Sunday, October 22, 2006

"...he had hands like a woman..."

I recieved a videotape of fight footage from England. It contained old black and white footage of fights with legendary point fighter Joe Lewis offering commentary with an unidentified interviewer. During his fight with Victor Moore he starts talking about Count Dante.

Victor Moore was a student of Master Robert Trias as well. I have spoken with Mr. Moore and he tells me he used to train with Count Dante when they were both with Master Trias.

This is a transcript of that commentary below.

"...there was actually one up in chicago in 1966. That "Count Dante" thing? Robert Trias made him a third degree black belt, I guess, in that Kempo style that they were in?

Interviewer: That was Okinawan style...

Joe Lewis: Yeah, Trias was Shorin-ji, but Dante used to call that stuff Kempo and that's what he was doin'. And the next thing I know he was a "master"....Count Dante, you know.

Interviewer: John Keenan was his real name..

Joe Lewis: John KEE-han..

Interviewer: He was a hairdresser...

Joe Lewis: Yeah, a hairdresser. I remember watching him break bricks, he would lay two bricks flat against the ground, he wouldn't raise them up and he would hit the top and break both of them. He had hands like a woman, I used to talk about his hands, how could this guy hurt anybody with hands like that? But he sure could slap through those bricks.

I just wish people wouldn't hokey up karate with all this nonsense carnival act stuff."

I am working on gathering together a few of these fighters from those days to talk about Dante and get a real assessment of who he was and what they think, really happened.

More interest on the film for distribution is coming in. That is a great thing. But what I need is some production monies. I will be off to Las Vegas and London in November this month to interview some people related to the Dojo wars and the popular cultural legacy of Count Dante.

Monday, October 16, 2006

New discoveries about the Green Dragons Society and Internet Dojo Copyright Wars?


Got an email asking me if I knew that the lineage of the Green Dragon school may have been descended from Ku Yu Cheung. If this is true that is some serious background. Ku Yu Cheung was one of the legendary Iron Palm practitioners. Yu-Cheung was said to have the most devastating iron palm in the history, matched by, no one. He could break more than ten brick blocks with one strike.

Ku Yu Cheung is like the REAL "fist of legend." I am going to add this to my other little wrap up leads to follow. I also got the right spelling for Ta Shia, or "Shen Ta Shia" and found out the correct spelling of the Ta Shia's name. It is Douglas Nowokunski.

Here is an image from harmoniousfist.com showing Master Cheung breaking 10 bricks with his iron palm. Now I know some of you UFC and JKD types are going to give me the "...boards(or bricks) don't hit back" line. I am just reporting on who's who for the time being. We can get into our little stylistic arguements AFTER the film comes out. Anyway, wanna sit under a masters iron palm just for kicks. You can tell me if it hurts.

I do appreciate the email I get from people. I have been contacted by people from all over the world and recieved info from alll over the country and England. This continues to be a great supplement to my research.

BDFS Fall River threatens me with a Cease and Desist Order
Meanwhile I got an email this morning telling me the Internet Dojo Copyright Wars are heating up again at CountDante.com. I am supposed to be receiving a cease and desist order due to some footage of Dante I got from England and used in my promotional trailer (bomb it while you are there) to help me raise awareness about the project. It comes from some 8mm film footage. Bill Aguiar III says it belongs to him. Fair enough, if that is true. I asked his lawyer exactly a year ago for an inventory of images and film footage available in the archive of the BDFS. I never got a reply. So what am I ceasing and desisting from?

Mr. Aguiar wants me to sign a Trademark agreement, as I understand it, promising him $10,000 when the film is finished. I am willing to negotiate, when I get to that point, for licensing images and film footage that he alone has in his possession and rights too.

As he said in his post, he knows I "don't have squat." I do have a working email and phone that is freely available to anyone who wants to call, including bill collectors(they too know I "don't have squat"). Doesn't take much effort to call a brother up and explain the situation.

Heretofore. I have heard nothing from Mr. Aguiar or his lawyers since my email over 8 months ago outlining my willingness to pay for archival materials and the conditions under which I would do so.

98% of all materials on Dante I have came from Chicago people, old magazines and newspapers. I can easily complete the film without any imagery from the BDFS. That is not what I want to do. But I am not going to be stuck up over vaporous archival material. There is enough information in Massachusetts newspapers to allow me to tell the Fall River story. All archives offer at least watermarked copies so you can see what you are buying. Even the Newspaper will pull paper copies for me.

What a way to start my morning.


As I keep saying over and over and over again, I want to make the best film I can about the man John Keehan and the times he lived in, and chronicle the social history of American Midwestern martial arts in the course of it all.

Simple enough...





Sunday, October 15, 2006

Origins of Larceny and Ironic Aftermaths or Say it Ain't So, John

I found a report from the Chicago Tribune Sept. 9, 1968. There was a truck robbery after one of Dante's tournaments. and many think he engineered this theft himself. Is this where his definitive fall into the dark side begins?

