Monday, July 31, 2006
"A correction/clarification to the part of the article that mentions Bill Aguiar.
Bill Aguiar opened his first Martial Arts school in Fall River in 1967, long before he first met Count Dante. Sometime prior to 1973, Aguiar, for the first time, met and trained with Count Dante in Chicago. They became friends and kept in touch until Dante came to Fall River in 1975.
Bill Aguiar already had a chain of four martial-arts schools. One each in Fall River, New Bedford, Taunton and Worcester. It was sometime during this visit that Aguiar helped Dante organize, what has become known as the Taunton Death Matches, at the Roseland Ballroom."
I thank John for this information.
In Chicago few of the old timers know anything about William Aguiar, Jr. There is quite a bit of curiosity about their association. We all know that is where Count Dante ended up but he still maintained a residence here and did not say much about what he was doing in MA to many people apparently.
This whole excersise for me is about clarity. About getting as close to some truth as I can about the man and to make some effort to demystify the legend.
I will include some other letters from people that I think worth sharing in future and if I get their permission.
My research lead me to Kankakee, IL again this past weekend, I went to talk to my old sensei, or rather the closest I ever had to a real sensei, Gregory Jaco. I had been looking up Jaco on Google and had found nothing. I had last seen him in a friend's office in the late 1980s.
My 15 year old son, Djibril and my friend Caroll came along for the ride. Djibril was most anxious to come because Jaco's son Wasalu, is the rising hip hop star Lupe Fiasco. Lupe rates a Wikipedia listing I was surprised to see. I did not know Jaco was a "prolific African Drummer" as cited in Lupe's wiki article. I guess Djibril thought Wasalu might be stopping by for dinner at his dad's or something. Nope, did not happen.
I first met Jaco in the winter of 1968. I met him thtough two high school friends I used to workout with, Clarence and Marshall Jordan. We were all Explorer Scouts together. I was based in Maywood and they were in the Chicago Housing projects. Jaco was part of a Karate Class held in the Robert Taylor Homes. It was run by an ex-Marine. after some diagreements with the CHA about the principles he was teaching the children, mostly dignity, intelligence and RESISTANCE, he was asked to leave.
Jaco was the biggest baddest person I knew back then. I had never seen him fight, I had seen him teach. When a big fight did come, people would look at him and walk away to hit someone else, usually Robert Tobias, 5'6 and about 150 lbs of Black Dragon Society training, big mistake.
Jaco continued his martial arts training under men who had been clandestinely taught by Mas Tamura at the Jiu Jitsu Institute in Chicago. The JJI, one of the first dojos in Chicago opened in 1938. He ran it for about 40 years. Black people were not openly taught back in the 1930s-1950s. But Mas Tamura had a few black students who got lessons by acting as cleaning staff. He would teach them after hours. Their presence as cleaning staff was "normal" to the openingly prejudiced attitudes of some of his white clients.
Some of these men were a core of individuals who taught classes in recreation centers and YMCAs in the black community. Mas Tamura was the Judo instructor of Russel Brown, one of John Keehan's first students. Tamura was obviously a smart cookie and was willing to break the Jim Crow rules of American apartheid in the 1950s.
I met Jaco when he and a few of his students (he started teaching as a brown belt) had run out to Maywood, IL when I was in high school at Proviso East High School. It was about 21 miles in the dead of winter. I was impressed, was not gonna do it, but I was impressed. One of those students who particpated in this hard core activity was Robert Tobias. Robert's movement s were always cobra-like, bery different from the karate I had been learning. Turned out that Robert was part of Count Dante's Black Dragon Fighting Society classes. I was alwasy fond of Robert. He was the first person I ever saw do the Dance of Death. I did not realize at that time Dante was John Keehan.
Jaco mastered a lot of weapons. He is a classic hoplologist in a lay sense of the word. He is not a scholar but a prolific practitioner of the field. Sir Richard Burton and Don Draeger would certainly agree with me on that. Hoplology, "...encompasses the segment of human culture concerned with weapons, armor, combative accouterments and fighting systems, in regard to their technical characteristics and the ways in which they interact with the economic, political, social and religious institutions of human societies."
Jaco always sought to use martial arts as a way for people to overcome their circumstances. Many fell along the way, he has said. Many fell to the dark side, some moved on and thrived. He has always been concerned about community, and children. He is also obsinate and stubborn, he bears grudges, he expects of the world what he expects of himself. Not always a good idea in my experience. He is a single father right now raising two beautiful young girls, 7 and 9 years old. They are bright, a great help to him in his fragile state of health and he is training them in martial arts and have competed recently at a tournment in Wisconsin.
