Guest Post by Style Master General, Illmatical
I’m not down for sit ups, horse stances or getting punched in my face in order to receive — strike that — pay for a belt of any color. Don’t get it twisted, I’ve opened a few faces, but my preference for combat and martial arts; this brother prefers to lamp in front of a flat screen with a Curvehouse model, the type that is getting by on her tits and ass. From my couch, armed with chicken wings and french fries, soaking in that bitter hot sauce; I can watch the hero go on a quest to save his lady, find the master or avenge his murdered family.
That’s how I like my martial arts.
For me, it has always been about the stories. Let’s say that there are 500 martial arts movies. How many of them are good? Honestly, how many of them can go beyond the genre and subdue a naysayer?
Truthfully, only a handful are really good.
These days, we’re inundated with remakes and films saturated with special effects; save all of that, I’d rather digest a good story. Stories are important, that’s what people really want.
Think about it, the most influential martial artist in the world, Bruce Lee; he never fought in organized competition. However, his myth, his story, he has more fiends than the rock. When his stans can’t get a fix in film, they’ll settle for people who knew him; paying all types of money to attend a Bruce Lee seminar.
A Bruce Lee seminar? Y’all ninjas are crazy.
The problem is, during the hysteria, the fable telling and myth creation, America turned its back on the martial artists who created their own legends; vets coming home from the war and soldiers surviving in the hood.
The golden era of martial arts in America; the 1960s to 1970s, those legacies were snuffed out by a movie star — real talk. Some of these people, they have stories so amazing, the best film could only be a poor imitation.
Years ago, digging in the crates, I stumbled on such a story. Martial arts to the core, it has everything: a quest, the creation and transformation of a legendary martial artist, mystical masters, gangsters, beautiful women, crime and mystery. A story where the good guy turned villain; creating his own ending, with a controversial and disputed death.
A martial arts prodigy who became Count Dante: The World’s Deadliest Man.
As great as he was, he needed a storyteller to bring him back to life. Although this story takes place in Chicago, it won’t be told by Kanye or Common; definitely not Chief Keef. This tale has to be told by someone who’s mastered the art of storytelling; a kid who Dante made an impression upon years ago.
For a second, let me be a music critic. Not an obnoxious fault finder; nor a relentless nut hugger, telling you that the garbage you make, that Yeezus is good. I’m more like the guy who gets you open, putting you on to some flyness I just heard. For the duration of this causerie, I’m the flyboy in the buttermilk, introducing you to the greatest rapper you’ve never heard of, spitting that fire, that Count Dante: The Greatest Story Never Told.
Floyd Webb, is a filmmaker; but since I’ve known him, he’s been a rapper. An artist, crafting his lyrics and flow, he’s been in the studio for years, working on his debut album. It had to be just right, it had to be five mics.
When I was in the studio with Floyd back in 2009, what I heard then was a mixtape; a sample of what was forthcoming. At that time, it sounded better than most of the stories being told by the martial arts community.
To hear Dante’s story, we have to listen to Floyd’s; forged in Chicago during the 1960s. Streets filled with gangsters; David Barksdale’s Black Disciples and the crime syndicate known as The Outfit. An abundance of sin and vice, located on Rush street; the entertainment capital of the midwest. There was Black conscientiousness and culture. Through the apostle Elijah, Muhammad spoke. A newspaper, the Chicago Defender, had the back of millions of African Americans across the country. Chess Records mated the music industry with blues; producing Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley.
Chicago was Gangster City, Windy City and thanks to the arts of the then known ‘Orient,’ it transformed into Mystical City.
Chicago’s martial history started as early as 1910; ladies who knew the ledge, used Jujitsu in the streets for juice.
“By 1910, Jujitsu was a household word in America. That’s the other thing that people miss, a lot of women were studying Jujitsu in the 20s and 30s” said Floyd.
Years later, an all American family, the Tegners, taught Judo in Chicago. The Tegners would pen a number of books on martial arts, specifically Judo, Jujitsu and nerve strikes. Some of these publications fell into the hands of our storyteller.
“I started reading self defense books. I was tired of getting beat up all of the time” said Floyd. “Books were cool, but seeing the mystical arts executed; it came through cinema and television.”
