Call Me Sensei – Alfred Urquidez

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Alfred Urquidez

Alfred Urquidez belongs to a very prestigious family in martial arts history, the Urquidez family. It is important that people get to know this member of the family, because of his efforts behind the scenes.

Alfred UrquidezThe often mentioned source of Alfred’s admiration and the reason he is held in high respect in martial arts circles, can be summed up in one word, humility. Although he has earned high rank in many organizations, he remains loyal to Kenpo Shotokan by continuing this style’s legacy. When he was asked to speak for this column Alfred insisted that we did not refer to him as a grandmaster, or master, or shihan or by any title other than the one he holds most dear. He said simply, as he tells all his students and admirers alike, “Please, just call me Sensei”.

(FD) What was it like for you learning martial arts? Was it something that was expected, something that you had to do, or were you given a choice?

“In the beginning, when I was turning eight years old, all my brothers were involved in the martial arts. Because I am the youngest in the family–there were ten of us in my family, six boys and four girls–it was expected of me, but at the same time I wasn’t really forced. They wanted me to continue with the art because they were looking ahead at the legacy and beyond the legends they were creating for themselves, but I had no idea about that because I was still a youngster. I remember when they wanted me to start training, we had a big tree in our yard and I would climb up the tree and hide. They would be looking for me and they would grab rocks and throw them into the tree to get me down. So, it was expected of me because it was something that my whole family had been involved in. My mom was a professional wrestler. My dad was a professional boxer, so we inherited that athletic ability. A lot of people say, because I was the youngest I was spoiled. On the contrary, I wasn’t.” It was really hard for me. They expected a lot more from me.

My brothers were all my teachers. They used to train me very hard. I would see in the classes that I was treated worse than the other students. “[At the time] I didn’t realize why they did that to me. At times I even asked myself, “Do my brothers really love me or do they hate me?” Now that I’m older and looking at it from where I’m at right now, I’ve been at it forty six years and I’ve been a black belt going on thirty seven years, they really never did explained it to me. One thing I’ve learned being a shodan and advancing in the ranks, sometimes your teachers don’t tell you “why.” Now that I’m older I realize why they expected more from me. I see where I’m at right now, what I’ve accomplished and what I’ve done and it’s because of the expectations. I [can] really appreciate that now. I’m really honored and humbled to know that they were giving me the responsibility of carrying on Kenpo Shotokan.”

(FD) Do you remember your first lesson?

My first official lesson, I walked into my brother’s dojo. We teach Old School. In those days there was this little fence, a little rail that separated the workout floor from the sitting area. I jumped over the rail and learned a valuable lesson, “Never jump over the rail.” I got kicked. That was my brother Arnold teaching my class. I will never forget my first class because I think I must have done 150 pushups that day. I kept wiping my face or blinking and there were a lot of basics and every time I did something wrong, I had to do pushups. I didn’t understand, but as time went on I see that it was beautiful. I was looking at them as my brothers, but they were not my brothers in this regard. I was a student. That’s what I’ll remember about my first class, on day one I was looking at them and thinking, “but I’m your little brother” but it wasn’t like that in the dojo. I was a new student who was learning how to teach. It was incredible.”

(FD) You’re in this class with other kids, were you kind of like a celebrity because your brothers were the teachers?

“I think the other students did look at me as a kind of celebrity, but also as an example because I was treated a lot harder than the rest of the students. If we had to run three miles as a class, I was expected to run four. Sometimes my brothers would have us load another student on our backs, they would put the heaviest guy on top of me. When the students had to do pushups, I had to do double.”

(FD) The other kids couldn’t complain because they saw what YOU were doing?

“Exactly. Exactly.”

(FD) What would you say was your most favorite experience in the martial arts, if you have one?

“My favorite experience in the martial arts was the day that my mom gave me my nickname. I was fighting this one tournament, the Internationals in Long Beach, at Grandmaster Ed Parker’s tournament and I was beating everybody and all of a sudden I hear her say, ‘Hey Smidgit!’ I turned around and asked, “What’s a Smidget?” She said, “That’s your nickname now. You’re so fast and short nobody can touch you. That’s your nickname.” “My mom gave us all nicknames. My older brother Adam always smiled when he was fighting in tournaments, so they called him Smiley.”

(FD) And, what about some of the other brothers?

