top of page
Don Nagle was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on April 5, 1938. He had four sisters and four brothers. As a teenager he began his 1st study of the martial arts by taking lessons in Goju-Ryu Karate. He enlisted with the United States Marine Corps at the age of 17 and completed his training at Paris Island, SC. on December 3, 1955. He then went on to Infantry Combat Training at Camp Lejeune. He was stationed on Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands off the coast of Japan. His 1st assignment was at the 3rd Marine Division at Camp Courtney and later he was transferred to another company and served from July 11, 1956 to September 9, 1957. While with the Marines he was temporarily assigned to the All Marine Judo Team stationed at Camp Lejeune.
In the fall of 1956, while stationed in Okinawa, he began to study Isshinryu Karate with founder Tatsuo Shimabuku at the Kyan (pronounced Chun) Village dojo and continued until he left the Island in 1957. While training with Master Shimabuku he won the All Okinawan Karate Championships as a white belt, defeating the islands best black belts. Master Shimabuku awarded him his personal Obi upon winning the championships and promoted him to Sho-Dan 1st degree black belt. The "Laughing Red Devil" was a nickname Nagle was given while training on Okinawa for his fighting attitude and spirit and because the intense heat and sun turned his skin the color red.
Upon leaving Okinawa in 1957 Master Shimabuku awarded Nagle his 4th Degree Black Belt. Nagle returned to the states in 1957 and partnered up with then Sgt. Ernie Cates (1st American Awarded 6th Degree Black Belt in Judo by the Kodokan "Judo Authority of Japan" and future 8 time all Marine Judo Champion) at his dojo located at 220 N. Bridge St. Jacksonville, NC. This became the 1st Isshinryu Dojo in the United States. Continuing with another first, the IKA (Isshando Karate Association) was created in 1958 and became the 1st Isshinryu Karate Association in the United States. Nagle's total foreign service time was 1 year 2 months and 14 days according to his DD-214 discharge papers from the Marine Corps.
Upon his discharge from the Corps on September 11, 1959, he returned home to Jersey City and began teaching Isshinryu at the local YMCA and shortly thereafter opened a dojo at 524 Mercer St. Later he received his 5th degree black belt from Master Shimabuku from Okinawa. In 1964 Master Shimabuku visited Pittsburgh where Nagle visited and trained with him. In 1966, Nagle hosted Master Shimabuku and on December 15th of that year, was promoted to the level of 8th Dan. The Manhattan Center became the site for a legendary exhibition match between Peter Urban of Goju Ryu and Don Nagle in 1965. Peter Urban was so impressed with Nagle that he awarded him an honorary Masters Certificate on January 1, 1965.
Nagle became a police officer in 1967 and was awarded the policeman of the year award in 1970. In 1977, he was promoted to detective, narcotics division, in Jersey City.
Joel Buchholtz, a student and business partner of Nagle, opened a dojo first on 22nd St. in Bayonne New Jersey, and later, in 1967, at 412 Broadway in Bayonne. As 1973 approached, Don Nagle's Jersey City dojo was moved to 371 Central Ave., which is its current location.
Official Karate recognized Don Nagle as a "Living Legend" in 1972. Don Nagle's notoriety was so great that he was asked to Promote the first miniaturized version of karate for kids, a toy called "Karate Men", at the Aurora Showroom for the annual toy fair in New York City in 1974.
The IIKA (International Isshinryu Karate Association) promoted Don Nagle to 9th Degree black belt on November 2, 1984. Leadership in the style of Isshinryu became an important issue and on October 17, 1987 in Knoxville, TN, Don Nagle was elected by the highest ranking black belts in Isshinryu, including Lewis Lizzotte and Harold Long, to be awarded 10th Dan. Grand master Nagle received congratulatory letters from NJ Governor Jim Florio, Congressman Guarini and Commandant General of the US Marine Corps Al Gray. Don Nagle gave seminars, including three which were recorded between 1988 and 1992. These were in Detroit Michigan, Cape Coral Florida and Ontario Canada. The United Isshinryu Karate Federation was formed on April 19, 1991 by Don Nagle to help fulfill his mandate to unite Isshinryu Karate.
Nagle had a failed run at politics and ran for Sheriff of Hudson County New Jersey in June 1992. Great Karate Inspirations was a video released in 1994 featuring some of the premier martial arts masters of the day and Don Nagle was filmed demonstrating his skills as well as those of his student, Ed McGrath. Nagle has also been filmed by several students throughout the years demonstrating Isshinryu Karate. Don Nagle reformed his AOKA in 1996 and held his 1st Hall of Fame and awards banquet in September 1997 in Bayonne. Nagle and student Joel Buchholtz had the American Okinawan Karate Association Name Registered in 1997. After he retired in the late 1990s he was appointed to the US Marshall's service in the security division. It was one of his greatest honors in being selected.
During his lifetime he met and knew many notable martial artists including Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Michael DePasquale Sr., S. Henry Cho and Peter Urban, to name a few. His students are a who's who in Karate. Among the more notable students include: Ed McGrath, Gary Alexander, Ralph Chirico, Joel Buchholtz, Dale Jenkins, Nick Adler And Dennis Hoare. He appointed his senior student Edward F. McGrath (The Man whose hands were used for Pfizer's "Hai Karate" ads in the 1960s and who is known as the "Voice of Karate") as his successor. He had two children, Michelle and Sean, and a grandson, Ryan Austin Fournier.
Don Nagle passed away on August 23, 1999, a day after heart surgery at the age 61. Dennis Hoare continues to run Sensei Nagle's Isshinryu Karate Association in Jersey City, at 371 Central Avenue.
Brief History on
bottom of page