By the same token, my friend the karate instructor had no appreciable recollection of Donn F. Draeger other than to acknowledge that he had heard the name somewhere, but couldn’t quite place it.
Donn more than any other Westerner in post WWII Japan was responsible for opening up doors to training in Japanese martial ways and arts for non-Japanese. A generation of Western Budoka, looking to gain access to the fabled land of Mecca for Japanese budo, all knew Donn or was in some way influenced by him.
As a young man (read daikohai) at the original Rembukan Dojo, I remember asking Donn what he thought of Bruce Lee. Draeger Sensei, himself a man of incredible physical and mental presence, considered the question for a while and if memory serves me correctly, said something like this…. “Well, I know Mr. Lee. He has everything a good fighter needs, speed, power, technique. He’s worth a good solid Rokudan (6th dan).” ARGUABLY 6TH DAN BACK IN THE MID SEVENTIES WOULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT FROM A 6TH DAN BY TODAY’S STANDARDS.
Donn went on to say that he knew Mr. Lee’s teacher and many of his seniors in Hong Kong. He respected them and felt that Mr. Lee had not surpassed them in skills. Finally Donn, ever the realist, said what has surely come to be true: “History has not made clear the impact Mr. Lee has had on the martial arts. His films are entertaining and his persona has done a lot to entice people into looking into the martial arts, and that’s a good thing. It comes at a cost, however, as it will be hard to separate truth from entertainment over the long haul.”
Mr. Lee is a name known today all over the world, and Donn is also remembered by all of us who came in contact with him. Despite many excellent and serious books on Japanese martial culture, rare to find in English then, Donn’s legacy might be quieter, and this author would guess that Donn would’ve preferred it this way.