On Thursday August 28, 2008 at 7:30 pm, Grandmaster John De Nora passed calmly in his sleep at a hospice in La Mesa, California. He was 78 at the time of his passing and was surrounded by those who loved him.

John led a very full life and will be remembered by many people. Martial arts was an important part of his life from an early age, but he was also accomplished in many other fields. A compassionate, insightful person, he never shied away from hard work and was always as ready to learn as he was to teach. He had a strong faith which sustained him through the many trials in his life, and he knew the weight and responsibility of a life founded on the Truth; he sought to carry out justice and defend those who had no defender in every aspect of his life.

To send in your condolences or a tribute about the passing of Grandmaster John Denora please send a email or hard copy to the contact addresses listed at the bottom of this page.

What follows is a short history of the life of John De Nora, with information derived from John’s own writings and spoken accounts.

John was born into a Martial family. His surname, De Nora, is a name that comes to us from the Russ Viking Regions of Nora, Sweden. It was a name of royal status. John was first trained in martial arts by his grandfather. His grandfather taught him western sword (saber/cutlass/bayonet) and knife fighting, beginning at the age of nine.

John's grandfather was a former soldier and very prominent businessman. He was also a staunch Republican and supporter and personal friend of President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt. President Roosevelt was one of the first people in the U.S. to experience and train in authentic Daito Ryu.

Young John De Nora was a standout athlete of many different varsity sports; and his grandfather, seeing his potential, hired the famous Charles Atlas (Angelo Charles Siciliano of NYC), of the Dynamic Tension Methods, to train him during his teen years. Charles Atlas trained many great athletes in baseball, boxing, football, weight lifting, body building, etc. John was exposed to the basics of Jiu Jitsu by Charles Atlas and was given Charles Atlas' Jiu Jitsu notes along with notes on Atlas' famous bodybuilding, exercise and health secrets program.

John's athletic abilities soon led him to the boxing ring, where he competed in the amateur diamond gloves divisions. He trained at Mickey Connelly's upstairs gym in Paterson, New Jersey. His trainer was the famous Nick Fiorita.

John's Central High School football team also contained many boxers. One of the member's of the team was the forgotten boxing warrior Vince Martinez of Paterson, N.J., now deceased. Vince Martinez was a Welterweight Champion; a cautious shoot boxer and a great counter puncher with a powerful left hook, right cross, and combinations.

Martial Arts ended up being a life-long passion for John. Eventually, he would become skilled in all areas of combat- from Western swordfighting, boxing, grappling, knife fighting, and marksmanship to the refined fighting methods of Asia- Karate, Kung-Fu, Tai Chi Chuan, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu, and Japanese weaponry.
But, martial arts was by no means the only field in which he pursued excellence.

After graduating high school, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Physiology from Indiana University at Bloomington, Indiana. With this degree he was also recognized as a Distinguished Military Graduate of ROTC. In time he would rise to the rank of Captain in the Marine Corps, and eventually, his service led him to the study and practice of law, first in the military with JAG, then as a civilian attorney, and later appearing before the Supreme Court. In 1968, John was awarded the Professorial degree of Juris Doctor from the University of San Diego.  Seven years later he became certified to practice law before the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, D.C.

In 1953, he served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps with the Fourth Marine Regimental Combat Team in Nara, Japan.

During this tour of duty in Japan, John trained with many great masters, learning true samurai bugei arts. This began when he was introduced, by then Captain Charles F. King, to the famous Jiu Jitsu/Judo Sensei T. Nakamura. Nakamura Sensei taught near and at the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment's base. John trained with him learning many arts from this revered teacher. Dr. Nakamura was also a master of Ki and the sword (Shin Ken). His sword ability was formidable.

Later, when he served in Korea as a young 2nd Lieutenant, De Nora was assigned as Ammunition Officer of the 1st Marine Division, FMF in South East Korea at the DMZ. Here he received the Letter of Appreciation, United Nations Medal, and Korean Service Medal from the General of the 1st Marine Division.

