Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Deadliest Man Alive

Today, another episode in the series of Pioneers in American Martial Arts:

Back when I first got into angry white pajamas, there were ads in the backs of comics and popular magazines for Dim Mak, the Death Touch, featuring Count Dante (John Keehan).

Keehan came out of karate, but feeling as if the ceremonial aspects of the art were too frou-frou, created his own style. Which, given that Keehan was a hairdresser, might have seemed, I dunno, ironic at the time. He also sold used cars, had a pet lion in the dojo, and is sometimes credited with masterminding a major robbery that netted millions.

Keehan changed his name, sold the Dance of Death, along with membership in the Black Dragon Society -- you got a card if you bought the course -- and did pretty well with it. As the Count -- a title he justifed by saying his parents had been royalty in Spain, but had to go underground and change their names to escape being killed in the Spanish Civil War -- he stirred the martial arts pot in Chicago where he had his school quite a bit.

At one point, Dante was arrested, along with his senior student -- the second deadliest man alive, presumably -- for rigging explosives on a rival dojo. The two deadiest men alive were apparently drunk at the time.

In the spring of 1970, Dante and some of his students went to a rival's school, the Green Dragon Society's Black Cobra Hall, and started swinging, the end result of which was that one of Dante's students was killed. Stabbed to death by somebody who apparently didn't know that a mere knife was no match for the dreaded Dim Mak ...

A second man in the fight was blinded. According to Wikipedia, Dante's subsequent activies in such dojo wars "became much more subdued ..."

Dante got off; how, I don't know.

I was training in Okinawa-te in L.A. at the time, and somebody in the class scored a copy of Dim Mak book. There was a line in it, or maybe one of the ads, that ran something like, " ... and if anybody dares to attack you, he will be sorry for the rest of his miserable, crippled, life ..."

The course was fairly silly. Still, Keehan did admit racial minorities to his school before it was common, and was a decent tournament fighter as a young man. He supposedly died from complications of a bleeding ulcer in 1975, when he was thirty-six ...

Link to a YouTube short vid here.


James said...

I remember Count Dante! I was young enough at the time to want to find out the secret to that incredible martial art, but, alas, too poor.How'd you like Okinawa-te? I assume you studied under Gordon Doversola. I thought the art was interesting but the origin story B.S.

Steve Perry said...

Yep, Sensei -- they call him "Shihan" now -- Doversola, at the old school on W. Sunset Blvd., 1967-1970. I got to First Brown Belt. Used to be two of those before black belt, 1st, then 2nd.

The origin stories for most arts are, I suspect, ah ... embroidered somewhat -- they tend to get more magical with the years, and I always figured that Okinawa-te's genesis was no different. The one-armed master is a fixture in more than a couple arts -- my current one has one, and he had a clubbed foot, too ...

What Okinawa-te had going for it was that it was a hard-contact straight-in-and-out no frills stand-up style. For a dollar extra a month, you got ju jitsu, which included how to fall and roll up, and a bunch of grab defenses. Wasn't really optional -- everybody paid the extra buck.

Doversola was one of the hard-ass Hawaiians, like Parker and Dacascos, who came from the days when the winner of the tournament was the last guy standing. Our guys almost always got DQed at tourneys for excessive contact.