By

Nathan Ingram

Nigel Clarke sits down with New York-based martial arts instructor, star of THE DEADLY ART OF SURVIVAL (1979), and soon to be author of the biography “The Deadly Art of Survival,” Nathan Ingram, to discuss his only film role and living through the colorful and violent era of the New York City martial arts and street gang scene in the late 1970s and early ’80s that inspired a generation of urban action films from THE WARRIORS to THE LAST DRAGON.

When I set out to interview Kyoshi Nathan Ingram, as a follow-up to reviewing THE DEADLY ART OF SURVIVAL, I wasn’t sure what to find. A series of Googling and looking through newspaper databases didn’t provide much since he had stopped a bank robbery in 1981.

What I did come across were the number of students who had trained under him and were either teaching at their own schools, champions or just very good fighters. There was absolutely nothing that spoke about him as a person and the work he has been involved in since the film’s release in 1979.

After getting in contact with Nathan and being invited in for an interview I wasn’t sure what I’d find. I thought I’d come across an egotistical type of bully or some black man who was so ingrained in Chinese culture that the sight of a black face at his school would cause him to be standoffish.

When I arrived at the school, I didn’t receive any weird stares or a sense of apprehension. “Are you Nigel?” asked a young male Chinese attendant. “Kyoshi will be with you momentarily. Please have a seat.”

I took some time to look at the trophy case in the school. Among the many trophies, pictures and magazine clippings, I could not find a picture of the DVD THE DEADLY ART OF SURVIVAL.

While sitting, I took some time to survey the environment. The fitness center was maintained well, and at the time of my entrance, their was no class in session. The training floor was empty and resembled any other martial arts training environment. Several elderly Chinese ladies worked out in the rear of the center.

It was obvious that Nathan was a part of this culture. I knew it would be impossible for him to exist in the center and for these people to except him otherwise.

I heard Kyoshi Nathan before I actually laid eyes on him. “What’s going on bro?” boomed Nathan.

I shook his hand and I could see that the kid from the movie was long gone. Nathan is huge. Not out of shape, but a giant. Nathan’s broad forearms would suggest that he was a bodybuilder instead of a martial arts instructor. I had him all wrong, Kyoshi Nathan was very pleasant and cordial. As he spoke to some of his staff members, I could sense their respect for him. I was impressed by his professionalism and his ability to still come across as a homeboy.

Nathan led me down to the second floor of the fitness center, to an isolated and quiet section. From this location, you could see many people lifting weights and working on various machines. As we sat, I looked at the Chinese members who exercised there. They didn’t pay Nathan any mind. He wasn’t disregarded, but a fixture who was visibly apart of the environment.

As we began the interview, Nathan asked me a very intelligent question. “So where are you from?” I thought this was a very calculating question, because with my experience in journalism, when people ask this, people get a sense of who you are and things you have gone through. This will ultimately determine the way they respond and interact with you.

As a journalist, you’re trained or you often learn about other stories through one interview. Nathan’s story, is so dense and so concentrated, that at certain times, I was overwhelmed. Every answer he provided, pointed me in another direction. He wasn’t name dropping, mind you. I asked him questions, and his responses would lead to encounters with legendary people, and some stories that would be great material for any fiction novel.

The appropriately named style of fighting “Deadly Art of Survival” was created out of a need to survive. New York City during the 1970s was plagued with heroin. There weren’t any options in the Smith Projects. The martial art, taught in a community center was an alternative to the streets, filled with
violence and crime.

Nathan started training at the age of 11. Influenced by a friend, Nathan trained in Chinatown. I wondered if he felt out of place then. “No, not at all, the Smith projects has always been diverse,” said Nathan. Considering it’s close proximity to Chinatown, it all made sense to me.

After providing Nathan with a brief introduction, and how I came to find him, he immediately said, “That movie…don’t buy it, it isn’t me,” with a sense of amusement. Although director Charlie Ahearn is respected by Nathan and the two have a friendly relationship, he doesn’t like the way he was portrayed in the film.

“Charlie had me saying things that I normally wouldn’t say. I was cursing and stuff. People who knew me then and know me now, know that isn’t what I’m about,” said Nathan.