While stationed and living in Korea he trained and befriended many of the top Hapkido teachers of the era. He exposed them to their parent art, the true Nihon Daito Ryu.  This was in addition to defending our country’s national interests as a military warrior.

John served his country faithfully through tours of duty in Japan, Okinawa, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and other areas. Many of the details of his military service are classified, but it is enough to say he was a highly decorated officer whose work saved the lives of many men and women.

When he returned to the states, John did special duty at Quantico, VA and his background was cleared for Top Secret/Cryptography. At Quantico, he also served in the M.C.S officer training cadre, and worked and trained together at the Pentagon Judo Club with a fellow Marine and Martial Artist, Captain Donn Draeger, who was a Kodokan Black Belt, a noted author on the Martial Arts, a historian, and an anthropologist with a diploma from the University of Hawaii. John and Donn trained together.

John trained literally thousands of our country’s elite Marines of Aviation, Infantry and Reconnaissance in hand-to-hand combat, weapons, special operations, combat unit tactics, etc. He was a special fitness instructor in weight lifting, Judo, and many other Martial Art subjects. He was both a hand-to-hand and combat obstacle course instructor at T&T Regiment for OCS, ROTC and the Platoon Leader's Class (PLC).

John was also an expert marksman. His precise shooting ability was why he was chosen as the instructor of various elite USMC rifle and pistol teams. He fired expert with rifle and pistol every year he served in the USMC. He was a Lifetime NRA Master Rifle and Pistol shooter.

John's military career led him to travel extensively, and while traveling, he continued practicing martial arts, never passing up an opportunity to learn from a true master. Even after retiring from the Marine Corps, he continued to travel in pursuit of knowledge.

Katsumi Yonezawa was one of these masters that John found in the course of his travels. He lived and trained with this great master in Hokkaido, Japan, and maintained a close relationship with Yonezawa Sensei until Yonezawa died.

Yonezawa Sensei had been taught and certified by Horikawa Kodo. Kodo and Kodo's father were the top disciples of Sokaku Takeda. In fact Kodo's name was given to him Sokaku Takeda. It means "lucky" or "fortunate".

John was certified as a special, personal representative (Kyoju Dairi) of the grandmaster and was presented with the Hiden Mokuroku of techniques; making him fourth generation after Sokaku Takeda no Minamoto no Masayoshi (the last great Samurai of the Minamoto Genji clan). John was one of only a handful of people to ever receive this teaching license in true Daito-Ryu Aiki Jiu Jitsu from the Soke of Bokuyokan Daito Ryu.

John also trained with the great Yoshiteru Otani; a master in Judo, Jujutsu, Kenjutsu, and Jigen Ryu sword. Otani Sensei was a sword saint and wondrous man.

Another master that influenced John was Eiji Nakamura, who was one of the great Daito Masters in Kitami, Hokkaido and gave special instruction to John at the Budokan Dojo of Sensei F.J. Lovret. John received the three Daito Ryu confidential instructor books and in 1986 was awarded the Daito Ryu Expert, Patience, Hope and Peace Award. He was also presented hand painted copies of the Sokaku Takeda's drawings of pressure points.

Sensei Fredrick John Lovret, who authored several books on Japanese Martial Arts, was also an influence for John De Nora. Lovret was of the Kenjutsu lineage of Tenshin-ryu and the Aikijutsu lineage of Yamate-ryu. Mr. Lovret was the author of Kenjutsu Shoden, The Way and the Power, The Instructor's Bible, The Student Handbook, and Budo Jiten (a Martial Arts dictionary). It was F.J. Lovret Sensei who introduced Yonezawa Sensei to John in the 1970's. Lovret was Oku-Sandan in Daito Ryu and was awarded the Daito Ryu green book and Hiden Mokuroku.

From the teachings of these Great Masters of Jiu Jitsu, AikiJutsu, and KenJutsu, the  KenKyuShin Daito-Ryu was founded. John was President of Daito Ryu Nichi Bei Renmei. With Daito Ryu USA, he and other fine teachers and students continued to carry on the teachings of Soke Katsumi Yonezawa upon Yonezawa’s passing.

