Donn F Draeger - His life and legacy

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Donn F Draeger - His life and legacy

Postby Finny on Sun Apr 07, 2019 4:58 am

A series of lectures by folks who knew him:

Hunter Armstrong:

Liam Keeley:

More to come
Last edited by Finny on Sun Apr 07, 2019 11:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Donn F Draeger - His life and works

Postby marvin8 on Sun Apr 07, 2019 7:02 am

An excerpt from "Imposing the terms of the battle: Donn F. Draeger, Count Dante, and the struggle for American martial arts identity" that cover's Dragaers experience and views on CMA:
Jared Miracle November 2015 wrote:
Draeger Posing [Smith]

At the root of this issue, however, was an even more complex negotiation between two different approaches to interpreting Asian martial arts for Western audiences. Draeger, a former career Marine, was primarily interested in issues of efficacy in the fighting arts and had little patience for those styles and exponents that failed to meet his expectations. He saw the Chinese art of energy cultivation, chi gong (qigong) for instance, as nothing more than stage magic: ‘These Chinese are fantastic with their ch’i kung garbage.… I’ve yet to see one demo that isn’t involved with circus tricks… all crap’ [letter to Smith, 20 November 1973]. For Draeger the use of theatricality in martial arts demonstrations was both unnecessary and undesirable. He was searching for the most effective means of meeting particular combative requirements in all different social and cultural situations, as indicated by a somewhat oblique reference in a letter from his 1968 trip to Java: ‘Among mainland Chinese here, kuntao places t’aichi lower on the combative scale than what you have focused on in your work. I’ll elaborate on this later’ [letter to Smith, 12 July 1968]. With such specific emphasis on systematic fighting rather than generally performing, he praised only one demonstration during his 1973 trip to Malaysia, noting that they were ‘indifferent to what audience likes or wants, and goes about business of training’ [letter, 20 November 1973].

Smith’s views of legitimacy and successful performance within the martial arts were somewhat more complex. Although he sometimes referred to sheer fighting prowess as being desirable, he also clearly supported other goals of less combat-oriented styles as acceptable, which drew a strong contrast between himself and Draeger. Smith’s willingness to explore and embrace the alternative roles of the martial arts has at least some origin in the end of his period as an amateur boxer and trainer. Despite having been an avid fan of prizefights in his youth, Smith’s later education on its long-term health effects led him to not only give up the sport entirely in the 1950s, but to actively work toward having it banned. In his memoirs he bemoans that ‘all boxing should be banned … too brutal for civilized societies … This sterile intentionality is what stamps this remnant of primitive savagery as unfit for human beings’ [Smith 1999: 21].

By Smith’s own admission, there was an element of bias on each side of the debate over Chinese martial arts, and the use of ‘boxing’ was simply an indicator of a greater rift between the two. Smith suggests: ‘I believed that the men and systems he showcased were inferior to those I studied under in Taiwan. I had visited the other areas [that is, mainland China] and met their leading teachers and found them lacking’ [Smith 1999: 98]. For Draeger’s part, it was more a matter of falsifiability, even where Smith’s primary teacher, Zheng Manqing, was concerned. By July of 1974 the two were in the heat of their differences, with Smith advocating for the Taiwanese martial artists and Draeger losing interest in investigating them, especially taiji, which Draeger saw as lacking any real-world application. Draeger wrote: ‘You seem to have lost your position of objectivity Bob … and with is your sense of realism. Cheng Man ching a fighter???? [sic] A scuffler, no doubt, who isn’t, but a real fighter … hardly … more literati’ [letter to Smith, 9 July 1974].

Draeger later offers, at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek, to introduce Zheng to a lucrative business opportunity training professional sumo wrestlers: ‘Pro sumo assn. [sic] tells me that they would pay all expenses, etc. to have man like Cheng show them how to remove opponent from ring’ [letter, 9 July 1974]. Smith continued to counter that Draeger simply didn’t understand Chinese street culture well enough to locate the most skilled martial artists as he had in Japan. In addition, he claims in his memoirs that Draeger had developed a prejudice against the Chinese due to his service in the Korean War which was exacerbated by spending so much time with the Japanese [Smith 1999: 99]. At the same time, the Chinese fighters with whom Draeger was in regular contact were unimpressed with Zheng himself or taiji in general, Nobody here [in Malaysia] has illusions about tai-chi being useful as a sole system in combat of any kind… this confers [sic] what Wang [Shujin, a mutual friend and teacher of Chinese martial arts] always said and taught… nobody thinks [Zheng] is all that good come a good punch up’ [letter, 8 September 1974].

