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Thread: Documenting American Pioneers

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    Thumbs up Documenting American Pioneers

    Greetings,

    In our rush to document which oriental master studied under whom and in which tradition, are we losing sight of something else?

    There are many Americans who have founded reputable schools teaching oriental styles in as pure a form as they learned them and those that teach a 'legitimate' mixed system. Some of these pioneers brought back legitimate rank from Japan, Korea and points east, and spread the styles here, then their students spilt off and established schools just as legitimate.

    Some of these Americans also combined styles in a mixed system. (I am pointedly NOT talking about dabblers that attended a seminar or two and teach a lost branch of Aikikaratejudo, but rather those that were awarded teaching privileges in more than one art and combined them in a new system.)

    I study one such art which combines Chi Do Kwan Korean Karate, Judo and Aikido. This system was constructed by our Founder over 30 years ago. It has remained low-key, non-profit and effective for that whole period. The Founder was ranked in different arts which I have been able to document, with some difficulty, due to his feelings regarding one of his Instructors and MA associations in general

    However, what he created is new and legitimately effective. How many more of these systems are out there, and are they being documented?

    I know of one former Ranger who came back a legitimate 2nd dan from Korea (interestingly enough, his dan card signed in Korea by his teacher, does NOT SAY 'honorary' as do so many that studied on brief military tours in the orient, particularly Korea.) and established the Korean style and Association he studied in Korea here. His students spun off students, and their students spun off students, etc., so now there are 5 generations of Black Belts from Maine to Florida who can trace their rank back to this former serviceman.

    How many more pioneers like this out are there, who are not recognised and documented for their contributions?

    My teacher knew a former JKA (ranked in Japan) individual who attained champion status while competing here on a student visa, stayed on, and established a chain of schools. Now 20 years later he rarely instructs, but all his black belts trace their rank to him and back through the JKA to the Founder of Karate.

    My point is: does the fact that an individual like this, from Asia, can trace his rank back through the JKA any better or more effective than a home grown version that laid the foundation for his students here at home?

    While I ramble on the subject, and I beg forgiveness for the examples given, I do feel that we need to research, document and list these Americans pioneers in addition to the oriental ones we rush to document.

    My 2 cents worth on a subject I am learning more about every day.

    Regards,
    TommyK

    "One must learn violence before one chooses not to use violence."
    Tom Militello
    "You can't hide on the mats." Terry Dobson sensei.

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    There is much to be said for the research philosophy of "Do what is in front of you." Just the other day I was sent some stuff on professional wrestling that happened to document some of British judo pioneer Gunji Koizumi's professional wrestling in the United States. (Asheville, North Carolina and Hendersonville, Kentucky, 1905, so these are not exactly major venues.)

    Meanwhile, a fellow in Israel is working on tracking down a copy of Feldenkrais's first book, the 1931 Hebrew-language "Jiu Jitsu."

    Answers can be found everywhere: research is a giant jigsaw puzzle, and everyone has a piece of it.

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    Greetings Joe,

    You are so right! However, I was hoping to stir up a general discussion on why many "non-Asians" appeared to be overlooked when performing serious research. You, of course, are a great exception. However, even your emphasis is on the very early Asian imported arts. Of course, that is commendable and probably very appropriate. I was just trying to see what others on e-budo thought. Don't tell me you and I are the only ones to thread in this area, here on e-budo.

    Regards,
    TommyK
    Tom Militello
    "You can't hide on the mats." Terry Dobson sensei.

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    Hello,

    Before the mountain gobblins beat me... let me say its been a while since I posted at e-budo. I have posted some in the last few days and I just realised my signature is not coming through.

    For the record, this is me.


    Regards,
    TommyK
    Tom Militello

  5. #5
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    I think it is a good question. My only reply for the present is that many are just beginning to be noticed. To be sure, there is some pre-judgement involved, so some simply don't believe non-Asians have much to offer.

    There are probably a lot of exceptions now, since a history is being built. The American connections, the majority, anyway, are still publishing lines to Japan or others.

    I know one person in LA is looking to do something about that in the Southern California area in judo, with the Nanka Yudanshaikai. And he is getting on in years, while his teacher is in his nineties who just happens to connect to Joe's area at the old Seattle Judo Dojo.

    So much for Southern California judo.

    BTW: Don't worry about the sig. glitch. There are others you are bound to find around here as of late.

    Mark

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    Joe:

    re Feldenkrais:

    there is a French language version of his book in the closed stacks of the Japan Foundation Library in Tokyo. Really basic "jujutsu" Feldenkrais, by the way, was a bull of a man. Probably had a 40 inch waist, but his chest was big enough that it looked small. Not a weight-trained build - a laborer's build. Sort of looked like Mario Sperry, of BJJ, + 20 pounds.

    The story I've heard from a man who was a live-in student of his (in Feldenkrais method) is that in the British mandate days, there were street fights and assaults between Arab and Jew, and the Jews, in particular, were restricted from acquiring arms or training by the British. One of the young men in Feldenkrais' circle (which became part of the Palmach), acquired a book on Jujutsu - by account, something like Nakae's - wrist locks, rudimentary throws, etc. They would practice this stuff on each other - and then, found it useless for fighting.

