In my opinion (based on my experience,) Bruce Lee was not the ‘father’ of mixed martial arts but was certainly a leader in the movement toward popularization of this great sport and art. I’m not a martial arts historian, but ‘mixing’ arts has been around for a long time – before Bruce Lee even became popular.
And if Bruce Lee is the father of MMA, then Shihan Gordon Doversola is Grand Father to Mixed Martial Arts (and Grand Master of Okinawa-Te Karate as well).
Some have mentioned to me about how ‘new’ MMA is. Well, it isn’t really ‘new’ – its just getting more popular and commercialized.
Just research Kajukenbo and “The Black Belt Society” for information that MMA was around for a long time. It is not a new thing.
Well, what is Kajukenbo?
KA – Karate
JU – Judo and JUJITSU
KEN – Kenpo
Bo – Chinese Boxing
When the Gracie’s brought Brazilian Jujitsu into the public eye, people were fascinated. They started to mix striking, shoot fighting, and ground fighting together in order to be a more, well-rounded pit fighter or cage fighter.
I studied, in my opinion, under one of the greatest Mixed Martial Arts instructors of our time: Gordon Doversola – Grand Master (Shihan) of Okinawa-Te Karate. I won’t get into the loose or mythical history of his legendary style, but it was ‘the forerunner’ to MMA!
There are unverified connections that Gordon Doversola was related in some way to Kajukenbo. And in my opinion, the style Shihan Doversola taught was a very aggressive, forward moving (in fighting style as well as “martial artistry”), and refined combat style that still carried martial arts tradition. There was always a ‘warrior’ mentality as an Okinawa-Te Karate (OTK) practitioner.
Gordon Doversola’s “Okinawa-Te Karate” should not be confused with other “Okinawa Karate” styles. Shihan Doversola’s Okinawa-Te Karate is ‘his own’ and not affiliated with any other Okinawan style or organization. I can even go as far as saying, it (OTK) was (and still is) revolutionary. But it was also ‘quiet’ and never hit the mainstream, commercialized, moneymaking “take your dough karate” type of ‘business’.
There are only a fortunate few who have studied OTK, and yes, only a fortunate few who have actually studied under Gordon Doversola.
I, for one, studied Okinawa-Te with Shihan from 1985 to 2000. I had brief “trial type” experiences as a kid in other systems which included: Shotakan Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Ed Parker’s Kenpo (mostly at the YMCA or from friends studying karate). I never lasted more than a couple of months in any because my mom wasn’t going to pay for karate. But finally, at the age of 18, I walked into this small dojo in Atwater Village, CA and my jaw dropped. Just ask any Okinawa-Te black belt- they’ll probably tell you the same story. “We” never saw anything like it in our lives!
I remember that night – a Friday Night to say the least. Okinawa-Te fighters know what Friday Night meant.
I was a skinny 120 pounder and Shihan asked me a bunch of questions about what I was studying in college, telling me he loved pancit and lumpia (Filipino noodles and eggrolls), and a little small talk. Then he asked me if I wanted to train. I just said I was there to watch my friend (Sensei Andre Khoury who was a green belt at the time) train. Shihan walked over to the shelf, pulled a white gi down, handed me a cup, and said: “Change” and pointed to the back. My first experience as an OTK student was to fight other OTK students. I was hooked.
He never ever asked me for money. He never gave me a payment schedule. He never asked anything of me except to train. Of course I paid him, here and there, but he never asked – I just paid whenever I had money – I was a poor college student at the time so I was very grateful. And he was like that with me till the day I last saw him. And that’s how I got started in MMA.
Famous 1970’s karate stars studied under Shihan. Jim Kelly and Joe Lewis (the martial artist) to name a few.
In fact, Jim Kelly, just recently, mentioned ‘our’ Shihan in an interview saying that even Bruce Lee had private lessons under Gordon Doversola.
Gotta smile just thinking about it. Hmm… Bruce Lee, the father of MMA took lessons from Gordon Doversola.
Whether it is true or not – one of Okinawa-Te ‘stars’, Jim Kelly, has claimed that Bruce Lee admired his fast backhand so much that he wanted to learn where he learned it. And Jim Kelly told him that (Shihan) Gordon Doversola taught it to him and later found out that Bruce Lee eventually took lessons from Shihan (in a 2010 interview).
Shihan never mentioned this to us but he did claim to have fought Bruce Lee at one point in his life. One night (late 80s) one of us asked, is he (Lee) really that fast? And Shihan, with a smirk and a wave of the hand leaned forward to us and said, “I was faster” and laughed.
So, if some say that Bruce Lee is “The father of Mixed Martial Arts” I’d have to say, Shihan, Gordon Doversola, is the Grandfather of MMA.
See the 2010 Jim Kelly Interview here:
At the 7:00min mark he talks about training with Bruce Lee. At 8:00min mark he mentions Gordon Dovorsola training Bruce Lee.
So what is Okinawa-Te? Well, it was not designed for self-defense but for attacking. It is a very aggressive form of martial arts: Two-thirds of the techniques are for aggressive attacks and one-third for defense – with defense actually built into an attack. As Shihan explained to me many years ago, “we are not freight trains that go straight in – Okinawa-Te uses many angles of attack”!
Because of its non linear movements and ability to defend and attack from any angle, Okinawa-Te is regarded by many to be one of the most versatile systems in the world. The unique fluid, yet hard aspect of Okinawa-Te means that it is a suitable art for people of all levels. Whether wanting to learn a soft and graceful Kung Fu style martial art, or a strong and hard Japanese karate style, or a well rounded Ju Jitsu grappling style, Okinawa-Te is the bridge which connects and balances all aspects of the martial arts world. (Black Belt Magazine)
Note: I stopped training with Shihan soon after my son was born in 2000. The last time I saw Shihan was, I believe, in 2001. I brought my baby boy, Jacob, to meet Gordon. Later, I was called by my friend (Okinawa Te Black Belt Sensei Mike Pecina) to check out his school in Eagle Rock. I worked out there a couple of times and eventually; Sensei Larry Delano (Shihan’s very first black belt) administered a black belt test where I received my black belt. Witnessed by Sensei Pecina, Sensei Gordon and Grand Master James Ibrao (http://jamesibrao.com/). I now teach Okinawa-te and Armas de Mano in Monrovia, CA at Old Town Fight Club.
Header Picture was borrowed from 1965 Black Belt Magazine where Gordon Doversola and Okinawa-Te were featured.