Open Doors is a series in which photographer Anna Solo visits the homes and workspaces of fascinating Seacoast people.
More than 20 years ago, at age 26, Portsmouth resident Scott Lombardo was diagnosed with cancer and given a 10-percent chance of surviving. He attributes his survival to practicing karate and to his close relationship with his instructor and mentor, Grand Master Ernie Temple. Now a sixth-degree black belt and very much aware of the hardships of recovery, Lombardo has applied his personal knowledge and experience to helping veterans who often struggle to readjust to the stresses of daily life.
The New Jersey native has now been a Seacoast resident for over 12 years and currently lives in the West End. While he has a full-time job as director of global e-commerce at an audio electronics company, he dedicates his free time to helping former and active military members transition from life on the battlefield to life back home. He accomplishes that with V-MAT (Veteran’s Martial Arts Training), a nonprofit program that provides martial arts instruction to former and active-duty military members, with a focus on veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, or amputations.
“The philosophical aspect of traditional karate, truly knowing that every cell in your body has its own physical, mental, and spiritual capacity to overcome and accept loss, is the path to recovery for anyone that has suffered from a traumatic experience,” Lombardo says.
With many of his students suffering from serious injuries, Lombardo has redesigned the Isshinryu style of karate to suit the needs of amputee and wheelchair-bound students. The lessons he provides, with assistance from fellow instructors, pose both physical and mental challenges that aid in recovery.
Walking into Lombardo’s light-filled dojo, also in the West End, a sign on the door asks guests to “Please Remove Shoes & Ego Before Entering.” The cornerstone of any martial art is respect, says Lombardo. In addition to bowing when entering and leaving the dojo, anyone occupying the space is expected to leave assumptions of superiority outside.
While clean and minimal, the 1,015-square-foot space tells the story of Lombardo’s journey with karate through the years. At the front of the room, between two windows, is a portrait of Grand Master Temple. When entering the dojo, Lombardo bows to him; when practicing, he fixes his gaze on the portrait. On one wall, T-shirts, hoodies, and pants with the V-MAT logo hang among photos of Lombardo with friends and fellow karate students. At the other end of the room, in a small and barely noticeable corner, are three figurines Lombardo brought back from his first trip to Japan, symbolizing the principle of “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”
In Lombardo’s home office, every detail is devoted to his love and appreciation of martial arts. Hanging on the wall above his work station is a painting created by an amputee student from New Jersey, a self-portrait of the artist from a time when he felt he was blind to his abilities in martial arts.
While some of the room’s adornments demonstrate Lombardo’s successes, such as the certificate he received when completing his black belt, the majority are keepsakes from his time studying with his mentor. When Temple lost his own battle with cancer in 2015, Lombardo inherited his uniform and his bo (a long staff weapon used in martial arts).
Several tattoos on his arms serve as homages to the art; on his right arm are the numbers 90-49, written in Temple’s handwriting, which indicate Lombardo was Temple’s 49th student in 1990. The number is laid over the “Temple Family Dojo” Hanko, which is a Japanese signature stamp. On his left arm is “Migami,” the symbol for Isshinryu karate: Migami’s body position represents “Fierce in Battle” (raised fist) and “Gentle in Life” (open palm). Hovering over her is “Tatsuo,” or Dragon Boy, the founder of Isshinryu.
While Lombardo has never personally served in the military, he is the grandson and son of World War I and World War II veterans, respectively. His strong commitment to his country and those who have served it is apparent in his work. Instead of drawing attention to himself and his accomplishments, he chooses to focus on safely and effectively educating his students on the techniques, culture, and philosophy of the art that saved him.