The Life & Legacy of Donn F. Draeger
March 24th, 2019
The 24th of March 2019, a group of non-Japanese Budo and Kobudo researchers and practitioners working and practicing in Japan organizes a unique series of lectures on Don Draeger's impact on the martial arts community and beyond. Lectures by four people who knew and succeeded him.
As practitioners and working actively for the international promotion of Budo and Kobudo, and because we believe it is of the utmost importance to support events organized by the new generation that succeed to Donn Draeger, Seido and Guillaume Erard offered their assistance to capture and publish videos of the event.
Donn F. Draeger
Pioneer, enigma and inspiration, Donn F. Draeger’s legacy still shapes the way we approach and engage in the martial arts. Born in 1922, he was a military veteran of WWII and Korea, and participated in the battle of Iwo Jima
Captain in the US marine corps, pioneer of physical training methods, practitioner of modern Japanese martial ways, the first non-Japanese student of several classical martial arts, author of definitive books and the founder of a study of human combative behavior, called Hoplology.
Instructor of Katori Shinto Ryu Kenjutsu, he also held high ranks in Shindo Muso Ryu, Judo, Kendo and Aikido, among other arts.
We still do not know the full extent of his achievements by his untimely death in 1982, but he was, through his perseverance, abilities, and example, known even to the Japanese as, ‘Sensei’.
Today, Hunter ‘Chip’ Armstrong, Liam Keeley, Alex Bennett, and Phil Relnick have gathered to talk about the man, his work and his legacy.
First presentation by Hunter "Chip" Armstrong
Hunter ‘Chip’ Armstrong began training in martial arts with various karate systems in the early ’60s. On moving to Japan he continued his study under Higaonna Morio sensei (Goju ryu) at the famous Yoyogi dojo.
Meeting Donn Draeger in 1975, Armstrong began his foray into Japan’s koryū bujutsu, starting in Shindō Musō Ryū jō at the Renbukan Dojo in Tokyo in 1977. In 1980, he began training in Tatsumi Ryū. In 1985, while living in Nagoya, he was accepted by Kato Isao Sensei to begin training in Shinkage Ryū heihō / Owari Kan Ryū sōjutsu. While his main focus was in Japanese fighting arts, he also explored other arts including Chen and Yang styles of taichi, as well as bagua and xing yi.
As first a member and then Director of the International Hoplology Society, Chip has engaged in the research and development of hoplology---the study of human combative behavior and performance---since the latter part of the 1970s. In that endeavor, he has conducted field research in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India, researching both traditional fighting arts as well as modern variants.
Since 1996, Chip has been involved in developing training programs and presenting seminars for the military and law enforcement, integrating inherent principles of human combative behavior with modern combat techniques and technologies in both contexts. These principles have been present in many traditional battlefield combat systems, in particular, the koryū bujutsu of the Sengoku period, but universally found in other martial and civil fighting cultures around the world.
Second Presentation by Liam Keeley
Liam Keeley is a hoplologist, Tatsumi-ryu and Toda-ha Buko-ryu instructor, and specialist of Zulu stick fighting, among many other accomplishments. He was a close associate of Donn Draeger.
Born in South Africa, Liam began his martial arts training at the age of ten with Judo. After obtaining his BA, he moved to Japan in 1974 to further his practice of Goju ryu karate. Arriving in Tokyo, he began practice at the famous Yoyogi dojo of the now legendary Higaonna Morio sensei. Liam traveled to Malaysia and Indonesia in 1979 with Donn Draeger and a team of other hoplologists learning directly from Draeger his approach to the study and classification of martial arts, weaponry and culture. He returned to South Africa in 1980 to study anthropology, while at the same time, remarkably, learning the Mhlabatini style of Zulu stick fighting. Returning to Japan in 1984 he began his study of Tatsumi ryu, under Kato Takashi sensei, in which he holds the rank of Okuden Mokuroku and later began training in Toda Ha Buko ryu, under Nitta Suzuo sensei, in which he holds the rank of Shihan. Liam has continued to promote collaboration and education in the martial arts as a member of the Japan Martial Arts Society, through organizing the first International Hoplology Conference in 1996 and more recently as a co-founder of the Koryu Collective. Liam presently resides in Melbourne, Australia. He is suffering from Parkinson's disease but st still teaching and practicing.
Third presentation by Alexander Bennett
Dr Alexander Bennett was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1970. He spent a year in Japan as part of a high school exchange program where he first experienced Kendo, leading to a lifetime’s dedication to this art.
Returning to Japan for graduate work, he received a PhD from Kyoto University (Doctor of Human and Environmental Studies) in 2001 and a second PhD from the University of Canterbury (Doctor of Philosophy in Japanese) in 2012. He has worked at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies and the Department of Japanese Studies at Teikyo University and is currently a professor in the Division of International Affairs at Kansai University.
Alex is vice president of the International Naginata Federation, a member of the International Committee of the All Japan Kendo Federation, International Committee of the All Japan Jukendo Federation, a Director of the Japanese Academy of Budo, and a head coach with NZ Kendo.
He founded and serves as editor-in-chief of Kendo World, the world’s only English-language journal dedicated to kendo and holds the grades of kendo kyoshi 7-dan, Iaido 5-dan, naginata 5-dan, tankendo 5-dan, jukendo 5-dan, and jikishin kage-ryu kenjutsu 3-dan. He also studies Tendo-ryu.
Alex is also a prolific writer in both Japanese and English on Japanese history and culture. Recent publications in English include Hagakure: The Secret Wisdom of the Samurai, Kendo: Culture of the Sword, Naginata: History and Practice, The Complete Musashi: The Book of Five Rings and Other Works, Japan: The Ultimate Samurai Guide.
Fourth presentation by Phil Relnick,
Phil Relnick was born in New York State in 1938, and moved to Brooklyn, New York before the end of the Second World War. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1955 and a year later found himself at the beginning of an unplanned, three-year tour in Japan and a life-long journey into the world of the martial arts, beginning with judo, in 1957. This journey included a 40-year on-and-off residence in Japan, and a wife and three children, between 1956 and 1998.
Returning to Japan as a civilian in 1961, Phil continued training in judo where he eventually earned the rank of 4th dan. Through an introduction from Donn Draeger, he began the study of Shinto Muso Ryu Jojutsu with Shimizu Takaji Sensei at the Rembukan Dojo and has earned the rank of Menkyo-Kaiden.
In 1978, again with Donn Draeger’s introduction, Phil began the study of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu with Otake Risuke Sensei at the Shinbukan Dojo and eventually, earned the rank of Shidosha Menkyo.
In addition to the technical aspects of the martial arts, Phil was a co-founder and former President of the International Jodo Federation, and founder/President of the Japan Martial Arts Society. His academic credentials include a BS in Commerce from Waseda University in Japan, and an MA in East Asian Studies (Japan) from the University of Michigan in the United States.
After returning to the United States and retirement in 1998, Phil built a dojo attached to his home, near Seattle, Washington, the Shintokan where he instructs in both koryu traditions.