    Feldenkrais then began to hide in doorways and alleys, and began jumping out at unsuspecting people in very close mock-attacks with a knife - and then would run away. He would recall the instinctive responses the people would make in trying to defend themselves, and he began to use these instinctive responses in setting up a system specfic to street fight/melee's against assailants with knives and sticks. They found the techniques they developed to be far more effective.

    My recollection of the book was mostly of very simple techniques, some logical, some standard "stand-up jujutsu" of the period. (I do not believe there is any known connection between this stuff and the later, more effective Krav Maga).

    Again, as I recall the story (some of what follows is my memory of an account in a Feldenkrais newsletter), Feldenkrais was in France in the 1930's, studying physics, having had to leave Palestine for his activities. Jigoro Kano with several leading students was there in Paris, and Feldenkrais went to see their exhibition - he sent a copy of his book to Kano. To his surprise, he was visited at his room that night, and invited to dinner. Kano told him that he very much appreciated the book, most of which was ineffective nonsense. There was one technique, a knife-disarm, that intrigued him - he had never seen it in any form of JJJ, and didn't believe that it would work, but wanted to see it for himself. Feld. squared off against one of Kano's assistants, who attacked him with a knife (I have no idea of his competence, the speed, or anything else) and Feld. successfully disarmed him. In what Feld. said he believed was Kano then recovering face, he, after complimenting him on the technique, said that his strangles in the book were particularly ineffective, and after having Feld. try one on him or a student (I don't recall), he then applied a basic judo strangle and put Feld. out.

    He then let Feldenkrais know that he very much liked his spirit and talent and would take him into the family, so to speak. One of his accompanying assistants stayed in France for awhile, teaching Feld. (and others?) and he also studied with Koizumi. He became the first European to receive 6th dan, I believe - and judo, unlike so many other arts, only gave earned rank.

    This is all from memory. Avenues for further research on Feldenkrais would be Trevor Leggett, whom I believe is still alive, and Doron Navon (of Bujinkan repute - also a judoka), who is a Feldenkrais practitioner. I do not know the name of the Feldenkrais journal, but it would be easy enough to locate thru their organization in the States - it was an English language magazine.

    Ellis Amdur

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    Ellis --

    There is nothing wrong with your memory or your sources' memories, as that's pretty much the way I've heard the story, too.

    Trevor Leggett, sadly, died in August 2000. See http://www.kanosociety.org/bulletin1_part2.htm . (Syd Hoare's recollection of the man: "His message was do not be just a good judoka but be good at everything. It was always fatal to say to him…I am no good at (X) since he would abruptly say, ‘ Get good at it then’."

    The Feldenkrais article to which you're referring is probably “Moshe on Moshe on the Martial Arts,” The Feldenkrais Journal, 2:1, 1986, 14-19; interview conducted by Dennis Leri with Charles Alston, Mia Segal, Robert Volberg, Frank Wildman, Anna Johnson, and Jerry Karzen in 1977. A photo of Feldenkrais taken in the 1950s appears at http://www.budokwai.org/past_personalities.htm . As you say, the man was a fireplug.

    Unsurprisingly, there is some hyperbole in Feldenkrais's recollections. For example, he says he was the first European black belt, which is absurd, since DT Weed (okay, an American), EJ Harrison, and Oschakov (the sambo pioneer) were all promoted decades before him. Indeed, by the time Feldenkrais made shodan, there was an African American nidan in Los Angeles by the name of Warren Lewis. (Lewis is somebody I'd definitely like to know more about, but as it is, all I have is the name.) Trevor Leggett and Dermot O'Neill were also high grades long before him.

    As an aside, despite what Feldenkrais says in this interview, Kano did not send Kawaishi to Paris to help Feldenkrais: this was a case of coincidence rather than causality. Actually, Kawaishi went to France to avoid scandal in Britain. See Evening Standard, 1 May 1935, 11, News of the World, 1 Jun 1935, and Revue Kodokan Judo, 6 (May 1949), 2-23.

    Upon arrival in Paris, Kawaishi was patronized by Ambassador Yotaro Sugimura, whom Feldenkrais had met earlier, as Kano was staying at the ambassador's house in Paris. Ambassador Sugimura was a judoka, probably no better or worse than most of us, and he was certainly enthusiastic. Indeed, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he wasn't the tori for Feldenkrais's demo. So picture a portly middleaged Japanese diplomat taking off his tails to attack Feldenkrais while Kano, also in tails, watched, tophat and cane in hand, and you probably have a very good idea of the whole thing. Regular Teddy Roosevelt stuff!

    Tom --

    In Holland, somebody who deserves documenting is Maurice van Nieuwenhuizen. He was the model for the Dick Bos comic hero, and these inspired a generation of Dutch judoka. His personal students included Anton Geesink. There are some pictures of his techniques online, mostly in Dutch. Use "Dick Bos Maurice Nieuwenhuizen" as your keyword search on Google.

