Count Dante

From: (K.W.Pang)
Subject: Count Dante AKA John Keehan (1939 - 1975)
Date: 31 Jan 93 19:52:30 GMT

I have just dug up an old issue of "Fighting Arts International" and will summarise what it has to say about John Keehan ( Count Dante ).

If you are interested in real self-defense maybe the following will also interest you. There much to be said about Dante's system but my feeling is that if you are just looking for total self-protection what Dante has to offer is valuable.

Although Dante trained in various karate, judo, aikido etc systems he chose to reject them in favour of his own system :- Dan-te (dan as in dan grade and te as in Kara-te, therefore 'expert hands')

Count Dante is a familiar name in the short history of the MA in the USA. From about 1965 to his death in 1975 he was regarded as the black sheep of American karate.

He started out as a promising karateka in Robert Trias' "United States Karate Association" and he was an important figure in the early development of karate in America's Midwest. However, after he left (or was expelled from) Trias' organisation it was felt that he had "gone wrong"" target="_top">Massad Ayoob has written, " developed an obscene fascination with the most brutal part of the martial arts."

Dante promoted America's first full contact tournament as far back as 1967, sold his booklet " The world's Deadliest Fighting Secrets" with the assistance of a big, over the top advertising campaign in comics and magazines and generally tried to put himself over as "The Crown Prince of Death".

His style was designed specifically for street combat and so this may simply be a reflection of how society itself has grown more violent over the years. Unfortunately, little technical material has been printed on the Dante style, but basically it seems to be a close quarters system (The legs are mainly for transportation, Dante would say) which stress smashing, gouging, and joint breaking techniques. Even more than technique however, Count Dante stressed the importance of attitude. Page 12 of his book (1968) reads: ...

" ...Special note: Proper emphasis on courage, aggressiveness, and actual training hall and street application of effective fighting techniques, is the most serious lacking segment in modern day karate and kung fu schools... most karate schools place little emphasis on courage or "guts fighting" and aggressiveness and usually even frown on it. They also do not permit body contact in their self-defence and sparring practice. This makes for a safe training hall but does little to help develop the body to withstand strike punishment and actually hinders the student when they are forced to use it on the street.
Remember, the only true test of a fighting man is what he can do, and no more. Form practice, sparring, self defence practice and brick breaking are meaningless if the man cannot withstand the burden of the 'real thing'..."
The backbone of the Dante system was his emphasis on mental attitude. In contrast with many Oriental concepts of "mind like placid lake"..."Mind like the moon", of being calm, cleaning the mind of all thought and emotion prior to combat, Dante believed that you should 'psych' yourself up with 100% aggressiveness and viciousness, attacking in a furious and unrestrained manner. In 'Defense Combat' Oct 1976, Bill Aguair was asked to define the Dante system and how it differed from other systems.

"It isn't the techniques of the system, it's the attitude - and that is a 7 to 10 second drive to the wall, completely going in for one thing and one thing only - to get the opponent down and out and everything over as quickly as possible."
Dante then advocated attacking (or counter attacking) at full speed, exploding at the enemy with total ruthlessness and ferocity. Again Aguair has some sage advice.

"A streetfight is something quick, it doesn't last 11 minutes. A fight in the street is one jam. People don't break it up into rounds, you know... If you're gonna swing, you either do that, go all the way or don't do anything at all. I'm not advocating fighting at the drop of a hat, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. I mean it, it doesn't take much for you to throw a kick and try to pull it so you don't hurt somebody bad, and then the guy catches your leg and knocks you down - your head hits the kerbstone and now you've got a widow! The streets are pretty bad!" (Defense Combat - Oct 1976)
In line with Dante's ideas on situational self-defence, he would train people to fight in barstools and members of his school would smoke cigarettes and drink beer because, well, that's what they'd probably be doing if a fight started.

Unlike many people who practise the MA and develop new theories as regards self defence, Dante's system was founded on real events, many of Dante's people were violent criminals, mobsters and streetgang members who meet and use violence in their everyday life. According to Ayoob in his book "The Truth About Self-Protection" :

"The Count's disciples, who tended to come froma hard core criminal word, used it (a previously described technique) frequently. They left some people blind out there but were never injured themselves... Under such circumstances self-defense techniques tend to become refined very quickly - necessity being the mother of invention - there being no room for error. There are no recorded instances of Dante's people complaining that something didn't work, so we must assume that they were well satisfied that what he taught worked.
Learn from the outlaws: Dante's system was designed for the sort of person you'll face, someone who'll hurt you without the slightest compunction."
Dante died in 1975, shortly before he died he made the following statement to Massad Ayoob in 'Black Belt' march 1976.

"They resented Bruce Lee when he was alive. The martial arts people made him a legend after he died because they weren't afraid of him anymore."
And he spoke too of the legendary Samurai Musashi,

"Look up his history. Musashi is the hero of Japan, yet he murdered innocent men, women and children for money. He was a 'stone killer' (assassin) They despised him when he was alive and canonised him when he was dead. Mark my words, that's what they'll do to me"

Hope this clears much of the confusion about Dante...

Kam. :-)

Kam-Wing Pang   : Smile   :-)   : Msc Electronic Engineering  
                : University of Kent at Canterbury (0227)764000 ext 3192

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