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Dr Don McNatt – 1st Level Wing Chun Instructor

Don McNatt

7th Dan Shotokan Okinawa Karate Grandmaster and U.S.A. International Black Belt Hall of Fame counsel member Dr Don McNatt started his training in 1950 in boxing at the local boys club here in Lakeland, Florida for 6 years.

My first exposure to karate training started in 1956 in Lakeland Florida at Florida Southern College. I had continued boxing until I met a Judo instructor in 1956. I was so fascinated with Judo and because of my intense dedication to training I obtained the rank of shodan in March 1960. My first exposure to karate was in 1958, while training with several judokas in a college gym. A Filipino student of the college stopped by and stated he had trained in Okinawa in Goju Karate. We asked him to demonstrate techniques and forms for us.

He performed a few punching, kicking and striking techniques was well as a kata. I was convinced that karate was the ultimate fighting art and was able to convince him to teach me the basics for the next several years.

One of the Judo students I was training with at the time was a Florida Southern College student and when ever we would train in the Gym in Florida Southern College a Okinawan Goju Karate Instructor had classes. He stopped us one day when we were going in to train and told us he was a Okinawan Goju Karate student (brown belt) so he offered to teach us what he knew. We had Judo classes and when available Okinawan Goju Karate (in 1956) at the Florida Southern College under the Okinawan Goju Karate instructor Chico Ruiz who was Filipino. For the next several years we essentially learned the basics of Okinawan Goju Karate. Upon my graduation from high school in 1960 I joined the United States Marine Corp. in the hopes to learn from the original Okinawan Karate Master’s and Grandmasters in Japan.

January 1961 landed me in Atsugi, Japan. I immediately began searching for a karate instructor and found Sensei Fumio Nagaoka in Yokohama where my training began in Shin Kage Ryu Jujitsu and Shotokan Karate. Fortunately, I was able to train five days a week. My skill levels increased daily. Nakaoka sensei promoted me to shodan in Shin Kage Ryu Jujitsu in December 1961.

January 1962 saw me transferred to Iwakuni, Japan, approximately thirty-five miles East of Hiroshima. Wado Karate was the only style of karate in the area, so I began training with them nightly. I moved through the ranks because of my previous training. However, because of my dissatisfaction with the instructor and my prior Shotokan training I sought the Japan Karate Association for an instructor. Sensei Hitoshi Akiyama, godan, at that time, was sent to Iwakuni as the instructor.

Under Sensei Akiyama instruction, we developed a strong group of karateka’s. I was captain of the first team of foreigners to participate in the 1963All Japan Karate Team Championship tournament in Tokyo. Although we did not win the overall championship we were able to defeat some strong universities teams. Our performance caught the attention of may of the universities teams and allowed us the opportunity to train and compete with many of them at other events.

In the fall of 1963, I was the only foreigner to compete in the JKA tournament in Fukuoka. I was fortunate to train with and under some of JKA’s greats such as M. Nakayama, H. Akiyama and became personal friends with K. Enoeda, Y. Yaguchi, T. Mikami, H. Shirai and the list goes on. In August 1963 I was promoted to nidan under the JKA. Being the second foreigner to obtain this rank.

I returned to Florida in 1964 and opened my own dojo. Shortly afterward, I was elected to a vice president and chief instructor of the Florida Karate Association. During this time, I became active in state and national karate tournaments primarily in the officiating capacity.

I was instrumental in bringing T. Okazaki to Florida several times a year. I attempted to have K. Enoeda as a permanent instructor based in Florida, unfortunately, that did not work out and ended up with Ueki coming here for a year. He was an excellent technician and provided superb instruction. His desire was to return to Japan to participate in the championship tournament. He won the kumite championship upon his return to Japan.

In 1966 I was promoted to Sandan by T. Okazaki, shortly after Nakayama’s visit to my dojo in Lakeland.

