Friday, January 06, 2006
January 2006...still chasing ghosts
How did it all start? All I wanted to do was dispel a rumour. I was long over the conspiracy theories, long past worrying about someone controlling my world. But a fond childhood memory was involved, a guilty pleasure. Recollections come back in a flood of images.
I was a fan of John Keehan aka Count Dante because he was tough, and he was fair. A genuinely nice guy to some of us kids from the projects. I first heard of him when he had driven a bull down State Street in 1964 maybe, to promote the Karate Championship at what I think was Medinah Temple or the Coliseum. He said he was going to kill the bull, Mas Oyama style. A Shuto to the head then a punch to the skull???? We would never find out.
"Someone" dropped a dime to the anti-cruelty society and they came down and stopped the bull killing. Odd though, we still had stock yards back then. They offed the bulls with a sledgehammer to the skull. I think they used the same argument with Oyama when he was in Chicago in 1955. Oyama killed 2 bulls in Chi'. One in 1952 and the other in 1955. John Keehan obviously got that idea from our man Mas.
John is loved and hated, nothing in between. He is crazy or just a renegade. At the age of 11 or twelve it is great to meet someone who tells you you can be all you can be without joining the military. But John had been in the military...I am moving too fast...
In May of 2005 I started research on a film I am calling "The Search for Count Dante." I heard from three people that John Keehan/Count Dante was alive and well, hiding out in plain site in Chicago. This is a man who was reported dead in 1975.
My childhood idol, Count Dante/John Keehan, the coolest white dude in Chicago, World's Deadliest man, Hairdresser, bodyguard, all around toughguy, flawed individual, the Darth Vader of martail arts, walker of lions and master of the fine art of "Coo-Chi." I had buried him in my mind 29 years ago. I found out he was dead a year after. Here i have three people in trhe course of several months telling me they either "heard," saw him, or actually sat down and had a drink with him.
I was working on a documentary with Brit director Ian Hunt about Nat King Cole. As we moved about the city I kept running into people I have not seen in years. I saw a lot of people I knew from my martial arts period going to and fro as we were shooting.
Invariably the conversation comes down to how we miss John Keehan. I was not a student. I was a student of a student of a student probably. But if we saw John at a tournament or on the street he actually remembered me and my buddy BoyJack.
John is a symbol of the times when martial arts had mystery, John also had the first full contact event at the Coliseum, he was condemned, villified. "Martial arts without rules is Violence" someone said.
Well 30 years later UFC is all the rage and making all the money from what I hear. I am not necessarily a fan. But there are some talented all around fighters out there and John Keehan in my humble opinion uppped the ante in martial arts back in the 1960s.
I started to study martial arts in the mid-1960s. I was 10 years old, I worked out with a friend at his house in the projects, we started learning from books Then when he took lessons he would practice with me and I would learn by working out with him. We kept it secret cause we were always getting our asses kicked. Well, I was always getting my ass kicked, William was a fast runner. I would fight anyway. later for the extra exertion.
I also had some minor instruction in Chinatown. Living in the Ickes Housing projects, going to Haines School, I worked in Chinatown on weekends. We all had a hustle to keep ourselves in Comic Books and Nehi sodas. I did the nastiest jobs I ever did in my life in Chinatown, cleaning out nasty sticking gunk laden garbage cans with Lye.
I had a friend who worked at restaurants there and he took me along because I said I wanted a job. Well that was the job, a metal brush, some lye and nasty-ass alumnum garbage cans.
But that is how I got little things I needed. Comic books, balsa wood gliders, bus fare downtown to hang around Rush Street, go to the Planetaruim and get a Chicago Hot dog, or go with my crazy Dinosaur loving friend Fred to the Field Museum to hear his commentary on the age of the big beasts.
While in Chinatown, I would see things, I almost got beat up in Chinatown one day when I was working. I saw some of the local thugs coming through and ducked in the restaurant, but I had to sweep the front walk, of course they saw me. And I got laughed at for "working for the Chinaman." Well these two guys were nice to me and paid me right away, if not fairly.
I got pushed and swung on and almost decapitated by someones left hook until one of the REstaurant owners came out and pulled me inside. I was soon back on garbage can detail. They fed me and one of the guys put my hands up, and showed me how to "stick" and counter, no dancing more smothering of motion. I liked that. It gave me a sense of how to at least not get hurt by engaging and getting right inside. I guess this was my first introduction to martial arts first hand.
By the time I met John Keehan I had a little bit of knowledge, and he encouraged me and Boyjack to get some training at the Lawson YMCA or to come to his school on the Southside. He also had a school for a while on Rush Street near Mr. Kelly's.
And now I am back on his trail. Searching Chicago for his ghost, for scraps, old weathered trails of his passing. I am starting to have some luck.