MARCH/APRIL 2010
GRAHAM T. BECK

BLACK NOTES

THE STORY OF A FORMER BOXER FROM PENNSYLVANIA’S COAL COUNTRY WHO CAN KILL YOU—AND BRING YOU BACK TO LIFE—MERELY BY TOUCHING YOU IN THE RIGHT PLACE.

DISCUSSED: Wuxia Fiction, Bruce Lee, Pennsylvania’s Coal Region, Cracker Barrel, Bloodsport, Kung Fu Panda, Xena The Warrior Princess, The Vulcan Nerve Pinch, Nonviolence and the Repression of Emotion, Fort Knox, Martin Luther King, Bear Wrestling, Muhammad Ali, Chi, Howard Cosell, Andy Warhol, Black Belt Magazine, Kill Bill

“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.)”

—advertisement for Count Dante’s fighting secrets

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In 1968, John Keehan, a martial arts instructor from the South Side of Chicago, started running ads in comic books for a pamphlet called “World’s Deadliest Fighting Secrets” that he’d written under the name Count Dante. “DIM MAK, ‘The Death Touch’ in this exclusive book!” the copy boasts in chop-suey lettering. Although the combat techniques contained in the pamphlet—eye gouging, fish hooks, strikes targeting vital organs, and a combination called the “dance of death”—could be lethal, they were not actual dim mak, a Cantonese phrase that literally translates to “press artery” but has become shorthand for a targeted strike that uses less-than-lethal force to achieve deadly results.

Nevertheless, Count Dante’s comic-book ads were one of the first places where dim mak made the jump from Chinese wuxia fiction, which chronicles the adventures of martial artists in ancient China, to mainstream American culture. In that journey, much of dim mak’s complicated heritage was lost. What arrived in the back of those comic books and entered the minds of thousands of already fantasy-prone children was the promise of an easily acquired, at-least-immobilizing, at-best-lethal combat technique: a superpower for everyday people.

The success of the ads coincided with America’s martial arts boom. Though judo had been taught in the US since 1902 (President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid student since 1904, eventually attained the rank of black belt), it wasn’t until the early 1970s that the number of dojos, academies, and training facilities in the US soared. In these years, the American Collegiate Taekwondo Association was formed, Hai Karate became the aftershave du jour, and Kung Fu, starring David Carradine, premiered on ABC. After Bruce Lee died in 1973, it was rumored that dim mak—not an adverse reaction to the painkiller Equagesic—was the real cause of his death.

Wrapped up in all of this was a young boxer-turned-black-belt from Pennsylvania’s coal region named George Dillman. In the early 1970s, he started learning about dim mak and the death touch, and has been studying and teaching a variation of the Japanese style of pressure-point combat called kyusho-jitsu ever since.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

Graham T. Beck writes about art, infrastructure, and interesting strangers. He is working on a very funny book.

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