Reprinted with permission from The Journal of Combative Sport November 1999. The following are extracts of letters Donn Draeger wrote to Robert W. Smith between 1959 and 1974. They were edited by Joseph Svinth and are reprinted by permission of Robert W. Smith. Where first names are not known, the lack is noted by the symbol ***. If someone knows the names of these people, please contact the editors.
(Jun. 25, 1959)
Unless I miss my guess, Isao Inokuma will be about 195 pounds come fall time. He has packed on fifteen solid pounds already and is today the strongest judoka on the mat in Japan. I want you to meet him, work with him, and watch him train. His latest bit is interesting in that he throws a thirty-man sandan line every day at his school! This training is in addition to thousands of uchikomi, weights, and general randori in two dojo! He's murderous - but a real nice kid. (He's only 21.) Last Sunday he dumped a ten-man sandan line in twelve minutes! They can't promote him to godan until he is 22. Ha!
(Sep. 18, 1959)
Chinese judo isn't too bad. Saw a few of them up here during the past years and they were impressive. Hope you can keep up your practice. You know, if you want, you can take an exam here at the Kodokan before you go home. Consists of exactly the same procedures as in Washington. Demonstration of various waza against cooperating partner, a practice contest against a representative of the grade you are trying for, and Nage and Katame-no-Kata. (Study only first three groups in Nage and all in Katame. They will ask for only three techniques of each kata.) No written exam, but rather a bit of questioning about the history and background of judo.
Heard from George Wilson. He is interested in my weight methods for training. Reports judo milestone in that two of his pupils he brought up through all levels of high school have made shodan and now are admitted to the program at San Jose State. He has good common sense on needs for USA judo and methods of obtaining it. His vigor toward introducing it to educational system is great and we may work together on various projects.
Had great compliment from *** Kanemitsu, 9-dan. After I drew with the police instructor of 7-dan during a twelve-minute ground battle and choked out a 6-dan, he put me to additional tests with his 3 and 4-dan lads. No particular trouble even with my bad leg. He said that within a few years of hard practice I could defeat anyone on the ground.
Last night at the Kodokan, *** Shibayama, 6-dan, generally considered the strongest ground man in the area, complimented me similarly after working a ten-minute draw with him and scoring two quick points on *** Mizuno, 6-dan, recently returned from Spain. "Shib" said I was the strongest foreigner on the ground. He has worked with them all: Anton Geesink, George Harris, *** Williams, Jon Bluming, *** Pariset, Malcolm Gregory, Gene LeBell, etc.
He predicts I can make good progress during the next year. If this is true, then I feel that my time has been well spent. Since, as one gets older, the tachiwaza [standing techniques] get weaker, I will now specialize completely on katame [groundwork]. At this point I am a 50 percent 5-dan. Frankly, I can't see making that rank at all, though there has been some indication that I will be considered. About the only way will be honorary and as such I further contribute to the fact that the USA has never had any Caucasian make 5-dan "on the mat." Only *** Nishimori, 6-dan, made in contest, thus being the only American to get the rank via true efforts in contest.
(Feb. 12, 1961)
This month is big month for tournaments. If you can make it for the end of the month, try, as this one will be good due to World matches coming up in December. All entrants are out for the kill. Inokuma looks like a sure thing barring unusual happenings. Am winding up his training schedule now with final phase of speed weight training, wind sprint running, and high-speed-reps uchikomi. Strange as it may seem to you, Inokuma is more or less in my charge in regard to his training by his own choice. He is in tip-top shape (though recent back injury is worrying me a bit), standing at 190 pounds and all muscle.
Inokuma and I went to visit Kimura, 7-dan, the all-time great. Kimura very sarcastic to Inokuma and asked Inokuma to show his hands. Looking at them very critically, Kimura remarked, "Do you do judo? You have the hands of a woman." Inokuma didn't know what to answer, but Kimura continued, "Look at my hands. I do judo. I can still beat you, even at my age." With this, he turned and went back to the mat. I was really embarrassed, but Inokuma took it seriously and felt no personal slam. I had gone over originally to arrange study with Kimura for myself and also to begin collecting specific data on Kimura for a coming article or small book on his training methods. Kimura is a good source of information.
Geesink here was powerful and looked damn good against any and all comers. He is rumored to be getting his Kodokan 5-dan. Saw his exam and it was rough but passable. Bluming is a real killer, standing 6'5" and almost 230 pounds now. Solid muscle via weights. Only personal habits and tactless actions with fair sex seem to be blocking his 4- dan.
*** Knight is still running wild and has vowed to break JBBF [Judo Black Belt Federation; the future US Judo Federation] and Kodokan ties. I'm damn sick of playing footsie with AAU and him and have put my two cents worth in to JBBF officials. This meeting this coming weekend should see some fireworks. The JBBF is looking real strong under Yosh Uchida's good leadership and it won't be long before we have long-dreamed of organization.
