"The State of the Ninja"

There’s a fun article on Slate titled The State of the Ninja about ninjas in pop culture.

I, for one, never get tired of ironic ninja jokes–although to me the humor is not the ninjas themselves, but how funny the Western obsession with ninjas is.

It is the guy I knew in Junior High who had all the Chinatown-bought ninja weapons and loved to talk big about them; that archetype is why ninjas are funny. And really, the adolescent ninja fantasy echoes some of the role-playing that is inherent in any (especially any traditional) martial art. The tension that I feel between identifying with the twelve year old who wants to be special and rejecting that in favor of the more austere aspects of martial arts is what makes campy ninja jokes funny, at least to me.

Although whenever I’m in a sushi restaurant, I do always worry that ninjas are going to crash through the walls and kill me. I just can’t shake that feeling for some reason.

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Count Dante – Dim Mak Ad

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

Just Too Funny

Maybe it was just the “evil Gary” looking for something to comment about, but I found the below Youtube video clip absolutely hilarious. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in a very long time.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not really laughing at the guy and his attempts to break boards—no, actually I am. But I’m laughing even more about the fact that each time he fails to break the boards it’s pretty clear he is blaming the guy that’s holding them instead of taking responsibility for his ineptitude.

This karate “expert’s” lack of skill, or at least his definite lack of concentration and focus, is clearly evident. It is especially obvious the first two times he tries and breaks the boards with a forward punch. OUCH!! Talk about missing your target.

Now, I for one have never fully understood the need for martial art practitioners to practice breaking boards, bricks, ice, baseball bats, or other items to test or demonstrate their skills (or lack of them as in this video.)

In my 45 years of life, I’ve never once been attacked by any of the objects used in most breaking demos. More importantly common sense as well as training has also taught me that striking the human body is nothing akin to striking any inanimate objects.

However, it’s people like this “karate expert” who make me so glad I invested in “Advil” years ago.

Tell Me It Ain’t So…

(This entry is dedicated to Oswaldo, a student of mine who recently reminded me “you are what you eat,” and the harmful nature of the Twinkie.)

I have a guilty little secret. Even though, I try my best to stay in shape, and watch what I eat, I love Twinkies. You known those little golden sponge cakes filled with cream that Hostess has been selling to the American public since the 1930’s.

Now I’m no Twinkie-holic, but a pack of Twinkies, (or two), is my little reward when I really push myself at the gym. It’s something I can bribe myself with in order to push myself to the next level. My Twinkie is sort of the carrot dangling in front of the horse.

Naturally, I’ve never been under the delusion that Twinkies were good for me. In fact, I’ve never been quite sure what they are even made of. Until a few days ago assumed, maybe with a subconscious desire to do so, that they at least contained some natural ingredients. I thought that they had at least a bit of nutritional value.

Boy was I ever wrong.

Twinkies contain no eggs, no butter, no milk, and no cream. In fact they contain nothing that can spoil during their twenty-five day shelf life. So much for that old urban myth, which states Twinkies last forever.

So what are Twinkies made of, you ask? For that answer I suggest you read “Mmmm, Tasty Chemicals,” by Anne Underwood in the March 5th 2007 issue of Newsweek Magazine. (See below) It’s a real eye opener, if not a real stomach turner.

Oddly enough a few weeks ago, before this article came out, my students and I had a debate on the health issues of eating snack foods, especially snack foods such as Twinkies. While I vehemently defended my Twinkie addiction (though the truth is I actually eat Zingers, a Twinkie covered in raspberry jelly and coconut shavings), I had to concede that eating other healthier things was definitely in my best interest. After all, an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Too bad apples just don’t taste more like Zingers.

The only defense I could assert when it comes to eating a pack of Zingers or two, maybe in a stressful week three, is that I really don’t ingest anything else that is that bad for me. I do watch what I eat (diet-wise), I don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke, and only reluctantly take the prescription drugs my doctor says I need to take to manage my cholesterol and chronic pain.

In other words I do try to take care of myself. My justification is simply this, every now and then I have to indulge, and if that means a Zinger or two what’s the real harm. My Twinkie (Zinger) is my guilty little pleasure, and while I now know I shouldn’t, now that I know what they are actually made of, I doubt I’ll change my wicked ways.

My students, especially Oswaldo may be right, but hopefully, in the end, I’m not what I really eat.

The Other Side of Hojo Jutsu

Hojo Jutsu is the traditional Japanese martial art of restraining prisoners with rope. Since the “Yachigusa” family were involved in law enforcement, likely as doshin, hojo is part of the Yachigusa-Ryu curriculum. However, it is a secondary art and we only practice it once or twice a year. I enjoy hojo in a Boy-Scout-merit-badge-in-knot-tying kind of a way.

Some years ago a group of us went to a seminar by Don Angier of Yanagi-Ryu where he spent a whole day teaching hojo techniques and history—as well as another day of jutte and tessen. It was an excellent seminar and I would like an opportunity to learn more of this art.

So I thought it’d be worthwhile to throw up this link to this upcoming seminar, even though I don’t expect to be attending. After all, what better place to learn hojo jutsu than from a Rope Dojo? Although they seem to call the art shibari. And they give a discount for couples. And there’s a section on “Visions and Perversions.”

It’s actually really amusing just how much the arts of hojo jutsu are being kept alive by the bondage community. The traditional art was very intricate, with increasingly elaborate knots for highly ranked prisoners. They took pains to make ties elegant and symmetric with intertwining loops—since “knots” would be dishonorable (if there are no knots, the prisoner is not techinically tied up, so he saves face, right?). Yet the restraints are very efficient and tight (in case the prisoner is a ninja or something). All these qualities are very appealing to certain subsets of society.

In that vein, perhaps our neighborhood hojo opportunities could be expanding now that the SF Armoury down the street from our dojo is going to be opening under new management(nsfw) as a bondage and fetish film studio.

Or perhaps not.

Ah, San Francisco.

Cartoon

After spending the last two weeks writing nothing but information on scientific principles, and coming to the realization that the hard ones are yet to come, I thought I would just take a break.

Part of that break included catching up on some e-mails I’d been ignoring. One of them included this cartoon I found pretty amusing.