KUMITE: The Legend of Bloodsport
By Alonso Rosado Franco
Released on February 26, 1988, Bloodsport narrates the participation of Master Frank Dux in THE KUMITE and became over the years a Cult Movie, whose influence It was felt in the Video Games and even in the Original UFC Format. The Story has been the epicenter of controversial and passionate debates …
What follows is our reconstruction of the facts surrounding the legend of Kumite:
Much has been said throughout history surrounding hands free merciless encounters without or with very few rules among experts in various fighting techniques within bloody tournaments. In ancient Greece, for example, there were encounters of Pancracio and Pugilato with a clean fist and making use of holds, joint locks and takedowns where even illustrious thinkers and philosophers such as Pythagoras and Socrates came to participate in their facet of athletes. Such combats were sometimes to death and there are many chronicles of these terrible confrontations. A famous sculpture “The Pugilist of Apollonius” shows one of these fighters with leather strips around his fists sitting with his face disfigured by blows and with an expression of fatigue. Alexander the Great, in the Empire he built and that extended into a big portion of Asia, liked to attend combat matches with and without weapons that his subordinates organized to delight the high military hierarchies of his court. Nations like India, China, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Cambodia, to mention just a few, are rich in tournament accounts and death matches between expert warriors who wanted to challenge themselves as the prestige in fighting of rival experts grew in order to prove who was the best of all. In ancient Mexico, between the Aztec and Tlaxcaltecas warriors there was a custom of tie down certain prisoners from the ankle making them fight to the death against 5 adversaries, holding only one shield in one hand and one Macahuitl in the other… If they managed to win they were granted freedom and the option to join the warrior elites. In more recent times, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, a Chinese martial artist: Huo Yuanjia used to challenge foreign fighters in combats without rules to restore Pride and Nationalism in a period in which the Western and Japanese Imperialists sadly eroded his nation, in addition to having subdued and debased a large sector of society through Opium. The exploits of Huo Yuanjia inspired the 2006 movie Fearless with the famous actor Jet Li embodying this remarkable martial artist.
It was within this same context that in 1901 a fearsome group was born under the name of Kokuryūkai (trans. Black Dragon Society), founded by Uchida Ryohei, a dark judoka who had studied in St. Petersburg and admired the violent methods of radical Bolsheviks and had been a member of the Criminal Organization Genyōsha (trans. Black Ocean). The Name of the Black Dragon Society (alleged/assumed by researchers) comes from the name of the Chinese province Heilong jiang (黑 hēi – black; 龙 Hlong – dragon; 江 jiāng – river), which is read in Japanese as Kokuryūkai. This Group of Pan-Asian Ideology had an ultra-nationalist and right-wing agenda that operated training centers in martial arts and espionage whose agents gathered intelligence about political and social activities in Russia, Manchuria, Korea and China and several other countries. They subverted, sabotaged and committed acts of terrible violence. It is said that the Black Dragon Society organized no-holds-barred fighting matches to detect, evaluate and test their recruits. This society pressed Japanese politicians to adopt a hard line in terms of international politics. Kokuryūkai edited a pamphlet and financed, through the collaboration of Japanese government officials who were secretly members and with funds of criminal origin, revolutionaries who aligned with their interests. This society played a sinister role in the Russian-Japanese War, in the Annexation of Korea and in the Siberian Intervention. The Imperial Japanese Navy used the network Kokuryūkai for espionage, sabotage and murder operations. Its members used the Rising Sun Symbol with spreading rays; nowadays we see descendants of Black Dragon martial arts schools that still incorporate the symbol, being aware of it or not, landmarking this historial lineage. During the 1920s and 1930s, Black Dragon Society became a more visible organization with a political agenda of attack on liberal and leftist thinkers . They had few members but with influence in government circles, as well as in business, which provided great influence and made them stand out among the other ultra-nationalist groups that existed. In the 1930s, Kokuryūkai expanded its activities around the world, with agents stationed in places as diverse as Ethiopia, Turkey, Morocco, South America, Europe and the United States (with a presence in Chicago and Los Angeles) where they decided to exploit racial inequalities in his favor aligning with the Mafia and financing Muslim organizations and civil rights movements where the Black Dragons saw the opportunity to infiltrate, becoming the voice of “non-white” minorities secretly teaching them Judo and Jiujitsu. As they did in Russia and Manchuria, The Black Dragon Society sponsored No-Holds-Barred martial arts matches and formed Judo clubs in Military Installations. These matches were predominately called KUMITE – from the Japanese Combat with hands (組 手) -. The name changed according to region. In Brazil the matches are called “Vale Tudo”, in Taiwan “San Dan”; in regions of mainland China “San Sao”, etc.