“My brother Ruben, we called him The Bull because he always ran over everybody. They called my brother Arnold, The Pillar because he had an unstoppable back-front ball kick. If you blocked it, he’d break your wrist. My brother Benny, they gave him the nickname The Jet because he had the most awesome, flying spinning back-kick. He could knockout his opponent quickly hitting them right in the liver and he would never have to touch them in the face.”

(FD) Who gave him the nickname The Jet? Was that your mom or an announcer?

“I think my mom said, “He’s like a jet” and somebody picked up on that and then the next thing we knew the song came out from Elton John, Benny and the Jets and all of a sudden the name just hooked onto him. However, I really believe it was my mom who was prophesizing when she originally called him the Jet.

(FD) Was there any rivalry within your family? Benny obviously got a tremendous amount of attention in the ’70s with the PKA, and I know your other family members were super-talented.

“One thing that my mom taught us was that the brothers had to stay together. My brother Arnold held a meeting with all of us. I was still young and I didn’t have to be included in that meeting, but I was included because I was part of the family. We all decided that Benny would be the shinning star. We would back him up, work behind the scenes and support him, but there was never any jealousy or envy behind that. We supported him all the way. We all know that we have our talents. We all have our specific reasons why we do what we do, but we knew that Benny would pave the way and be the founder of kickboxing and full contact. There was never any rivalry. It was always praise, “right on” and “keep it going brother.”

(FD) I know your brother is about five years older than me and I used to go by Bill Ryusaki’s school and he always opened the blinds to let me watch. It was the ultimate kindness. Of course I would have to go to the Chinese Restaurant next door, get the broom and clean the floor and the windows. That was kind of an unwritten rule and I want to know, which one of your brothers would come and chase me to invite me to come in, but I always ran away from him?

“That was my brother Arnold. He was The Hammer.”

(FD) Thanks, that just solved a mystery for me. You know, I always thought that he was trying to chase me away and hurt me but I found out years later when we all did a documentary together in 2002, and I had the real great privilege of hearing your interview then, and thank you for the nice things you said about me.

“Well, you’ve earned that respect and that honor Frank. My family and I have known you for many, many years. I don’t think people know or realize how far back we go and just how well we DO know you. And, I’m going to say right out that anyone who slights you or your abilities is full of hogwash. They have no idea. Because they’ve never really gotten to know your or sit with you and talk to you or know your heart. I know you. My family knows you. My brothers know you and we all respect you. I respect you. I’ve gotten to know you as the person that you are and I have the ultimate respect for you.

“Back in those days, when we trained with Sensei Bill Ryusaki, he is actually our sensei in Kenpo. Sensei Bill will even tell you to this day that at one time he was an unknown school. The reason he became so well known was because of my family. We started winning. In the old days, Old School they said it was ‘non-contact’ but we know there was a lot of contact. In those days, there was no fighting gear. All you had was a mouthpiece and you could wear a cup. My brothers Arnold and Ruben wouldn’t let me wear a cup. They told me that if I wore a cup then I wouldn’t protect my groin as well. Without the cup, I had to protect myself.”

Alfred Urquidez Teaching

(FD) You don’t pay your bills teaching martial arts, right?

“No, I have a day job, but I teach two nights out of the week. I have about 65 students, but a lot of my students only pay $5 or $10. I only charge enough to pay the rent where I teach. I’ve been their 14 years. The teaching that I give my students is a lot about honor and respect. For the kids, I demand good grades from their schools. My main focus is to be able to share and give my knowledge. I have nine black belts under me. I tell them, before you get your shodan you have to own your art.”

[In the video recording of this interview, Frank and Alfred stroll past Hop Sing Tong Benevolent Society].

(FD) You know Alfred, what I’ve always found impressive with you is you really are a person. You really are a true martial arts master. You say you teach because of the family values that you got from your brothers. Are you able to instill that same kind of feeling for your students who, perhaps, don’t have a family?

