Donn F. Draeger

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Donn F. Draeger
Donn Draeger (1967).jpg
Draeger on the set of the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967), for which he served as martial arts coordinator
BornDonald Frederick Draeger
(1922-04-15)April 15, 1922
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
DiedOctober 20, 1982(1982-10-20) (aged 60)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
RankKyoshi menkyo in Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū,[1] 10th-dan Kyokushin Budokai,[2] 5th-dan judo,[1] 7th-dan kendo,[1] 7th-dan iaido,[1] Menkyo (post.) in Shindō Musō-ryū Jōdō, 7th-dan in jōdō.[1][3] and 5th-dan Tomiki Aikido [4]

Donald Frederick "Donn" Draeger (April 15, 1922 – October 20, 1982) was an internationally known teacher and practitioner of Japanese martial arts.[1] He was the author of several important books on Asian martial arts,[5] and was a pioneer of international judo in the United States and Japan. He also helped make the study of martial arts an acceptable topic of academic research.[6]


Early life[edit]

Donald Frederick "Donn" Draeger was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on April 15, 1922.[7] His parents were Frank and Irma (Poetsch) Draeger.[8] In 1940, at age 17, he was living in Milwaukee with his father, his stepmother Dora, two half-brothers, and his father's stepfather and mother.[9] He was married in Bluefield, West Virginia, on June 18, 1949. During the next two years, Draeger and his wife had two sons. The family separated in the spring of 1951.

Military service[edit]

Draeger served in the United States Marine Corps from 1943 to 1956. He began his recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in January 1943.[10] After graduation, he attended officer candidate school at Marine Barracks Quantico. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in April 1943.

Draeger received branch training as a signal officer, and in October 1944, he was assigned to Corps Signal Battalion, V Amphibious Corps. During February and March 1945, Corps Signal Battalion participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

In April 1945, Draeger was promoted to first lieutenant, and transferred to III Amphibious Corps, which was preparing for the planned invasion of Japan. However, when the Pacific War ended in August 1945, III Amphibious Corps instead went to North China to accept the surrender of Japanese soldiers, and from October 1945 to February 1946, Draeger served with a signal unit in Tianjin, China.

Draeger returned to the USA in the spring of 1946, and for the rest of the year, he served with Marine detachments in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

In January 1947, he was reassigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. While at Camp Lejeune, he was promoted to captain, commanded a company, and coached the base judo team.[11]

During the summer of 1951, Draeger was sent to Korea, where he served as a signal officer in the 1st Marine Division. While in Korea, his secondary duties included teaching judo in the division support area near Hongcheon.[12]

In October 1952, Draeger was reassigned to Headquarters Marine Corps. His primary duty assignment was with the Inter-American Defense Board.[13] While in this billet, he held the rank of major. Upon completion of this assignment, Draeger reverted to his permanent rank of captain, and he separated from the service on June 30, 1956.


In 1956, Draeger attended Georgetown University in Washington, DC,[14] and in 1959, he was awarded the Bachelor of Science degree from Sophia University in Tokyo.[15]

Draeger reportedly began his involvement in the martial arts while living in the Chicago area, at around the age of 7 or 8.[16] His first training was in Yoshin-ryu jujutsu, but he soon changed to judo and by age 10, he reportedly achieved the grade of 2nd kyu (the lower of the two levels of brown belt).[16][17]

By 1948, Draeger was ranked 4th dan in judo. This grading occurred before 1947, so it probably occurred while he was stationed in China in 1946. His known judo instructors in Tianjin included Mike Matvey.[18]

In 1952, Draeger was one of the leaders of the newly established US Judo Black Belt Association. This was the first national-level judo organization in North America, and the forerunner of what later became the United States Judo Federation.[19] Draeger's national-level postings included vice-president of the Pan-American Judo Association and chairman of the Public Relations Committee of the Amateur Judo Association of the United States.[20] He also helped promote judo throughout the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.[21]