Several Black Dragons were arrested in 1942 by the FBI in the San Joaquin Valley, California, and years later other agents were arrested, as was the case of Satokata Takahasi, Militar retired from the Japanese Imperial Navy and member of Kokuryūkai, on charges of instigate movements of black agitators and Muslims.
On February 22, 1943, Masato Tamura,a Champion of the Black Dragon Society strangled and left unconscious rival fighter Karl Pojello in a one minute twenty seconds demonstration match attended by soldiers of the US Navy. The meeting was organized by Chicago Daily Times sports writer named Gene Kessler, with the aim of “finding the comparative merits of western fighting skills against the Japs”. Officially the Black Dragon Society was dissolved in 1946 by order of the American Occupational Authorities; however, in 1961 it was rebuilt in part under the Name of the Black Dragon Club Kokuryū-Kurabu with more than 150 active members.
It was in Chicago, in 1969, that another dark character, this time from Karate-World, named John Keehan (AKA Count Rafael Dante) founded his own version of the Black Dragons building the Black Dragon Fighting Society. John Keehan, a member of the US Navy reserves, and longtime student of martial arts, teamed up with Sensei Robert Trias to become founder and director of the Midwest Chapter of the United States Karate Association (USKA), holding many competition events.
When Keehan’s championship worthy student Ray Cooper was cheated out of a USKA World Championship win and then was not allowed to compete with USKA events deliberately moved and held in Whites Only Hotels; as well as Keehan growing upset over his being defamed and threatened over his teaching the black community, in Chicago, when “separate but equal” was the status quo, Keehan in response posted his challenge to fight anyone anywhere to the death and resigned his position and founded the aforementioned Black Dragon Fighting Society, inspired by Kokuryūkai and, according to Keehan, with the support and personal teaching of Senzo “The Tiger” Tanaka, supposedly great champion of KUMITE in Asia in the Glory Times of the original Black Dragon Society and an unconventional martial arts expert. Having participated, he claimed, in a KUMITE in Asia, John Keehan organized the First Kumite of mixed martial arts at the University of Chicago on July 28, 1963. Many other events where practitioners of different combat styles and martial arts fought each other were organized by Keehan during the 1960s, with his partner and mentor Michael Felkof, which generated much controversy due to his fascination with these KUMITE matches without protective equipment. The populartiy resulted in spinning off two additional franchise school factions -one located in Rhode Island an the other in Fall River, Massachusetts. John Keehan, who at that time was already openly using his Count Dante Alias in comic books advertising himself as “The Most Deadly Living Being” selling pamphlets by Mail with his “combat secrets to defeat, paralyze and maim the rivals… ” Bearing the same trait of Black Dragon Society members employing acts of subversion against their enemies, John Keehan was caught in the act of setting dynamite caps to the front window of a rival school with his former Karate classmate, roommate and longtime friend, Doug Dwyer. John Keehan was reportedly released on parole for his resisting arrest and being in possessionof explosive devices. This occured at a time period known as the Dojo Wars Era. A violent struggle that took the life of Keehan’s closest friend and Soke-Dai (system inheritor), Jim Kosevic.
It was in May 1975 that John Count Dante Keehan died inexplicably. This produced a number of Urban Legends. One is Keehan was killed by the Tibetan Burning Palm Strike after many transgressions he committed that put him in disfavor with Japan’s senior Black Dragons and their affiliates – Chicago Organized Crime.