“We got it through movies… The first place I saw it was Mr. Moto movies. Peter Lorre used a lot of Jujitsu, he was a Japanese detective in Europe… Television in the 60s: Secret Agent Man, The Man From Uncle, I-Spy, but there was one movie in particular, Bad Day at Black Rock. Spencer Tracy comes home from World War II, he only has one arm, he’ll looking for a Japanese friend… Spencer Tracy has to teach Ernest Borgnine and his boys a lesson. One armed Mr. Tracy has to whoop a little ass to find out his friend had been killed. This is when you see this one hand chopping action, him throwing people with that one arm… Patrick McGoohan was trouncing ass on Secret Agent Man. I think Patrick McGoohan was just as cool as Sean Connery, if not cooler. I-Spy was pretty good… we went through that period of television with the secret agent television shows. The secret agent television shows always featured martial arts…” explained Floyd.
There were numerous studio gangsters, but one stood out. He brought a quality to television that had never been seen.
“What changed everything with martial arts on television, was Kato. Kato brought the real deal and you could see that he was not playing! His fights were so precise, so fast, it had to be real. He brought emotional content, you could see and feel that shit” said Floyd.
Television spies were interesting, but none of them had to live in Chicago, none of them knew about the rent or being an outcast.
Windy City hated our storyteller, an introverted kid with a stutter, frequently dodging gang recruitment. The Blacks hated him because he was a bookworm; because he acted ‘White.’ The Whites hated him because he was Black. Homeboy eventually sought refuge in fiction, provided by comic books.
Floyd developed a lukewarm relationship with DC’s superheroes; Batman, Superman, The Flash and The Green Lantern; they were okay, but they weren’t his people. None of them dealt with his world; living in the projects or getting chased if you got off at the wrong bus stop; he couldn’t relate to them. He’d eventually gravitate towards Marvel’s superheroes; who sometimes had adventures in another galaxies, but were still down to earth. Addicted to Spiderman and The Fantastic Four, he’d hustle garbage in Chinatown to support his habit.
“My first Marvel comics were bought with money I made money working in Chinatown. I was a comic book reading fanatic, comics were a part of life… One week — these different comics showed up. The art was dark. it was more detailed, more realistic, the artwork was intriguing. We didn’t know what we had. Their [Marvel] spaceships didn’t have fins, all of the other comics, the spaceships had fins. All of the sudden you got Galactus showing up. There would be no Star Wars without Marvel comics! There was something different and real about Marvel, it was a life changer. It was bringing us into a new time period. I always felt that Marvel bought us out of the 50s and into the 60s…
The 50s was Batman, Richie Rich and Archie, then Marvel came along and they whooped some shit on us, we did not expect… Reading Marvel comics was like reading novels to me, it was about ideas, you read them and entered into another world… Peter Parker had a damn job, he couldn’t pay his bills, couldn’t handle his girlfriend. He had real problems. I remember the first Peter Parker, he had a widow’s peak. He looked kind of ethnic and he was worried about bills. I was like ‘Damn! Spider Man has to go out here and shoot these pictures so he can pay his bills!’ These cats [Marvel characters] got every day worries — and we’re watching them fumble all of that shit… DC characters didn’t have to pay rent. I hate to racialize it, but we live in America, we look at everything through a racial lens in America. DC was White America’s superheroes” explained Floyd.
When he wasn’t in another dimension with Herbie Potnecker, Floyd received some of his first martial arts instruction in an alley or behind a restaurant.
“A guy in Chinatown showed me some stuff, basically some Wing Chung, nobody ever put names on the stuff, they just showed me how to do things… Little tricks so I could get away” said Floyd.
In his best Chinglish he recalled instruction from one of his earliest teachers saying
“Poke-the-fingers-in-the-eyes-and-run! Don’t-fight! Don’t-fight! Poke-in-eyes-and-run-like-Curly!”
In between hustling trash and perfecting his horse stance, he witnessed a new wave of Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong. Unlike their naive mainland brethren, these kids had swag, they brought attitude and bellicosity.
“We had a period when a bunch of people came over from Hong Kong, between 65 and 66, first time I saw a butterfly knife. These kids from Hong Kong, they weren’t like the Chicago Chinatown kids. Kids in Chinatown use to get beat up by the Italians all of the time, there were times when we had to go rescue those kids… When the Hong Kong Chinese kids came — it changed. There were chain punching these cats like nobodies business, plus they carried knives. We hadn’t see no Chinese like this!” explained Floyd.
Martial arts on television and movies, along with posters placed in Chinatown, would guide our storyteller to the 2nd World Karate tournament, where he’d come face to face with John Keehan, who later became Count Dante.
The tournament took place at an event center known as The Coliseum. Webb was overwhelmed by the enormity of the venue, saying
“There were about three to four thousand people in this place, I had never seen anything like this.”