“You are very correct in that. Some of my students don’t have fathers. When they come to me, I know that I’m going to be like a father figure to them. The parents tell me that my name is a household name in their home. If their kids start acting up they get to the phone and they threaten, “I’m going to call Sensei.” And, before they know it, the kid is cleaning the room. The students know that if I have to I’ll come knocking on their door. I always tell the parents, my phone is on twenty-four-seven. I had one student, about twelve years old whose parents called me from the hospital. He had appendicitis and he didn’t want to get operated on. It was three in the morning. The dad called me up and told me that he was fighting with them about going into surgery. They said, “if he doesn’t go his appendix is going to burst.” It was not going to be good for him. So, I showed up at the hospital and surprised him. I said, “hey didn’t I teach you to be a warrior?” He said, “Yes, Sensei.” I said, “O.K. I’m going to be here. When you come back out, I’m going to be here and things are going to be good. I gave him my word. He went into surgery, came out and I was right there. That student now is one of my best black belts.”

(FD) To me, that’s why you respect the black belt, because of people like you. It’s all about what the black belt stands for, about being there for the community.” Unfortunately, there [are] a lot of people out there who are teaching but it’s not about being of service to others. It’s about “Look at me! I got a black belt. Come worship me and I’m a tenth degree all of a sudden. It’s important that people know what those degrees mean. Maybe you can share with us what each degree means, or what qualifies a person to attain a certain degree?

“When you get promoted to shodan, which is first degree black, you have to wait two years before you can test for your second degree. It all depends on what you’re doing for your school, for your community. Martial Arts is a way of life. It’s about how you conduct yourself outside the dojo. How do you conduct yourself at home? How do you conduct yourself at work? It all falls into play, discipline, honor, respect and most of all humility. Each degree is affected by the quality of the students that you’ve trained, how well they are doing in tournaments, how well they are doing outside of the dojo. That all falls into place and then, after you get your third degree you have to wait three more years before you get your third degree. I’ve seen black belts who have been in the martial arts for seventeen years who had gotten their first degree black belt in seven years and already they are walking about with seven red hash marks which is a 7th degree black belt. I look at these young bucks, and I call them young bucks and they can call me on the carpet whenever they want to, because I’m willing to confront them that they don’t know what martial arts is all about. They don’t know what way of life is all about, or what respect and honor is all about. Each degree is both about what you’ve accomplished within yourself and what you’ve contributed to those around you that you are a mentor for. I’ve had students come in with Ds and Fs, all closed up, all shy and timid now they’re outgoing, getting scholarships. I have one student who is an all city San Fernando wrestling champion who is now working on becoming an architect. That’s my reward. To me that’s the greatest reward in my life.”

(FD) We got that from how our instructors taught us. I tell people, when they are looking for a martial arts school, that humility in the instructor is the first thing.

“And, you should also be careful with teachers who speak ill of others. Because, if you speak ill of others, all you are doing is shedding light on your own flaws. You can be a hall-of-famer, a seventh degree black belt, well known, but if you start speaking against others and not really know who those individuals are or because of your own envy or jealousy you are just putting yourself down. What does it do for you? That black belt doesn’t mean anything. If I go to my students and brag that I’m this and that and I’ve accomplished all these things, and yet I insult or humiliate them or make them feel small, as an example of martial arts principles then my black belt doesn’t mean anything. Then, everything that my brothers have taught me will all be gone. I shouldn’t even be wearing my shodan.”

(FD) One of the sad things for me is that I never got to know your sister Lilly, better. I think I may have met her once. I don’t think a lot of people realize that she was at the founding of women’s boxing and kickboxing and one who helped all women to be taken seriously in the martial arts world.

“Yes, you’re absolutely right Frank. My sister was the founder of Women’s Boxing. You remember back then, when they first started the Superbowl, Women’s Lingerie Football? Well, that’s what they thought my sister was going to do. She said, “No,no,no” This is for real. So they actually put her up against a man to see what she really knew. She knocked him out. And, that’s how women’s professional boxing was founded, because of my sister Lilly.”

(FD) If I understand it correctly, I remember this too, it was Van Nuys High School and a guy came up to your sister and tried to push himself on her to dance. And, this is how she met her husband, right?

“Blinky.”

(FD) So, Blinky was there (in love with her) and your sister knocked the guy out!

“She sure did. I’ll never forget one time when Blinky was trying to ask her out for a date. My sister pulled out a quarter and gave it to him and said, “Go buy yourself an ice cream.” But he was still persistent and my sister said, “If you really want to date me then you have to go through all my brothers and you’ll have to start training and taking Kenpo Shotokan.” And, he sure did. Now Blinky is where he’s at and I love my brother-in-law. He’s got a beautiful heart.”

