The Dance of Death – Dim Mak and Count Dante

Yes, this is the DEADLIEST and most TERRIFYING fighting art known to man—and WITHOUT EQUAL. 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.” (THE CROWN PRINCE OF DEATH.)…..      

Any fans of the American comics on the 1970s must remember the lurid adverts for Count Dante? The deadly master of martial arts whose touch could kill and main! But who was the Count and what is his legacy to martial arts in general and street defence in particular?Many older martial artists will be aware of the late John Keehan, a.k.a Count Juan Raphael Dante, who was possibly the most colorful character of the late-’60s/early ’70s US martial arts scene. His goatee-bearded and devillish good looks gave him a place in international pop-culture through those  “Deadliest Man Alive!” comic book advertisements.

How much of these comic books claims are true is a subject for another time  but Keehan’s gift to “pragmatic” or street based martal arts came about because he grew disillusioned with conventional karate focus on tradition over what he felt to be “effectiveness” and began to focus on his own style that he would promote as street defence. He trained with former champion boxer Johnny Coulon and was a close friend of heavyweight boxing champ Jack Johnson.
After high school Dante/Keehan joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and later transferred to the U.S. Army. During this period, from 1958 through 1961 he was stationed on the West Coast and trained with Shaolin kung fu master Wong Tim-yuen and Kenpon Karate great, Ed Parker, one of the earliest pioneers of American karate. He also trained with James Yimm Lee, the  author of a self-published  series titled “Modern Kung-Fu Karate: Iron, Poison Hand Training.”
Dante also claimed to have met Bruce Lee during this time and it would have been fascinating to have learnt what Lee who was also concerned with effective fighting, would have made of the braggadocio inclined pseudo-noble.He developed a system that is now known as the Dan-te system, “Dance of Death” or sometimes  Theoretically, by learning all of the steps of Keehan’s “Dance of Death” you could be an effective fighting master. Like so much of the man, it’s difficult to tell if this is true, I have witnessed the so called dance of death and its difficult to say just how street effective this dance would be.
How much of anything claimed by Dante is true is always open to discussion. It is known that in  July 22, 1965, Dante was charged with attempted arson when he and an accomplice, Douglas Dwyer (The Second Deadliest Man Alive), were arrested while taping dynamite caps to a rival Chicago dojo. Both claimed to be under the influence of alcohol at the time but Dante explained this was the result of a disagreement with the dojo’s owner over payment for a tournament that Dante had arranged there.
In the 70s Dante seems to have fuelled a series of disagreements with other karate schools over who was best these  culminated in the Dojo War incident of April 24, 1970 where Dante and his students went to the  dojo of the Green Dragon Society’s l. According to the papers of the time,  they claimed to be police officers on arrival and attacked the dojo’s students. The  battle lasting only a minute or two resulted in the death of Dante’s friends and fellow sensei, Jim Koncevic.  Count Dante was planning a comeback to his preferred career of tournament promoting when he died in his sleep of internal hemorrhaging caused by a bleeding ulcer, on May 25, 1975.
I don’t want to spent too much time on the life and times of Dante,  For more information about Dante, check out is wiki entry here A Google search on Dante will give you all the information and a surprisingly still current interest in the man and his style even to present day and its his style that I want to talk about now.

While information about the man is easily found on the internet, information about the style is less easy to come by, but I recall an article in Black Belt magazine in the middle 1970s, although not read by me until the early 1980s when I first started karate that spoke about the way Dante trained his student and I think Street Defender readers will find it interesting and note the commonality with modern day thinking enshrined in arts such as Krav Maga and Kajukenbo.

Its fairly clear that despite his priviliged upbringing, Dante was no stranger to the ins and outs of street combat and his modified Karate has a lot in common with the applied karate of Gary Spiers or the techniques of Dr. Dennis Hanover of Krav Maga fame.

One interesting and concise definition of Dante’s style came from Fighting Arts International who pointed out it was basically all the moves that had been based by America’s World Karate Organisation, strikes to the face, eyes and throat, kicks to the knees and groin.Dante emphasised multiple strikes, to those soft targets, the aim being to get your opponent down and then finish him with a series of kicks, interesting when I viewed Youtube video of the karate that enshrines his techniques I noted a Gary Spiers style knee drop in the latter part of the defence. Although in the main, legs were for transportation only.

Dante also understood that the chances were that a fight would happen not when the student was nicely warmed up and dressed in comfy white dogi but more likely when in a bar or restaurant, with glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He taught students to fight in those situation and actively for some sessions encourage students to spar after serveral drinks to get the feel of “drunken Dante.”

At the time I recall myself and most others regarding him as some kind of heretic but in the 21st Century his style comes across as solid effective infighting.  If I can find more about the “most deadly man in history” I will post it here.

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Gary Spiers – Applied Karate

English: Calligraphy of the japanese word kara...

English: Calligraphy of the japanese word karatedō. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…a lot of it has to do with the training – that’s the way I see it. The continuous teaching of no-contact and the teaching of long, strenuous exercise, conditions the karate student’s mind to (a) miss the target or else merely touch it, and (b) to place too much stress on fitness levels rather than getting used to avoiding and/or absorbing a certain amount of pain and physical discomfort. Even after years and years of training, most of them have never been bitten, never had their eyes scratched, never been repeatedly hit hard, perhaps winded and then kicked when they are on the floor. A fellow who plays rugby – that’s one of the first things he’s going to do to you, smash into you with his full bodyweight and take all the air out of your body. Gary Spiers in an interview in Terry O’Neill in 1986


I  started training in Kyokushin karate back in the early 1980’s and if there was one publication I considered to be my personal “bible” of martial arts it was Fighting Arts International.  Founded by the great Terry O’Neill in 1972, it was the very best of the UK fighting magazines and a far cry from the What to do when a Samurai Attacks you I style of writing common in many of the American publications of the time. FAI ran until 1997.

Very early on in 1986 I recall reading an article about a New Zealander karateka and professional doorman called Gary Spiers this is a link to all four parts of  the FAI article here   Gary’s story spoke to me in way that perhaps no other martial artist’s history has.

Gary was a violent man and made no bones about it, but he was violent in the same way that a Templar Knight or even a Samurai of old was violent, it was his job. He was good at it as a professional.  Spend a night with Mr Spiers and you were as safe as with your old mum but in his security advisors capacity had decades of front line experience that many ordinary law abiding folks would struggle to understand.

Gary’s attitude would heavily influence my own thinking on self-defence and even know I find myself repeating some of his street wisdom which could apply to any “close encounter” where the other man or men are out to do you harm.

In my opinion Gary Spiers was quite simply in the vanguard of 21st martial arts thought, his philosophy was to use simple effective powerful techniques to put an attacker ‘out of the game’ as soon as possible, because there could be another one ready to kick off a second later. Gary used close in kicks and punches and clearly appreciated the difficulties of working in a pub or club where chairs and tables could be both your friend and your enemy. He knew that he might be facing improvised weapons, broken bottle, table legs, glasses and anything else that might come to hand along with the encounters outside of work which could involve anything the other guy thought to bring to the fight.

He understood that you could not learn your trade without getting hit and hitting people in return and had  a dislike of dojos that confused martial arts training with jogging and aerobic. Both notions I have come to embrace in the last few years. It was Mr S that actually caused me to  start to think less about karate or kung fu than their practical street based applications.  Gary was the guv’nor!  Sad to say he peacefully in his sleep from a heart attack aged 57.  You find some photos Gary did for the article here.

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