This is the guy Steven Seagal tried to be...

People You Should Know: Donn F Draeger

People You Should Know: Donn F Draeger

This is the guy Steven Seagal tried to be.

Donald Frederick Draeger was probably the most respected American martial artist in Japan and he is the MOST prolific martial arts author of all time. I know, I know…Bruce Lee wrote one book (well he technically started it, the book was completed 4 years after his death by his wife, a publisher and several students who pieced it together). Donn Draeger wasn’t a Gracie nor did he compete in the UFC, but nonetheless he was a proponent of the “mixed martial arts” concept until his untimely death at the age of 60.

If you consider yourself a student of martial arts, then Donn Draeger is someone you should know.

Draeger joined the U.S. Marines at the end of World War II and served during the Korean War. He retired from military service in 1956. 

Draeger reportedly began his involvement in the martial arts while living in the Chicago area, at around the age of 7 or 8.[11] His first training was in 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).[11][12]

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.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19] He also helped promote judo throughout the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.[20]

Draeger officially represented US judo interests during international contests held in Cuba and Belgium in 1953,[21] 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.[22]

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.[23] 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 jodokendo, and aikido, among other arts.[24][25][26]

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.[27]

Below is video of Draeger instructing Sean Connery on the set of the Bond Film “You Only Live Twice”.

[youtube id=”eA3MOEnahUs”]

Draeger’s formal martial art ranks included:

Kyoshi menkyo in Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū (Teaching License Katana)
5th Dan Judo (5th Degree Black Belt)
7th Dan Kendo (7th Degree Black Belt fencing)
7th Dan Iado (7th Degree Black Belt Sword Drawing)
7th Dan Jodo (7th Degree Black Belt Staff)

Donn Draeger Books (several of these are co-authored by Robert Smith and others):

Judo Training Methods : A Sourcebook 1961
Weight training for Championship Judo 1966
Asian Fighting Arts 1969
Pentjak-Silat The Indonesian Fighting Ar, 1970
Weapons and Fighting Arts of the Indonesian Archipelago 1972
Classical Budo 1973
Martial Arts and Ways of Japan, 3 volumes, 1973-1974
Modern Budo and Bujutsu 1974
Shantung Black Tiger: A Shaolin Fighting Art of North China 1976
Phoenix-eye Fist: A Shaolin Fighting Art of South China 1977
Javanese Silat: The Fighting Art of Perisai Diri 1978
Shaolin: An Introduction to Lohan Fighting Techniques 1979
Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts 1980
Ninjutsu, the Art of Invisibility: Japan’s Feudal-age Espionage and Assassination Methods 1980
Ninjutsu: The Art of Invisibility (Facts, Legends, and Techniques)
Practical Karate Volume 1: Fundamentals of Self-Defense
Practical Karate Volume 2: Defense Against an Unarmed Assailant
Practical Karate Volume 3: Defense Against Multiple Assailants
Practical Karate Volume 4: Defense Against Armed Assailants
Practical Karate Volume 5: Self-Defense for Women

Practical Karate Volume 6: Self-Defense in Special Situations
Japanese Swordsmanship : Technique And Practice 1982
Judo Formal Techniques: A Complete Guide to Kodokan Randori No Kata

He spent decades traveling, studying, training and writing. He pioneered weight lifting for competitive judo in Japan and it was his life’s work to expose the west to true bushido. There was something about Draeger that captured the spirit of the martial arts. It’s unfortunate he doesn’t get nearly the recognition garnered by many lesser martial artists. 

Train Honestly,

Damian Ross
The Self Defense Company




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Join the Conversation


  1. I never personally met Don Fredrick Draeger, but I respected him from the time I heard of him.
    His Asian Fighting Arts & Ninjutsu books were instrumental for me getting involved in Taijutsu.

    1. You met him! To me that’s like meeting Frank Sinatra. Where/when did you meet him Bob?

  2. I have much respect for him; his ninjutsu books were instrumental for me getting involved in Taijutsu.

  3. Thank you for intrducing me to such a great mentor. To my shame, — I confess I had never heard his name. I certainly have now and I intend to work through all of his books.

    1. Well Mike, most people never heard of him. He didn’t do any movies (only consulted on a few).

      The biggest impression he made on me was his ultimate search for the truth.

