The following letter from Reverand Woodrow Edgell is in response to claims made on the Fall River Black Dragon Fighting Society Blog regarding Master Joe Dodaro. Mr. Edgell was a long time student of John Keehan who split with him when he became Count Dante. Edgell is Joe Dodaro's teacher and they were both student of Shaolin Poison Hand Master James Lee(not James Yimm Lee) in Chicago's Chinatown when few non-Asians were accepted for training. My whole purpose with my film is to present an accurate history of John Keehan and the world of martials arts in Chicago and America during the 1960s to mid-1970s. The following letter from Rev Edgell is a great help in doing that.
April 2, 2008
A person studies Martial Arts for protection, health and to understand his purpose in life. A Master will only advance him to a high-level if he believes the student has good intentions and respect for the Art. When the student becomes a Master, he takes on great responsibility and sets a good example for his students.
Credentials and reputation are what makes the Master successful. I have been with Joseph Dodaro for forty years, I watched him take his Sandan (third degree black belt) in Aikido after thirteen years of hard study. Joe and I studied Aikido for several years together and Joe was advanced to Yodan (fourth degree black belt) after twenty-five years.
We both studied under Grandmaster Hsu Fun Yuen for several years and I witnessed him receiving his level of Master after twenty years. I helped him open his first school and taught some classes. He was required to teach for five years and have over 100 students each year before he was given his certificate. I have advanced Joe to sixth degree black belt in Shaolin Kempo Karate and Grandmaster James Lee advanced him to Master of Shaolin Chuan-Fa.
Joe is the only one I taught the entire system of Shaolin Chuan-Fa, Shaolin Kempo Karate and Ju-Te. I gave Joe permission twenty years ago to run the Ju-Te system and he has taught it to only a selected few over the past twenty years. Once I retire Joe will be the sole Master and hold all rights to the Edgell Ju-Te system in the United States. He has taken many styles to great levels and never used his skills in an unlawful way. He is hard working, honest, and is successful in business.
It hurts to see people foolishly say he is not real, they have no idea of his dedication and the cost he has incurred. He is being judged entirely by his performance a You Tube video of basic techniques.
It has come to my attention that people have high rank in Ju-Te, the system I created, and it is a combination of Aikido, Jujitsu, and Karate. I did not give them rank and do not know who these people are. The only rank I gave out was about five first-degree black belts in my school. I taught Ju-Te for only five years and gave John Keehan a black belt in Ju-te and kibo. I was a sixth degree black belt in Ju-Te because I based it on my Karate rank. When I met Grandmaster James Lee I dedicated all my time in Shaolin Chuan-Fa a more superior Art than Ju-Te.
The main reason students of John Keehan never knew John studied from Grandmaster James Lee was because one of the conditions to be excepted by James Lee was it must be kept behind closed doors. John was wealthy and went to James Lee and paid him a tremendous amount of money to learn. I on the other hand was beaten for two weeks to pass a test to be accepted as a student. I found out later from one of James Lee’s six disciples that John had no test. Chinese Masters did not teach Americans at that time. I found out recently not even Doug Dwyer was not aware that John and I were studying under Grandmaster James Lee. Besides the fact that John had to follow James Lee’s rules, he felt as a businessman that students would go to James Lee instead of him. John trained in one of a more beginning system of Poison Hands and he transferred them to a Karate version because although the original version that I learned is more effective, it does not have the flash John needed to make himself look more deadly.
John did not want to be thrown, use chokes, or practice takedowns, only use fast strikes, while ripping and clawing his victim. James Lee was against John doing his book, because it had techniques that can be related to his system, and expose James Lee as his teacher. John’s short career ended with James Lee when he received unfavorable publicity.
I stayed on for several more years and completed the Shaolin Chuan-Fa System with the Deadly Poison Hands. I was allowed to work with James Lee’s disciples, three liked me and three hated me, but since James Lee accepted me, they followed his orders. When James Lee advanced Joe to Master of Shaolin Chuan-Fa, he make it clear that Joe was my responsibility for life. He said Joe and I were to continue our training with Hsu, Fun Yuen and that Joe must attain a level of Master In Tai Ji.
Joe was at Master Level with Hsu Fun Yuen, but did not receive his certificate yet. Joe was told not to say anything about James Lee or teach the Poison Hands advance levels. After twenty years in secret, he then elected to release the first five at a basic level. I disagreed that he did this, but he explained it was for Law Enforcement and only the first Five at a basic level were released. It took a few years, but I agreed because of how Joe was presenting his system. The system also included health, KI, and promoted long term study.
When John Keehan was teaching students to fight mainly in tournaments, he had the top winners in the nation. Black Belt Magazine recognized him as one of the best Karate instructors. He had an excellent style with many great fighters. When he became Count Dante, he organized the Black Dragon Fighting Society and taught a more mixed Martial Arts Style. Black Belts disapproved this new system and began to leave his organization. He lost his intensity as a teacher, and changed his life style. I did not want any part of the Black Dragons, or Count Dante, but stayed loyal to John Keehan. I always would teach classes for him when he needed me, but at that time I had my own school and style.
I have the responsibility to watch over Joe and want to see his name cleared up. He has worked full-time over the past thirty-eight years, this is not a part-time job, and it is his life. I do not care about the problems of the Black Dragons, nor do I want to argue with them. Joe approached me about contacting you to be in the Documentary film, I was against it because all the problems with Count Dante and I felt it would open a can of worms. He felt that we just show the good John Keehan by stating a secret that has been kept for over thirty years. If people knew he studied under an actual Shaolin Warrior Monk, it would bring great pride to his students and give him the respect he deserves. Joe also felt it would benefit me to have some recognition for all the years I studied the Arts, and help promote his Poison Hands. I are not trying to argue with anyone, only stating the truth. I will repeat this at an interview, but as you know I do not do well speaking live. A simple solution to end all controversy is success.
Thank You for your time
Master Woodrow Edgell