Count Dante: Possibly The First Fake Martial Artist

Count Dante

Since the inception of Asian martial arts into the west, there have been many fake martial artists. But possibly the first was a man named Count Dante, who has one of the most absurd stories ever told.

Here is the crazy story of Count Dante, who may be the very first fake martial artist in American history. Detailing his various scams and the notorious dojo wars that took place in 1970.

Count Dante’s Early Life

Obviously, Count Dante was not the man’s real name. His real name was John Timothy Keehan and he was born into an Irish family in Chicago, Illinois.

His family was rather well off as his father was a physician and his mother was occasional in the Chicago Tribune. 

While Keehan has made many fabrications about his life, he was a legitimate martial arts practitioner. As a kid, Keenhan practiced boxing at Johnny Coulon’s 63rd Street Gym.

After graduating from Mount Carmel High School, Keenhan would enlist in the Marine Reserves. While serving his term, he would learn jujitsu and self-defense techniques from his hand to hand combat instructors.

Count Dante

Count Dante’s Martial Arts Training 

After serving his time in the military, Dante would pursue martial arts training. Practicing in several disciplines, but most notably training under American Karate pioneer Robert Trias.

Under Trias, Meehan would earn his black belt in Karate. Making him an actual legitimate black belt in Karate. Giving him a leg up on most fake martial artists that came after him.Meehan himself would later go on to become a Karate sensei and open his own Karate dojo.

The United States Karate Association(USKA)/World Karate Federation(WKF) 

When Meehan opened his own Karate dojo, he went all out in promoting himself. Something that we actually have to give him credit for.

He was able to become the midwest director of the United States Karate Association(USKA). Of course, his unconventional beliefs about training and competition would lead to a falling out with the association.

After leaving USKA, Dante would co-host the very first full contact martial arts style in the US. The competition drew a big audience at the University of Chicago on July 28, 1963.

This event drew a lot of criticism from many top martial arts instructors. Citing that having bouts with no protective gear was barbaric and dangerous.

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Dante would ignore these criticisms and continue to have these full contact events sporadically. Bruce Lee was said to have attended one of these competitions. However, Dante most likely paid him to attend.

He also founded the World Karate Federation(WKF) in 1964. An organization of his own, so that he could do his own shows without answering to a governing body.

Dan-te

After a while, Count Dante became disenfranchised with Karate. Once stating that the martial art “was for sissies.”

He would go on to create his own martial art that he would call “Dan-te.” He would also refer to his style as “Dance of Death” and “Kata-Dante.”

A style that he claimed was the most street-effective self defense system in the world. Better than any other martial art system in the world.

Keehan claimed that anyone that perfected his fighting style would become a “fighting master.”

Count Dante Officially Changes His Name

While he was going by the moniker Count Dante for years, Meehan would officially change his name in 1967. Changing his full name to Count Juan Raphael Dante.

Count had created a whole backstory for why he went by this title. He claims that his family were nobles that fled Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

After fleeing, his family would change their names and hide their nobility, so as to not draw attention from possible assassins.

Keehan actually took his name from the protagonist of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo. The main character of course being Count Dante, which he thought no one would notice.

There was also not an ounce of Spanish blood in his body. He was born from an Irish American family, whose family immigrated from Ireland.

The Deadliest Man Alive 

To continue to promote himself and his “deadly martial art”, Dante would begin promoting within comic books. During this time, comic books had advertisements from various things, which included obvious scams.

The advertisement that the Count put in comic books was one of the most blatant scams of this era. In these ads, Dante would promote himself as “The Deadliest Man Alive.”

The so-called deadliest man alive would sell a manual that he called the World’s Deadliest Fighting Secrets. For just $5 he would mail customers a copy of this manual to learn his deadly fighting secrets.