Mike Foster, Yoshukai Karate, and I began training together (1966) and I joined his organization – Yoshukai International. I remained with this organization until 1976 and obtained the rank of godan. At times, I instructed at their annual training camp in St. Leo, FL.

I realigned with Shotokan (1976) and obtained the rank of yondan 1978 and godan in 1985.

During the 35 years that I instructed at the Lakeland Karate Dojo, there was on world cup winner, fourteen national champions and untold numbers of state and local champions developed there, as well as over 10,000 students training there over the years. Many went onto successful professional careers beyond karate.

I became involved with Wado Karate again in 1996. Because my employment required me to travel, I turned my dojo over to a Wado-ryu instructor. I obtained the rank of godan in Wado Karate from Sensei Tatsao Suzuki. I have known him for fifteen years since he made an annual trip to Lakeland from England to hold a training camp here.

When I was training in Japan it was early on, the instructors were very intense in training and really expected you to put a lot of efforts in it. I don’t really have toe nails anymore because of the training, my hands are extremely conditioned and my bones are conditioned. Typically the competitions you see here in the United States are sights of athleticism and gymnastics and not the kime (focused fighting energy). All of these back flips and other stunts they do is not martial arts and is not Karate. I have never ever seen that in any martial arts until I came to open tournaments professing real karate or true karate. I have seen these tournaments and just walk out as a 7th Dan I tell you that these tournaments are not Karate and are just an empty shell. I couldn’t tell you how many people in the United States have real Okinawan Karate but 90% don’t but there are a good hand full that do. Unfortunately many karate instructors really think they know real Karate but they don’t, they have been hood winked. If you want real karate you have to look hard and you will find it, it is powerful but you have to go through the salesmen and phonies first.

I am a member in the International Ryukyu Karate-Jutsu Research Society which brings like minded learners together to study karate’s origins, ethos and tactical strategies.

Other martial arts that I have been involved in is Arnis. My instructor was Fred Lazo, who has over sixty years of experience in the art, and Southern Style Praying Mantis under Sifu Roger Hagood. I trained in Southern Praying Mantis in Decatur, Alabama under Sifu Roger Haygood. I was going by his school and I saw Kung Fu on his door, there were no other schools in the area so I stopped by. I had been training in original Okinawan and Japanese Karate for over forty years when I met him and during our first sparring match he spanked me. My punches were trapped, my kicks were shut down and he swept me and dropped me to the ground easily. He would stab my nose repeatedly until the point was bleeding to show me that he could easily poke out my eyes at any time. After this match he opened my eyes to Kung Fu and after 40 years of original Okinawan and Japanese Martial Art training I knew I wanted to empty my cup and start training. I bowed to Sifu Roger Haygood and asked him if he would accept me as his student for as long as my contract in the area lasted. Unfortunately, I was only there for 6 months because my contract ended but he was an excellent instructor in Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu and has since moved to China where he now lives. Our friendship lives on even today at the age of 71 I find him to be a great friend, and mentor.

I was inducted into the Eastern USA International Martial Arts Hall of Fame in November 2004. I am a State of Florida representative and also on the executive advisory committee.

In 2008 I went searching online and found Sifu Och Wing Chun in Lakeland, Florida. I couldn’t believe it a Wing Chun Kung Fu place in Polk County, right here in Lakeland Florida. I met Sifu Och and at that time I was late 67 years old and after sparring with Sifu Och he handled me, trapped me and I don’t know how but he tied me up, it felt like he had octopus hands, they were everywhere. With Karate people I never had a problem but under these Kung Fu guys I was in trouble. So I decided after the first night with Sifu Och to train and join his school, he had what I was searching for. I started training in Wing Chun Kung Fu in 2008 under Sifu Justin Och. I find this self-defense a fascinating martial art and plan to continue training in it for as long as I live.

Dr. Don McNatt
State of Florida representative for Okinawa and Japanese Karate
Eastern USA International Martial Arts Hall Executive Advisor
7th Dan Shotokan Okinawa Karate Grandmaster
1st Level Wing Chun Kung Fu Instructor