      People think I hate all martial arts. I don’t.

      I hate what they’ve become as it applies to self defense.

      Draeger enlightened me as to the scope and purpose of martial arts.

      WHY DO WE DO THIS TECHNIQUE or study this weapon?

      What was it used for and how does it apply to my everyday life?

      Most times it’s not what you think. In fact. A lot of it is outdated and useless. However, all of my modern instructors and those I came in contact with (with the exception of Carl) all had convoluted reasons as to why we would practice something.

      For example.

      Why teach a traditional low block?

      You don’t use it in sparring and you sure as heck can’t use it in self defense….but that’s not what I was told.

      I was given answers like:

      1. It teaches you to move your hips and your arms in one unit – well if that were true…then why do we keep our feet planted in our horse stance?

      2. Its for self defense when someone REALLY winds up to kick you in the groin…We all know action is faster than reaction and even if someone does wind up – the time it takes to chamber our block and throw it will take TOO LONG.

      (rebuttal) Well in a fight, your movement will be shortened – OK, but won’t that make it less powerful…and how am I going to STOP A FULL ON FRONT KICK WITH MY ARM?!?!

      OK – see where I’m going. So why do we have all traditional blocks – and line up to practice them?

      Easy…it takes time and it’s easy to teach a large group of people with a limited number of instructors.

      When I line you all up and you’re all doing the same movement it’s easy to see who is out of line. Like a chorus line, you can correct every time you see something out of place.

      This enables you to pack large amounts of students into a class without having them knock into one another. Heck, going through all of your blocks from high to low can eat up 20 to 30 minutes of class time.

      Same can be said for forms (katas).

      The BEST explanation or reason for doing any Kata was Carl’s reason for doing Sanshin – the intense breathing and isometric movement is a workout in itself. Before weight training and calisthenics, you would practice the kata and receive a physical fitness benefit.

      The same can be said for ALL katas – but that’s where it ends.

      At one point I knew over 30 forms and it had the same tactical benefit as knowing 30 dance routines.

      Forms allow instructors to pack class, instruct a large number of people and EAT UP TIME.

  4. Good read Damien. Donn F Draeger is in my library .
    I haven’t read his books in many years but now I am going to reread and see what comes out of it. Didn’t know him but wanted to meet him, he is a true martial arts legend. Thanks for the reminder of a great Martial arts practitioner.

  5. I love your posts Damian. Wow, thanks for the education on Don Fredrick Draeger. He had an incredible formal martial arts history and pedigree!!! I wonder how many injuries he sustained over his years of training? ( just a rhetorical question, LOL, based on my own history in Hapkido) But as always, you clarify “critical differences” between formal martial art training and practical “in your face” self-defense. Thanks again for helping me to upgrade my thinking and skill-set to better contend with “real life” survival. You are the best!

  6. Thanks Damian. I’ve read a few of Draeger’s books, including a few on ninjutsu. A real thorough researcher. But I heartily agree that most katas don’t work in self-defense. If people would quit the bickering and ask WHY they practice a particular art, that it would save much wasted time and money. SDTS with Judo/Mongolian wrestling is nasty enough. And effective!

  7. You may like to know that this same Don Draeger (whom you praised) was the man who said that the Goju Ryu master Morio Higaonna is the deadliest man in Japan in a real fight (traditional kata based style which you criticized).

    So you have a dilemma.

    Either Don Draeger was a true visionary/ expert who recognized Higaonna’s fighting capabilities,


    He was wrong about Higaonna and therefore not much of a visionary/ expert after all.

    Nevertheless i think kata is an incredibly inefficient way to learn how to fight.

    1. Ha – No dilema – you’re making the martial arts assumption that the system makes the man, when in fact…the opposite is true.

      Martial arts do a great job of convincing you that if you do their system you will be transformed into the best fighter on the planet.

      It would be like saying if you boxed you would be like Mike Tyson.

      Never taking into account natural ability, luck, work ethic and fitness.

      The difference between what we do with the SDTS is this:

      This will give you the best chance based on your current skill set and fitness level with regards to self defense.

      That’s it – no promises of becoming Royce Gracie. Just the best you can be right now, at this moment.

      Oh…and some of the toughest people I ever met NEVER set foot inside of a dojo.


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