In the martial arts community, John may be most well-known for his skills in the art Daito-Ryu, which he dedicated himself to preserving for future generations. However, John was also a 10th Dan Jiu Jitsu Master Examiner, 7th Dan Judo Master Examiner of NSJ, a 6th Dan Judo Master Examiner of USJA, and was certified in various Judo kata. He was a sixth dan in Karate, having trained under Eizo Shimabukuro, the founder of Shorin Ryu in Okinawa, and Master Ted Smith of the United Nations Dojo in Manhattan, N.Y.C. The World Karate Union elected John to the Karate Hall of Fame. He received advanced Instruction in Bak Fu Pai and Tai Chi Chuan. His Tai Chi teachers have been the world renown Grandmaster Sheh (pine) of Shanghai, Sifu Marshal Ho (Yang Style) and Sifu Chuk Suk Liang (Wu style) and Beiji Taoist Qigong (the North Star system). Doo Wai, Grandmaster of White Tiger kung-fu (Bak Fu Pai), certified him in various esoteric arts of White Tiger. He trained National and International Champions and also coached Christopher Linnenger of Phoenix, Arizona for UFC #13 He was a member the USJA committee for colleges and universities. In addition, he was the Professor of Japanese Martial Arts at the University of San Diego and a member of International Mensa.

Just a few of his comrades, friends, and students include (in no particular order):
Mori Bunasawa Sensei- noted author of Judo and Jiu Jitsu, 7th Dan;
Professor Wally Jay of Small Circle Jiu Jitsu, 10th Dan;
Fumio Demura- master of Karate and Japanese martial arts
Prof. Alexey Kunin, 9th Dan;
Prof. George Kirby, 10th Dan Chairman of the Board of AJA,
Prof. Don Cunningham (Judo coach and author of Japanese Martial Art weapons books), Sonny Hughes; instructor of combat and police tactics,
Prof. John McCurdy, Pres. AJA,
Eric Lee (of movie star and Kung Fu fame). Eric Lee and John were elected to the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame in Ohio with Prof. Wally Jay;
Benny "the Jet" Urquidez;
Sean Lee the voice mechanic and Wing Chun practitioner;
Harry Dudro, Sumo pioneer and fame in the USA;
Sensei Neil Hashiba and Sensei Susumu Kono and Attorney and Marine Gunner Paul Perez of Sun Valley Dojo, L.A. (the pioneer dojo of elite young Judo athletes),
Toney Raven, Judo Champion and stage actor;
Charlie Robinson;
Combat Grappler Gokor Chivichyan; 
"Judo" Gene Lebell (the finest grappler and stick fighter of his time),
Prof. Michael DePasquale Sr and Jr;
Professor Reylson Gracie;
Mike Cobb; President of National Sport Judo,
Jimmy Pedro Sr, Master Judo Coach father and coach of Jimmy Pedro Jr. (Bronze medalist Greece Olympics);
Gary Alexander, 10th Dan Karate grandmaster;
Colonel John Alexander, martial artist and well-known military expert;
Bill Miller, a major influence on Marine hand to hand combat and founder of the American Street Combat system;
Paul Durso, an expert of Karate and Judo;
Jin Iizumi, who learned from Kyuzo Mifune and developed Soft Judo,
…and many other fine people. The list of John’s friends is really too long to be recalled here.

John was fourth generation (Yosei), 38th Master in the line after Sokaku Takeda no Minamoto no Masayoshi, the 35th Headmaster of Daito Ryu. He was a trainer of trainers and a pioneer in bringing to the western world Daito Ryu and its full dissemination regardless of nationality, race or creed. He demonstrated Daito-Ryu to audiences around the world, and taught the secrets of the art to those he trusted.

John’s teachings and his commitment to preserving the tradition of Daito-Ryu will be carried on by his students through the organization he founded- Daito-Ryu USA. The current board members of Daito-Ryu USA are Mary D. De Nora, Joseph N. Mechling, Nicholas D. Mechling, Christopher D. Mechling, Matthew D. Stevens, Andrew M. Stevens, and Paul Cuva.

 

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