Witnessess are still alive. I have already interviewed Art Rapkin. I have extra questions for him next time around.

Was this Dante or a real outside robbery by culprits unknown?
Knowing this, why did the investigators not query Dante more throughly. But then again, maybe they did. I am feeling like John is starting to go to crime school about this time. This was the same year World's Deadliest Fighting Secrets was published.

Say it ain't so John....

The next article is evidence that Dante was called to the Grand Jury as they sounght the whereabouts of the $4.3 million. John was now included among the "disoganized" crime crew who took down the Purolator score. Nothing ever came of his purported involvement per the grand jury. He passed a lie detector test and walked. Bob Cooley's testimony on film and in his book is the first to clearly associate Dante with the heist and possesion of some of the money.

The oddest thing about all of this is 2 years later Luigi DiFonzo was collecting reward money for telling the Insurance company where he hid the 1.2 million in the Cayman's as well as bond money and other cash taken from him when he was arrested.

DiFonzo managed to earn more from the reward money than from his original commission for handling the stolen Purolator cash. This Fall River guy was definitely a slick customer.

What do I think about all this? Nothing yet...or rather, nothing that I want to discuss. All of the evidence is not in. DiFonzo was aquitted, Dante passed the lie detector test. Maybe that is all there is to it. Maybe not. After a year I know where the film ends, sort of.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Who did Crime Pay and a path to the Thrilla in Manila


I have spent the last few weeks studying details of the 1974 Purolator Vault Robbery for clues of Dante's involvement. I blogged briefly about this back in March. I know a lot more now.

None of the books about the robbery every mention a John Keehan or Count Dante. I have read Chicago Heist, and many other accounts of the crime. No Dante. I do have two newspaper articles regarding his "possible involvement" including a small item regarding his Grand Jury appearence. Bob Cooley's When Corruption was King is the only place I have seen where Dante's involvement is absolutely confirmed. I have Cooley on film confirming the same.

There is newspaper documentation, a sealed Grand Jury testimony and a captured participant, Luigi DiFonzo, whose trail does lead to Fall River, MA. DiFonzo is known to have been an acquaintance of Keehan.

I am also reading a fictional novel titles BUCKS, a horrible read by Luigi DiFonzo ghost written by a Peter Chandler. He seems to over exaggerate his role in the planning of the heist based on other reports I have read. But we never know, do we?

Almost exactly 32 years ago on Oct. 20, 1974, firefighters answered an alarm triggered by a fire in the vault at the Purolator Armored Car Company. An audit showed $4.3 million of the vault's $25 million was missing. The perps captured and connected to the heist were Chicago Outfit members, Pasquale Charles Marzano, William Marzano, Peter Gushi, crooked commodites broker Luigi DiFonzo, James Maniatis and Ralph Marrera.

What is it? $4.3 million dollars U.S stolen from under the nose of the Purolator Armored Car depot with the help of an inside man. Said inside man goes mentally incompetent during the course of his detainment due to the administering of multiple sedatives and cannot testify. Oddly, Joe Woods, the brother of Rose Mary Woods, Richard Nixon's secretary during the Watergate Scandal was one of the heads of the company at the time. $1.1 million was recovered from banks in the Cayman Islands, supposedly, 1.4 was found in the now mentally incompetent Marrera's Grandmothers basement. This robbery was throughly bungled and a prime example of what DiFonzo Lawyer Joe Oteri calls "disorganized crime."

The basement discovery is really odd I am finding. More about that and how it may or may not relate to Keehan and DiFonzo another time.

$1.2 mil was never recovered.

Between the time of the robbery, the case being solved going to trial and concluding, Dante was back and forth to Fall River quite a bit. There were lots of Dante sightings all along the East Coast during that time. Quite a few people have a Dante story in New York.

On Sunday, March 17, 1975, Dante, along with William Aguiar, presented the Taunton Death Matches at the Roseland Ballroom. The event was highly successful and proved the audience for full contact matches was definitely there. Taunton, even more than the Chicago matches in 1968, foretell the the coming of UFC.

During this period there were lots of attempts at creating a professional full contact martial art league and business. The times were catching up to the ideas of Count Dante and he now seemed close to making a comeback and cashing in at last.

According to reports from the Taunton matches, they were way more spirited, than professional. It was a slug-out blood-spraying spectacle for sure. There was hairpulling and groin snatching, the crowd was loving it. Hundreds more were stuck ouside angered by being turned away.

