Grand Master Don Nagle
10th Dan
Founder Of The A.O.K.A.

On April 5, 1938 Don Nagle was born in Jersey City, New Jersey; he was a part of a large family which included eight siblings. His first exposure to the martial arts was when he studied Goju-Ryu Karate in a dojo in lower Manhattan when he was16 (Nagle). When he turned 17, he joined the Marine Corps and did his training at Paris Island, South Carolina and then at Camp Lejeune. After Marine training, Nagle was stationed on Okinawa and attached to the 3rd Marine Division (Military Wikia).

Nagle was asked in a personal interview why he sought out Master Shimabuku. Nagle said he did not. Nagle explained that he saw a person dressed in karate pants and asked him if he knew a good karate dojo (Nagle). The person gave him directions to the Chun Village. Nagle followed the directions, first taking a bus and then wading through a rice paddy to reach the dojo. Nagle remembers his first sight of Master Shimabuku; he was sitting among two students (Nagle). In 1955 he began studying Isshin-Ryu Karate with Master Tatsuo Shimabuku. Nagle trained at the Chun Village Dojo in Shimabuku’s yard. The cost of training was $5.00 dollars a month which sounds ridiculously cheap until you realize that Nagle was only paid $83.20 a month by the Marines (Nagle).

 Under Master Shimabuku’s tutelage, Nagle won the All Okinawan Championship. This was quite an accomplishment, since Nagle was only a White Belt at the time. He first defeated the Green Belt Champion and then the Black Belt (Nagle). After Nagle’s victory at the Championship Tournament, Shimabuku promoted Nagle to the rank of Sho-Dan and awarded him his personal Obi. Nagle did not understand that this was a great honor. Back then, he was not interested in the traditions; he just wanted to learn karate, but later he followed this tradition by awarding a promising student with his personal obi (Nagle). It was at this championship that Nagle was given the nickname, “The Laughing Red Devil” because he was a furious fighter who had very noticeable red sunburned skin due to the hot Okinawan climate (Military Wikia).

Before Nagle left Okinawa in 1957, he was promoted to fourth Dan (Isshinryu). He returned to Camp Lejeune where he served for a short while on the All Marine Judo Team (Military Wikia).

After that, he was stationed at Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. He did not intend to continue teaching karate (Nagle). He was walking down the street and walked into a Judo Dojo. There he met Ernie Cates who was a 6th degree Black Belt in Judo and an 8-time future all Marine Judo Champion. They became partners at the dojo at 220 N. Bridge St. in Jacksonville, North Carolina. This dojo is very significant to Isshin-Ryu history because it was the first Isshin-Ryu Dojo in the United States (Isshinryu).

Nagle was discharged from the Marines in 1959 and returned to his home to Jersey City where he taught Isshin-Ryu at the YMCA, which did not charge him a fee to use their facilities. At the YMCA he had 50 or 60 students. He used the same training methods that he learned from Shimabuku (Nagle). Nagle remembers the dojo as being a hard school were you either blocked well or you got hit (Nagle).

Later he opened his own dojo at 524 Mercer Street and then moved to Bayonne, New Jersey where he went into partnership with Joel Buchholtz. Ultimately, he moved the dojo back to Jersey City. Nagle also played a part in the formation of the first Isshin-Ryu Karate association in the U.S. as the IKA (Isshando Karate Association) was created in 1958 (Military Wikia).

 When Shimabuku made his first trip to the United States in 1964, Nagle traveled to Pittsburgh to train with his old instructor. Two years after that in December, Shimabuku visited Nagle in New Jersey. Upon getting off the plane, Shimabuku looked at Nagle and said, “No change” asking Nagle if he was still teaching the Isshin-Ryu that Shimabuku taught him. Nagle assured his master that he was. During this trip Shimabuku tested Nagle and promoted him to 8th degree Black Belt (Nagle).

For many years, Nagle served as a New Jersey police detective and hand-to-hand combat trainer. He was awarded the police department Medal of Honor for his efforts to rid New Jersey of the Black Panther gang (Military Wikia).

By 1979 Nagle had gained such fame in the karate world that he was asked to promote the first karate action figures, Karate Men, at the annual New York City toy show (Military Wikia).

The I.I.K.A. promoted Nagle to 9th degree black belt in 1984.  He was awarded the rank of 10th degree in 1987. He founded the United Isshinryu Association in 1991 and reformed the American Okinawan Karate Association. Mr. Nagle knew many famous martial artists such as Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and others. He trained many notable black belts such as Ed McGrath. Gary Alexander, Joel Buchholtz, and Nick Adler (Military Wikia). In his 20’s he was known as the “Deadliest Marine” and for many years he was the undefeated North American Champion (Nagle).

Don Nagle retired from teaching karate in the early 1990’s and appointed his senior student, Ed McGrath as his successor. McGrath became famous, in his own right, for being in a 1970’s TV commercial, but only his hands were filmed in the Hai Karate After Shave ad (Military Wikia).

Don Nagle died from cardiac arrest on August 23,1999 one day after he underway heart surgery. He was 61 years old.

Don Nagle should be remembered as a true pioneer of Isshin-Ryu Karate as he was the first marine to study with Master Simabuku, the first one to open an Isshin-Ryu Dojo in the U.S., and thus the first one to start the spread of Isshin-Ryu across the United States.


Works Cited

"Donald Hugh Nagle."  Military Wikia. 2020,

“Don Nagle.” Isshinryu Today remembers Don Nagle Sensei. 9 December 2018,



Evseeff, Donald D. and Milledge Murphey. Isshinryu: The History and Evolution of the    One Heart Way. Glen Bernie Business Center, 1995.

“Hai Karate.”  Hai Karate - vintage TV commercial, YouTube. 17 June, 2007,   “Karate Men. ebay. 1995-2020, .   “Nagle, Don.” 1990 AOKA INC Don Nagle Interview. You Tube. 14 Feb. 2016.       Related Sites   Don Nagle Seisan/Seiunchin/Naihanchi 1970? - YouTube

Don Nagle Sunsu/Sanchin 1970? - YouTube

  1990 AOKA INC Don Nagle Interview