Although I enjoyed the movie, I could understand where Nathan was coming from. I could clearly see, that the movie did not communicate the message that was intended by Nathan and his students when they first approached Ahearn for the project.

However, certain parts of the movie did take place. “Yeah, like the guy being kicked into the water. I really did that,” said Nathan.

His adversary in the film was a weed-smoking sensei who exploits his students and sells drugs. “This was something that was happening in the community center where I worked. The center organizer had actually sold drugs,” said Nathan.

Nathan had a reputation in his neighborhood as someone who did not tolerate drug dealers. “I was the guy that when I walked through a certain area, drug dealers cleared out,” said Nathan. It made sense, after all, his sacrificial way of life and devotion to the code of martial arts was the antithesis of the flashy and selfish lifestyle that drug dealers lived by.

One of the most important lines in the movie, is when Nathan’s character is having inner reflection and he says, “Money is the real deadly art of survival!” I could understand the statement. As someone who has seen those who hustled, and appear to live more prosperously than those who worked hard or by
a some moral guidelines.

I asked Nathan if he ever shared those sentiments. His answer was honest and candid, “Yes, and for a while I did.” Nathan had admitted that he had worked as a bodyguard or a tough for some people he shouldn’t have worked for. His candid answer had segued into a very interesting story.

When Nathan was a street mercenary, he received a call from someone who was a sergeant for Nicky Barnes (see related Wikipedia entry). Unknowingly, Nathan accepted the assignment and went up to Harlem to obtain some funds owed to Barnes. His assignment was to get the funds from a member of the motorcycle gang known as the “Black Falcons.” Nathan approached the person in question saying, “Nick needs his money and your going to get it now!”

The biker had refused and it was funny to hear Nathan describe what happened next. “I lit that guy up so fast and so bad, his entire crew was laughing at him.” Nathan returned to the Smith projects and later received a call from Nicky Barnes’ sergeant, saying, “Man, what did you do to that guy? They’re
calling you the black Bruce Lee all over Harlem! Nicky wants you to do some more work for him.”

It wasn’t until later, when relaying the story to a friend, that Nathan learned who Barnes was. When he found out that Barnes was a notorious drug dealer, he called the sergeant back and told him that he wanted nothing to do with him.

With him not knowing who Nicky Barnes was at the time, it was clear to me that Nathan was completely in another world, a world of martial arts and Chinese culture. His trip up to Harlem in 1979 as an enforcer was his first visit.

I thought to myself, how could that be? It became clear when Nathan described the world that he had been living in and apart of. Nathan had been associated with Chinese tongs for several years. His world was Chinatown and during those years, he was a member of one of Chinatown’s most infamous gangs, “The Ghost Shadows.”

For years Nathan was close to one of Chinatown’s most infamous gang bosses, “Nicky Louie.” During this time, Nathan was a part of one of the most infamous battles in Chinatown, known as “The Pool Hall Massacre,” where eight people were stabbed. The legendary fight involved a rival gang known as the “Black Eagles.” It was at this time, that the older Triad bosses in Chinatown had a sit down with the young gang members and told them that the violence had to stop. “It was something out of a movie. We were in a basement with some of the older bosses. I remember being the only black guy there. Things were so out of control, they had to intervene,” said Nathan.

Nathan’s experiences had sounded so surreal, something straight out of a movie. I told him that he was the real-life version of Bruce Leroy. He laughed, “Yeah, I used to train with Taimak. He is one of the most underrated fighters I’ve met. He has terrific skills!” Nathan then shared experiences, working as a bodyguard and how he first met Taimak, who before starring in THE LAST DRAGON had worked as a guard briefly himself.

Seeing as how he had experience with the “Last Dragon,” I thought I’d ask about “The Black Dragon,” Ron Van Clief. “Yeah, I knew Ron, but he never wanted to fight me. He would never accept my challenge,” said Nathan. I was pretty sure that Ron would have his own explanation, but it made perfect sense. Ron would have too much to loose. If he fought and beat Nathan, then he would gain nothing in the process. A loss would jeopardize his status and celebrity in the martial arts world.