By October 1, 1975, the referee of the Taunton event, Karriem Allah, would fight full contact against Jeff Smith as the undercard to the Ali-Frazier fight, The Thrilla in Manila, on closed circuit TV. This first professional martial arts card was seem by an estimated 50 million people. The future was looking good for full contact events but Dante would not be around to benefit from it. After the death of Jim Konsevic in 1970 Dante was marginalized and definitelty, distraught. The move to full contact Karate has started in 1970, ironically, while Dante was on trial for the Green Dragon fiasco.

Something was definitely in the wind. But what lead Dante back to Chicago. What caused him to shut himself up in his apartment reported holding a shotgun during the trail of the Purolator Vault robbers? He had already been summoned to the Illinois Grand Jury and got a pass after a lie detector test. Shortly before the trial was ended and all involved either convicted, except for Luigi DiFonzo, who was acquitted, Dante was dead on May 25, 1975.

DiFonzo was found not guilty and walked. He gave his lawyer, Oteri, a Rolls Royce as a gift and even stayed around Chicago for several years, still scamming. Later he move out west and was head of something called DFJ Italia, and claimed to be "Count Luigi DiFonzo" . He died, reportedly, of a prescription drug overdose while fighting a securites fraud indictment in 2001.

My research is wrapping up in one sense. Now I am structuring and planning for more interviews and archival footage. I just may be able to stay on schedule and finish up by Spring, 2007 as planned.

Gotta stay away from bad company for sure kids....

Friday, October 06, 2006

Missing Cleo...


Back in college days(part 1) one of my movie fantasies was Cleopatra Jones. Tamara Dobson was her real name. Tall, statuesque, beautiful. A movie goddess, black female James Bond kind of woman. Classy, sort of North Shore Hyde Parkish and kicked a little ass when she needed to. She did not have that earthy rough quality Pam Grier had as Coffy. Coffy would bust into a room with a sawed off shotgun and it was on. Everybody in the room is shot. Cleo was a good shot in the Deer Hunter mode. She picked her targets.

Like a preying mantis, Coffy would make love to you all night long and devour you for breakfast. You'd be lucky to get near Cleopatra's bedroom, you would be left in the vapors of her expensive perfume, eternally fantasizing. Coffy patrolled the community rolling on the end results of the international drug trade. Cleopartra Jone was working with international law enforcement taking out opium field in Asia and kicking big time rich drug supplier asses. They both had their places. I liked them both, but I figured I would not be taking Pam home, with that sawed off. Plus Cleo had a good job with benefits.

Tamara Dobson died last week. She was part ofthe intersection of Black action and martial arts films. Her character, Cleopatra Jones played right along with 5 fingers of Death and Master of the Flying Guillotine back in the days of all-day triple feature kung-fu films in the 1970s. She was one of the Top Ten characters in what was and still is considered Blaxploitation cinema. Her films were a but campy, not taken themselves too seriously and everybody seemed to be having a lot of fun.

I have a friend who gets very upsets when one of these old icons passes. She sees it as a sign of our own mortality. Well we all know mortality ain't forver so time to get over it and on with it. We are still here.

It was around this time, during the heyday of Kung-Fu and Black action films that John Keehan must have been getting very frustrated. Here he was on the cusp of it all and he got no rhythm. Maybe it was staying in Chicago, maybe he was trying to do it his way. John came along too early, Irish Catholic warring against his own typecasting only to consider the priesthood at near the end, so we have read.

Joe Lewis, Chuck Norris, Bob Wall, even Aaron Banks got to be in films, John Keehan got the comic books, The end result, same difference. He is more of a mysterious underground pop icon, the heretofore eternal mystery. Still an icon of popular culture nonetheless. I wonder if Cleo ever bought World's Deadliest Fighting Secrets.

R.I.P. Tamara.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Green Dragons: History and Discoveries

(This is the one year anniversary of my blog. Am I all Keehaned out yet? Almost. Long as I stick to the real research and avoid the bullshit I think I will be okay. I have another trip for an interview coming up real soon. fw)

I was made aware of a book on hand conditioning and there was a picture in it of a a heavyset caucasian with a Chinese name, Wu Shih T'ien Lung. In this picture he is breaking 5 bricks with an open palm or knife hand. This is purportedly the Grandmaster or "Shen Ta Shia(?)" of the Green Dragon Society in Chicago in 1970. His name may be Robert Nowokunski. My spellings are phonetic. I have heard him mentioned as Ta Shia, but never by name. He was not at the Black Cobra Hall on the night of April 25, 1970. I do not know anything about him, not even sure if he is still alive. I want to know more. That is why I am placing the picture here on my blog. Did he know Keehan? What was his reaction to the news of the war between his school and Keehan?

The information comes to me in bits and pieces. There is not a lot of information on the Green Dragons online. I have finally met a Green Dragon from the Chi Tao Chuan School on Fullerton, a student who was not there that night. I needed someone disconnected from the Dojo War to tell me about the school and system itself. That person came to me after the Reader article and I will not use his name yet. He feels a bit of stress over talking to me and there are, admittedly some fanatical elements that may violently oppose his granting me an interview. He was 14 when he began study at Black Cobra Hall. He gave me some clues that has allowed me to piece together a brief report of their origins, which like that of the Black Dragon Society is embedded deep in Asian culture and thought amd may bear some or absolutely no relationship to the present societies making use of the name.

