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Tributes to Past Masters

Sensei Don Bohan



Don Bohan was a retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. with 21 years in service to his country in the United States Marine Corps. With three tours in the Republic of Vietnam, this puts this battle hardened Leatherneck in a class that few others in the martial arts will ever attain. In this day and age of want-to-be's, claiming to be martial arts warriors or make-believe-champions in their own minds there are few who stand out as true martial arts Masters. Bohan epitomizes the true essence of what the martial arts are about. He was not only a large powerful man in size but in mind and spirit. He was always unselfishly giving much of his time and knowledge to those who asked. When he did not know the answer, as all good Marines know, you get the answer instead of making it up as so many do.

      I first met Bohan in 1959 when he and another student first came to the Agena, Okinawa dojo. They had a letter of introduction from their sensei, Mr. Don Nagle. I was sitting next to Sensei Shimabuku when they came in and presented the letter to him. Because Tatsuo could not read English, he handed the letter to me and said "Advincula-San, you read." The letter was brief and stated that both were good green belt students and would Tatsuo please teach them. After reading the letter and explaining the letter to him in broken Japanese and English or Pidgin English, Tatsuo nodded acknowledging he understood.

Don Bohan Sensei

     The reason I remember this is because it was the first time Sensei Shimabuku asked me to read something for him. The other green belt came a few times to the dojo to workout but soon quit, but Bohan stayed making black belt before he left Okinawa in 1960.

     Since 1960, I never saw or talked to Bohan until about  five or six years ago when one of his students, Mr. Carl Mangione, in North Carolina called me with a three way conference-call set up for the three of us to speak to each other. We talked about old times and about how we met at Tatsuo's dojo. He remembered our first meeting and continued to call once in a while to ask me questions about Isshin-ryu. He wasn't afraid to ask when he didn't know the answer. That was Bohan.

     Throughout the years I heard many good things about Bohan in the martial arts magazines and through others. In all the years, I never heard anyone say anything negative about him. That was Bohan! In this day and age with everyone trying to be top dog and cutting each other down it says it al1 about this man , for I never ever heard him say anything negative about anyone. That was Bohan!

    On one occasion Bohan asked me to talk to someone who was trying to interview me. For a couple of weeks I would not answer my monitored phone when this person called. I told Bohan that I talked to this person before and he never believed me then, so I wasn't going to talk to him again. Bohan asked me to do him a favor explaining that the person was inexperienced but was trying to do his best so please try to help him. The next time the person called I talked to him and he didn't believe me again. So what's the story you say, the story is Bohan was right, he said at least try to help him. Bohan always tried to assist anyone who asked. That was Bohan.

     In 1995 we met for the first time since 1960 in Detroit, Michigan at Willie Adams dojo where I conducted a seminar for their dojo. Again we reminisced about our time on Okinawa and Tatsuo Shimabuku. Bohan and Adams both out rank me and some told me their was some disagreement in having me teach, but others told me Bohan had no problems and considered me an equal because we trained together with Tatsuo. Bohan was also one of only two of Tatsuo's senior Students who have ever given me credit for my knowledge of Isshin-ryu. He didn't care what others said. That was Bohan.

     Bohan first started learning karate from Don Nagle in Camp Lejeune, N.C. in 1958. He went to Okinawa and studied with Isshin-ryu founder Tatsuo Shimabuku in 1959 until he left in 1960. Throughout the years he also studied Bando from Maung Gyi. His Marine Corps overseas tours of duties brought him to Okinawa, Cuba and three times to Vietnam.

     His own students are friends can tell you more about him then I can for all I can say is that he wasn't a talker, he was a doer. Isshin-ryu, our system means "One heart way" or "wholehearted-way." Wholehearted means to do with earnest; be sincere; hearty, cordial and this is the true spirit of Isshin-ryu. In this department he was in a class of his own. That was Bohan.

     For me, this best describes the Marine or dojo classmate I knew and trained with in the Agena dojo on Okinawa in 1959 and 1960. Many knew him as "Papa san," I knew him as Bohan, that is the Marine way, We didn't talk to each other a lot, but I think we knew each other better than most. We had a comradeship that only career Marines will ever know. I'll miss you Bohan, tell Dan Daly, Smedley Butler and Chesty Puller at Tun Tavern tell them Semper fi, and when you see Tatsuo you sure won't need a letter of introduction.

My condolences to Bohan, friends and family.         


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