Donn’s official bio in part reads as follows: “…regular officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, is a research historian, author, and lecturer on Asian martial disciplines, in which he holds a large number of expert ranks and teaching licenses.” Donn also continued to try and create publications that had a broad public appeal for folks interested in budo from both an academic and practitioner’s vantage point. Donn resurrected Sir Richard Burton’s classification for the study of Hopology, the impact of martial arts on culture and truly dedicated his life to this pursuit. Today, his efforts still have a profound bearing on many of the folks that he intersected with.
Donn lived all over Asia and hobnobbed with some of the greatest martial artists of his day earning their respect and often gaining access to the intricacies of their own martial systems.
Perhaps one day an authoritative book about this man will be published. I liked in particular what Mr. Ellis Amdur, an accomplished martial artist in his own right, had to say in a post a few years back, to paraphrase: “…he was a man’s man and when he placed his hands upon you he could gauge your worth…”
Known for his Judo and introducing weight training to the Kodokan, his excellent books and a few duds too, Donn was formidable and yet had a marvelous sense of humor. I hope to write some of my own memories about Donn and that others that knew him might contribute so that a compendium might be developed.
I would also caution that today I observe two sad trends. The first is that some folks think that by going to a grave site or commemorating training to his spirit that they are honoring the man or in some way profiting from Donn Draeger. Nothing could be further from the truth. Donn made it very clear to me and to others that once he was gone he wanted to be left alone. He had no way to anticipate the internet but he did understand the aspects of Western culture that seemed to promote charlatans and glory seekers. A good portion of his life was spent getting oddball letter requests from all over the world. My personal favorite was a story he told about getting a letter from "the last American ninja" and requesting information on which pocket he should hold his shuriken. True story - honest!
The other trend is a betrayal of sorts. Although Donn himself would never want to be elevated to some supernatural status, he had a great passion for practicing what worked and he wanted to test everything. There are those today that have carried on additional research and have drawn some conclusions that are inconsistent with his own. Sometimes, carelessly perhaps, they've grown dismissive of Donn's extraordinary work. I hope that any growth in knowledge is not used to dismiss all of the fine work that Donn did. He lived in a time when his experiences could not be duplicated today and as several of my budo seniors like to say.... "he has probably forgotten more than I'll ever know...".