Friday, August 18, 2006

Return of The Dragon and Kung Fu Grip


My buddy, "Irish Bob", went to Seattle last week and visited Bruce Lee's grave site. He shared with me a rare bit of info about Jimmy Hendrix and Bruce Lee living in the same neighborhood for awhile. Interesting idea for a comic book. "The Kid" from Sam Delaney's novel, Nova, with his laser shooting Kora-like Syrinx and a new immigrant martial artist ridding the streets of Seattle of all kinds of evil.

Seriously though...before Dante, no Dante, after Dante, no Dante. Same can be said of Bruce Lee. Where did Dante go so wrong that after 31 years there is still no marker on his grave??? Not even a veterans marker. I have the papers saying he was honorably discharged from the Marines, nothing about the Army yet except I know he was in.

What you don't see in this picture is that Brandon Lee is buried right next to him. As a father of 2 sons I find that one a bit hard to take. Our children should live way past us. But who knows ones destiny?

I got a crank phone call last night from someone claiming to be John Keehan. It was not. I checked out the number before I called. It was an old pal, a Russian painter I know, Michael Wasserman.

Got a copy of >Kung Fu Grip Zine #0 in the mail. The publisher, St. Paco sent it to me. Paco is a former Chicagoan. He does htis little zine that is absolutly wonderful to be hold. Minimal, small, the one-inch punch of zines. Maximun impact with stickers and excellent writing and ideas. There also a Count Dante button inside the package.

It is a nostalgic graphic masterpiece to me the way it invokes the Kung Fu film/Blackploitation period. "Just Jeet Kune Do It."

Paco wrote this great poem. Awesome. I am a fan of good poetry. Poetry, not spoken word. I like that minimal shit that does not try too hard to impress. Check out Paco:

RETURN OF THE DRAGON
Lips Pursed in thought
a trail of smoke
writhes from my lungs
with the menace of a
chimera's tail
The oriental scent of
Hugo Boss No. 6
rises from my flesh in a
a romance afterthought as
a candle flickers
in a shallow glass
to cast this shadow
of contemplation
upon the wall.

A red origami dragon,
one that I
did not craft
stands majestically
beside the bed:
the delicate token
she left to symbolize
the fire of a love
returned.

That is by St. Paco, bad M.F.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Department of Justice and Writer Robert Rankin

The last 24 hours I have had communication form Washington and London. Washington was the Department of Justice letting me know that my appeal for information on John Keehan/Count Dante was pending appesl per requerst of the FBI. I feel like this should have been easier than that. They got info on him but it has been misplaced it seems. The FBI shuffled me off to the DOJ when the information did not turn up quick enough....or something. I went to the FBI to find out what they may have had on Dante due to his use of the Black Dragon name and his dubious activities with mob characters. I need to get DiFonzo's stuff too while I am at it.

On a lighter side I spoke with Robert Rankin, British sci-fi and fantasy writer who makes use of the Count Dante character in his books. Count Dante is one of the many eccentric characters referred to in Robert Rankin's Brentford stories. I was put in touch with him by another character he frequenmtly kills off in his books, Count Otto Black. Thanks Otto.

Ottowants to have a fan party where they act out Dante scenes from the Brentford stories, Dim Mak, or "dimak," and all. So I will take a trip to London to talk with Robert, Count Otto and Graham Noble. I hope to schedule this for early October. Fares will be cheap and this will give Cout Otto time to help me with the fan Dante party.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Chicago Gung-Fu: More Info from Yet Another Green Dragon

I heard from yet another Green Dragon member. This member filled in a few blanks about the school itself. Martial arts at this level are akin to a fraternity or secret society, a place of secrets and initiations. He hinted at some of the elaborate ritual that was present in joining and gaining promotions in the dragon systems. He experienced this as a 14-year-old boy. My old sensei Jaco, told me of his attempt to join the Black Dragons and the ritual even Dante employed.

Transformation and empowerment is definitely the central theme of my documentary.

I am not mentioning his name at this point as he asked me for an informal chat. He was anxious that the real history of the Green Dragons and other Chinese Instructors in Chicago not be lost. While my doc centers on Keehan/Dante, I remain committed to developing as full a history as I can within the documentary itself and in extras on the DVD and in my enhanced website.

This Green Dragon member may come on Camera to give me some basic information as to what it was like to enter the martial arts at 14 and experience entry into the Green Dragons Society. I hope so.

This was a very easy meeting for me. This subject was very relaxed, but passionate about the martial arts. The power of the transformative experience is still alive within him. He was careful as to what he told me, but he felt it was important to talk to make a few things clear as a member who was a post-1970 member. The informants keep coming. It is important to me to have a good picture of the Green Dragon Society in relation to the "Dojo" or "Dragon" Wars.