The reference to Wang Shujin is significant. Wang spent much of his adult life in Tokyo, where he became a regular figure at the house in which Draeger and a coterie of rotating foreign martial artists lived, as it was walking distance from the Kodokan Institute and several other training centers.
Draeger, ever on the lookout for unique opportunities, was intrigued by Wang’s ability to accept blows to the stomach seemingly without injury. In a letter to Smith, Ellis Amdur explains that ‘Wang set out to teach him Pa Kua [sic], but for two years simply had him walking around a tree in Meiji shrine, and he would come by, look at the trench being scuffed in the dirt and say ‘not deep enough’ [10 February 1998]. This may have been frustrating enough for a talented athlete and fighter like Draeger, however the final straw with his training was likely ‘at Donn’s house one day, Wang said, “The trouble with you is you have no control over your body” and he picked up an iron meteorite Donn was using for a paperweight, and … held it out at arms [sic] length, immovable’ [10 February 1998].

Draeger’s interactions with Wang colored his vision of the Chinese ‘soft’ or ‘internal’ arts as consisting of time-intensive, non-combative practices that ultimately yielded few meaningful results. He also respected Wang’s abilities, however was clearly not in awe of them or the Chinese arts in general. Defensive of his teacher and confident in what he’d experienced of the internal martial arts, Smith eventually proposed a solution to the rift; Draeger, in his frequent travels, was welcome to visit Taiwan and ‘test’ Zheng’s abilities for himself. Draeger was not amenable, insisting that ‘“testing” and fighting are completely different.… It’s not for me, though Jon Bluming, the Dutch animal might consider it now as he has in the past. Short of a fight to do somebody, or myself in, I am not equipped to test anybody’ [letter to
Smith, 7 November 1974].

It remains unclear what, precisely, Draeger meant by the final portion of this comment – given that he was fifty-six years old at that point and two years prior had admitted to Smith that ‘as I look on my multitude of injuries, I see them all stemming from my association with judo. I don’t want to batter myself anymore … I have better things to do now’ [letter, 4 November 1972]. This seems rather sudden since, as recently as 1967, he had still been ‘testing’ others. On his trip to Singapore that year Draeger recounts investigating the world of silat via ‘my method – combat vs. one of their experts. To shorten the story – I flattened him with osoto-gake makikomi; only I got up!’ [letter, 4 August 1967]. He had also, however, given up on competition entirely roughly around the time of his 1974 trip to Malaysia. In a letter to Smith some years later, Pat Harrington, another foreign judo luminary in Tokyo in the storied days of Draeger’s Ichigaya house, comments that ‘nobody tried harder than Donn, but they still would not accept the advice of a foreigner. Yes, it broke his heart, and he then put all of his energy into other martial arts … and most of his time into researching and writing books’ [letter to Smith, 2 June 1997].

Thus the seemingly innocuous statement that he wasn’t ‘equipped’ to test others could be a reference to the unpleasantness of political entanglements that he preferred to avoid, being an avid researcher and not a politician. Draeger had another means by which to test his ideas, however, one that also provided a buffer between himself and organizational fallouts: Jon Bluming. Bluming, from Holland, was younger than Smith and Draeger during their years of active training and research in Asia and possessed certain physical attributes that allowed him a degree of leniency in questioning the efficacy of another’s fighting method. Specifically, Bluming claims that at the time he stood at an intimidating 102 kilograms (224.9 pounds) and regularly trounced the finest judo experts at the Kodokan Judo Institute, including several world champions [interview transcript, 20-21 February 1998].

In personal communication, Bluming confirmed that he had met Smith and Draeger at a time when both were most active in judo practice at Kano’s reopened Kodokan, but that Smith was, even at that time, much more interested in Chinese martial arts than his judo studies. He further characterized Draeger’s thoughts on the matter as, at best, begrudgingly accepting of the state into which he felt Chinese martial arts had fallen in recent decades, apparently having believed that there was a time when styles such as taiji and Shaolin were truly effective combat methods against resisting opponents, but that this was no longer the case. In keeping with his tendency to illustrate points with blunt and evocative language, Bluming informed me that he and Draeger shared the same sentiments, but only Bluming ‘told Bob [Smith] that I never met a Taichi [sic] champ who could beat my Granny when she had an umbrella in her hands’ [personal communication].

While Smith and Draeger were committed to maintaining mostly congenial relations with other martial artists and researchers, Bluming was committed to personally verifying the effectiveness of any given method, theory, and individual, and did so seemingly without regard to political (or sometimes legal) consequences. Smith shares the story of the ever-upfront Bluming and himself being approached by a ‘strapping 200-pound Korean carrying an umbrella’ who attempted to sell them pornographic magazines. He recalls that Bluming ‘seized the man’s umbrella and chased him down the street beating him about the head. I didn’t see him again until later in the day. His first words: ‘Bob, do you want an umbrella?’’ [Smith 1999: 108].

