“Pioneer” — as a noun is defined as “a person who is among the first to explore or settle a new country or area.” As a verb, it means “develop or be the first to use or apply (a new method, area of knowledge, or activity).” This anthology gives the reader the experience of the explorers who went to foreign lands to discover and learn about a specific field of knowledge and skills: the Asian martial arts.
In chapter one, Barlow and Day discuss the effect immigrants had on the development of martial arts in Hawaii. The islands sit between the East and West and symbolically represent our book’s theme. Here we find how Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino arts came to blend and evolved into the uniquely American art of Kajukenbo.
Allen Pittman brings us a chapter about Dr. Charles “Tim” Geoghegan (1922-1998). The doctor was born in Ireland, but later moved to North Carolina, bringing his expertise in British Wigan style of wrestling. Geoghegan travelled the world and came to incorporate Asian techniques as well. Pittman brings his practice to life in a fine technical section.
Another chapter by Pittman is on the legendary William E. Fairbairn (1885-1960). Thoughts of him conjure up the rough and tough city of Old Shanghai where he became constable of the municipal police in 1907. The city was a hotbed for martial arts, as it included many foreigners with combat skills so necessary to live in the uncertain times of pre-World War II. Fairbairn was eclectic, incorporating all practical into police and military forces in Shanghai and later Canada and the United States, including the intelligence agencies and commando units.
Graham Noble provides two chapters. The first is on W. Barton-Wright (1860-1951), an Englishman who travelled world-wide on business. He studied jujutsu and judo in Japan and he brought instructors to England. By blending jujutsu/judo and Western boxing, he created his art of Bartitsu.
Noble also provides a detailed interview with Steve Arneil, who went to study in Japan in 1960. He is one of the top representatives of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin style of karate. Through the interview, we come face-to-face with Oyama, his teaching methods, and Kyokushin’s place in history.
The next two chapters blanket the profound influence of two men who were largely responsible for introducing Asian martial traditions to the United States and the West: Donn Draeger (1922-1982) and Robert Smith (1926-2011). Smith himself provides the chapter on his longtime friend Draeger whose work serves as a foundation for anyone interested in learning martial arts, especially those of Japan. With high ranks in many arts, Draeger was a prolific researcher and writer. He influenced generations who continue to contribute to the academic discipline of hoplology (the study of weapons and fighting systems).
In the chapter about Robert Smith, Russ Mason provides similar attention to details in his in-depth interview. Smith was a pioneer in judo, but later became focused on the Chinese arts of baguazhang, xingyiquan, and taijiquan. Like Draeger, Smith was a scholar-practitioner who taught the arts to many and provided wonderful books for enthusiasts. Draeger made base in Japan, while Smith did in Taiwan while working for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Another chapter by Steven C. Brown, brings us circling back to England with Dermot O’Neill (1905-1985), another who went to Shanghai, literally jumping ship at port. He found work with the Shanghai Municipal Police, coming in contact with William Fairbairn and others. He studied language and techniques in policecraft, combat shooting, and hand-to-hand combat. He later lived in Japan too, working in security of the British Embassy. Returning to England, he worked with commando units. Fairbairn invited him to Canada to help develop a close-combat training program and later a similar program for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services.
All these chapters have a common root in the desire to travel far and wide in search for practical martial arts useful in the street as well as for commando units. The pioneers discussed in this anthology experienced lives submerged in foreign cultures, lives compounded by the difficulties of communicating in foreign languages, changing diets, and often being in hostile living conditions. Their lives are far from the associations we usually associate with martial arts now steeped in pure exercise for health, or tournament competitions.
Becoming familiar with of some of the Western pioneers of Asian martial arts bring us back to understand many of the original reasons for learning these combatives. Their lives and experience show us how and why the more serious side of Asian fighting arts remain illusive for most who, in practice, need not confront the lethal aspects of these traditions.