Jaco was a master at the art of the demonstration, a master of breaking. Even I stood up against the wall while he threw shuriken around the outline of my body back in the day. There was way less of me to hit back then.
Jaco told me something in the video interview he never told me before. He had interviewed to become a student of Count Dante. He said he never net Count Dante, but that he met "his legend." In a darkened room with incense burning and a shadowy figure silouetted against a dimly lit background. There were some jive ass "Master Po" kind of theatrics going on back then from what I remember and I don't think Dante would be above such activity.
Jaco spoke highly of Dante in the interview. He also told me the tragedy of Robert Tobias, a doubler life sentence in prison. I never knew he was a member of the Black P-Stone Nation. He was an uneducated genius, full of potential that was squandered because he fell prey to the dark side. I found him online in a quck search of the prison system. Robert had been involved with another legendary Southside martial artist I only rember as Earl. Earl was notorius for his underworld connections and was caught in and accused of making the hit on big time drug dealer/pimp/gangster Flukey Stokes. Flukey was the father of Willie The Wimp, a Chicago gangster immortalized in the Stevie Ray Vaughn song, on that album Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble ("Willie the Wimp in his cadillac coffin...").
Dante was accused of teaching gangbangers, and other unsavory types. I am looking into that further. I have not seen Robert in a while, maybe I will go pay a visit to him to talk about Dante.
Jaco has been ill of late, a father of 9 children he is a single father to two girls, 7 and 9 years old and they are his last students. They have been competing already.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
To the former Green Dragons this is refered to as "The Dragon Wars." These martial artists of the Dragon Schools in Chicago had left Japanese martial arts because of the Americanisation, the diluting of the traditional systems. I cannot give you accurate details because I got a lot of information at one time over a good Chinese meal in what I always call the "gittin' to know y'all" phase. Later, after the dishes ahd been cleared away I asked permission to do an audio recording of his recollections of the Dragon Wars. I recorded him
Most importantly I got a history lesson about the Dragon Schools isn Chinatown that harkens back to my on youth. My presence in Chinatown as a nine year old on the hustle allowed me to observe quite a bit. I went to Haines School with Moys and Cheungs and knew a little bit of what was going on there martial arts wise. I did a bit of work at On Leong Trade association, even, what became know as the center of crime in Chinatown. What I heard last night filled in some blanks for me.
It is a pity that Green Dragon history for the moment begins and ends with April, 1970. I am hoping I can use this person's participation in the film to change all that. There is a strong and significant history of martial arts in Chinatown that needs telling.
But primarily, I was there to find out from Green Dragon members what happened to bring about this event of April, 1970.
First of all, according to my informant, on the night of the incident there was a knock at the door and the person outside said, "police." The voice seemed familiar and my informant said to not open it. Soon after that, the door was kicked open. Dante was the first person through the door and he hit Gonzalez in the eye, shattering it. It was not with his hands, not with nun-chakus but with a "mace". I was told that Konsevics other students were armed as well.
There were people "flying through the air." Space was being challeged and defended. Weapons in those days were along the walls of the dojo. This is the origin of much of the tragedy. The Green Dragons defended their space.
I was told that Jerome Greenwald was not the one who killed Jim Konsevic. It was not revealed to me who did. Apparently the incident was a clash of egos between Keehan and Greenwald. No one has said what the clash was over. I was told that more than one person died as a result of this incident.
Konsevic died on the spot, another person accompanying Keehan died several days later from injuries sustained from "falling on a Butterfly Axe." I may be calling the weapon the wrong name. I was not told this person's name. This is new information.
My informant told me he had seen Keehan before, he knew him from the early 1960s and was part of a committee that rejected him for membership in the Japan Black Belf Federation. he said he considered Keehan "unstable" even then.
Keehan challenged him. My informant had seen him before and knew he had incredibly fast hands. I was told he was able to use that against him, that he dislocated both of of Keehan's arms, immobilizing him. I was not told in detail how he accomplished this.
How Konsevic died, the pool of blood, the damage to the Black Cobra Hall, the clean-up the day afterwards were all part of the conversation. Apparently there were pictures fromthe incident. This is new information also. I was told that several Chicago papers and the New York Times ran pictures of the dojo walls and floor covered in blood. back in 1970 Chicago had several daily papers coning out moring and evening. I need to do another search.