Nathan admits that he wasn’t the baddest guy on the streets. There were others, a fighter who trained with the Black Panthers gave Nathan one of his toughest fights. The result of the fight was that both men were hospitalized. Nathan had actually had photos of the fight on display in the school. This however, wasn’t Nathan’s only encounter with the Black Panther party. He had trained many Panthers in Brooklyn and recalled meeting Huey Newton.

Some of Nathan’s toughest battles have been outside of martial arts. Like anyone, he has had difficulties with relationships, going through a divorce at one period of his life and being shot while working as a bodyguard. When I asked what had sustained him and allowed him to persevere, he gives credit to God. “My relationship with God, not martial arts has allowed me to do everything that I’ve done. God has allowed me to do everything I’ve done in martial arts!” said Nathan.

Throughout the interview, many of Nathan’s young students were entering the school. As they came down the stairs, each greeted Nathan emphatically and respectfully, rushing towards him, giving him high fives and hugs. I was both moved and impressed with Nathan’s relationship with his students and their parents, the majority of whom were Chinese.

Nathan Ingram is a clear example of how powerful art is. His martial art skills have allowed him to transcend race, age and other cultural boundaries. Kyoshi Nathan realises how important his story is. He is in the process of completing a book on his life, appropriately titled, “The Deadly Art of Survival.” He is hoping to release the book later this year, on the eve of his retirement from teaching.

I felt like I was talking to a superhero, and that is exactly what Nathan is. New York is running short on heroes. We’re looking for them, trying to create them, but we ignore the ones who live among us. I’m guilty. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked through Chatam square and completely ignored the school. I can assure you that won’t happen again.

Nathan Ingram, mister I’ll kick you in the water man, the Nicky Barnes disser, the drug dealer hater, the Taimak sparring, Ron Van Clief didn’t want to fight me man, the Black Panther teacher, the bare knuckles champion, the Ghost Shadows representer, the mister when drug dealers see him they ran, the Black Falcon crusher aka the mister go up to Harlem and get your money man.

Nathan Ingram, the teacher who adores his students man, the proud father and Chinatown feeler, the thug who became a “Kyoshi” man, the God lover and the peace pursuer…

…The BRUCE LEROY OVERDOER!

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  • Nathan Ingram, Jr.

    First of all I want to start off by saying to the writer and the readers THANK YOU…I just read this story about my Father…what people don’t know is that when your googling him for any info about him not much comes up because of his reluctance to pursue fame as a direct result…and that was never his goal…even now as he is in the process of completing a book on his life, it is only in the works after endless arguments he and I have had thru the years about the importance of his Legacy and why people NEEDED to know HIS story…although this article is written only thru the interpretation of the writer, hopefully the many more people that will stumble across my Fathers story in the future will learn that all Heroes aren’t Fiction…….Nathan Ingram, Jr.

  • kofi campbell

    you got that right! uncle you’ll always be 1 of my heroes, love you much….

  • http://www.metrocardfame.com Clarke

    Nathan Jr.,

    It was a privilege to meet your dad. He’s a great guy. I thank him and your family for encouraging him to share with the world.

    Thanks to Mark Pollard (Kung Fu Cinema editor) for publishing this story on the site and giving Nathan visibility and the recognition he deserves.

  • jiujitsu77

    now this is more like it mr. clarke.

    and i did give it a second viewing last night with commentary. much better! great stuff and very informative

  • jiujitsu77

    also…you are very right in saying that new york (let alone this country) is running out of heroes. mr. ingram’s story is a fascinating one and i intend to purchase that book

    i think what people don’t realize…since the mass hysteria that mma has created…that this is how it really was back then. many claim that karate and other oriental styles are “dead”, but ingram is living proof that it certainly is not. if only these new “fighters” could learn by his example

  • D.A.S Warrior

    Even though it goes in one ear and comes out the other as i age maybe i ll look back at all the conversations we had and one day it’ll come back hopefully word for word. And like him I’ll be the one sitting with my son smiling repeating what he said “i went through everything you did pop your granddaddy made me become who i am today, and i m glad he did because he made me different.” He trained me to be a D.A.S fighter. But when i look back at when he trained me. Nathan Ingram’s goal, i believe wasn’t to just train fighters. But to make their spirit, their personality, their mind one with god. He yelled as he taught us. Theirs always someone training harder than you with more passion, more fire, a warrior. He didn’t make me a fighter. He made me a someone that was ready so that when the time comes to fight with the one guy who’s been trains a little bit harder to destroy what you’ve worked hard for. He’ll be the one crossing his feet not me.