I am planning a fundraiser for the film in September. September to December is the big push to finish shooting. Have to break away and organize this after my trip to "technoSpheres: FutureS of Thinking" at the University of California Humanities Research Institute in Irvine, CA. I got lots to do for my talk and presentation next week. I am in conversation with Lisa Cartwright, a Harvard PhD who has a very impressive background. I expect I will at least learn a lot from her. She is a practitioner also. The subject is The Cultural Work of Technological Representation.

I am still deciphering this topic. I am asking myself how the Count Dante project might fit into this. Technology has empowered me to do things with this project with a minimum of resources I could never have done 15 or 20 years ago. There is a level of self reliance that I have managed to achieve by learning and understanding the potential of the technology for publishing and distribution of information, image processing and basic communication softwares (email).

Well, back to editing podcasts....

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Blog Reactions continue

I have been getting reactions to the blog from all over the place. There is discussion at http://countdante.com about the Green Dragon Society member's claim to have dislocated both Count Dante's arms. Until I present all the evidence from both sides I have no opinion on any of this. I still have Mike Felkoff to interview and one other person I want to try to get on camera who was there with Konsevic.

The argument over the stewardship of the Black Dragon Fighting Society is not in question in my mind. It just has no place in the Chicago part of the story at this particular moment. I have said before that I am interested in seeing the Fall River BDFS archives for possible inclusion of materials in the film. Fall River is in the latter part of the story.

I got one letter that was really interesting that speaks specifically to the times we were all living in and what it was like to studying martial arts in a racially senstive America of the 1960s.

Dear Mr. Webb:

I came across your project while mindlessly trolling the net. As a martial artist I often monitor some of the sites. I was immediately struck by how creative and together your project appears. I like your trailer... the music, the approach to the subject is sympathetic, yet you are not a Dante apologist. Your interviews were also nicely done.

I don't know what response this project has had with respect to the entertainment field and the martial arts community. I also don't know how you are faring.... if you are encouraged, if you have had some success. This project of yours has tremendous value I say this as someone who used to write a bit for the Martial Arts Mags, but I digress.... I want to share some information with you. This
information is not directly relevant to Dante but might well give you some historical context. Let me explain:

Firstly, I am a Caucasian forty two year old man with a family (two sons and a wife, a dog, etc). I moved to Baltimore Maryland when I was thirteen years old in 1974. As a New Yorker I knew I might have to fight a bit ha-ha, so naturally when a friend told me of a Karate class in the local rec center I wanted to give it a try.

I met Willie Ben a student of Riley Hawkins. Hawkins was a local legend. His skills were extraordinary in every regard. My teacher was a kumite and breaking champion. My first experience with Sensei Ben changed my life forever. The first thing Sensei did was cordially and genuinely welcome me into the Dojo. I was the only Caucasian student and the rec center was in the middle of the Greenmount avenue section of Baltimore... a very dangerous area at the time. After welcoming me he beat me from pillar to post. When I came back the next class, same thing. The man was so gentle yet ruthless!

I stuck with it for the next 10 years and this is what I have to say to you.

Baltimore Karate in the African American community was known as Ghetto Ryu. The clubs were organized like Tongs (Sensei's words) often going over to other dojos and fighting each other. Shootings were also common. The practitioners of Ghetto Ryu were incredibly skilled...you had to be to survive as a club. Luminaries included people like Arnold Mitchell (later to go to prison) Frank Hargraves (became a traditionalist), Sensei Ben (less well known but everybody was afraid of him-valuable currency in those days). You had some distinct dojo personalities: security guys, a lot of prison guards, criminals, thugs, martial arts gypsies looking to try a few things, etc.

What had happened was Riley had changed traditional Okinawan Sho Ran Ryu into a lethal street art. Prior to Riley people had fought out of a modified horse stance with the front hand in low block position and the other hand cocked at the hip. Riley changed the stance to a side position where one was low and used fast hand techniques with low kicks in rapid succession. Riley's club was the Avengers, Sensei only graduated a few of us to the mark of the Assassin (his club) and you had the champions... everybody was a showman! We did breaking and fighting demos. Sensei carried a bed of nails and let people break blocks over him.

What is relevant to your project is that Karate in Baltimore at the same time as in the Midwest seems to have developed in similar fashion. And just as with Dante everybody mischaracterized the ability to adapt an art to the environment as somehow being antithetical to martial arts. Just as with Dante virtually all of the students that sprung from the fertile loins of Riley were minorities who often used the art to survive and.... used the art to great criminal effect at times. I love my teachers but I won't revise the facts ha-ha.

The criminal element in some ways was the most loyal. My dojo brothers treated me like a young incompetent who constantly needed a father or elder brother. Incidentally I got this same treatment from Duncan's student's group. It bothers me to no end when people try to portray the violent elements in the African American community as beneath human dignity... I know differently. Whether at Greenmount avenue or the bus station in Philly my safety was often guaranteed
because of "thugs and criminals" who made it their responsibility to make sure I got home safely.