I'm still real busy with judo of course and getting all data on training and teaching methods. No use fooling myself any longer since contest training only leaves me with injuries that never heal. My speed is gone, mainly due to painful joints when I move. I think I told you that I have some arthritis trouble, knees, wrists, elbows. It just plain hurts to move fast. Concentrating on grappling now and getting all methods I can. That's why Kimura contact. Still can hold my own with any 4 or 5-dan here as long as wind lasts.
(May 22, 1962)
Doug Rogers doing well at 230 pounds. Today he dumped six men in Kohaku Shiai and probably will make his sandan for it. Inokuma and I are coming out with an advanced weight training book late this year or early next. Many requests for it. Will be done in Japanese, too.
(Jul. 12, 1963)
Doug Rogers is getting strong. No 4 or 5-dan throws him now and on ground he handles any and all. If he can get more "killer" in him he will be a second Geesink. Seems to soften up in shiai and get polite. Mental aspect is his hurdle, not physical. Jim Bregman is training a bit better now and is getting very fast, deceptive and good. May get 4-dan in another year.
I(Nov. 21, 1963)
Bluming is busy in the Netherlands but is in trouble with federation politics. His feud with Anton Geesink is bigger than ever. Anton is here now and has been named coach at Tenri University for four months! Real reversal of traditional thinking here, eh? The lid is about to blow on the JBBF-AAU struggle for power in USA judo. Keep silent about it, but Phil Porter is building the AAU to take over using JBBF fallouts, who, while nice guys, don't realize the implications and see only the glory and titles Porter freely bestows upon them. Also big is Jerome Mackey's latest, namely pro judo for prizes over CBS- supported television network. Begins in February.
JBBF-AAU and the New York Yudanshakai are in an uproar and threatening to remove Mackey from the JBBF and request the Kodokan to void Mackey's grade. Mackey threatens to sue if this happens. Big deal and typical of Mackey whose only interest is his own pocket. Bad for judo if Mackey gets his way. The Kodokan will give the ax to Mackey soon. I'm in constant conference about this crap now and it irks me as it takes away valuable time I should be putting on manuscripts.
(Feb. 12, 1964)
I wrote up the Russian visit in Judo World out of Canada. Do you get this magazine? A lot of my stuff goes in there. When here in December Geesink told me that within five years the Soviets will dominate the mat. Wilfred Dietrich of West Germany is now in judo and will enter the world shiai. Remember him? He has beaten Anton in less than twenty seconds!
(May 10, 1964)
The coming Olympics is heaping correspondence up on my desk. I know that I owe you some things. Patience with me, please. Jim Bregman did well. As I told you, as good as he is, he could have been better if he'd only have trained fully while he was here. Maybe now he can really set the pace and go after bigger things. Just made his 4-dan; diploma being sent later. My old judo-sambo instructor, Mike Matvey of Tientsin, is now relocated in Brazil. A friend of mine here knew him in China. Says karate is big in Brazil and is largely Shito-ryu type.
(Oct. 11, 1964)
My next answer to you will have to wait until after the Olympic Games. *** Kaminaga to face Geesink; I'll take Kaminaga. Inokuma in heavy has George Harris, two Russians, *** Tempesta, and Doug Rogers. I'll take Inokuma. Should be good.
(Dec. 21, 1964)
I think you have full scoop on AAU-JBBF and Olympics by now. Won't bother to fill you in. My write-up will appear both in Judo World and JBBF Bulletin. Dietrich didn't enter judo. Turk and Iran judoka not entered due to lack of national federation in the International Judo Federation.
(Feb. 18, 1966)
Isao Inokuma and I are making a world trip starting in May. We will be in and out of Japan all year. I leave in late March to go into Philippines, Borneo, Celebes, and Sumatra for research. Will get more data and pictures. Expecting a stint of teaching in Australia and New Zealand. A few other budoka will accompany to show kendo, karate, etc. Masatoshi Nakayama will be the karateka.
(Apr. 9, 1966)
Bluming and Geesink are here in Japan. Dead enemies. Bluming is now ranked 6- dan in Oyama (Kyokushin Kai) karate. Does very little judo, but saw him smash a few yesterday which took me back to the old days. More aggressive now and only limited by his aches and pains, which are many. Bluming has challenged any and all karate men in Japan, but no takers. I entered the high-dan holders' contest again this year. So far no opponent.
(Aug. 7, 1966)
My delay in writing was for various reasons. Two of these are prime incentives. One is the annual teachers' course at the Kodokan. (I've made nine years in a row.) The other was being assigned as a technical advisor for a 007 James Bond movie being done on location here. Advisor for fight scenes and martial art training backgrounds. Also will double for Sean Connery when the going gets tough. Fact that I got this on a competitive basis (academically) against several Japanese budo men makes it worthwhile. Financially very lucrative, too.
(Apr. 12, 1968)
I'm in Tokyo just long enough to have a workout at the Kodokan, take a hot shower, and pick up my mail. Then it's back out to study iaijutsu, etc., at Katori Shrine.
