Count Dante

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Count Dante
Count Dante (John Timothy Keehan).jpg
Born John Timothy Keehan
(1939-02-02)February 2, 1939
Chicago, Illinois United States
Died May 25, 1975(1975-05-25) (aged 36)
Residence Chicago, Illinois
Style Karate

Count Juan Raphael Dante (born John Timothy Keehan, Chicago, Illinois, 2 February 1939, died 25 May 1975) was a controversial American martial artist figure during the 1960s and 1970s who claimed he could do extraordinary feats such as Dim Mak.[1]

Early career[edit]

Keehan was born in Beverly on February 2, 1939, to a well-to-do Irish American family. His father, Jack, was a physician and director of the Ashland State Bank, and his mother, Dorothy, occasionally appeared on the society pages of the Chicago Tribune. Keehan attended Mount Carmel High School and boxed at Johnny Coulon's 63rd Street gym, and after graduating from high school he joined the Marine Reserves and later the Army, where he learned hand-to-hand combat and jujitsu techniques. He trained under various martial arts masters during the infancy of Western interest in Asian martial arts during the 1950s. Most notable of the early masters he trained under was sensei Robert Trias. Keehan, after gaining his black belt in karate, went on to become a sensei himself.

Keehan was the Midwest director of the United States Karate Association (USKA) until 1962. He left that organization in 1964 to form the World Karate Federation. In 1990 a new World Karate Federation unassociated with Keehan's was formed.

In Chicago, Keehan co-promoted America's first[citation needed] full-contact style martial arts tournament at the University of Chicago on July 28, 1963, and hosted many other such tournaments during the 1960s, pairing practitioners of different styles against one another.

Keehan also worked as a hairdresser.


Keehan grew disillusioned with conventional karate instruction's focus on ceremony, tradition and protocol over what he felt to be "effectiveness" and began developing his own style that he would promote as "street-effective". Through these efforts, he developed a system that became known as the Dan-te system, "Dance of Death" or sometimes the Kata-Dante. Theoretically, by learning all of the steps of Keehan's "Dance of Death" you were thereby an effective fighting master.

"The Deadliest Man Alive"[edit]

Advertisement for Count Dante's 1968 World's Deadliest Fighting Secrets. The text reads "Black Dragon Fighting Society brings you the forbidden secrets of Dim Mak "The Death Touch" in this exclusive book!"

In 1967, Keehan legally changed his name to Count Juan Raphael Danté, explaining the name change by stating that his parents fled Spain during the Spanish Civil War, changed their names, and obscured their noble heritage in order to effectively hide in America (the surname Dante being in fact of Italian origin). (Count Dantès is the protagonist of Dumas' 1844 The Count of Monte Cristo). Keehan was prone to boasts that furthered his reputation, his most notorious one being that he’d participated in secret "death matches" in Thailand and China, winning by killing opponent after opponent before crowds numbering in the thousands.[2]

He began heavily promoting himself via comic book ads as the Deadliest Man Alive. One had only to mail order for his instructional booklet World's Deadliest Fighting Secrets (in which he outlined the "Dance of Death") and they would also receive a free Black Dragon Fighting Society membership card. These comic book ads account for much of Count Dante's lasting notoriety in pop culture. They 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.

The Black Dragon Fighting Society founded by Count Dante is an American martial arts organization and has no connection with and should not be confused with the Japanese Black Dragon Society, an ultranationalist secret society during the 1930s and 1940s.

The Dojo Wars[edit]

On 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.

The various enmities culminated in the Dojo War incident of April 24, 1970 where Dante and some of his students went to a rival dojo of the Green Dragon Society's Black Cobra Hall. According to press coverage, upon entering the school, they claimed to be police officers and attacked the rival dojo's students. The brief battle resulted in the death of one of Dante's friends and fellow sensei, Jim Koncevic.

Former mob lawyer Robert Cooley states in his autobiography When Corruption was King that he represented Count Dante during the trial following the 1970 Dojo War incident. Cooley recalls that Dante was ultimately acquitted but not before both sides were given a stern lecture by the judge citing everyone at fault. Cooley also suggests that Dante was a mastermind in the notorious 1974 Chicago Purolator vault robbery in which 4.3 million dollars was stolen. While not one of the suspects in the trial, Dante was allegedly questioned by Illinois grand jury and ultimately passed a lie detector test. Dante died shortly before the trial was completed which resulted in the conviction of all but one person involved.[3]

Death and legacy[edit]

Count Dante died in his sleep of internal hemorrhaging caused by a bleeding ulcer, on May 25, 1975. The Black Dragon Fighting Society that he founded came under the directorship of his personally chosen protégé and successor, William V. Aguiar. Aguiar died in January, 2005. The Black Dragon Fighting Society was then led by his son, Bill Aguiar III, who has an online forum and hosts the Black Dragon Fighting Society website. Through actions taken on behalf of Bill Aguiar III and his lawyer, Ashida Kim's websites were suspended on Oct. 5, 2005, for his illegal use of the BDFS trademarks and copyrights. Aguiar's group is currently headquartered in Fall River, Massachusetts.

In popular culture[edit]

Count Dante is one of the many eccentric characters referred to in Robert Rankin's Brentford stories. A number of characters in these stories claim to have learned "'dimac" from a manual written by Dante. Dante himself is referred to as wearing a mask and living in hiding to avoid murder by the hidden martial masters whose secrets he has made public.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kelly, Dan (July 13, 2006). "The Life and Death of the Deadliest Man Alive". Chicago Reader. Retrieved March 11, 2014. 
  2. ^ Kelly, Dan (April 24, 2012). "The Deadliest Ads Alive!". Hogan's Alley. Bull Moose Publishing (124). Retrieved March 11, 2014. 
  3. ^ Ayoob, Massad F. (January 1976). "Count Dante's Inferno". Black Belt. Rainbow Periodicals. 14 (01): 80. Retrieved March 11, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Spirko, Walter. "Rival karate clubs fight on N.W. Side; one killed." Chicago Sun-Times (April 24, 1970)

External links[edit]