Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Death of an Icon

Shihan Gordon Doversola, passed away on Tuesday April 19, 2011

Shihan Okinawa-te master Gordon Doversola was an American martial arts pioneer, one of the first karate instructors to teach karate in Southern California.

He was born in Honolulu where he began training in ju-jitsu at age 11, and later became a student of Kempo master James Mitose. After mastering Kempo he met famous Okinawa-te master Taiken Nagusuko and became his disciple.

In 1957 he moved to Los Angeles and opened one of the first karate dojos in the city, teaching traditional Okinawa-te karate. A well respected instructor, sensei Doversola taught his art to thousands of students over the years. Among his better known students were Joe Lewis, Bob Wall, Jim Kelly, Martin Kove, Richard Triplett and Glen Hoyen.

Sensei Doversola was among the first karate instructors to choreograph realistic fight scenes for movies and Television.

He was the technical advisor to Frank Sinatra for the film Manchurion Candidate. He passed away on Tuesday April 19, 2011.

The following is a series of e-mail messages that followed Sensei Doversola's death. May he rest in Peace.
(reply to John Corcoran's email about Sensei Doversola's death)
Thanks John Corcoran,

Another of my instructors dies. When it came to pure martial arts, that was my favorite style---it had everything including 36 long forms and all the weapons. Gordon originally had a jujitsu base and he had 56 amateur boxing bouts under his belt. He followed the Rosicrucian's and could read the ethereal auras off people. I met one of his ju-jitsu masters who taught secretly in downtown L.A. many years ago. He loved his heritage and often took me to Pilipino restaurants; he enjoyed blending the Okinawan and his Pilipino weapons together.

The last I heard about a year ago was that his Daughter would not allow anyone to see him at a hospital. I talked to a nurse there and that was it; she told me that he was out of it and didn't recognize anyone.

P.S. Someone misspelled Manchurian. Gordon and Frank Sinatra really hit if off so the story goes. Gordon was perhaps the first in this country to understand martial arts fight scene choreography to work in the film industry.


Joe Lewis

My Factual Responses to some earlier posts on Glenn Mages's Blog about Sensei Doversola:
From: Brian K.

Bruce and Doversola did not particularly care for he each other and they did have something between a fight and a sparring session. Jim Kelly and Joe Lewis told this story saying that Bruce started out winning with his incredible speed. Doversola admitted that he had never seen anyone as fast as Bruce, but that his blows didn’t stop Doversola out right. On Bruce’s third attack Shihan Doversola caught him and laid him down. Both masters were able to walk away…neither being the clear victor. It just goes to show that as great as Bruce was, there were and are others in his league.”

(reply from: Joe Lewis)
Get the truth in your reports---I NEVER told any such “story.” I was the only person on this planet who had Gordon Doversola and Bruce Lee in the same workout floor at the same time---1969, Sherman Oaks Karate Studio. I had them exchange techniques “on me only.” No one showed disrespect to each other and neither of the two exchanged any movements between them. Gordon quit sparring in front of me in 1965 and Bruce Lee never did. I was there, you were not---end of story.

Both of these men were my instructors for a long time----who else on this planet can say this? Neither of them ever challenged another person and nor would either ever lower themselves to accept a childish challenge---it was below their level of dignity.

If you were “not” there, please do us all a favor and keep your mouth shut. Someone, show us the video footage---or else, please---no more gossiping rumors; there is enough nonsense on the Internet.

From: Kuran M.

Then there was another fight that had Shihan Gordon Doversola fighting Lee in a match that several people witnessed.

(reply from: Joe Lewis)
Please Kuran, will you offer us at least ONE creditable witness that can be trusted to prove this statement? I would like the person’s name or his contact access. I do not believe a single one exists. After I had Bruce and Gordon together for the first time ever, I doubt that there would have been any reason for them to come together ever again. Someone please explain for me why this “alleged sparring” incident would have been important for either of my teachers?

Ending Footnotes:

Larry Delano was my sparring partner for a long time. He wasn’t very big, but he was quick and loved to spar with me.

I believe I had a lot to do with teaching my friend, Jim Kelly, his back fist at the Long Beach Tracy Kenpo School back in 1970. At that time, he did not have down the correct principles---he was telegraphing his initial trigger squeeze and he was tight. I am sure Bruce enhanced his skills during the shooting of “Enter the Dragon.” I do not want any credit---I have enough on my own for six life-times.

I agree that both Bruce Lee and Gordon Doversola were “forerunners” of MMA; however, so were dozens of others even before either of them. I would not agree that either of them was THE forerunner. When I trained in Okinawa, all black belts over there had multiple black belts in several disciplines of martial arts---it was required in the old days.

Why is anyone making such a big deal out of this? Is there some significant factor of great importance here? Who cares!

Joe Lewis


  1. i am as always impressed w/ ur vision & memory. martial arts is so full of crap I suspect as it always has been , POSERS. IN the day not so long ago , all were killing arts & bullshit was easy 2 test. I just 2 day took my son pass defensive THAT a little kid would DO . I made him get the bad intentions of finishing a fight. BAD guys don't stop , U stop them. I really like the example u set, thx 4 ur publishing & i hope some day 2 get ur bible, such as it is.. kirk maillet aka lumal.com

  2. Mr Doversola was a long time family friend, he was certainly a character and loved his car collection...anyone who knew him knew his Buick 88 or that Rivera. He often stored his dojo equipment between moves at our garage and as kids we often had fun with the "medicine" ball. I hardly ever look at the obits but when I did and saw his I was touched...he will be missed