  • http://tafbootcamp.com Ralf

    Meeting “Kyoshi Nathan Ingram” was like meeting the Father i Never had. His Character, and spirit are all in one a huge part of why he is the way he is. He doesn’t trust himself, he trust God to trust himself. I was never given the opportunity to study M.A as a child, because My parents though I was too violent. at 30 years of age I find myself studying the ART, and I have no regrets. I am not only learning to Fight, I am learning the Art Of Survival, which is the break down of the Science of Fighting, and Self Defense. I am an Over Weight guy, who can not easily do some of the things that others students can do, but in the school I am not ridiculed. My Confidence is boosted, and my respect for the ART has increased. Kyoshi doesn’t teach, He Educates. Teachers teach to get to the next semester, Educators educate, to prepare you for a lifetime. If I could start my life all over again, I would have begged my parents to put me to learn with Kyoshi. I respect him, because his lifestyle demands respect. He is not an extraordinary Man, he is an ordinary Man that God has used for extraordinary things. If you want to learn to Box, he can make you into a Champion. But you must be willing to be corrected, and educated. If you wish to take up an honorable, respectful Martial Art, you are more than welcomed to Learn the DAS system. I had the privilege to drive Kyoshi to a destination in the Bronx, where we spoke for at least a half an hour. I learned so much about him, and through him that I enjoyed stopping at red lights, just to continue the conversation. He is a caring person, with amazing teaching and fighting skills.

  • Anonymous

    I cant Wait to get back to class. Im In love with the DAS system, and the genuine teaching of Kyoshi.

  • jiujitsu77

    quick question…does his system include any grappling techniques? i mean..im sure he does but to what extent? i know jim kelly has devised a system that involves BJJ. just interested to see what he thinks of groundfighting. would be awesome to learn from him regardless

  • Rosetta Ingram

    To my baby brother, It’s about time you got the recognition you so richly deserve. You’ve given so much of yourself to others and never asked for anything in return. I stand in awe and applaud you for the work you have done and in anticipation for what is to come. The writer of this article was only able to get a just glimpse of who you really are. I wish he knew in depth just how much you have given to the community and not only have you given to the community you live in, but to everyone you’ve come in contact with. When we forget about ourselves we do things others will always remember. Nate you are a man of integrity and filled with purpose. You are a man after God’s own heart. I love you…………Your big sister Rose

  • Universe

    Jacob where u at?

  • http://tenterprises.org robert thomas

    anyone reading this message; please understand nathan ingram is more than just a karate instructor, he has saved so many young men from crime and drugs with his skills and knowledge. His life speaks for itself furthermore, his lifestory should be displayed on national T.V. i must purchase Deadly art of survival — may God continue to bless you Nathan Ingram ——- you are a success story! spread it around

    robert thomas

  • Joseph (Joe Joe) Hurd

    Where do I start…I feel somewhat compelled to comment, and even moved so deeply, almost to the point of tears. I remember someone saying once that its nice when someone else says that you’re this, or you’re that, but if you really want to know about a person….”Listen to what their kids have to say,” And then hear those that are close, like the Mother or Father, or Sister or Brother. Before I even attempt to go any further with this long, irritating conversation of mine, let me first take this opportunty to say to His Sister Rose, and Son Nathan jr. that if no one ever says anything concerning him, do know that your kind words, and your love and respect is all he ever wanted, and no amount of money, and no level of fame will ever move him to a place of forgetting who you are, and the strength that drives therefrom. My name is Joseph….But anyone in this arena know me to be a youngman named Joe Joe. When I was about eight or nine years old, my Mother took me to, then, Sensi Nathan Ingram, and said, “Here…take him Son, and make him a Man.” She trusted him to lord over me, because in here words, “there were no positive male influences”…..not even my father. He trained me and conditioned me for more than combat, but for the biggest fight of my life….”The fight called life.” As I read through the some of the topics discussed during his interview, I could not help but to become overwhelmed because of the emotions felt. I grew with a Legend…I trained like an animal for five and six hours straight with him. And to endure pain and increase focus, we oftentimes jogged in the snow, barefooted. I was his cornerman in many bloody matches with indivuals that came in over zealous and arrogant, and left unconcious and badly broken. The Art, is beautiful, almost poetic…and very Deadly, yet our desire was only to Survive in a world that for their own reason, forgot us as a people. From that, The Deadly art of Survival System was born, making me the first, or one of the very first students and proberly the only living ORIGINAL D.A.S WARRIORS left. To Kyoshi, a HERO is nothing but a sandwich…those are his words, and nothing that he desired to be. He stood for what was right, and Just, so you can call him a rightous man, or even a Just Man that grew into this Man after Gods own heart. Kyoshi Nathan Ingram…My Memory continues to fail me when I search into my Past for an encounter with a human being that is as strong and as full of character as you are to me. My expression, is only a reflection of what I really feel. “SURVIVAL”

