The Daily Rambling Artist: The Cuneo Gauntlet: A Summer Battle For Personal Growth

The Daily Rambling Artist: The Cuneo Gauntlet: A Summer Battle For Personal Growth

It was freshman year in high school, and I found myself in an entirely new environment. As I found my way to Physical Science class, I settled into a seat. The teacher, Mr. Cuneo, a towering figure well over six feet, commanded immediate attention with his presence.

When the bell rang, Mr. Cuneo's unexpected words reverberated through the room, "Sit down, shut the f**k up." The stunned expressions on my classmates' faces mirrored my own as we sat in stunned silence and hidden laughter.

As the days progressed, Mr. Cuneo quickly became my favorite. I have always yearned to be productive, engaging my restless mind—a trait that continues to persist to this day. As a result, the time after school was particularly challenging for me, as I had to wait for my ride. In the search to fill this time, I stumbled upon Cuneo's Tae Kwon Do class practicing outside one day.

I inquired with Mr. Cuneo after class. "Come through," he said. The rigorous classes lasted from 3:15 to 5:00, three days a week. At the end of my first class, I found myself exhausted; it was an intense workout. "You showing up on Wednesday? Or have you had enough?" asked Cuneo, his imposing figure towering over me as I caught my breath. "See you Wednesday," I replied.

This Tae Kwon Do class evolved into a profound ritual in my life, embedding a lasting self-discipline that continues to shape my demeanor to this day. At the end of Freshman year, there was a persistent chorus among the students that Mr. Cuneo should organize a summer class. I was enthusiastic about the idea, and I eagerly anticipated its arrival.

I showed up, bright and early, on the first day, and there I stood, alone in the class. I could feel that he was displeased by the lack of attendance. We went through our regular training, but it was evident he was pushing us harder than usual. He always did the workouts with us, exemplifying true leadership. I still admire that trait in him today. 

Abruptly, we reached a moment when he declared, “Alright, sparring pads on.” Initially, I assumed this was for target practice. But then he instructed, “Bow to each other,” and in that moment, it dawned on me—I was about to spar Mr. Cuneo in this empty auditorium. I believe I've painted a vivid enough picture of this legendary figure to convey the notion that he emanated an intimidating aura. I was definitely intimidated.

To my surprise, I was able to hold my ground. The intensity of the moment was palpable, as he showed no restraint whatsoever. At one point, I unleashed a kick that struck him squarely in the ribs. The resulting grimace and sound he made were unforgettable, and he retaliated with a barrage of furious kicks. Miraculously, I survived the encounter and lived to recount the tale, a fact for which I remain deeply grateful to this day.

For the most part, I remained the sole student for most of the summer with a few cameos of other students sprinkled here and there. Mr. Cuneo and I pretty much spent the summer beating the crap out of each other. He ensured I got my receipt for the knock in the ribs. The kick he landed on my forehead still rattles me to this day. At summer’s end, I was very thankful because, after surviving the intimidating giant’s sparring sessions, there wasn't much I was afraid of in life going forward, and I was definitely a stronger person for having shown up.

-Sergio Santos