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Count Dante and the Dance of Death

What you are about to witness is without doubt the most savage and terrifying self-defense form known to man.

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What you will witness is without doubt the most savage and terrifying self-defense form known to man. It is composed of fifty-seven of the deadliest poison hand techniques ever devised, each one of which is guaranteed to kill, cripple, or maim any attacker. It is not for the squeamish, nor the weak of heart.

Or so the story goes. 

The verbiage was part of the marketing for World's Deadliest Fighting Secrets, an instructional booklet sold in comic books during the late 60s and 70s. The booklet centers on Kata Dante, or the Dance of Death. The sequence of 57 attacks, which somehow leaves out re-stomping the groin, was created by Count Dante. Buyers also received a free Black Dragon Fighting Society membership card.

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The author is, easily, one of the most colorful characters in the history of martial arts. Count Dante was born on February 2, 1939, as John Timothy Keehan, into an Irish family of means in Beverly, Chicago (his father was an MD). Keehan learned karate from Bob Trias, the Father of Karate in America, earning a black belt. He ably expanded Trias's United States Karate Association (USKA), until 1962 when he broke off and eventually formed his own association.

He spent the next decade-plus in a wide variety of ventures. Keehan promoted a number of karate tournaments, including, on July 28, 1963, America's first full-contact style martial arts tournament. And he ran a martial arts dojo. To his credit, the school was open to African Americans, a rarity at the time, and contrasts well with the USKA, which had no black members until Keehan convinced Trias to bring in Vic Moore.


Here's some footage taken in Keenhan's dojo, from 1967:

In 1967, Keehan legally changed his name to Count Jerjer Raphael Danté. His explanation was that he was of royal Spanish blood. His parents, so the story goes, had fled Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and changed their name to Keehan to hide their true identity. For the record, Dante is in fact an Italian name.

Then in 1968, those ads started appearing in the back of comic books.

"Yes, this is the DEADLIEST and most TERRIFYING fighting art known to man—and WITHOUT EQUAL," screamed the text. "Its MAIMING, MUTILATING, DISFIGURING, PARALYZING and CRIPPLING techniques are known by only a few people in the world. An expert at DIM MAK could easily kill many Judo, Karate, Kung Fu, Aikido, and Gung Fu experts at one time with only finger-tip pressure using his murderous POISON HAND WEAPONS. Instructing you step by step thru each move in this manual is none other than COUNT DANTE — THE DEADLIEST MAN WHO EVER LIVED."

It is not known how many bought the manual and membership card, but everyone knew about it. And the comic book ads were far from the only thing Dante was known for.

It's normal in most locales for instructors to tell students that their kung-fu is the best. However, Chicago takes it to a different level.

On July 22, 1965, Keehan, accompanied by one of his students, the Second Deadliest Man Alive, Douglas Dwyer, was arrested while taping blasting caps to the window of a rival school. He explained that he was drunk.

Then came the most infamous dojo storm of all time.

On April 24, 1970, accompanied by several students, Keehan attacked a rival school, the Green Dragon Society's Black Cobra Hall. Green Dragon Society students pulled traditional martial arts weapons off the wall. And then Keehan's close friend Jim Koncevic was stabbed with a spear, and died. Represented by mob attorney, and later confidential informant, Bob Cooley, Dante got two years probation for the attempted bombing, and nothing for the deadly dojo storm.

In sum, Count Dante led a brief, tumultuous life, truly. He is alleged to have masterminded the $4,300,000 Chicago Purolator Vault Robbery in 1974, under the aegis of The Outfit, the organized crime syndicate that rose to power under Al Capone. At the time, it was the largest robbery in US history. Other efforts that hint at a mob connection include adult book dealer and used car lot manager. And he worked as a hairdresser, with clients that included Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, and any number of playmates. And all that is in addition to his martial arts exploits.

On May 25, 1975, Count Dante died in his sleep, of a bleeding ulcer. He was just 36 years old.

The Black Dragon Fighting Society continued under the direction of Dante's protege, Bill Aguiar, Jr. Aguiar died in January, 2005. Control of The Black Dragon Fighting Society then went to Bill Aguiar III, who continues to teach to this day in Fall River, Massachusetts. His students took part gamely in early MMA bouts in New England in the late 90s.

However, there were rivals to the throne.

Radford William Davis is unfortunate. His personae include Christopher Hunter, Dr. Ha Ha Lung, and most notoriously, Ashida Kim. Ashida is a Japanese surname, and Kim is Korean. It's an odd choice, but no odder than Keehan's legal name change to Dante.

Davis/Hunter/Lung/Kim learned Kata Dante, and started teaching it under the Ashida Kim name. Eventually, Davis started awarding membership cards for the Black Dragon Fighting Society.

Bill Aguiar III filed suit, and on Oct. 5, 2005, Ashida Kim's websites were suspended for violating trademark and copyright law in regards to the Black Dragon Fighting Society. However, Kim/Davis maintains he is better at the Kata Dante than Aguiar.

We're not so sure - as noted, he doesn't even re-stomp the groin?! You decide whose Dance of Death is deadliest:

Little has been seen or heard of Ashida Kim lately, which is entirely appropriate, because the last anyone can remember, he had become a Ninja. You can tell he is a real Ninja for several reasons. A central piece of proof is that he has the shoes where his toe sticks out, so he can climb a rope.

Plus, he can actually levitate:

So don't be alarmed that little has been heard lately from Dr. Ha Ha Lung the White Ninja. Everyone knows, if you see a ninja, he's not a real ninja, so not seeing one proves he's real.

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