  • Erik R

    When i first saw nathon ingram at an establishment and saw him wearing his D.A.S jacket I was intersted to see if he was an instructor or a phony. so i confronted him and asked him a few questions about his experiences and abilities as an artist but to my surprise he respectfully answered all my querstions then gave me his business info,I went to observe his classes even thoug at first my self-steem wasnt the greatest so I took a chance and also new that by joining karate classes would help me achieve these goals…I trained w/nathon ingram with pride and confidence and also made new friends and people that trained hard core,which i now walk with pride and to know my cross-roads werent so difficult after all…now I truly believe that nathon ingram wore that jacket with pride.thank U brother for your time and effort…

  • http://ronvanclief.com RON VAN CLIEF

    Sir, I don’t ever remember Nathan challenging me…Anyone that ever wanted to spar with me could easily find my dojo..Nathan is definietly one of the unsung heroes of the new york martial arts scene. I have always had respect for him and his talents..If he ever challenged I am sorry to have missed the opportunity to have worked out with him. In my 50 years of martial arts training I have always accepted challenges as part of the training..Sorry Nathan we didn’t get it on…Truthfully I don’t ever remember you challenging me I do remembere extending an invitation to you to come and train with me..Stay healthy and keep training. HAVE A GREAT DAY Call me sometime 347 417-3610 cell ronvanclief@yahoo.com RONVANCLIEF.COM WEBSITE RON VAN CLIEF THE BLACK DRAGON

  • http://ronvanclief.com RON VAN CLIEF

    THE PROBLEM WITH THE MARTIAL ARTS NOW AND IN THE PAST HAS BEEN INFLATED EGOS..IN MY CAREER OF 52 YEARS IN THE MARTIAL ARTS I HAVE NEVER CHALALENGED ANYONE. A CHALLENGE IS A VERY ADOLESCENT ACTION. ACCEPTING A CHALLENGE BRINGS ONE DOWN TO A CHILDISH LEVEL..WHAT IS A CHALLENGE ALL ABOUT…DO YOU WANT TO PROVE HOW GOOD YOU ARE TO SOMEONE WHO IS NOT INTERESTED? OR DOES THIS REALLY HAVE ANY MEANING..SPARRING IS JUST A GAME OF CHESS MEANT TO STIMULATE THE BRAIN…I STARTED COMPETING IN 1961 AND RETIRED IN 2002 AFTER WINNING THE ALL AMERICAN CHAMPIONSHIP AT 60 YEARS OLD. I FOUGHT IN THE UFC 4 WHEN I WAS 51 YEARS OLD. FEAR IS NOT AN OPTION IN SPARRING..HOW MANY OF THE SO CALLED MASTERS AND GRANDMASTERS DIDN’T HAVE THE COURAGE TO ENTER THE OCTAGON? ENOUGH SAID! NOT WANTING TO DISRESPECT ANYONE BUT CHALLENGES ARE KID GAMES…I AM 66 YEARS OLD AND NOT WILLING TO PLAY ANY GAMES..NOT WORRIED ABOUT LOSING OR ANY SUCH NONSENSE…CHALLENGES ARE JUST STUPID.. RON VAN CLIEF THE BLACK DRAGON

  • http://N/A Roye Meighan

    Elroy Meighan here…humbly known as Roye.