On the night of the 2nd World Karate Tournament, a night when some claim that Mike Stone stole a ‘W’ from Ray Cooper; when teeth went flying, the same night when a fight broke out between the Nation of Islam and Semper Fi, a night of katas, forms and strikes. On that night, the move that stayed with Floyd, it came from John Keehan; a gesture of kindness.
The immensity couldn’t hold Floyd’s attention to long. Since it’s fun to do bad things, him and his crew decided to run around and do hoodrat stuff. Keehan put their souls on ice, with a measure of coolness.
Floyd remembers “We were just like any other group of kids. We started running around tearing shit up.” Keehan approached the boys, asked them to settle down and provided them with good seats. Floyd would stress “He was nice to us.”
That was 1964. During the golden era of martial arts in America.
During this time great fighters and systems were birthed. By way of Ronald Duncan, the country was introduced to the American Ninja; Peter Urban created America’s first karate system; Vic Moore became the first Black national Karate Champion; with one finger Moses Powell rolled Sanuces Ryu into the FBI and CIA; a Borinquen from the Bronx, Louis Delgado would become one of the greatest fighters of this era, dominating tournaments on all coast — his most notable victory was the defeat of Chuck Norris.
The golden era of martial arts, it got mashed out, when Chuck Norris sold his soul to the devil, taking an “L” to Bruce Lee on the screen. At the time, Norris was the most popular martial artist in the United States, his defeat on film would mythologise Bruce Lee and destroy the legacies of an entire era.
The fighters, the tournaments, trophies, stories: all erased. America got older. Women started burning bras; masculinity was put on indefinite pause. The dragon and his story flew, and America forgot about Count Dante, who reportedly died in 1975.
Years later, in 2005, an older Floyd Webb; an established storyteller, professional photographer and movie producer, found himself downtown working on a film. He ran into a familiar face, a former combatant from a tournament during his youth. Seeds of doubt were planted
“You heard what happened to Count Dante? Don’t believe everything you hear. I hear he is still alive.”
The next day, another acquaintance told Floyd that he recently had dinner with Dante, suggesting that he avoid believing reports from the newspapers. Floyd set out to squash the word on the street; voices saying Dante was alive. He obtained Keehan’s death certificate and visited an unmarked grave. Through his research, he learned that Keehan came from money, his father was a wealthy doctor. Why would someone from an affluent family, lie in a grave with no tombstone? Things didn’t register, computers didn’t compute.
Floyd then set out on a quest to tell John Keehan’s story: the martial arts legacy, transformation into Count Dante, his demise and his questionable death.
“It is not enough to talk about the enigmatic character Dante was, we have to talk about where he came from. His martial arts legacy, it really begins with boxers. An Irish boxer named Johnny Coulon and a Black boxer named Jack Johnson” said Floyd.
While in high school, Keehan trained at Johnny Coulon’s gym on the South Side of Chicago. The art of pugilism was imparted to Keehan, along with the science of sensationalism. Coulon, a former bantam weight boxing champion, had trained Jack Johnson, America’s first Black heavyweight champion.
During a fight campaign in Europe, little Johnny Coulon became the heaviest man on the planet. He learned a nerve technique which would render a man, no matter how strong; powerless when trying to lift him. He would perform the technique at vaudeville shows, placing his hand on said strongman’s neck, the alleged nerve area. Although he never weighed more than 110 pounds, he was labeled as Johnny Coulon: The Man They Cannot Lift.
After a higher learning in fisticuffs, Keehan’s martial arts training is somewhat obtuse. While in the military, from 1958 to 1961, Keehan was stationed on the West Coast. He’d study Karate with American martial arts pioneer Ed Parker, although Floyd cannot specify the duration of time. He would also train with James Yimm Lee, author of Modern Kung-Fu Karate: Iron Poison Hand Training.
According to Floyd, Keehan studied Karate with Charles Gruzanski, a former United States military police officer, who had been stationed in Japan during World War II. During the occupation, the U.S. military banned martial arts training, destroying many films and books; fortunately the way of the samurai was not lost. A member of the military police, Gruzanski scouted out and reported practitioners, with the exception of one teacher whom he befriended; deciding to become a student. Gruzanski returned to the United States with a Japanese wife and open hand. He’d later pen several books on the arts and teach on Chicago’s South Side.
Keehan studied Judo with Mas Tamura, whose fist became legend in 1943, when he defeated wrestler Karl Pojello in a mixed martial art fight. He also was a member of the United States Karate Association, acquiring a black belt; leaving 6th Dan at age 23. During this time he received training from martial arts pioneer Robert Trias, the founder of the USKA.