Draeger officially represented US judo interests during international contests held in Cuba and Belgium in 1953,[22] and in 1964, he was named the United States Amateur Athletic Union judo representative in Japan, in anticipation of judo's inclusion in the 1964 Olympics.[23]

During this time, Draeger also trained in Chinese martial arts, learning baguazhang under Wang Shujin while in Japan.[24] By mediation of his training partner Robert W. Smith, Draeger fought a challenge match against Huang Sheng-shyan, defeating him by a choke.[25] Smith had previously tried to get him to fight the renowned Cheng Man-ch'ing, whom Draeger had previously criticized, but Draeger declined due to the heavy age difference between them.[25]

Draeger also participated in judo activities in Japan. For instance, in 1961, Draeger and British judo athlete John Cornish were the first non-Japanese athletes selected to demonstrate nage-no-kata during the All-Japan Judo Championships.[26] Draeger became a member of the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai, the oldest Japanese cultural organization for the study and preservation of classical martial arts. He was the first non-Japanese practitioner of Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, achieving instructor status (kyoshi menkyo) in that system. He also held high ranks in Shindo Muso-ryu jodo, kendo, karate and aikido, among other arts.[2][27][28][29]

Draeger studied the evolution and development of human combative behavior and was director of the International Hoplology Society (IHC) in Tokyo until his death in 1982.[30]

Later years[edit]

In his later years, Draeger spent four months a year on field trips throughout Asia.[31] While on these trips, he visited schools and studied combative methods, which he analyzed and recorded. These studies were sometimes published as articles in various martial arts magazines, or put into books.[31]

Draeger lived in Japan, China, Mongolia, Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia. One of the books he wrote is Pentjak-Silat: The Indonesian Fighting Art (1970).[32] In 1979, Draeger and his team visited the island of Sumatra. While visiting the Aceh tribe there, it appears that the entire group was somehow poisoned, perhaps deliberately.[31] As a result, he developed severe amoebic dysentery, leading to hospitalization. Draeger began losing weight and he grew increasingly weak during this ordeal. His legs began to swell, causing him great pain, and he found it difficult to walk or train. His long devotion to martial arts training came to a gradual halt.[31]

While he was getting treatment at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, it was discovered that he had developed cancer of the liver. Draeger died on October 20, 1982, at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Milwaukee. Cause of death was metastasized carcinoma.[31] He was buried at Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee on October 25, 1982.[33][16][17] His grave lies in Section 4, site 377.[31][b]

Books and other media[edit]

Draeger wrote dozens of books and articles about the Asian martial arts.[5][34] His most influential books were probably Asian Fighting Arts (written with Robert W. Smith, Tuttle, 1969) and Martial Arts and Ways of Japan (Weatherhill, 3 volumes, 1973–1974). Draeger's research, theories, and concepts inspired a generation of martial art researchers and practitioners,[35] and as of 2012, many of his books remain in print.

Draeger briefly worked in film. Specifically, he served as martial arts coordinator for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, where he also doubled for actor Sean Connery.[36] He also appeared in at least one television documentary about the Japanese martial arts.[37]

While living in Japan, Draeger collected woodblock prints, and in 2004, part of his collection of sumo prints was featured in an exhibition organized by the Seattle Asian Art Museum.[38]


Draeger wrote many books on the martial arts. Draeger's published works include:

  • Judo Training Methods : A Sourcebook, with Takahiko Ishikawa, The Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1961
  • ShaoLin Lohan Kung-Fu with co-author P'ng Chye Kim (from Penang, Malaysia, 1979) (ISBN 978-0-8048-1698-4)
  • Pentjak-Silat The Indonesian Fighting Art, Kodansha International Ltd,1970
  • Asian Fighting Arts (with Robert W. Smith), Kodansha International, 1969; re-titled Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts upon republication, 1980 (ISBN 978-0870114366)
  • Classical Bujutsu : Martial Arts And Ways Of Japan, Vol I., Weatherhill, 1973, 1996
  • Classical Budo: Martial Arts And Ways Of Japan, Vol II., Weatherhill, 1973, 1996
  • Modern Bujutsu & Budo: Martial Arts And Ways Of Japan, Vol III., Weatherhill, 1974, 1996
  • Javanese Silat: The Fighting Art of Perisai Diri, Kodansha International Ltd, 1978
  • Japanese Swordsmanship : Technique And Practice (with Gordon Warner), Weatherhill, 1982
  • The Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia (ISBN 978-0804817165)
  • Phoenix-Eye Fist: A Shaolin Fighting Art of South China
  • Shantung Black Tiger: A Shaolin Fighting Art of North China (with Leo Budiman Prakarsa and Quintin T. G. Chambers), Weatherhill, 1976 (ISBN 978-0834801226)
  • Judo Formal Techniques: A Complete Guide to Kodokan Randori No Kata
  • Ninjutsu: The Art of Invisibility, Japan's Feudal Age Espionage Methods, Lotus Press, 1977; Phoenix Books, 1994