Draeger, beleaguered with cross-cultural issues as both an expert and a foreigner in a Japanese institution, saw in Bluming the opportunity to prove at least some of his more contested points. During the early days of the Ichigaya house (around 1958), Bluming traveled from Holland to Japan to practice judo at the Kodokan and soon began working with Draeger and company: ‘Draeger said “Look, I am trying to prove a point that weight training and judo, if you do that, you become a better judoka. So I want you in the team to prove that point”’ [interview, 20-21 February 1998]. The experiment was successful and the already impressive Bluming claimed to have put on twenty kilograms of muscle within the same year.

Draeger’s triumph in the weight training experiment led him to consider Bluming as a litmus test against which to compare anyone laying claim to superhuman abilities or unverified levels of achievement in the fighting arts. In particular, the matter of Wang Shujin remained suspect in Draeger’s mind. Indeed, it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that his opinion on the matter of Chinese internal martial arts like taiji came to rest squarely in the critical camp. In a letter to Smith he references his time in the Marine Corps during the Korean War:

Chinese in general lack guts such as compared to Thai or
Japanese fighters. The history books are filled with evidence
of the general lack of Chinese fighting ability when they are
faced with real fighting men
… I know from Korea when my
company knocked hell out of 4 Chinese divisions…. Milling
mobs and masses, yes, but fighters … I have not seen any.
[9 July 1974]

Confirming Smith’s suspicions, Draeger’s wartime experience certainly did give him a distinct prejudice against the Chinese, which, as a passionate expert on East Asian martial arts and prolific writer on the topic, was an issue that continued to trouble him throughout his career. It may explain why, despite insisting that he personally make all contributions to the field regarding Japan and myriad Southeast Asian culture groups (which caused him to be constantly traveling and drained what little funds he had), he was quite comfortable asking Smith to handle Chinese martial arts in their joint publications. It was this personal struggle that seems to have fueled his interest in Wang, eventually leading him to bring the Chinese man together with Bluming for a ‘test’.

Wang was known for his apparently indestructible belly. Possessed of a prodigious waistline, he would assume a taiji posture and invite anyone to strike at his abdomen, simply absorbing the blow no matter how large or powerful the aggressor. Draeger saw that this was a parlor trick of one sort or another and resolved to determine just how durable the man’s gut might be. Bluming recalls that he was invited to meet Wang at a private training hall where few could be witness to the spectacle. Because of the somewhat secretive nature of this meeting, a number of rumors have been generated over the years with all manner of variations on the basic idea that Wang and Bluming had an all-out fight. Bluming insists that this was not the case, explaining that, at first, Wang took his usual stance and allowed Bluming to punch him in the stomach. The Dutchman did so, with the usual results. At that time Bluming was focused much more on judo than karate, however, and they agreed that testing the European’s grip would be a better means of judging Wang’s powers. Gripping Wang’s shoulders (he was not wearing a judo uniform), Bluming was surprised when the taiji expert shot his belly forward, checking Bluming so hard that he was thrown ‘meters away’. There ended the meeting, with Bluming and Draeger walking away unconvinced that Wang would be of much use in a street altercation. ‘I did not at the time and still dont [sic] think much of their style’, comments Bluming, ‘he died Young of FAT [sic]’ [personal communication].
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Re: Donn F Draeger - His life and works

Postby Trick on Sun Apr 07, 2019 10:32 pm

thanks, that was an interesting read
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Re: Donn F Draeger - His life and legacy

Postby Trick on Mon Apr 08, 2019 4:49 am

Draeger favoured the japanese over other east-asian martial arts and seemingly had no high toughts about internal martial arts or methods. so how was his toughts on aikido and its parent daito-ryu ?
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Re: Donn F Draeger - His life and legacy

Postby yeniseri on Wed Apr 10, 2019 6:36 pm

When I was in Okinawa (77-78) I saw alot stuff on Draeger in his compilation of Japanese martial systems and he was much more a a researcher on Japanese systems.
Bluming was more of the slap the face type of guy and he appeared to always wanted to test himself against the so called 'superior" martial arts because of the bullshit martial artistes ;D of the era who always seemed to work their crap on foreigners!
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Re: Donn F Draeger - His life and legacy

Postby Trick on Wed Apr 10, 2019 7:43 pm

i can imagine that Draeger must have been to Okinawa as a researcher, but Bluming ever went there (to research)?
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