When the case went to court a few bright moments seemed to be the attendance of Barbara Kemp. Playboy Bunny and, to the society pages of the Chicago Tribune, "Dragon lady of Rush Street." She is the woman in the hairdressing photo with Keehan in the Reader article. The Green Dragon defendants referred to her as "the blinking beaver" due to her obvious lack of underwear and "unladylike sitting position" during the court proceedings in the sweltering summer heat of August 1970.
One of the most important things I learned was why the case was dismissed. My informant tells me that the transcripts kept getting lost. The case had several continuances and each time there was afilure to locate transcripts and documentation. As a result of this, judge dismissed the case.
That is it. The years research and diligence has finally yielded some results. More later...
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Am I immortalizing Keehan? Looks like that is already taken care of. I keep reminding people my film is about a very flawed character. Did I like the guy? Of course I did. But he is two people, I liked John Keehan and was fascinated by Count Dante. I wasn't gonna be hanging around with the guy. Could have been bad for my health at my tender age of 11-14. His badness will never outweigh his goodness to a lot of people. Maybe it was his percieved goodness that opened the doorway to the darker side. Such are the pathways of life. I can get philopsophical at half a century.
Why dreg up the disgraceful pasr of the martial arts? Because no one ever laid this to rest. Bottom line, no one was supposed to get killed that night at the Black Dragon Hall in 1970. This is where the story really takes off for many.
Many of the people there had regrets and remorse about it from what I am hearing. Age happens, sometimes wisdom happens along with it. Memories fade and more often they alter. As someone said at Ken Knudson's memorial, we tend to remember ourselves a whole lot tougher than we were.
Since the Reader article I have had my share of odd emails and the occcasional email. I was looking for it to shake out of the tree of public consciousness for missing parts of the puzzle. I have not been too dissapointed. Robert Cooley's name comes us more than a few times. Chicago has it's own way of remembering him I am finding. I have even heard of other sightings of Dante from other than my potentially punch drunk martial artist acquaintances.
I have had email suggestions that Dante was a memebr of a Satanic VooDoo Sex Cult even before the article. I have to take it serious because he named it and I had an ex-girlfriend who was supposedly a member of the same Rush Street centered group. Cooley told me some stuff I cannot repeat...well maybe in an X version of the doc...LOL.
I had a guy email me saying Dante started some Back of the Yards street gang and he jacked him up in a school yard in 1974.
One of the calls I got was from Fearless Radio. Fearless is an online radio station that wants to do an on-air roundtable on Count Dante. They want to do it next week.
I was approached by a guy whose name I will not use until I get his permission. He in in the investigative field, young and quirky though he may be. He is about 31, has personal knowledge of Cooley and says he know's people who knew Dante personally. He is trying to get them to come on the radio show also. He also went to Mt. Carmel and grew up in Beverly, same as Keehan did. This should be interesting.
Am I gonna film this????? You betcha booty! I am not above a little humour and who knows what kind of real information I might unearth from a few minutes of potential embarassment.
I was going to go to the Black Belt Magazine convention in Long Beach, CA this weekend but some interviews have come up I need to do this week and weekend. The Reader article has stirred the pot. This is absolutely a Chicago story .
Meanwhile I am fleshing out the budget when I get a chance, have been not attentive enough with 3to1 Studios, and working on solving the Podcast glut with the Jazz Institute. We are starting to plan a fundraiser for the film and I expect to see you all there. I am still at the bo-budget phase with 20 hours of footage and about 100 hours more to go before I can get to editing in December. It will be Dante Christmas season editing sessions if all goes as planned.
I am more than confident I am going to finish this.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
It was curiosity that lead me to this project. It was the truth stranger than fiction. It was the man who dies with an incomplete legacy, a markerless grave. A neglected history, a misunderstood life? Maybe? A squandered life? Anakin and Darth Vader of the martial arts? When he was good, he was very good, and when he was bad, he was awful...or something like that.
We humans seem to be fascinated with the underworld, the dark side of life, those areas in which we dare not dwell. We have no problem living it vicariously through the lives of others. Maybe this is a healthy thing. we see forbidden pathways and want the tales of what it was like to travel it. I am sure there is some dark psychology here somewhere. All I can do is make the best film I can, from my heart, get it all good bad and horrific.
I want to talk to Bill Aguiar III, Ashida Kim, and anyone that I think can contribute to this story in a significant way. I am not part of anyones wars. I want the Green Dragons to come forward and finally tell their side of the story. I need these peopel to tell the whole story and many many more. To me this is an opportunity to tell a story that will close a chapter that has reamind open for 36 years and tell a century long history of martial arts in the midwestern United States.