(Sep. 2, 1969)
The US Judo Federation is fully supported by the Kodokan, International Judo Federation, and the International Olympic Committee. Phil Porter, et al., will fall flat on their tails, though I have no doubt they can make their own bootleg outfit (the US Judo Association) exist. If you knew the bastards in the US Judo Association you would not want part of it. If that is judo, bad as USJF is, then USJF is Jigoro Kano's paradise.
(Mar. 7, 1971)
Trevor Leggett, on his last trip here in late 1970, was finally promoted to 7-dan. It is about time that the Kodokan recognizes the work of this very great judoist.
(Mar. 17, 1971)
Trevor Leggett was here in winter and got his long overdue 7-dan. He too is removed from the judo scene. He's busy now with Zen and haiku.
(Oct. 6, 1971)
The new regime here at the Kodokan makes it not too pleasant to attend daily. Anyway, I can't as I live three hours out of Tokyo near Katori. It's in the old Katori Shrine area where bugei under famed Bando Bushi developed, and near my teacher of the Katori Shinto Ryu. I make Tokyo twice a week for other assorted training.
(Oct. 21, 1971)
You sound like what the Japanese call ponkotsu, a wreck ready for the scrap heap. For Christ's sake, Bob, watch your health. Judo is not the best at any age; more and more I see it as a method of self-destruction, at least as it is done today. I'm tempted to do an article on judo called "The Great Crippler."
(Nov. 17, 1971)
By the by, go slow on accepting the "newness" of approaches such as Gleeson's uchikomi on move routine. It's at least as old as the Kito-ryu (early seventeenth century). The Kito-ryu used it in developing a system of ran, the same one later used by Kano to develop randori. It was called ran-toru, or "freedom taking". Only the lack of technical depth in judoists keeps them from knowing such things. So what else is new?
(Jan. 30, 1972)
You're right about the US judo scene (and most of the world for that matter). No Kanoian judo there. This is the main reason why I have packed it up. I train only for my own interests now. I don't like what I see. But I continue to aid the US Judo Federation when asked, if the project is worthwhile. A recent request from them was to aid the historical committee. The chairman was frustrated from the lack of cooperation. He turned to me, but I can only do a bit due to my already over-heavy schedule here. If you want in on the project so that it reads right when finished I can arrange it no matter what you think the USJF thinks of you. Let me know.
(May 13, 1972)
I have heard about the balls-up at US Judo Nationals in Philadelphia. There is no excuse for this kind of crap, I admit. My main bitch about the modern cognate entities such as judo is that they play to the audience rather than the participants. Judo was never intended for an audience, so if they come, they must take what is done without special favors. As for totalitarianism, of course all classical budo is of that vintage, and for that reason it is good and strong. But Westerners will rarely ever understand the beauty of such supervision and for this reason judo or whatever entity fails to abide by literal dictatorship will never be any good. Is a synthesis of old classical democratic liberality possible? I doubt it, for efforts have been made and the results are all lousy.
German judo, French judo, etc., all lack spirit and depth of the old system. This is why I am turned off by modern approaches to things such as judo, and why I am deeply involved in totalitarian entities such as jojutsu, iaijutsu, etc. They are harmonious efforts, under one man's authority, which is never questioned for if it is the integrity of the system proves the questioner to be wrong. Too much to explain here, but in my ryu for example, if somebody is better than the shihan he can try to prove it. I have never seen a modern approach or change come to anything that isn't already being done. All proves what you always say - there is very little that is new, except the very old. Thus, back to judo, the modernization with no ukemi, etc., are actually reversions to old methodologies and produce nothing that hasn't already been in production.
(Jun. 2, 1972)
Judo is in a sad mess everywhere. That's the main reason I have deserted the sinking ship. There is just too much rock throwing going on, and who needs this kind of treatment? I've been asked to construct a new system of jurisdictions, to evaluate whether the USJF or the AAU setup is better, to render a new ranking policy, and several other major projects. I am simply too busy to get involved. Nobody knows the work I have planned or stacked up waiting for me. My next ten years (Allah willing) are already completely programmed.
(Nov. 4, 1972)
I'm about out of judo. As I look on my multitude of injuries, I see them all stemming from my association with judo. I don't want to batter myself any more. I must be getting old - but not soft in the head. I have better things to do now.
(Apr. 12, 1973)
In addition to writing fulltime, this month I have an important budo display at Katori and Kashima Shrines, the All-Japan Bayonet Championships (I'm the first foreigner to participate, but my score won't count); my seventh time at the All-Japan high-grade holders' championships, and an examination at the Butokukai in Kyoto for my kyoshi, or teacher's certificate.
(Nov. 7, 1974)
Geesink is in Japan again under his third quarter million guarantee. He is as tough as ever and even heavier than before. Fast, cruel, he has learned to play the role here and good-naturedly has taken some losses against some bums. For the cash he considers it not worth worrying about.
Photographs courtesy of Jon Bluming
(from his book, "The History of Jon Bluming")