A lot of people give practitioners like Rick Clark, George Dilman, Rick Moneymaker, Erle Montaigue, Taika Oyata, and Dr. Pier Tsui-Po a lot of credit for bringing the art of Vital Point Striking to the public’s attention.
Which is true.
These men and others like them have been major proponents of the art of Vital Point Striking over the last decade, and have done a lot of research in order to revive techniques within old forms that to a large extent have been forgotten.
However, long before any of these men were traveling around the world teaching seminars, writing books, or making videos on Vital Point Striking, there was John Timothy Keehan (02/02/39 – 05/25/75), or as he is better known, “Count Juan Raphael Dante, The Deadliest Man Alive.”
Yes, long before many of the above martial art teachers had even earned their first black belt, Count Dante offered a book on the topic of Dim Mak “The Death Touch.”
(Circa late 60’s early 70’s)
I personally have never seen this book. However, based on what I’ve read elsewhere, it sounds as if Count Dante was quite an outlandish character. Yet in many ways a true pioneer in the American martial arts world.
According to most accounts, he was one of the first martial arts instructors to teach non-white students, helping to break racial barriers. He is also credited for helping organize and promote one of the first major full contact martial art tournaments in the US, (072863).
What’s even more interesting was Count Dante was also one of the first to openly reject traditionalism and formality, opting to focus on what he considered to be more “reality based” fighting methods. He even went so far as to state that training in Karate was for sissies. Arrogant no doubt, but this was still pretty progressive for his time–a time when few Americans even knew what Karate, let alone any other martial art styles, were.
For the most part, I’m really not interested in the history of Count Dante, be it fact or fiction. The comments I’m about to make are solely based on the absurdity of the above comic book ads offering instruction in the “the world’s deadliest fighting secrets.”
While these ads clearly speak for themselves one of my favorite paragraphs is:
“Yes, this is the DEADLIEST and most TERRIFYING fighting art known to man — and WITHOUT EQUAL. It’s MAIMING, MUTILATING, DISFIFURING, PARALYZING and CRIPPLING techniques are known by only a few people in the world. An expert at DIM MAK could easily kill many Judo, Karate, Aikido, and Gung Fu experts at one time with only finger tip pressure using his murderous POISON HAND WEAPONS. Instructing you step by step thru each move in this manual is none other than COUNT DANTE – THE DEADLIEST MAN WHO EVER LIVED.”
Wow! And I can learn all that for just $5.50.
Now I realize these advertisements mostly appeared in comic books, and catered to a comic book reading audience. Keeping this in mind, I’m hoping that the comic, clearly over the top, nature of these ads were intentional. Though unfortunately I’m most likely wrong.
Based on what I’ve read I have a sneaky suspicion that Count Dante had the type of ego where he believed his own hype, and depending on which source you think is telling the truth, definitely had the fighting skills to back it up his claims. After all he was named “The Deadliest Man Alive” after winning “secret death matches.”
The unfortunate thing about these ads is the fact that they circulated during a time when the average American had little or no martial arts savvy, which makes me wonder how many people who read this stuff actually believed it. Or worst yet how many people bought it.
According to Count Dante’s Black Dragon Fighting Society, over one million copies were sold. In my opinion that’s a staggering assertion, since I doubt very many martial art books printed today even sell close to that total. Further more, I did a quick search of the Internet and couldn’t find a used copy for sale anywhere, (not even Ebay.com), which leads me to believe that one million is quite an exaggeration.
Of course if one million copies had actually been sold, I’m assuming that they weren’t all that instructional. After all, I don’t remember reading about a wave of mysterious Dim Mak related deaths in the 60’s and 70’s.
Like I said the absurdity of these ads speak for themselves but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention and comment on some of the more blatant claims.
Claim #1 – Dante’s Claims to Chinese Tongs
While I can’t find anything that associates Dante to actual Chinese Tongs (the Tongs that know the secret of Dim Mak and were members of his Black Dragon Fighting Society), many biographies of Count Dante say he did teach known Chicago gang members as well as various types of other criminals.
I also get the impression that Count Dante had a quite lengthy criminal record himself; depending which version of the story you believe, he was arrested for arson or bombing a rival martial arts school.
Claim #2 – Dante’s Claims of winning “Death Matches”
Clearly, many of the tournaments Count Dante organized were ho holds barred events akin to today’s UFC or Pride fights. Many of these fights were extremely violent bloody affairs. However, there is a big difference between a no holds barred fight, and a death match.
As expected, these so-called death matches were held in secret, and there are no records of them. If they did occur I would expect there would have been witnesses, who by this time would have said something to verify they took place.
I think it will be very interesting to see how much attention these “death matches” get, when the video documentary on Count Dante’s life is completed by film maker Floyd Webb (http://johnkeehan.blogspot.com/).
Claim #3 – Breaking the oath of secrecy.
Isn’t Count Dante contradicting himself here? I mean if one had to swear a secret oath, punishable by torturous death, not to share these ultimate secret-fighting techniques, wouldn’t the “Masters” that taught Count Dante seek vengeance? Maybe his death, caused by bleeding ulcers, was some sort of “delayed death touch.”
Do I hear the making of a conspiracy theory?
Claim #4 – The $10,000.00 guarantee.
You’ve got to love the disclaimer here; Basically it says that while this book can’t guarantee anyone will ever become a master or even expert fighter from reading it, it’s still the “deadliest” text ever printed to date. So dangerous, and “ferocious” that many other publishers wouldn’t print it in the past.
Please be serious.
First of all, it is next to impossible to learn to do martial arts from a book. That’s a no-brainer, and maybe one of the only true statements in the entire ad.
Secondly, having seen a lot of the martial art books released in the 60’s and 70’s any text covering techniques more closely related to street fighting would surely appear more brutal. In other words, it wouldn’t take much to appear more brutal and ferocious, “street lethal,” when most books of this period simply depicted kata (forms) and basic applications within these katas.
I just wonder how that $10,000.00 guarantee would hold up by today’s standards, with all the “reality based” martial art literature that is available.
Okay, once again I’ve had some fun with an old martial art advertisement. The truth of the matter is this stuff is just plain silly, and in most circumstance ads like these are best forgotten.
However, the truth is that practitioners such as Count Dante and ads such as these played a major part in how America looks at the martial arts in general, and why so many people have preconceived (usually wrong) ideas of what martial arts are all about.
For many Americans of the 60’s and 70’s ads like this one were there first introduction to the Asian fighting arts. Instead of educating the public, and extolling the benefits of martial arts training, ads like this embodied the entire negative stereotypes we as martial artists still face toddy.
Yes, martial arts were developed for fighting and killing, but the average martial artist isn’t looking to be a ferocious “chop-o-matic” killing machine. Certainly, most martial art practitioners aren’t training in order to “easily kill many Judo, Karate, Aikido, and Gung Fu experts at one time.”
Unfortunately, Count Dante—as talented a martial artist as he might have been—didn’t exemplify a true master of the martial arts. By the sounds of it, he was an arrogant, boastful self-promoter and brawler. While there is nothing wrong with the desire to be a good fighter and focus one’s training on “reality based” fighting methods, Count Dante simply forgot that a true master of the martial arts only fights when forced to do so.
For more biographical information on Count Dante, read “The Life and Death of The Deadliest Man Alive” by Dan Kelly July 14, 2006.
For a more biased biography of Count Dante, go to: The Black Dragon Fighting Society Web Page http://www.countdante.com/page2.html