    Richard Bowen has provided an excellent overview of the development of British judo. See http://www.budokwai.org/history.htm and http://www.budokwai.org/articles.htm .

    For myself, I follow Japanese Americans partly because the community is close-knit, partly because the names are distinctive enough that people are easily found using a phone book, and mostly because community newspapers such as Japanese-American Courier had English-language sports pages from as far back as the 1920s. (Anyone interested in doing California MA history is advised to start with Rafu Shimpo; the hakujin and Chinese get mentioned, too, just not in the same detail.)

    As noted above, I'd love to document somebody like Warren Lewis, "negro judoist," but without stumbling across the family by accident, the task would be formidable, to say the least. Similar problems emerge for such between-wars pioneers as Risher Thornberry and S.R. Link.

    There is enough material on S.J. Jorgensen and A.J. Drexel Biddle to write a monograph or dissertation, but doing so would require 3-7 years of work, and I simply don't have the money for that.

    Regarding the pioneers that you're talking about, George Bristol was working on a biography of Donn Draeger. His current job evidently precludes him from devoting much attention to the project, but hopefully he will get back to work on that after retirement from the USMC. Others have written their autobiographies. See, for example, RW Smith's Martial Musings or Jon Bluming's "From Street Punk to 10-dan." (Critics often complain that these books are not balanced. Well duh -- they're autobiographies, and in these two cases, the books accurately describe their authors. You wanted to know what it was like to spend a day with these guys? Well, now you do.)

    What is missing is a balanced overview of the development of North American MA. Corcoran and Farkas attempted this, but they used "Black Belt" and equivalent magazines as their primary sources. I know it's popular to malign BB, but if you ignore the lurid advertising, some of the small print sections, especially during the 1960s, can be quite useful. But anyway, theirs is the popular view and badly marred by the ego of the teachers who submitted fluff to BB rather than substance.

    Perspective is hard, too. For example, My Teacher (whomever that was) is always Underrated. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't, and if he wasn't, well, where does that leave us? Moreover, what if we dig, and research reveals that Sensei was a clown, and so unbeknowst to us, we're charter members of the McDono Ryu? Eek.

    Traditionally, families ignore the fact that grandma was eight months pregnant when she walked down the aisle, and so do most martial arts histories. But, if you are honest in your investigations and reports of findings, then you report such things. (Common peccadillos associated with martial arts in 20th century America include embezzlement, domestic and dating violence, substance abuse, and the like. And of course there is a mountain of truly petty nonsense, such as huge egos, self-inflated reputations, and squabbles over rank and legitimacy.) Write about this, and the folks immediately start threatening you with libel. (Doesn't matter that you've got the court records from the divorce to back your case, those are lies! Lies, I say. Refer to Bad Budo for examples.)

    Anyway, the place to start, if one really wants to do justice to the development of the 20th century North American martial arts, is not by tracking any individual instructor or style. Instead, it is to track the history and development of the US military judo (and later, taekwondo) programs of the period 1949-1972. Why? Because during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, millions of Americans took trips to Europe and Asia at their Uncle's expense. Thus Elvis started in Shotokan in Germany, and Chuck Norris started in Tang Soo Do in Korea, and the Kodokan sent the All-Stars to visit every Air Force base in the world.

    Documenting this program would start by reading the base newspapers (an enormous amount of travel involved in that), visiting the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and then writing hundreds of letters. It would be expensive, time-consuming, and arduous. (Reading microfilm by the hour is about as much fun as sitting seiza. Try it if you don't believe me.)

    But at the end of it, you would have taken as close a look at martial arts in mid-20th century America as is probably possible. By focusing on the military, stylistic and political squabbles would be minimized, and because the base newspapers cover sports and athletics, names, dates, and places could be ascertained with considerable precision.

    (Oh -- if anybody wants to fund the research, just send a big enough check, and I'll get cracking right away.)
    Last edited by Joseph Svinth; 6th January 2002 at 05:14.

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    Tom --

    It occurs to me that I didn't address your other question. Look at the numbers of hits on this thread and the numbers of hits on some of those Bad Budo threads, the ones everyone on all the other boards say are so awful.

    At the time of this writing, this thread had about 65 views, which with four posters means very few lurkers. Now go to the Bad Budo threads. A dozen or so posts (often quite heated), yet thousands of views. Obviously there are many lurkers. This in turn suggests that Don Cunningham is right, that the masses really do prefer Jerry Springer.

    So where does this leave history?

    Same place it's always been. Despite common belief, history is not solely written by the victors. (If you doubt this, look at all the Southern histories of the Civil War.) Instead, history is written by the people who write. So, if you don't record your own little slice of events, then it gets lost. Then what's left is the hagiographies of pseudosaints, political histories written by paid hacks, and what can be gleaned by reading between the lines of Jerry Springer transcripts. But if you write, then eventually somebody finds your tale, and weaves it into a bigger picture.

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