Legend In His Own Time”
Master Donald Hugh Nagle
On August 23, 1999 my Sensei, Don Nagle passed from our presence, to a better place. I would say that he went to a place where you win all of your matches, but he did that while he was amongst us. It is now five years since he trod the decks with us, correcting, teaching, showing you a better way, the consummate Sensei. When I started Isshin-ryu, someone informed me that Sensei meant “Learned One.” That ability to teach was placed within him through the osmosis of demonstration and dogged repetition, by Tatsuo Shimabuku, The Soke of Isshin-ryu. That knowledge became an instinctive recognition of the Soke’s philosophy for Isshin-ryu, “The Art” with every thought, gesture and move inherent in his mind, body and soul. He became the epitome of ‘The One Heart Way,” inspiring a new generation of fighters and teachers. No one in the United States produced more true professional mentors for the future of Isshin-ryu, in America. The list of Masters he taught, who fought their way up through the ranks, to be recognized as the United States most prolific fighters and instructors reads, “Like a Who’s Who of Karate,” as Official Karate stated, on several occasions. Quoting Mr. Al Weiss, editor and founder of Official Karate, from the Book, “The Official History of Karate in America,” he said of the Master, “A fearsome fighter (considered the best in the country by many), an incredibly talented Sensei and an awe inspiring technician, Nagle was to produce a list of Black Belts that read like a who’s who in the martial arts. Ed McGrath, James Chapman, Gary Alexander, Lou Lizzotte, Donald Bohan, Ralph Chirico, Joel Bucholtz and Robert Murphy represent just a tiny sampling of the Isshin-ryu greats that have blossomed under the expert instruction of Don Nagle.
That is how the karate world felt about our Master.
The opinion of his students was even more awe inspired, for it was his students
who watched him perform and teach kata, with blinding speed and accuracy.
Fighting him was a dual sensation of pride that you were on the deck, showing
him what you had, but knowing that in the end, he would overcome anything you
accomplished. You could not win, because you were performing what he had taught
you, while he was as instinctive as a jungle leopard tearing away your defense
with his speed, feints and devastating offense.
Beyond that, he wanted his students to succeed and
forced them toward that goal, like a fiery Guardian Angel, who would allow only
your very best effort. If it wasn’t given whole-heartedly, you paid for that
transgression immediately and painfully. We may have feared him to greater or
lesser extents, depending on your own character, but you were pleasured and
proud to be known as a student of Sensei Don Nagle, the greatest fighter I have
ever seen. I have mentioned this previously in an article in Official Karate,
when asked what I learned by fighting him so often, I said, “Nothing. It all
happened too fast, to know how or what he hit me with.” I learned by watching
him tear other fighters to ribbons. It was like being in the middle of a
hurricane. There will never be another like him, since he came to embody Isshin-ryu,
he eventually became Isshin-ryu and Tatsuo Shimabuku knew what he had, in this
unique man. I know that we all miss him, but in a way, he will always be with
us, watching us and hoping that we do our very best. Don’t disappoint him. On
the anniversary, say a little prayer for our teacher and great friend.