Born John Keehan, he trained under various martial arts masters during the infancy of organized American martial arts in the mid 20th century. 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 highly skilled karateka and sensei producing many highly skilled teachers.
John Keehan was the co-founder of the United States Karate Association and served as the Head Instructor for the USKA until 1962. He left that organization in 1964 to form the World Karate Federation.
Keehan grew disillusioned with conventional karate instruction’s focus on ceremony, tradition and protocol over raw effectiveness and began developing his own style that he would promote as “street-effective”. Through these efforts, he developed a heavily condensed but effective system that is now known as the Dan-te system, Dance of Death or sometimes improperly (given Keehan’s dislike of traditional kata), the Kata-Dante. Theoretically, by learning all of the steps of this Dance of Death, you were an effective fighting master.
During the mid 60s, John Keehan abrubptly changed his name to Count Juan Raphael Dante and began heavily promoting himself via comic book ads as Deadliest Man Alive. One had only to mail order for his instructional booklet The Worlds Deadliest Fighting Secrets (in which he outlined the Dance of Death) and they would also receive a free Black Dragon Fighting Society membership card. 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 society during the 1930s and 1940s.
Keehan explained the name change by stating that his parents fled Spain during the Spanish Civil War, changed their names, and covered their nobility connections in order to effectively hide in America.
In Chicago, Dante co-promoted America’s first full contact style martial arts tournament.
Dante drew an enmity from many of the Martial Arts traditionalists (many of whom were non-asian as well as Asian) who believed that he was destroying tradition and respectability. Although extremely campy by today’s standards, the famous Deadliest Man Alive comic book ad reinforced this image. Many also felt that he was defiling the art by having “undesirables” as students. During that period of nationwide racial strife, Dante was one of the first American sensei to openly accept Blacks and other minorities as students. Admittedly, however, Dante also had many gang members and mercenary types as students. He also was vocal about how he felt that the Asian community was only willing to teach “watered-down” martial arts to outsiders or non-asians. During this period, Dante, also admittedly was charged with attempted arson when he and an accomplice (while under the influence of alcohol) were arrested while taping dynamite caps to a Chicago dojo. Dante explained this as 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 1970 where Dante and some of his students went to a rival Dojo of the Green Cobra Hall. 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. As a result of this incident, Dante became much more subdued in his activities but nonetheless, he was officially disowned by the rest of the traditional martial arts community.
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 has since then been under the directorship of his personally chosen protege and successor, Grandmaster William V. Aguiar. It is currently headquartered in Fall River, Massachusetts.
There is also a rock band that is named in honor of Count Dante. Count Dante and the Black Dragon Fighting Society.
– Biography < from Wikipedia>