(FD) He’s got a whole legend and legacy that we could talk about.

“Yes, he does.”

(FD) I know that these next questions might be painful for you, but there are some people who are not here to talk for themselves, what about your brothers that you’ve lost?

“My brother Rueben and my brother Mando. What happened is that my brother Rueben got really sick and he passed away. It was really hard for me because I was really close to him. My brother Rueben came down with diabetes and lost his eyesight. So, I used to make sure that I would see him every other day, I felt like I was watching him. I’d knock on his door and he say, “Come in Grasshopper.” He called me Grasshopper from the [show] Kung Fu. He would still train me. I’d go to his apartment and he’d teach me. That was my way to keep him alive and keep him positive. When he passed away it was really hard for us. I’m the one that gave him the nickname The Bull. When he passed away, we received another blow and my sister got sick. Some complications happened in the hospital and we lost her. Not even a year passed and we lost my brother Armando. He was like the Doctor of Shotokan. [He was] a great resource. When we first started training with Sensei Bill, we had Hawaiian Kenpo and then my brother Arnold started training with Osyama, Isshiama and Kubota to get his Shotokan black belt. Once he got his black belt in Shotokan, he started teaching us. My brother realized that Kenpo was good and Shotokan was awesome too, but there was still something missing. So, they integrated both styles and “my family is the only family in the world that’s recognized as Kenpo Shotokan, worldwide. My brothers had to literally go in front of the grandmasters in both styles to be acknowledged. Once they were acknowledged and it was sealed, then we were blessed in 1965 with the creation of Kenpo Shotokan.”

(FD) And, this was a time when there was NO cross training. You either did one style or another. You risked being thrown out of the ryu, yet your family did that!

“Yes, we did. We decided to take that step of faith and go forward because we realized that there was something good about this.

(FD) And, your family kind of paved the way for studying more than one style and mixed martial arts, if you will.

“Exactly. That’s why my brother Benny now has Ukidokan, ten different styles that he’s combined, but he constantly will tell you that Ukidokan comes from Kenpo Shotokan. Kenpo Shotokan, Old School is the mother load of Ukidokan. I feel blessed that I have this history and that the knowledge has been passed to me. It’s like handing me the baton.

(FD) Did you ever quit? Did you ever get fed up with being treated so hard?

“No. I never quit, but I did take a break when I entered the Marine Corps. I was still training though. When I went into the Marine Corp, I was so disciplined that my drill instructor couldn’t understand where I had received it all. I was already a black belt going in, but I didn’t say anything. I was stationed in Camp Pendleton, so every weekend I was obligated to show up on the weekends and train with my brothers at least two days out of ever week. So, I never quit, but I was already a shodan when I [finally] realized everything they had done for me, it was like a light bulb going on in my head. All my training came back to me and I realized why my brothers trained me the way they did. They made me who I am. They helped me to create my own legacy. Sometimes people say that I ride on my brothers coattails or that my brother Adam rides on my brother Benny’s coattails. They don’t really understand. They have no clue.”

(FD) During the era that we grew up in, it was really considered a white man’s sport. There was no place in it for people of color. You had Vic Moore who had to be escorted into the hotels, the whites only hotels, so that he could become a world champion. What was it like, reaching a level of success with all that adversity? With all the odds stacked against you?

“Being humble, and knowing what you know and a lot of people misunderstand us because they think we’re Hispanic, but we’re actually American Indians. We’re Apache – Blackfoot – and we had adversaries. We had to run through those obstacles, those walls of racism. But, we still plugged along and we still carried forward, because we knew the goal we had to reach. Before closing, I’ll never forget that there was a time, for a whole year, that my family ate oatmeal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ll never forget the day when I was sitting at the table having dinner and I said, “oatmeal again?” One of my brothers slapped me across the head and said, it’s in a different plate. Then, my mom responded and said, “what you’re eating is the food of champions, because all of you are going to be world champions and all of you are going to be famous one of these days.” From that day to this day, I love oatmeal.

(FD) It is really great talking to you. What I’m hearing is that the real heart of warriorship in your family actually comes from a woman.