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Donn Draeger: An Excerpt from Martial Musings by Robert W. Smith".
  2. ^ a b "IBK International Kyokushin Budokai - Blak Belts". International Kyokushin Budokai.
  3. ^ statement by Kaminoda Tsunemori, Shindō Musō-ryū Menkyo Kaiden, to David A. Hall in 1986.
  4. ^ Amdur, Ellis (2007-12-07). "How to do Justice to Memory?". Retrieved 2020-09-25. Donn was a fifth dan in Tomiki Aikido
  5. ^ a b Modern Bujutsu & Budo: Martial Arts And Ways Of Japan, Vol III., Weatherhill, 1974
  6. ^ Belzer, Mike (July 23, 2008). "Donn Draeger". Inosanto Academy. Retrieved 16 February 2012. Donn Draeger was recognized as a world authority on Asian martial culture and human combative behavior.
  7. ^ Social Security Death Index [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA. Operations, 2011. Retrieved 22 September 2012.
  8. ^ 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA. Operations, Inc., 2002. Retrieved 22 September 2012.
  9. ^ 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA. Operations, Inc., 2012. Retrieved 22 September 2012.
  10. ^ Unless otherwise noted, all Marine Corps information in this section comes from U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA. Operations, Inc., 2007. Retrieved 22 September 2012.
  11. ^ The source for the judo team is "Tony Scarano Judo Star in Marines." 1950, April 21. St. Petersburg Evening Independent, p. 19.
  12. ^ "Marine Judo Expert Coaches Aspirants." 1952, June 15. Pacific Stars and Stripes, p. 17.
  13. ^ Nichols, Harman W. 1954, January 27. "Your Nichols' Worth," Altus Times-Democrat, p. 4.
  14. ^ Georgetown University. Georgetown Alumni Online, Class of 1956 [1] Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 22 September 2012.
  15. ^ "Sophia International Awards 12 Degrees." 1959, June 17. Pacific Stars and Stripes, p. 2.
  16. ^ a b c Nurse, Paul. 2006. Donn F. Draeger: The life and times of an American martial arts pioneer Archived January 2, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Black Belt Magazine. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  17. ^ a b USA Dojo: Donn F. Draeger Archived 2009-06-11 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  18. ^ Draeger, Donn. 1999. Letter to Robert W. Smith, May 10, 1964, in "Judo," Journal of Combative Sport.[2] Retrieved 22 September 2012.
  19. ^ Brouse, Michel and David Matsumoto. 2005. Judo in the U.S.: A Century of Dedication. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, p. 84.
  20. ^ Smith, Bob. 1953, January. "American Commentary," Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin 8:4, p. 8.
  21. ^ Armetta, Paul. No date. "Shufu." [3] Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on September 23, 2012.
  22. ^ Smith, Bob. 1953, January. "American Commentary," Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin 8:4, p. 8.
  23. ^ "Sports Liaison AAU Committee Set Up in Tokyo." 1964, May 18. Pacific Stars and Stripes, p. 22.
  24. ^ Ellis Amdur, Hidden in Plain Sight: Esoteric Power Training within Japanese Martial Traditions, Freelance Academy Press, 2018
  25. ^ a b Amdur, Ellis (2017-01-10). "Donn Draeger & Robert Smith: Their Intersection Concerning Chinese Martial Arts". Retrieved 2023-03-31.
  26. ^ Photo caption in Budokwai Bulletin 66, July 1961.
  27. ^ "Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo".
  28. ^ Smith, Robert W. 1999. "Donn Draeger: An Excerpt from Martial Musings." [4] Retrieved 23 September 2012. Streaming video showing Draeger demonstrating techniques from various traditional Japanese martial arts are available. See, for example, "Uchida Ryu Tanjojutsu" on YouTube and "Donn Draeger Katori Shinto Ryu 1970's (sic) Pt (2)" on YouTube. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  29. ^ Amdur, Ellis. 2004. "How to do justice to memory?", from "The other benchmark was his sense of privacy. For example, Donn was a fifth dan in Tomiki Aikido. I once saw a video of him, and it was among the very best aikido I have ever seen--there was no moment where he did not have three points of body contact with his partner (this is the essence of effective grappling.) This single viewing changed the way I have done, not only aikido, but every body-to-body martial art I have practiced. At any rate, I called Dobson up, raving about what I had seen, and Terry said, "I never knew he did aikido. He used to always tease me about doing it!"
  30. ^ The official website of International Hoplology Society - About. Retrieved 14th October 2013.
  31. ^ a b c d e f Nurse, Paul (May 2006). "Donn F. Draeger: The Life and times of an American Martial Arts Pioneer". Black Belt Magazine. Vol. 44, no. 5. Rainbow Publications, Inc. p. 122.
  32. ^ Corcoran, John (1988). Martial Arts: Traditions, History, People. W.H. Smith Publishers Inc. p. 320. ISBN 0-8317-5805-8.
  33. ^ Friman, H. Richard. 1999. "Donald F. Draeger's Wisconsin Grave." Journal of Asian Martial Arts 8:3.. The exact site is Section 4, site 377. See United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Nationwide Gravesite Locator [5] Archived 2019-05-17 at the Wayback Machine and National Cemetery Administration. U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca. 1775-2006 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2006.
  34. ^ "A Donn Draeger Bibliography." 2000-2005. Journal of Combative Sport[6][permanent dead link] Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  35. ^ For background to the writing and publication of Asian Fighting Arts, see Draeger, Donn. 2002, April. "Publishing Asian Fighting Arts," Journal of Combative Sport [7] Retrieved 23 September 2012. For an introduction to Draeger's thesis on the distinction between martial art (bugei) and martial way (budō), see Hurst, G. Cameron. 1998. Armed Martial Arts of Japan: Swordsmanship and Archery. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 8. For information about the International Hoplology Society, which Draeger created, see [8].
  36. ^ Adams, Andy. 1967, August. "007's Newest 'Gimmick': A Whole Arsenal of Japanese Self-Defense Arts," Black Belt, pp. 34-39.
  37. ^ Kendo: The Path of the Sword (1980) at IMDb [9] Retrieved on September 27, 2012.
  38. ^ "Larger Than Life Heroes: Prints of Sumo Wrestling from the Donn F. Draeger Collection." 2004. Seattle Art Museum. "Seattle Art Museum: Exhibition Information". Archived from the original on 2005-03-05. Retrieved 2012-09-23. Retrieved 23 September 2012. For more information about sumo woodblock prints, see Bickford, Lawrence. 1994. Sumo and the Woodblock Print Masters, Tokyo: Kodansha.

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