Brian Kagen pick: “Donn F. Draeger: The Life and Times of an American Martial Arts Pioneer” by Paul Nurse

“Draeger is remembered today chiefly as the author of more than 30 books and numerous articles about the Asian martial arts, as well as for being one of the best-qualified and most experienced Western exponents of the combative arts. The oft-repeated legend that he either had or possessed the equivalent of some 100 black-belt ranks is perhaps apocryphal, but he no doubt was among the most accomplished martial artists of his generation, perhaps of all time. He held a sixth-degree black belt in judo; a seventh degree in jojutsu (Japanese stick fighting), kendo and iaido; and a menkyo license in the tenshin shoden katori shinto-ryu of bujutsu.”

Brian Kagen is an avid web researcher with a particular interest in martial arts. His training background includes both judo and aikido. He has contributed hundreds of article links over the years for AJ readers.

Click here to read entire article.


  1. Bless Draeger sensei, God rest his soul. Bless also Sir Richard Burton and Mr Nurse for mentioning his work (Sir Richard Francis Burton’s The Book of the Sword. This volume, first published in 1882 (and available today from Dover Publications)).

  2. bruce baker says:

    Over the years, I have read numerous articles by Donn Draeger, and I always come away with a sense that he was trying to strip away the embellishments or misdirections that some people have with putting words together, kinda like I do with these run-on sentences, and distilling his thoughts down to not only essentials but actions that could easily be transitioned into ACTION also.

    You have to realize that strength is always the alternative to knowledge, but added together strength plus knowledge always trumps strength alone, or knowledge alone, and yet the more you read about Donn Draeger the more you seem to realize that he was bringing not just physical strength to the table to trade for knowledge but mental strength also.

    For some reason I didn’t remember he grew up with the Chipawa tribe?

    The common comment from members of native American tribesmen (American Indians to some people), or those familiar with their customs and practices, is that there is almost no transition or very little transition to adapt to the customs and ways of the Japanese. In many ways, it is much easier than the Western European models of customs and societal practices, but that is what I hear.

    On one side I hear about the all night sessions of drinking and womanizing Draeger had as he was introduced deeper and deeper into the martial arts community, but in this article I see the author thinks that the all night sessions of talking, drinking and womanizing didn’t exist? Ya got me, I only know what I saw as a kid as the men came back from Korea and most of them had been soldiers in some part of WW2 if they were old enough. Even if they didn’t drink to excess, the common theme was to hang out, have a couple of beers, talk about whatever entertained them for hours, and especially to try to be like hollywood wolves as they all stalked women and watched to see who was sleeping with who .. just like most men do today.

    I am sorry, but this polished, squeeky clean image of Donn Draeger is not the one I know. Sure, he knew everyone, and was introduced to many many high-ranking sensei in many different disciplines as he trained himself in every weapon and every martial art he came into contact with, and wrote articles, let alone lived off a meager pension in the style of a poor monk traveling the land.

    I guess “The Life of Donn Draeger” can’t be a mini-series until more people have passed on into the great beyond because there are still people who are painting rose colored pictures out there, but at some point … someone will figure out that “Kung-fu” the television series is only a shadow compared to the real life adventures of Donn Draeger. Some people brought that up when the television series ‘kung-fu’ was popular, but it didn’t get far as I remember.

    What amazes me, is when you show people the real deal, they want Hollywood, not reality, so they miss the fine-points of different martial arts …. something that caught the attention of sensei Draeger …. the fine-points of each and every martial art and weapons training. And .. if you take anything away when you read anything about Sensei Draeger .. remember … it is a wild world … protect yourself.. and study the fine-points because they will transition to many different styles of martial arts.

    My point is .. you don’t get introduced to so many high ranking teachers in so many different martial disciplines unless you are part of an inner circle that recognizes you as one of the chosen few. Why even within Aikido there is an unspoken circle of society, friends, and customs that determines who is socially acceptable to who, and all you have to do is mention certain names and watch peoples faces or their body language to see who is in favor and who is out of favor.

    I am not gonna gloss over anyone, especially Sensei Draeger who would rather show and tell than write articles, but for pure distillation of martial knowledge and techniques, I find myself acknowledging Donn Draeger as the western pioneer who seemed to break all barriers (don’t forget Teddy Roosevelt’s attraction to Japanese martial arts thought)… but when you look deeper, you find his was an uphill struggle to push the rock up the hill most of his life as he gathered, and learned, from anyone and everyone he possibly could.

    In some ways I understand Donn Draeger’s restless spirit because like him my own father grew up with the indians, as a European living next to a reservation in western PA, as he fished and hunted in the woods, but was scarred by his terms of service in WW2 and Korea making him a restless spirit also. We will see more of these men with restless spirits as the present Wars and extended military excursions leave their scars of war on today’s soldiers, but never mind, let’s just .. GLOSS IT OVER!

    Rosy articles leaving out the full picture just don’t set right with me … sorry about that.

    Sorry, I would rather take the good with the bad, and see the whole picture, the whole measure of the man .. just as Donn Draeger would do .. before he wrote to distill out the B.S. into the distilled important words that concentrated on the subject at hand but still had a hint at the dark side of human nature at the same time.

    For all the sweetness and light that is written… there is always the dark forces of war that want to use violence to take away what we have gained, and that path of war is always at our door. We must not swing towards the dark, nor too far towards the fields of peace, but be ever vigilant in the middle never leaning too far to one side or the other as we recognize the darkness and the light of human nature.

    Do you want to understand Donn Draeger? Forget about it! Figure out yourself, and figure out the world of today that is penned from the history of yesterday .. you have a lot of work and studying to do … to affect the changes of tomorrow.

Speak Your Mind