Friday, June 22, 2007

Back to Reality: Assessing the Assets

I have been reviewing my assets the past few days. I am looking at supports materials. The film is about so much more than Keehan/Dante. The world of martial arts is vast and varied, the history, when not stilted can become glorious. The sum total of John Keehan's life is not the Dragon Wars, not the Purolator Robbery or his presence in Fall River. It is the lives he touched along the way to this train wreck of a life of his. This is where the light shines bright in his dark legacy.

Ken Knudson gave me some old tournament footage. This is a clip of him at a shiai fighting Joe Lewis. He really holds his own. Knudson was a student of Jimmy Jones, a first generation student of John Keehan. Jimmy Jones came to Keehan as a student and found Ray Cooper(The Chicago Tiger according to Black Belt magazine in the mid-1960s), aka Nganga Tolo-Naa, already a firm presence in the school. Jones and Tolo-Naa were part of the first championship team that rocked the martial arts world at the 1963 First World's tournament held at the University of Chicago Field House.

Jimmy Jones left Dante after he did something Jones felt was disloyal and began his own school. He was the teacher of many champions including the indomitable Tayari Casel. Jones was the tournament king in the 1970s, after the demise of Keehan. The world had changed and Keehan was finding himself left behind. The death of Jim Konsevic in the Dojo Dragon Wars changed his life forever.

Tolo-Naa is a long-time friend and associate of Mike Felkoff, who tells me in the film he walked into John's dojo with his shoes on in order to challenge him on the spot and that John did not do for the bait. Tolo-Naa treated Mike Felkoff wounds the night of the Dojo/Dragon War.

Both Tolo-Naa and Felkoff took up the internal arts, Tai-Chi by the early 1970s. Tolo-Naa was teaching in the South Suburbs of Chicago when I first saw him. His school was legendary. The Dante legacy of hard training has always applied to and been carried on by his students.

Mike Felkoff is allowing me to use footage from his DVD, The 7 Movements of China.
It is clips like this that will help round out this tale of the social history of martial arts in America. Within these clips lie other stories that give another effect, another way to look at the man's life.

Writer and scholar Vijay Prashad(Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting) dismissed John Keehan, as simply "a crazy man" a person out of control. This story is too big to be dominated by one region, the beginning or end of his life. It is a wholistic tale of a man, his world, his art and long term effects of activity and behaviors. There is a polyculturalism at work here that is missed by Keehan becoming Dante. His claims of being a Spanish Count even have some possible truths by his possible affirmation of a "black Irish" background, survivors of the Spanish Armada who found themselves washed ashore in Ireland and into the arms of Irish maidens.

We have been seeing a lot of that darkness lately. He is nothing without the light of his beginnings. There is footage I will am looking for of his boxing instructor, Johnny Coulon. Coulon used to have a boxing gym on east 63rd street. Muhammad Ali trained there, as well as Ernest Hemingway and Miles Davis over the years. Artist Leroy Neiman used drop by to paint pictures of boxers . Haskell Wexler filmed part of Medium Cool there and Johnny Coulon is in it. Tim, Keehan's childhood friend since 2nd grade tells me they used to dress up and go to black clubs on east 63rd when they were still minors.

There is a richness possible in this story no one can imagine...but me. I can make this film with my heart. Not out of love for Count Dante, but love for the character of the city and environment that produced both of us and so many more.

This film is already made in my head. Anything that deviates from the things I can already see or places itself above the interest of the over all story simply get deleted. I got more stuff that I know what to do with anyway. The editors scissors are always close by.

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