Donald Hugh Nagle

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Don Nagle
Portrait from the Isshinryu Hall Of Fame
Born(1938-04-05)April 5, 1938
Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedAugust 23, 1999(1999-08-23) (aged 61)
Cardiac arrest
Other names"Laughing Red Devil", "Donald Hugh Nagle"
ResidenceJersey City & Belmar, NJ
StyleIsshin-Ryu Karate
Teacher(s)Tatsuo Shimabuku
Rankjū-dan (十段:じゅうだん): tenth degree black belt
SpouseAnnette Nagle
ChildrenMichelle Nagle & Sean Nagle
Notable studentsOfficial Student Listing
Notable school(s)Don Nagle's Isshinryu
371 Central Avenue
Jersey City, NJ

Donald Nagle was an American karate pioneer, Grand Master Of Isshinryu Karate, and "Living Legend" from New Jersey.


Donald Hugh Nagle, born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on April 5, 1938, had four sisters and four brothers.

As a teenager he began his 1st study of the martial arts taking lessons in Goju-Ryu Karate. He enlisted with the United States Marine Corps at age 17 and completed his training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC. on December 3, 1955. He then went on to Infantry Combat Training at Camp Lejeune. His Military MOS 0121 was Personnel Clerk. He was stationed on Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands off the coast of Japan. He was eventually stationed with the 3rd Marine Division at Camp Courtney and later he was transferred to another company, serving on Okinawa from July 12, 1956, to September 9, 1957. While with the Marines, he was temporarily assigned to the All Marine Judo Team stationed at Camp Lejeune. While on Okinawa, he began to study Isshin-ryu Karate with founder Tatsuo Shimabuku in approximately February 1957 at the Kyan (pronounced Chan) Village dojo and continued until he left the Island in September 1957.[1]

While training with Shimabuku, he won the All Okinawan Karate Championships as a white belt besting the islands best black belts. 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 because of his fighting attitude and spirit and because due to the intense heat and sun, his skin color turned red.

Upon leaving Okinawa in 1957, 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., thus becoming 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.[2]

Upon 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 Shimabuku from Okinawa. In 1964 Shimabuku visited Pittsburgh and Nagle visited and trained with him during his visit. Nagle hosted Shimabuku in 1966 at which time he was promoted to 8th-degree black belt on December 15. 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.[3]

Nagle became a police officer in 1967 and was awarded a policemen-of-the-year award in 1970 and later went on to become a narcotics detective in 1977. The Black Panthers, a notorious gang of killers, were a plague to Jersey City and other cities and Don Nagle was almost single-handedly responsible for driving them out of town.[citation needed] In an outdoor ceremony, he was later awarded the Medal of Honor by the mayor of Jersey City. During his tenure as a police officer and detective, he taught hand-to-hand combat for the department as well.

Joel Buchholtz, a student and business partner of Nagle, opened a dojo 1st on 22nd St. in Bayonne, New Jersey, and later at 412 Broadway in Bayonne, NJ, in 1967. As 1973 approached, Don Nagle's Jersey City dojo was moved to 371 Central Ave., 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.[4] 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. 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 they 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 when he ran for Sheriff of Hudson County, New Jersey, in June 1989. Great Karate Inspirations was a video released in 1994 and featured some of the premier martial-arts masters of the day; Don Nagle was filmed demonstrating his skills as well as skills 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 1967. After he retired in the late 1990s, he was appointed to the US Marshall's service in the security division; this 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, and Ron Duncan to name a few.[5] 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, Dennis Hoare, and Brian Fitzgerald. 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 Fournier. Nagle died on August 23, 1999, a day after heart surgery at the age 61.[6] Dennis Hoare continues to run Nagle's Isshinryu Karate Association in Jersey City, NJ.[7]

Accomplishments and contributions[edit]

  • 1957 – Won "All Okinawan Karate Championship" as a white belt.
  • 1957 – Opened First Isshinryu Karate Dojo in the United States.
  • 1958 – Formed first Isshinryu Karate Association in the World "Isshando Karate Association – IKA".
  • 1967 – Registered AOKA Trade Name In America.
  • 1972 – Recognized as a "Living Legend" "Official Karate June 1972".
  • 1974 – Promoted the "Karate Men" toy at the New York City Toy Show
  • 1987 – First "American" 10th Degree Black Belt in the style of Isshinryu.
  • 1991 – Formed the "United Isshinryu Karate Federation" to help unite Isshinryu Style.
  • 1994 – Featured in the video "Great Karate Inspirations".
  • 1996 – Formed the "Grand Master Don Nagle American Okinawan Karate Association, Inc."
  • 1997 – Held the 1st Don Nagle AOKA Hall of Fame Awards Banquet.
  • 1998 – Appointed to US Marshall Service


  1. ^ Staff. "East West students travel to the Far East to train" Archived 2012-03-19 at the Wayback Machine, Sparta Independent, December 23, 2008. Accessed September 8, 2011. "In the mid 1950s, a young Marine from Jersey City named Don Nagle was stationed in Okinawa. He trained under the legendary karate Tatsuo Shimabuku, the founder of Isshinryu karate."
  2. ^ "Deadly Marine Holds Second Highest Degree in Karate Art". The Camp Lejeune Globe. November 27, 1958. Archived from the original on March 6, 2012. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  3. ^ Weiss, Al. "Personal Profile: Don Nagel, Karates Living Legend". Official Karate. Archived from the original on March 6, 2012. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  4. ^ Rosenberg, Steve (April 27, 1996). "The Karate King". The Weekend Jersey Journal. Archived from the original on March 6, 2012. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Donald Nagle, 61; detective, ex-U.S. Marshal, Karate Champ". Archived from the original on March 6, 2012. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  7. ^ Weiss, Al. "Personal Profile: Don Nagel, Karates Living Legend". Official Karate. Archived from the original on March 6, 2012. Retrieved September 17, 2012.

External links[edit]