“Yes.” My mom received the Founders Award, back in 2008 from the Master’s Hall of Fame and I was really surprised. In that organization, you cannot nominate your own family. They took it upon themselves to award that to my mother and when they did I broke down in tears. I really believe that it was my mom who was the spearhead and the drive that put us where we are right now. ”

(FD) Without getting too personal, what about your father?

“My father was a professional boxer and wrestler and he decided to do his own thing.”

(FD) Did you try to get his attention or approval through martial arts?

“No, not at all. My mom was the one who put my brother Rueben into wrestling and judo. He was the first one to train, but my Brother Arnold was the first one to start training in the martial art of Kenpo. It was my mom who was behind it all. We owe a lot to my mom. My mom always said, stay close and be a united family no matter what happens, even if you don’t see each other, stay close. To this day, that’s how we are. We kept my mom’s word. ”

(FD) I want to thank you for sharing this information with us today. It shows why you all turned out the way you did and the importance of family and the values a family holds.

“I’m very humbled by this interview and being included in Legends and Legacies. I don’t expect these honors. When they come my way, I feel that it’s doors opening and it’s [justification for] paying my dues. I want to thank you, Frank.

(FD) Well it’s an honor for me. There are a lot of people who are in the shadows and who do the heavy lifting, and you are one of those people.

(GR) What message would you like to leave to future generations?

“The message that I’d like to leave is to really, really look deep into your hearts in regards to what you’ve been taught from your masters and look into their masters and how THEY were taught all the way down the line to the family branch.

Look at the way they were taught and look at where you’re at right now. The main things I want to leave with you are Honor, Respect, discipline and most of all Life and how you carry yourself in the martial arts. Most of all, be a mentor to those that are underneath you as white belts, yellow belts, purple belts, as you are a shodan, because, you are a mentor. As you are black belts, remember that you want your students to be better than you. So that, one-day, they can teach you something. By you allowing them to be better than you, then you become a greater master in regards to the martial arts. That way, you’ve done your job in becoming a mentor. We don’t change personalities in students. We build character upon them to be good community leaders in the world and in their communities.”

(GR) What did you have when you started martial arts that you didn’t know you had? Or, what did you learn that you had, after you studied for a while?

“What I learned was that I didn’t have discipline. Because I didn’t want to train, I was always hiding and climbing up trees. They would always be looking for me. To me it was just “a thing.” I was the youngest one in the family, but as I continued training with my brothers in the way they taught me (very hard) I began to see that they had a purpose in my life for me. They saw something in me that I didn’t see, but now I see it. They wanted the family legacy to keep going, not die out, to keep getting stronger.” It means so much to me, in regards to what I’ve learned and where I’m at now, that I’m still learning.”

(GR) What did you contribute that was not there before?

“What I contribute that was not there before, that’s a very hard question, a very good question. In the beginning it was all about myself, trying to be as good as my brothers or trying to prove that I could be someone, but, it was never about that. It was about character. My brothers saw qualities in me. What I see now with my students and the people that I’m affiliated with, what I contribute with my students is that I want them to grow in the martial arts. I want my students to have respect for themselves. I want them to have honor. I want them to have good grades. They conduct themselves with respectful manners. I have senseis who go to the supermarket and they know my students and my students don’t know that these teachers know me, and these senseis say, your students behave so well. That to me is a lot. That’s my contribution, instilling in them {martial arts principles], instilling in them the five principles of what life is all about.

(GR) What do you think is good about the MMA?

“The training is very good. Their mentality is good. I like the way they have different disciplines compete against each other. To me the MMA could be something so big, but these MMA competitors only touch the [tip of the iceberg of] what martial arts is really all about in regards to techniques. MMA is Mixed Martial Arts. I’m going to mention my brother Benny. You might consider him a Mixed Martial Artist, but if you were to go against him in MMA, I’m sorry, but he’d break your bones. It’s not going to [be the way you would expect]. If we [martial arts senseis] could be involved with MMA and teach them [competitors] the mentality that begins our disciplines, what’s in our hearts and our minds, it would open their eyes and the MMA would be stronger and better. I’m not saying that it’s bad. It’s a good sport, but at the same time that’s the way I look at it, as a sport.”

(GR) What message would you like to give to martial artists and those interested in finding out more about martial arts, what advice would you give about finding an instructor or about what to expect in their training?