I need this information to help me understand what conflicts and contradictions may have existed between the Black Dragon and Green Dragon schools.

I have only been able to turn up a brief history of the Green Dragons. Here we go. I start with the name itself:

The Green Dragon Society & Brotherhood is engaged in the teaching and practice of Chi Tao Ch'uan Gung Fu.

In 1692 the Jesuit Christian Missionaries who have trained and influenced Emperor Kang Hsi and bring about the "Sacred Edict" and the creation of the Green Dragon Society as a secret and sacred brotherhood. This was part of the master design of Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552 -1610). Ricci found Confucianism consistent with Christianity and became the first to translate the Confucian classics into a western language, Latin.

Ricci befriended and debated a number of Buddhist and Taoist scholars, while consistently arguing against the acceptance of the syncretic "Three Religions" dogma. He concluded that if the Chinese would reject Buddhism and Daoism, and also reject polygamy and a few other relatively minor rites, they "could certainly become Christians, since the essence of their doctrine contains nothing contrary to the essence of the Catholic faith.

Ricci made his life's goal the conversion of the whole kingdom. When he died in 1610 his ideas lived on. The church he built remains the largest Catholic Church to survive the Cultural Revolution. Life magazine named Ricci one of the 100 most important people of the last millennium.

After the death of Ricci, his successors established themselves as official court astronomers and headed government and engineering bureaus in China. These positions were unaffected by the fall of the Ming Dynasty and the founding of the Qing Dynasty under the Manchu in 1644. The first Manchu emperor placed his son under the tutelage of the Jesuit fathers for training in both the physical and moral sciences. This son was to become the Emperor Kang Hsi, whom Europe's greatest philosopher, scientist, and statesman, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz referred to as a monarch "who almost exceeds human heights of greatness, being a god-like mortal, ruling by a nod of his head, who, however, is educated to virtue and wisdom ... thereby earning the right to rule."

In 1692, with Kang Hsi was established as "sage ruler", the Jesuits held all leading positions in the astronomy and engineering, the Emperor issued an edict granting all Christians the right to teach, preach, and convert throughout the empire, subject only to the Ricci policy that scholars—i.e., civil servants—must maintain moral allegiance to the Confucian principles and continue to perform the rites and ceremonies connected to their offices. [ref.]

Kang Hsi ordered drastic measures to be taken against the Buddhists and Taoists. Especially Taoist Societies, which he ordered to be treated as criminals. Specifically mentioned were the "White Lotus" and "Hung," two allied Mystic Networks.

These societies were transformed from a purely quasi-religious organization or Pure Thought Mystical School of Tao, into underground Secret Societies. Political and revolutionary ideas entered the Brotherhood, whose purpose became the overthrow of the Manchus while continuing to remain dedicated to the practice of Taoist Alchemy and Immortalist Techniques.

From 1692 onward the Society adopted numerous aliases or name changes. This was the beginning of the modern era of the Green Dragon Society.

Many of the Masters, Adepts and Disciples of the Chi Tao Ch'uan Gung-Fu Temple and Monastery System are generally not interested in self-glorification and personal promotion. The Art is what is important. The Art dates to antiquity and has continued to exist through the self-less efforts of a long chain of Teachers to Disciples

Now the question is how did Green Dragon Chi Tao come to Chicago. More mystery. I have heard tales of a Chinese master who came here from Canada and opened the schools. At one point there were at least 6 Green Dragon Schools in the Chicago area. This seems to have come about at a time when Chinese martial arts was a weekly television phenomenae. The exotic temple experience became the desire and popular rage among adolescent youth and young men seeking meaning in their lives.

Kids, for a moment, would be less interested in karate and more attracted to the Kung-fu of the Shaolin Temple. This is where John Keehan comes in. Keehan says his early exposure to martial arts included contact with James Yim Lee and T.Y. Wong in San Francisco, yet he did a large part of his study with Trias and helped advance the idea of karate over Chinese systems.

By 1968 Chinese internal systems are attracting attention and Bruce Lee has become a household name. John's star is on the wane, yet still bright enough to attract enough attention to get a Black Belt Magazine cover.

Students begin to leave karate schools to seek the temple experience. The Green Dragon Black Cobra Hall could dish it out with all the theatricality of prime time television. I have heard that John Keehan may have qualified and been granted the right to open a dragon school in Chicago. How and why is a mystery I may not be able to solve with so many mysteries in place.

It is 3:48 am and I need to get some sleep. I will continue this later this week. Am I getting somewhere with this???