I got questioned about my commitment to the truth regarding Keehan/Dante. What I like about John, I will always like about him. What I dislike about him will be evident in the film.
He lost his way. Where is the lesson in this for all of us. In this there is a cautionary tale I think.
That is what I am thinking about this morning, after a conversation I had yesterday and after awaking from a dream of a getting trapped in a gym where a Gorgeous George looking midget tricked me into signing up for some wrestling matches 5 minutes before fight time when I wa supposed to be at working out on the treadmill. What duh hell did I eat for dinner???
Saturday, July 22, 2006
I get a reply to my email from a section chief of Records and Information telling me that they found they had a file on Juan Raphael Dante and no mention of John Timothy Keehan. They had a location for the file, but it was not in the location it was supposed to be in and could not be located. Then, "Following a reasonable waiting period another attempt was made...." They were unsuccessful and they said "...therefore, we are closing your request."
Well, duh, his real name is John Timothy Keehan. I bet it resides inside his John Timothy Keehan File as an alias.
Why did I contact the FBI? Because of the name "Black Dragon Fighting Society." The Black Dragon Society was a secret society and political organization, an arm of Japanese Intelligence inside America before World War II. It was lead by Satokata Takahashi, a retired major of the Imperial Japanese Army and member of the Black Dragon Society. According to FBI reports he was the instigator behind the Pacific Movement of the Eastern World. The Pacific Movement of the Eastern World (PMEW) was a North American based pro-Japanese movement of African Americans which promoted the idea that Japan was the champion of all non white peoples. It was founded in 1932 in Chicago, but really developed in St. Louis when its president Ashima Takis moved there in 1933. Elijah Poole, who was to become the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, was arrested for suspicion of conspiring with the Black Dragons because his brother Kallet had joined them and he lived a block away from a Black Dragon operative in Washington DC.
History forgets how European racism and colonialism were exploited by the Japanese to create allies among formerly colonized people of color. This was a carefully thought out plan that gained a number of followers in the US as well. Don't believe me? Check out Race War: White Supremacy And the Japanese Attack on the British Empire and Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas.
I am betting that the resurrection of that name, Black Dragon Fighting Society and Keehan's association with black martial artists sets off some alarms in J. Edgar Hoover's office between his dress fittings. (Sorry, I should not have gone there. That is so cruel of me. I should learn to more excepting of Hoover's transvestitism). This is some arcane historical data I am dealing with here. We will see it it makes the cut into the movie.
I will wait to see what else turns up from my appealed queries to The Office of Information and Privacy.
You guys sure are quiet. Is anybody reading this stuff???? I never get comments....
Thursday, July 20, 2006
As the California Count has been know to say, "...a day without Dante is a day without strange."
This morning a copy of the World's Deadliest Fighting Secrets turned up online for sale on Ebay. It is in French, LES PLUS TERRIBLES SECRETS DE COMBAT DU MONDE, and from the look of the picture of the cover it just may be part of the original publication. I sent out an email to my good friend Olivier Landau's son Gallaye, a recent graduate, to assist me in some research on the book in France and to locate some martial artists in Paris who may have come into contact vwith the book
I got in touch with Bill Goring, the guy selling the $200.00 "buy it now" ebay item. I have not spoken with him yet. I hope to glean some info on the distribution of the book, how many markets, social impact on martial arts communities abroad, etc.
Publishing is everything. What you write becomes legacy. And I am not in much mood for it this moment. I got budgeting issues with the film to mdeal with today and to book a trip to Long Beach for next weekend. I got bites for financing after the article, nothing serious yet. Meanwhile I have to make my way to Long Beach and to Vegas for some footage i need for my trailer to go after the big fish.
More later, the phone is ringing...
Friday, July 14, 2006
Dan Kelly's Chicago Reader article is out. After a few months wait, having done the interview months ago, the Reader has done well by us. My hope is that the article will be a boost to my search for additional funding for the project.
Additionally, I am hoping it will unearth some new information, bring some missing parts of the puzzle out of hiding so I can put this story to rest. It looks really good, reads well and is all over Chicago and the Suburbs. There is little mention of the Puralator robbery, it leaves something for me to tell. :-)
Not bad for a "no-budget" project.
I have my oldest son, Jason, working on the revised budget today. We have officially transitioned from "no-budget" to "lo-budget." I think I will maybe do a fundraiser in August if not sooner. I did get a few "interesting" emails from some west coast parties by about midnight after the article appeared. Nothing serious. Self-reliance first.