“There’s still a lot of us out there who teach Old School. I’m still active. I’m 55 years old. I still teach. People think that if you are interviewed by Legends and Legacies that you aren’t teaching anymore, that we’re over the hill. That’s not so. I’m here teaching until the day I die. What I want to give to the students or to those who are interested in the arts is to carry on with the art. We’re not going away. You just need to look for the right instructor, and remember there are instructors and there are teachers and there are senseis. Which one do you want to train under? An instructor will just give you instructions on how to [learn] and give you techniques, but they might not explain anything. A teacher will actually teach you and tell you what the impact of a strike or a block is. A sensei will teach you a way of life and give you the impact of a strike, or a block and what those things mean here in the heart. That’s why I’m here to stay.

(GR) Is there anything that you didn’t get a chance to talk about in the last two interviews?

In the last two interviews I neglected to say that I want to thank the Lord for gifting me this path and my talents. I want to be able to use this art to instill [the desire for spiritual discovery] in others I’m not saying I expect my students to become Christians or to go to church. That’s my own beliefs. That’s who I am. You respect me for who I am and what I believe and I’ll respect you for what you believe.

It is an honor for me that you’ve chosen me to be in Legends and Legacies. It’s not about stopping in martial arts. You have to put your heart into it. You can have all the weapons, but not have your heart into it, then it’s not going to be any good.

I also want to pass on, officially, the torch of Kenpo Shotokan to my son, Adam Abraham, who has been training with me and stays even further in the background than I have.

The following simple resume was submitted by Alfred Urquidez:

Shihan Alfred Urquidez–Master teacher 5th & 6th degree Black Belts Kenpo-Shotokan.

Officially acknowledged holding rank in Kajukenbo.

To whom it may concern, with respect I submit the following as my resume:

  • 45 years in the Martial Arts, 36 years as a black belt in Kenpo-Shotokan
  • 15 years of Kick-boxing with my family, Urquidez brothers and sister
  • 1978 – 1985 Served in the Marine Corp, Achieved the rank of Sergeant
  • 1998 – 2001 : Royal Rangers, Title – Sectional Commander of San Fernando Valley,

Duties:

  • To encourage children and adults to become productive citizens in the community, through martial arts training building self-esteem and confidence.
  • 1998 – Present: ” Spiritual Wellness” Kenpo-Shotokan School Over 100 students training under my teaching. Through the Martial Arts we have worked to perfect a curriculum that helps each person individually to strive for a well balanced mental, physical spiritual life with an understanding of integrity, honor and wisdom.

Commendations:

  • 2002 – Outstanding contributions and support in the Martial Arts from the U.S. Open Karate Federation.
  • 2002 – Best supporting Martial Arts School – Norwalk Sheriff Activity League.
  • 2003 – Outstanding best supporting school overall ( 25 school participation )
  • 2003 – Inducted into the Masters Hall of Fame – “Most outstanding contributions to the Martial Arts”
  • 2003 – Appointed board member to the Executive Board of the Masters Hall of Fame
  • 2004 – Appointed executive council to Ambassadors Masters Hall of Fame

Personal friends and associations:

  • Arnold Urquidez, 10th degree black belt
  • Ruben Urquidez, 10th degree black belt.
  • Lily Rodriguez, 10th degree black belt. Kick boxing champ.
  • Benny Urquidez, 10th degree black belt. World champ Kick Boxing.
  • Ed Parker, 10th degree black belt.
  • Chuck Norris, 10th degree black belt.
  • Blinky Rodriguez, Kick boxing champ, Gang community liaison.
  • Many more…

PERSONAL MISSION STATEMENT:

  • I believe that through the Martial Arts training, people of any age and color, of either gender or economic status can learn to face life’s challenges, physical, mental and spiritual. They can become strong individuals based on commitment, hard work, honesty, and integrity. They will learn the art of adaptability and redirecting the negative to the positive in their world making a difference in the community.

Conclusion:

Together with the guidance and support of my brothers Arnold, Benny and Ruben, “Spiritual Wellness” and the school of Kenpo-Shotokan can make a difference in our society.

Alfred Urquidez teaches at the same dojo that he has for 14 years, in the old building at The First Arleta Assembly of God, at 9757 Arleta Ave., Arleta, California 91331 with the blessing of Pastors Al Meza and Sammy Vasquez. He is also on Facebook.

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