The headline of these ridiculous ads read: “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”

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Customers would also receive a free membership card to Dante’s Black Dragon Fighting Society. The name of his martial arts school should not be confused with the Black Dragon Society. A secret group of Japanese nationalists

Count Dante The Hairdresser 

While Count Dante was busy promoting his dojo and full contact martial arts events, he was also a hairdresser. Not just a normal hairdresser, but an immensely talented one that had many rich clients.

He even dressed like a famous hairdresser with a perm, styled beard, and completely flamboyant clothes. One of his biggest clients was said to be Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.

Hugh was said to have frequently contacted Dante to get the playmates ready for parties and photoshoots. This was actually a thing in Keehan’s life that was actually true.

The Dojo Wars 

Now, the most notorious thing that Count Dante became known for was the infamous Dojo Wars saga. This embarrassing series of events started with Dante and “second deadliest man alive” Doug Dwyer getting drunk one night.

The two thought it would be a good idea to go to a rival dojo and throw dynamite through their window. While the explosive didn’t destroy the rival dojo, the police would arrest the two for attempted arson.

Their arrest didn’t stop the two, as they later gathered a group from their dojo to storm the rival dojo. They came to the Green Dragon Society’s dojo armed with various Chinese martial arts weapons.

But what Dante didn’t know was that the group from the Green Dragon Society were tipped off about the dojo storming. When Dante kicked their door down, his group was met with six Green Dragon Society members that were also armed.

Dante claims in the fight that he pulled several eyeballs out of the skulls of the rival dojo. But there were no medical reports from the local hospital of anyone getting their eyes pulled out.

But one of Keehan’s associates, Jim Concevic, was killed in the fight. Suffering a stab wound in the side from a sword.

Chicago PD would arrest everyone involved, including Dante, who was hiding in his office when police found him.

The judge presiding over the trial dismissed the Dojo Wars case as the story was so absurd. Before dismissing the case, the judge said everyone involved in the incident was guilty and should be ashamed of themselves.

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Count Dante’s Death 

After the Dojo Wars incident, Dante would get into other various scuffles, but would go into obscurity. Spending most of his time either drunk or taking various substances.

His crazy life would catch up to him on May 25, 1975. Count Dante died in his sleep after suffering a hemorrhage of a bleeding ulcer in his intestines. 

Count Dante

Other Lies, Claims, and Things Count Dante Committed

There were other wild claims, lies, and incidents that occurred in the life of the Count. Here are some of the various stories that happened involving him.

Dim Mak

Count Dante claimed to know the Dim Mak death touch. A supposed Kung Fu technique that would kill a person with one touch. It’s a wild that Keehan could never back up.

Fighting a Bull

While creating publicity for a martial arts event, Dante claimed that he could kill a bull with one punch. He went so far as to create an event, where he said he would fight a bull.

Dante would drive around Chicago with a bull on a flatbed truck to promote the event. But on the day of the event he tried to make a student take his place, but the student refused.

He would then announce the cancellation of the event and claim that the ASPCA shut the event down.

Death Matches

Dante made a claim that he won numerous death matches that took place in Thailand and China in front of thousands. Although, nobody could ever corroborate these crazy stories. Keenhan was also reported to never have left the US in his life.

Challenging Fighters 

One thing that Dante did was go around challenging fighters to a match against him. Challenging everyone from Judo and pro wrestling champions. He even went to Muhammad Ali’s house to challenge him, but he was ignored by the champ.

1974 Chicago Purolator Vault Robbery

In a memoir written by Keenhan’s former attorney and mob lawyer Robert Cooley made a bold claim about his client. Cooley claimed that Count Dante was the mastermind behind the Chicago Purolator Vault Robbery in 1974.

A bank heist, where $4.3 million dollars was stolen. The police did interview Dante, but they dismissed him as a suspect after passing a lie detector test.

Dante’s Legacy as a Scam Artist

Jack “Count Dante” Keenhan was an insane scam artist that could’ve possibly started the trend of fake martial artists. But for whatever it’s worth, he was quite an absurd character. We can all look back at his life and have a good laugh at his ridiculous antics.