Thanks, Dan. You did a great Job. Thanks Chicago Reader, for getting behind a local independent filmmaker.
See the Count Dante Article in the Chicago Reader here.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
It has been a busy month and things ain't 100%. We got the new Jazz in Chicago Guide laid to rest and out to our first
The new business partnership languishes while we get organized on another front with more projects starting to come in and I am invited to expound on technology and identity at University forums not knowing what the hell I am going to talk about or present as of yet. Maybe I can unearth something from this process I am engaged in, making The Search for Count Dante.
More funding and services are now in place, still not enough to finish, but I can keep shooting. People are hearing about the project, the 1st trailer really had some major repercussion in gauging interest in the subject. I am going to LA for the Black Belt Magazine convention end of the month. I missed it last year. But it all works out. I know so much more now than I did before. My hunches are now supported by facts. The truth hurts sometimes but I figure it is like a toothache. Pull it or the pain keeps coming back. It eventually poisons the body. Thus is the story of John Keehan/Count Dante. Painful truths that have never been extracted, the body of the history of martial arts suffers for it. The tale is not told, is not complete.
Someone accused me of being obsessed with Keehan. Yeah, I am obsessed with telling his story. I am like any person dedicated to telling a story, any good writer, filmmaker or researcher. There is part of me in this story, of so many people I knew. We skirted the multitudinous peripheries of Count Dante's life. He was out kick ass Charles Atlas who would just about say and do anything and ultimately he tried to do it for a few bucks mail-order.
This story is part of the volitile 60s. Keehan gets accused of teaching self-defense to the Blackstone Rangers, SDS and trouble-makers at the 1968 convention. Well I did not see him there. Maybe I was running too fast???? :-)
For a minute Keehan gets accused of being a "mother-country radical" lighting the path to black revolution by an ex-girlfriend Playboy Bunny who may or may not end up in the film.
The projects goes into over drive between now and October. I plan to be cutting this film in late November. Is that confident and boisterous? Yep, some things you have to will into being.
I am getting both my son's involved. Jason, 29, just graduated from
I have been talking to my producer friend Dave Allen who was with the Cure for all those years and composer Edward Wilkerson of 8 Bold Souls and Shadow Vignettes. I can make a clean financial deal with them(I hope). I need some strings too. Some dramatic, kinetic, Kronos kind of sound. Keehan was a gifted, classical man, born into wealth, stepped a bit outside his element and could manage the span of the abyss generated by not yet explained anger...he fell along the way.
I feel like all the questions I have in the film are ready to be answered. One of the music instructors in my building, who also works in custodial engineering, told me I should call John Keehan's name before I got to sleep and ask him to come to me and help me answer my questions. I have not done it yet. I will do it in a few days. Now I am a bit superstitious about this kind of stuff.
My mother dreams and I dream, but not as effectively as my mom. So I am careful what I wish for. I know you are thinking this is getting really weird. Hell, what else is new??? So yes I am going to do just that.
I still have people turning up in my email box who have seen the trailer, heard about the blog heard about the project. People are coming forward and they are ready to forgive ready to share. This is a good sign.
Quite a few people in the martial arts community get it. It takes me back to my very first interview, Ken Knudson. Ken vilified Dante for the death of his friend. But he was willing to give his side, but also give Keehan his due. As we talked I think he felt the history unfolding. He helped me catch a glimpse of what this project would eventually become.
I am always amazed at how people assume that Count Dante is black when I first explain the project to them, even after I have already said he was an Irish kid from
Many others have told me that it is not a black film, not that I asked them. It is a great story and a potentially GREAT film. That is my first concern. I want to illuminate a marginal world that I participated in, to tell stories that heretofore are urban legend. We can figure out all the rest after the film is done.
Race is a mitigating factor in our ability to communicate. The subject of race is what we as Americans are still coming to grips with because we still make presumptions about the "other."
The film is a great exercise for me because it causes me to confront my own past and I have become more comfortable about adding my voice to the narrative of this film.
After Ken Knudson, Bob Wall has been a great supporter. Through World Black Belt
Bob has been very helpful in providing me with contacts and info and allowed me to use his name.
I am feeling great about the project. I got a lot of moves to make these next few weeks; 8 cities and 3 counties to obtain footage and interviews from; archival footage to dig up.
One of the great things I have uncovered in this is Charles Grusanski, Keehan's first teacher. His story is interesting itself. His influence has gone unmentioned, but then he was a very classical man who literally grew to adulthood in post-war