He studied Dim Mak, which is a form of attack on nerves or vital points. According to our storyteller, he received instruction in Chicago, from a teacher named Lee. At the time, this lethal technique wasn’t shared with foreigners, but Lee saw something special in Keehan, a unique quality that transcended racial boundaries — money. Cash ruled and Keehan acquired The Death Touch.
According to Floyd, Keehan had approached Mas Oyama regarding training as well. Oyama, is a legendary karateka, who got his recognition by killing bulls; sending them to the slaughter house with a single blow. Floyd learned that Oyama would write to Charles Gruzanski questioning whether he should train Keehan, perhaps seeing what the rest of the martial arts community did not see at the time; ambition and the devil in his eye.
“He was one of the original Karate badasses in the 60s, everybody who knew him said he was” explained Floyd.
Everyone except martial arts pioneer Gary Alexander, who claims that during a tournament in 1962, he was Debo and knocked Keehan the fuck out. Keehan claims he was disqualified during the match; I would too.
He would obtain trophies as a combat coach and although Keehan may not have had a great tournament legacy, he made valuable contributions to the martial arts in America, as noted by Black Belt magazine (March 1976) journalist Mas Ayoob, who said “it appears clear that Dante/Keehan did, indeed, pioneer open, full-contact karate tournaments in this country.”
In addition to his tournament contributions, Keehan was one of the first to openly teach African Americans and Latinos. He wasn’t selective, his students included Black Muslims and members of the infamous gang, The Blackstone Rangers. Floyd has met with many of Keehan’s former students, his martial arts progeny; tournament champions and practitioners, continuing his legacy.
Hitting a plateau in training or a loss of interest in the arts, with no Obi-Wan to guide him, in 1967 the young Jedi began a course to the dark side of the force.
During the morning of July 22nd, 1967, on some party and bullshit, Keehan and his homeboy decided to dynamite a window of a rival Judo school. The two were thwarted by Chicago police officers; Keehan would receive two years probation for the drunken prank, which was reported in several newspapers.
Later on, during that year, the Irish kid from Windy City, decided to reclaim his Spanish birthright. This is how one John Keehan, claimed the style and title of Count Dante.
Through a student, Keehan would meet a master of spirituality and occultism. Michael Bertiaux, a member of the Chicago Theosophical society, obtained the powers of Vodoun sex magic while in Haiti. He imparted the dark wisdom, leading Keehan to transformation.
“These were the things he was drawing his power from, the darkness… He was in this transformation” said Floyd.
Although he claimed to legally change his name in 1967, Floyd was unable to find any record of this, he learned that “Dante” was the name of street in the neighborhood where Keehan had grown up.
The Count’s physical transformation included groomed facial hair, resembling that of Steve Reeves; Hercules Unchained. His clothing included a cape, tights and as his royal highness walked amongst the peasants, he was accompanied by a pet lion.
There were a number of business ventures that strayed from the world of marital arts, including car sales, partial ownership of a pornography and occult bookstore. He’d open the House of Dante hair salon, where he combed the manes of many Playboy bunnies and did their hair too.
Dante opened several schools, developing a stripped down version of martial arts, abandoning traditional forms, creating the Dance of Death aka Kata Dante. Based on what I’ve seen, you strike your opponents vitals: eyes, throat, nose and when said person is on the floor, you stomp them out.
Influenced by his teachers, mixing sensationalism and good old American capitalism, Count Dante, published the World’s Deadliest Fighting Secrets, labeling himself ‘The Deadliest Man Alive.’ He placed ads in Ring Magazine and Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, charging $5 for the book and enrollment into the Black Dragon Fighting Society, which at one time was an organization with some legitimacy; but more recently co-opted by fake ass ninjas with blood sport.
World’s Deadliest Fighting Secrets:
SIDE A: DIM MAK, The Death Touch, Poison Hand and nerve strike techniques. SIDE B: THE DANCE OF DEATH. Homeboy cashed out, and Floyd noted close to a million dollars when we spoke in 2009, knowing Dante’s appreciation for sensationalism the number was probably much lower.
According to the ads, Count Dante was the undefeated Supreme Grand Master of the fighting arts, defeating other masters in ‘Death Matches.’ On August 1st, 1967 he was crowned ‘The World’s Deadliest Fighting Arts Champion and Master.’ Unfortunately, there is no record of any of these ‘Death Matches.’
