Sunday, January 08, 2006
The Old West Meets Poison Hand
So where am I with this project? I am starting this blog way late in the process, or maybe it is right on time. The things that have occurred in my research and locating subjects to talk to about Dante is really a fantastic journey of rediscovery of my own life.
I drove down to Momence, IL to meet the head of the Gladiolus Festival. That is where Count Dante/John Keehan did a martial arts stunt with a quickdraw expert. I was looking for film footage and stills. I came up with zilch. I called the local newspapers and ended up talking to the entertainment editor. He wrote a story telling people I was doing this film and recounting the legend of Count Dante. I got three calls the day after the article ran. Another student of Dante, and a guy who says Dante signed his shodan (black belt) certificate.
I find myself dealing with childhood issues of image and identity. Why I chose to enter the study of martial arts was purely to put an end to the occasional asswhopping I would get from kids for whatever reason. I was not that outgoing because I stuttered...horribly. I had a thing for reading. My mom taught my sister and I to read when we were like 3 and 4. It was in a basement apartment on the Westside on Drake or somewhere. I have to ask her one day.
Reading probably saved my life. And..... dammit, I'll say it, and television too. Not fitting is was my pathway to the martial arts. On top of the racism of apartheid era Amerikkka I had to put up with the all too human need to form groups for exclusion, loathing of difference, and the need to fit in.
I got what I consider a pretty healthy skepticism of all human beings and "our" selfish motivations. What a life, you get chased out of racist Southport and end up in the Robert Taylor homes, which is bad turf for a kid from the Ickes to be in. Still it was against Jim Crow that I gladly joined the United Front of Resistance.
I know I am running far a field of talk about me making this damn movie. But these are the issues that lead me to the Amphitheater and the Coliseum, looking for personal power and salvation, to be better than I was, to defend myself and the helpless when and if it ever came to that. I was a reader, dreamer idealist, I believed in that as much bad ad there was, you would have to fight to make it better. That was the timbre of the times I was raised in. Count Dante was the man I would look to give me the poison hand, death in my hand and paralysis in my fingers.
But that is not who I meet, I met John Keehan, a nice guy, a showboat who was kind to shorties. He marched to the beat of his own drum and it is easy to see how some followed him so easily at times.
I never had a lesson from him, a few conversations over the years, at tournaments or even running into him in the streets up north when we would play hooky from school.
I have not thought about this stuff in years. Dim Mak, the death tough, Poison Hand.
I guess I have become contemplative because I did not expect this project to consume so much of me. But I was a guy who could smash bricks and boards also. I used to let people hit me in the stomach before they fought me. I got a rep for knocking a guy out who attacked me in a phone booth; I had a pair of nun-chakus that got me on the front page of a west suburban newspaper when I was at Triton College.
Memories come back...A lawyer visits me in jail, tells me what my charges are then freaks out because I don't have a scratch on me. "But two cops got hurt and one with a broken nose. I do not remember all that. It was a blank; multiple assailants of the male-euro variety before at Triton had attacked me. I do remember thinking, "I am not having this."
It was the timbre of the times, a time of resistance. John Keehan to some of us was Mr. Smith with no Wesson. He could give us the power to BE!
Che and Fidel were our heroes "down there in dem projekts" and we knew Kennedy could not kick his ass mano a mano, that Fidel kicked Batista's ass fair and square. Politics came to us early back in the day. Fidel and them looked pretty cool to 8 and 9 year old black kids, there were black soldiers with him on the 6:00 news. I would hear Huey Newton say, "Power is the ability to define phenomena and make it act in a desired manner." What better definition of reality than to be able to go toe to toe with a foe and rest his opposition in peace on a field of champions. My friends and I thought only punks and cowards send others into battle for their person. Every gang leader we knew was a punk. 'Nuff said on that.
I think when I went looking for Keehan/Dante’s grave marker and did not find it there may have been a sense of outrage. Outrage that no one thought to mark his passing. Thinking that his memory, good and bad, would be for naught. In the course of trying to make this film I look at the people he taught and wonder how we lose sight of who we are, drift away from old friends, carry old grudges into eternity and tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
John lost his best friend, Jim Konsevic and it changed his life. It saddened Kenny Knudson, because Jim was not only his sensei, but a buddy also. Loss.
Most of the people I am talking to about Keehan are in their sixties and older, I am not far behind. The 60s keep coming back. This is yet another tale of the fantastic, of legend, good and bad, corruption that is so Chicago.
I think I was never a fighter really. I just wanted to survive. I have outlived a lot of my friends. Maybe because I was not a straight up fisticuffs guy, violence was not a pastime of mine. I was special order fighter, ask me right and I might serve it up. I seldom looked for it. I did not function on or really walk with what the caporieristas call "malicia." Which implies cunning, trickery, and aggressive awareness of my world. I was looking for a path with a heart, that old Don Juan cliché. I eventually used Taoism to do it.
My rage was actually cooled by my response to violence. There was nothing in beating someone up, emptiness. I had no follow through I was told. I know how lucky I am to have survived it all and see 5 decades, most of the world and have two healthy, sane, compassionate, moral sons who share my world view without me pushing it onto them.
Now what was my point this morning when I started this post??? What was I doing that made me start this Sunday blog? Oh yeah, Dim Mak.
I had though I was going to leave Dim Mak out of this. The "Death Touch."
The comic book adverts told us of its existence. But those of us who were hip knew you would not learn it from a book. But it was still cool to see Dante in the ad looking like a fugitive from a Blaxploitation movie, big Afro, beard and trimmed sideburns. Ready to whoop that dim mak on the man or whoever.
It is part of the lore and legend of Martial Arts. Is it real? Well does it matter, lots of us, I am convinced just like a good story. We like the magic of a fantastic reality. All is know is there are things I leave alone and never worry about because sometimes "those who tell don't know, and those who know, don't tell."
What happened today is that I found a guy who is a practitioner of Dim Mak who lives not far from me in Melrose Park. Nat King Cole led me to this project. He just finished working with an old British student of his doing a film on Nat King Cole for TV show in the UK that uses a Trance Channeler to find the spirits of dead famous people. I shizzle you nizzle!
Where the hell is all of this going???? Stay tuned for my next non-linear, ranting and stream of consciousness postings.