Now a days when the Gracies take an art and adapt it (Jujitsu from Japan to Brazil) people sing it's praises. We were fighting what were then called death matches years ago! A death match was a match where the match was only stopped when someone could no longer continue fighting, hence they would have been killed cause they could not fight anymore. Frankly it is a double standard, if not outright rascism that the Gracies, who are ethnically of Scottish descent, came to
Brazil and adapted their art to survive and are called heroes....while African Americans who did the same thing had their credibility challenged by traditionalists. I make this statement unbiased as I am, as stated, a white boy and, ironically I study a traditional Japanese art (the Bujinkan, Ninpo TaiJutsu). I also studied under one of Ronald Duncan's students and noticed the same double standard...Duncan's legitimacy and credibility is constantly under attack.

Dante plugged into a whole sub cultural martial arts tradition. Ghettos were empowered all over this country by the contribution of African American Martial Artists.... Ghettos because only in the most dangerous places do martial artists have to have skills that pay the bills. I believe that what happened with the count happened in many communities. To call people like Dante a fraud is to miss the point.

People in Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Philly, etc needed the skills and approach of someone like the Count.

Hope this parallel development angle is helpful. Hope you see your project through.

sincerely

Darrell Simon
San Francisco
I shared this with my good friend Simmie Williams and he encouraged me to post it. He says he had pretty much a similar experience in Gary, Indiana.

Focusing on the Legend:: CutThroat Ring Report:: Fearless Radio

The Chicago Reader article's effects continue. Mike Davis, of Cut Throat Ring Report, a weekly program on Internet radio, Fearless Radio, contacted me. Mike has a very interesting full time job in law enforcement but does this program as a sideline with a pal of his from Indiana.

They are absolutely fascinated with the urban legend. They have introduced 6'9 fighter Wes Sims to the Count's legend. The obsessed Sims now announces from the ring he is "searching for Count Dante." I could translate this into some GREAT marketing for the film. I figured that there would be some interest in the Count from the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) community. They are a huge demographic and I am sure there are aspects of the Dante's persona that are sure to please the rough and ready contemporary fight crew and fans of MMA matches. This was one of Count Dante's deferred dreams, to hold matches of this kind.

I was on-air with Bob Shirmer, an old school martial artist who has made the transition from traditional martial arts to the world of MMA. He runs the Combat Do Fighting Challenge in Cicero out of his All AMERICAN ACADEMY OF MARTIAL ARTS. I need to get by his school and film some classes soon. Shirmer opened his first school is a really rough neighborhood in on Roosevelt in a predominantly black community.

Shirmer is a slight wiry white guy less then six feet tall and, I am sure, seemingly easy prey for an uninformed and inattentive tough guy. The Rock and Roll Count Dante in San Francisco joined us on the show by telephone. You can read his report of the program here. The show was really a raukus kind of send up of the Count's exploits but when Fred Degerberg came on he brought it down to earth with a really well grounded assessment of Keehan/Dante's contribution to the martial arts. You can hear the podcast of the show at http://fearlessradio.com.

As a result of the show I have located another informant and maybe a link to someone very close to Dante. We shall see what this new contact yeild in new data. I am glad Mike Davis got in touch with me, after my meeting with the Green Dragon Society it was good to have something a bit lighter to deal with.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Castro...how many years is this?


Fighting. Even at 6 and 7 years old my world was filled with fighting, watching it, hearing about it discussing it and doing it and usually losing. I remember the first days Castro came to power. We watched CBS news back then. It was Walter Cronkite usually I think...not sure. But to see Castro riding through the streets and then see something we seldom saw unless it was a late night World War II or Korean era film that featured James Edwards or Sidney Porter (of course it is Portier, I was still seven then, only just learning the nuances of the language after doing the migration thing from Mississippi to the projects just 'cross the tracks from Chinatown).

Castro was accompanied by black soldiers. Some of us kids would discuss the news among ourselves. Our teachers at Haines school always insisted we read the newspapers and discuss it.

I had learned to read from my mom when I was 5 and my sister Gwen was 4. She taught us from the newspaper. I sold the papers - the Sun-Times, sometimes the Defender, or maybe even Jet magazine until I got robbed one too many times. Someone may have even been stabbed oevr some paper money, I am not sure. Something ended my hustle.

My father was still in the army, he was stationed in Chicago After Korea with the 5th Army. He was a radar man in a Nike Missle installation on 31st Street beach it was called "C-40". This was some serious Cold War stuff. When it was very hot like this, my father would come home and get us out of bed at about 1:00 am puit us to sleep on the beach and go back in the silo. He would wake us at 5:00 am when the sun would just be peeking over the horizon of lake Michigan. I do not rememebr any of this. My mom told me this one a few months ago. During the Missle crisis my dad was very busy we did not get to see him much.