Dante was ostracized by the martial arts community, after promoting full contact tournaments. He caused further tension by publishing articles, openly criticizing Karate and Kung Fu, labeling them ineffective. Homeboy said “Karate is for sissies!”
On April 24th, 1970, Dante would be involved in the one incident that would make him infamous; tarnish his name and devastate the martial arts community. I told y’all, I like martial arts stories. All stories but this one — the infamous Dojo War, at the Green Dragon Hall and the death of Jim Koncevic; Dante’s former student and close friend.
On that fateful day, Dante, Koncevic and a few students decided to to to the Green Dragon Hall to settle a beef: over women, money or whatever men fight about. There are many versions of what happened.
Bottom line, on April 24th, 1970 a group of people fought and on that day, Koncevic was fatally stabbed with a sword. Dante shed a thugs tear, but never quite got over it. He was charged with aggravated battery for his involvement in the Dojo War. A judge would later dismiss Dante and the others involved; stating that they were equally guilty.
During the trial, Dante was defended by crime syndicate attorney Robert Cooley, who would pen the book ‘When Corruption Was King,’ providing an account of how the mob controlled Chicago through the 1960s and 1980s. He dedicated a chapter to Dante, summarizing him as violence and sex; ready to die. Cooley also stated that Dante had business dealings with many well known organized crime members.
Being the Webb that he is, Floyd tracked down Cooley; a member of the witness protection program. During their cipher, Cooley intimated that Dante was the brains behind The Purolator Heist, at that time, the largest cash robbery in United States history. Over four million dollars was stolen from the Purolator Armored express building. According to retired Chicago police officer, Jim Padar, six individuals, primarily organized crime members, were arrested and charged. All of the money would be accounted for, with the exception of one million dollars.
Dante would later reveal to Black Belt magazine (March, 1976) that the police brought him in for questioning and intimated that he feared for his life. According to him, syndicate members were unpleased with his possible involvement in the robbery. During his final days of nobility; in his royal court, he was guarded by a shotgun.
Dante would try to revive his martial arts career by hosting tournaments, but he had become a pariah.
After the death of Koncevic, mail order scams, denouncement of traditional forms, and overall rebellious behavior, the martial arts community turned their back on him. His finances dwindled and the many business ventures failed.
Down and out, troubled by the death of a friend and suffering from paranoia, on May 25th, 1975, Count Dante mysterious died in his sleep, by way of bleeding ulcers. To add to the inscrutable death, Floyd says the FBI inconveniently misplaced Keehan’s file.
A mysterious death, an unmarked grave, missing money and misplaced files; while the world thought he was dead, Dante was probably smoking blunts with D.B. Cooper in Lebanon.
Floyd has been through his own battles trying to complete the documentary; in court, raising funding and the production problems that most independent filmmakers encounter. The best is yet to come, Floyd will provide closure regarding Dante’s story, in his forthcoming film.
Since I’ve been involved in martial arts journalism, whether it be entertainment or actual practitioners, Dante’s story has been the most compelling. Despite the controversy, his story is about transformation. He was telling us to create: Be gods, be superheroes, be a master and if you have the courage create your own legend.
Ironically Dante’s story is being revived; not by a Death Touch or anyone who is an active practitioner of the arts; it is a kid from the other side of town who remembered an act of kindness.
Floyd’s film is not only preserving Dante’s legacy, it’s reviving interest in the golden era of martial arts. He’s creating what I believe will be one of the most significant martial arts films in American history, and ironically Dante is his sidekick. Through storytelling, he’s resurrecting warriors; their myths, their legends.
That’s how I like my stories. Characters whose lives are so great, they reach out from the grave, fighting you martial arts zombies; the living dead.
That’s how I like my martial arts. Feet up in the Sho’s row, smoking a fat one, fly girl on my side who happens to be getting by on her tits, ass and hopefully her mouth; watching the bad guy take an L ‘and there ain’t no coming back mon!’
It’s an amazing story and Floyd is the Webb to tell it. He’s an ill lyricist, taking center stage, a larger audience than any tournament and there are millions of spectators waiting to hear him flow.
He won’t flop, he’s laid down the tracks, a five mic album; Floyd Webb spits that — Count Dante: The Greatest Story Never Told.
- Buy his Novel– Masternever & The Flow of Death
- Masternever & The Flow of Death Facebook
- Beyond Bruce Lee: The Forgotten Fury
- Listen to Bruce Leroy
- 7th Heaven and The Harlem Blues (Leo O’Brien Interview)
- The Art of Fighting (Glen Eaton Interview)
- Which Leroy are You?
More from Floyd Webb:
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