick “street punching” styles of New York and my earlier years of boxing, I remained vigilant that standing there to fight in a horse stance would ultimately work for a kid who was 5’ tall. It was not until later when I sparred with a few friends that I found myself naturally covering up and moving around to avoid being pummeled. The idea of standing there and “sticking it out” with a person almost 6’ tall did not seem logical.
Q: How did you discover To-Shin Do?
Ah that is a good question, I remember in eighth grade English class, a few of the students were huddled over and tossing this shiny metal object into the poster board. I could not get my hands on it then, but it turned out this sharp 4-pointed metal object belonged to a good friend. He told me it was a shuriken used by ninjas. “Ninjas… who are they?” I replied. [This was in 1985 when American Ninja hit the big screen.] He said, “Come by my house and I’ll show you all the magazines”. Later that day, he shared with me “Inside Kung-fu” and “Ninja Magazine” featuring Dr. Maasaki Hatsumi and An-shu Stephen K. Hayes.
Scanning through tons of magazines and books, in the early days was a practical way to consume information; the internet did not exist. Legitimate training opportunities were scarce and too many practitioners appeared with these high-degree black belts. It was so difficult to know “who was who”.
Therefore, I remained close to An-shu Stephen K. Hayes for two primary reasons. For one, his movement was something I had never seen; it was the subtlety in the movements more than the “flash, pop, and bam”. Secondly, he was the only intelligent person talking about community and personal motivation. “What are you looking to get out of your experience? What do you want for yourself?”
Q: Can you tell us about the early days of your training? What qualities made you remain in the program?
My early days of ninja training were at New York Budo. Those days were great; great group of senior students and peers. The tempo was fun and energetic; a real sense of community. It was the experience of community and a safe training environment that dwarfed all over challenges. Moreover, some challenges were just “finding the time”; you can imagine commuting from California to New York for over 7 years to keep training at the dojo became costly for a college student. I was intent that if I ever operated a dojo, I wanted it to be a place where many people could train and be amongst friends.
The head instructor was a man named Jean-Pierre Seibel. He was very inviting and encouraged me to train at NY Budo. What was so amazing about him was his demeanor. He was the opposite of the prototype boisterous martial artist, so common in those days; you would not have even realized he was the chief instructor. I mean the dojo had the much steam going; it was a place onto itself. Moreover, everyone knew who he was; he was the living archetype of James Bond and when he taught class, everyone knew where to line up.
Another senior instructor was Carol Ceramicoli. I personally found myself working a lot with Carol because I always saw myself as a smaller man and realized that sometimes in a self-defense situation you are the smaller of the two people. If I could learn what works well for her, then I will be in a better situation.
Q: What has been some of the most rewarding experiences for you in To-Shin Do?
Many…I have been very fortunate to travel around the nation since the early 90’s being a uke training partner [literal translation: the one who sees the technique] for An- shu Stephen K. Hayes. I recall a seminar in San Diego, California where the exercise was a knife defense technique. My partner and I were training with a wooden knife following the instructions, when all of a sudden, my partner’s technique worked really well and the knife went flying out of my hand twirling through the air. The knife propelled across the room twirling towards An-shu Stephen K. Hayes and his wife, An-shu Rumiko Hayes. I was gasping for air mostly from embarrassment. The two walked towards the propelled blade as it twisted and twirled in the mid-air dropping down to knee-level. Without shrieking or jerky movement, the two walked towards the twirling blade, simply lifting their knees in harmonious fashion smiling as they walked without breaking stride. My eyes widened and jaw dropped. The two smiled as they walked, “You may want to get your knife; there are some more exercises we are going to show you.” I was in awe and just witnessed the coolest thing since that 5 year old who watched Kung –Fu Theatre.
This is what the martial arts are about — seemingly handling any small or large encounter with total cool collected calmness.
Q: What is your teaching style and format?
SKH Quest Center NYC implements a successful format used by several Quest Centers around the world. The overall system is a tiered belt level system. At any one level, the student is first introduced to a concept and then has the opportunity to learn the concept and perform drills. In a few months, the student is introduced to practicing the concept with a moving target, adding a slight degree of difficulty. Sometimes, the additionally material is a “what if” scenario. In this dynamic sense, the student gains an appreciation of full body movement and develops confidence in action. The “I can really do this” feeling is encouraged. In the remaining months, prior to testing for proficiency, the student incorporates the concepts and applies them improving timing and coordination in a safe interactive environment.
The focus is on the student maximizing his/her potential and ensuring the curriculum is both personal and relevant.
Q: Can you tell me more about An-shu Stephen K. Hayes?
You can find more about Stephen K. Hayes, the father of American Ninjutsu at www.stephenkhayes.com.