1962 and the missle crisis came. We had been discussing the Crisis in School. My boy Luther was always asking about how come we never see "Castro's black dudes" on the news anymore. They looked cool, these bearded revolutionaries out from the mountains of Oriente. Castro was no longer a freedom fighter, he was now a "gawdless commonist," what that meant to us was nothing. We dug Castro and dug Kennedy too. One of our teachers told us about The AfroCuban soldiers who fought the Spanish American War in Cuba and in the Phillipines. What has happened to our educational standards??

I remember after school on day walking down 23rd street east. We were coming home from school at 3:15. A brigade of Ants all in a row headed back to the Projects. Down 24th Street to Wentworth to the Chinese Christian Union Church where we often saw mid-day brass bands playing funerals. We turned right onto 23rd Street and walked a block to the Railroad viaduct and was back in the Harold J. Ickes Homes.

It was during this walk someone suggested that Castro and Kennedy duke it out. Like Dick the Bruiser and BoBo Brazil and Verne Gagne. Mix it up like Sugar Ray and Floyd Patterson. Like in them old movies where two kings fight for the spoils and spare the land and what not.

That was when the argument started. Luther, forever the naysayer said Castro would kick Kennedy's ass. We was like no way, Kennedy was on that boat, PT-101 and got shipwrecked and survived and could talk Castro if he could do that. Luther was laughing. Castro justcame out the mountains last year, he don't look fat. Everytime he come on talking shit in that uniform he look tough, Kennedy look soft. We laugh about it and almost starting fighting ourselves as we continued to argue. Our parents were placing a lot of hope in Kennedy.

There was hope fo the Cuban people when Castro rode into Havana. Walter Cronkite said so. When he became a communist, i do not not know. But all the really cool people I was learning about were called communist, Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson, anybody going downsouth for freedom rides to help people get the right to vote. even at my young age it was apparent that all communist was not communist but just being called out their names.

Yeah I will admit it we admired Castro back then, and that bad ass cool motherfucker called Che. Third and fourth graders dicussing foreign policy you ask? Yeah, weren't those truly the good old days. We had a few dynamite teachers back then: Melvin Gaynor, Dorothy Luckett, Carl Smith, Mr. Moy, John B Mack III, Ms Ferguson otehr whose names I do not remember.

We loved that school there in the center of Chinatown. But fighting consumed our days, with Air Raid drills, duck and cover crap films. Luther would be saying "duck and cover, my ass." Luther always knew stuff, if only his mom would wash his clothes a bit more often we could stand to be around him longer. Luther was a loner he had issues at home. We lived in the projects he lived across the street in an old tenement. It was quite a contrast to the projects. I had never seen anything like it. Dark, dank and eroding. And I had just come from Asswipe, Mississippi as some of the kids like to say.

Fighting consumed our nights, with the missle crisis, the beginning of troops, our fathers, older brothers, cousins, being send to Vietnam.

My favorite teacher, Ms Luckett was the one who broke the news to us about the seriousness of the crisis. We learned that Chicago would be one of the cities targeted. Luther said we was gona get hit at Madison and state because that was zero for hitting us just right. Like I said, Luther knew stuff, maybe he had been talking to my dad or something.

Around this time I think I got my ass kicked again afetr being spared for about 5 months or so. I discovered Bruce Tegner in the library and had seen a Mr. Moto Film and a film with James Cagney throwning some Japanese dude all over the room. And wait a minute, one armed Spencer Tracy had a Bad Day at Black Rock and let some cowboys know it.

I neeeded some of what they had.

And that is what all this has to do with Fidel Castro stepping down today. If anyone is offended that I speak of him in anything but glowing terms all I have to say is, "How's Elian doing?"

Dante did claim to have been with Raul Castro and Che in the mountains in Cuba as some kind of mercenary. Who knows? He was probably lying. But if I ever got a chance to ask Raul about it I probably would. Just so I was sure. I have heard that at one point Castro got some assistance from the US to close the books on Batista. This as before communism took possession of Fidel's immortal soul of course. In 1958 the US suspended military assistance to Batista's regime, so by 1959 I am sure they would be currying favor with the up and coming Castro with a lil' help on the side the way the foreign policy boys do when they want someboy's ass out.

One more thing. If the US really wanted to end Castro's reign they would have airlifted 200,000 color TV sets to Cuba, dropped them by parachute and bombarded them with 40 years of pro-democracy consumerism, Lucy and Desi re-runs, and the Frito Bandito. Blowing shit up is not always the answer, great Military might is no guarantee of political victory. Lao-Tzu definitely is not in the reading list of out present day military commanders. I take that back, maybe Bush never heard of him.