    Words cannot explain the experience of knowing, understanding, listening to, being a part of his history, working side by side for a short period, and most important…seeing
    “Kyoshi Nathan Ingram” in action whether that be in areas of his personal and/or professional life.

    Majority of us know very little of the Greatest Warriors and Leaders during specific periods in history.
    Warriors such as Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, Leonidas of Sparta, William Wallace, Xing Yu, and/or Ran Min. Wooooooooooooo….start googling!!!

    We only know of what we read, and what is seen on the Big Screen from Hollywood Budgeting.

    I can humbly and honestly say, I have the privilege of knowing One of The Greatest during my modern day life.

    Mold the mind and body.
    Cultivate a vigorous spirit,
    And through correct and rigid training,
    To strive for improvement in a physical state.
    To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor.
    To associate with others with sincerity, And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.

    Always humble, always a pleasure, and always honored.
    I bow
    Thank you “Kyoshi Nathan Ingram”
    Roye.

  • http://www.metrocardfame.com/ Nigel Clarke

    I'm happy to announce that I am Kyoshi's newest student. I'm going to train with him hopefully, until he retires.

  • http://modestadventurer.com Traveller_Adventure

    Very very interesting post..I like this one. gotta bookmark this one.

    Cheers,
    Blog Review

  • http://modestadventurer.com Traveller_Adventure

    Very very interesting post..I like this one. gotta bookmark this one.

    Cheers,
    Blog Review

  • http://modestadventurer.com Traveller_Adventure

    Very very interesting post..I like this one. gotta bookmark this one.

    Cheers,
    Blog Review

  • Shirleen Brown

    I found this article very interesting and very enlightening. The posted comments are equally insightful. I have know Kyoshi Nathan Ingram since we both were very young growing up in the Alfred E. Smith Housing Projects. Since I have begun to get very serious about the body that God gave me and my overall health, I have had the pleasure of crossing paths, again, with by Brother Nathan. He is still as focused on helping others achieve a sound mind and body as he ever was. What's most admirable about him is that he still has put God first in all that he does. The work that he continues to do with young people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds is definitely a gift given to him by God! I look forward to not only reading the book about his life but also using my skills as a fellow writer to market and promote his book, as well. May God continue to use you in all areas of your life as you continue to build your legacy.

  • Shirleen Brown

    I found this article very interesting and very enlightening. The posted comments are equally insightful. I have know Kyoshi Nathan Ingram since we both were very young growing up in the Alfred E. Smith Housing Projects. Since I have begun to get very serious about the body that God gave me and my overall health, I have had the pleasure of crossing paths, again, with by Brother Nathan. He is still as focused on helping others achieve a sound mind and body as he ever was. What's most admirable about him is that he still has put God first in all that he does. The work that he continues to do with young people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds is definitely a gift given to him by God! I look forward to not only reading the book about his life but also using my skills as a fellow writer to market and promote his book, as well. May God continue to use you in all areas of your life as you continue to build your legacy.

  • Cassandra Mott

    I agree with everything that you have said. I met Kyoshi Ingram recently. He is a very nice person and a gentlemen and he does have a gift from God to teach anyone he encounters. His teaching style is precise but caring. Kudos!

  • purplebeltorion

    Kyoshi Nathan Ingram is my karate teacher and as I am taught, I learn so much with this amazing karate champion. Kyoshi made me a purple belt karate student. He taught me 4 years of karate,he made me strong, he made me disciplined. There is so much I've been doing in Kyoshi's classes. He is my inspiration in being a DAS warrior, karate black belt.

  • Ingrammr1979

    Mr Van Clief,
    My name is Melissa Ingram-Stubblefield and I am Nathan Ingram Sr's daughter. Let me first start off by saying I do not personally know of your work but I am sure it was wonderful. The reason I am responding is because when you type in upper case letters, that is interpreted as yelling. I don't believe anyone was trying to offend you neither do I feel my father has an ego problem. As you have read, the comments that have been made were made by individuals who's life was somehow changed by my father. He is a humble man who has and continues to put the lives of others before his own. My father is a hero and it is time for him to be honored. These are my own opinions and I would appreciate it if you do respond, to please do so concerning the opinions I have voiced. Thank you

  • Fap Fap

    Successful troll is successful

  • Anonymous

    Fred Miller was the man.RIP