Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, June 30, 2017

Opening the Veil on Asian Martial Arts

At KogenBudo, Ellis Amdur has a post about the two men who may have done the most to bring information on Asian Martial Arts to the west, through their writing: Donn Draeger and Robert W. Smith. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

Robert W. Smith was one of the most important American writers on Asian martial arts, particularly those of Taiwan (and those mainland teachers who settle in Taiwan after the 2nd World War). He was a powerful man, with a background in judo, wrestling and boxing. After serving with the Marines, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency, serving in Taiwan from 1959 to 1962. While there, he undertook a peripatetic study/entry into a number of Chinese martial arts schools. The result of this three years survey of teachers were outlined in a number of his books. Most notably, Smith became a student of Zheng Manqing, an artist and innovative Yang Taijiquan instructor. Zheng was the official instructor of the family of Chiang Kai Shek, and because of this, coupled with Smith’s known connection with the American government, he was able to gain entry into schools that he might otherwise never have found, much less be welcomed.

Smith, thus, had contact with schools in official favor: although he tended to present himself as having secured tutelage with the finest instructors on Taiwan, there were many whom he never got access to. There were many other great instructors of whom he was not even aware. Nonetheless, he was an important figure due to his writings: he brought some wonderful teachers to the attention of Western practitioners. In addition,  his writing, itself, was old-school, with a sense of humor and wit.

To be sure, there were times that he was both pompous and verbose, but he was one of the first writers on martial arts, after E.J. Harrison, who actually brought these people to life.

Smith’s most important collaborator was Donn F. Draeger. Donn was an incredible physical specimen. He started in some form of Yoshin-ryu jujutsu as a child, and later become a brilliant judo practitioner (the formidable John Bluming idolized Donn, and stated that he could not beat him in newaza (ground fighting). Donn made martial arts study his life, achieving expertise in more arts than I believe anyone knows, including karate, several forms of Indonesian pentjak silat, Shinto Muso-ryu jo, Katori Shinto-ryu and a number of forms of Chinese martial arts. He had a 5th dan in Tomiki Aikido, something that none of his closest friends were even aware that he studied. In his fifties, he could use 400+ pounds in full squats as a workout weight, and in fact, he was one of the pioneers using weightlifting to augment combat sports (coaching, among others Inokuma Isao, Anton Geesink, and Doug Rogers, all Olympians in judo). He revived the old academic discipline of hoplology, the study of the evolution and development of human combative behavior.

When I was on my way to Japan, Terry Dobson, my mentor in aikido recommended to me that I look up Draeger. The only thing I knew about him were his books. Donn was a witty, even bawdy guy in person – he was an ex-Marine, after all – but he very much desired to have his writing accepted in academic circles. He leaned on John ‘Jack’ Hanson-Lowe, an elderly man from a previous generation, who practiced ‘gentleman’s judo’ (He started in his 50’s. There was a place for cultured men such as he in the Kodokan, and he rose to 6th dan. John was legit—not a fighter, but knowledgeable, and well respected by the older Japanese teachers of the Kodokan, who still appreciated the idea of judo as a form of ethical culture). Unfortunately, Jack edited in a very stiff English style, and truly leached the humanity out of much of Donn’s writing. Therefore, I had a certain impression; I actually imagined Donn to be a tweedy academic who wrote about things that he didn’t do. I mentioned this to Terry, and said, “I’ll look him up if I have a spare moment from training.” Terry just smiled.

I first met Donn at the Renbukan, the dojo of Shimizu Takaji, of Shindo Muso-ryu. Contrary my previous imagined opinion, the man was built like a Greek god, well muscled and as flexible as a gymnast (despite some serious chronic injuries). I only saw him in action a few times—practicing jo and once doing an embu of Katori Shinto-ryu. He was a terrifying man. His weapon would sound a CRACK when contacting his training partner’s weapon. He was not brutal or untrustworthy, but he was also so intense, that the only way you wouldn’t get hurt would be if you matched his intensity.

Imagine wrestling with your dog—and you are used to a golden retriever—but today it is a mastiff, friendly to be sure, but built to kill.

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