With such a background, a character named Frank Dux enters the scene: tall, burly and possessing a very fast mind and of great self-taught ability (he had come countless times when he was very young and with limited resources to observe martial arts classes with personalities such as Ed Parker, Bob Osman, John Leone, Bill Ryusaki, Bong Soo Han and In Hyuk Suh, and then return home to reproduce the movements he saw, developing mental scenarios to apply them). Years passed by and after learning from different Martial Arts Instructors such as Karate Sensei Bob Osman, Frank Opened a a Martial Arts School at North Hollywood, where it happened Dux had an undercover Black Belt magazine staffer at his North Hollywood Martial Arts Studio, Tim Champman, who persuaded him to make an interview around his unconventional knowledge of Martial Arts he learned from KUMITE fighting and from Senzo “The Tiger” Tanaka. Frank Dux agreed to an interview in 1980 at the offices of Black Belt (see image) and impresses the members of the staff with an unusual story: “Every Five Years IFAA (International Fighting Arts Association), agrupation linked through Senzo Tanaka and other individuals with the Japanese Black Dragon Society and several clandestine instances worldwide, conduct a Private Tournament named THE KUMITE somewhere in the world, where experts in different martial arts fight against each other in an almost no rules no pulled punches format from which emerges a champion after three days of continuous fighting (However, there is an unwritten code of ethics -explains- where for example no one attacks the throat directly and other areas that would be lethal. It is also forbidden to bite or puncture the eyes). The most recent KUMITE had been held five years ago in Nassau, Bahamas, in November 1975; Frank Dux had been the Champion, he said, in addition to setting several records at IFAA and had been authorized to speak publicly about the event (Frank Dux explains IFFA authorized him to speak in media since they were considering organizing again public events like they did in Chicago in the 60’s but they couldn’t find enough fighters to participate). The Black Belt Staff pointed out that their editorial policy demanded a strict verification of the facts and despite the private nature of the tournament and that the contenders nor the matches could be filmed or photographed by participants, they felt confident to consider plausible everything narrated by Frank Dux. They inquired and verified with directors of the IFAA (Mainly Dr. Lawrence Day, by the time head of International Fighting Arts Association and Family head as well of Black Dragon Fighting Society after John Keehan died. Frank Dux expands that Dr. Day even provided Black Belt some smuggled 8 mm footage and never got it back). The Format of KUMITE presented by Frank Dux is a round robin style tournament, where you matched up to fight one-to-one. with a central judge and no other protective equipment other than a shell specially designed for genitals and a mouthguard. The KUMITE lasted 3 days with 20 bouts per day, each with an average duration of 18 to 30 seconds, where combatants who lose either by knockout or surrender (exclaiming the word Maitta –I surrender , in Japanese-), have to leave the place at the end of each day until on the last day of competition the last fighters standing fight in the final stage for the title. (This is what was written in the Magazine but Here, Frank Dux has something really interesting to read: “I was Misquoted here, the KUMITE format was round robin style where your matched up to fight one-to-one. And yet, this is not a single bracket elimination as people generally assume from watching MMA or boxing matches. Not all the fight are against entered opponents, either. This is more akin to 100 man Kumites fought by Mas Oyama, a test of endurance, with a central judge and no other protective equipment other than a shell specially designed for genitals and a mouthguard. A KUMITE can last 3 days with 20 bouts per day, each with an average duration of 18 to 30 seconds that he attributes to many fighters never learning how to defend against low to high left hook punch combo, where combatants lose either by being knocked off the platform, or are determined unable to continue as in maintain a guard, are knocked out or submit by tapping out or exclaiming the word Maitta –I surrender , in Japanese) until on the last day of competition where the top eight winning fighters fight in single elimination the final stage for the title akin to what transpired during UFC 1, arguably, copied from the Kumite aka Vale Tudo.”) The Central Judge (continuing with Black Belt Writing), can also stop the fight if there is an undeniable superiority of one of the contestants or by bad intention or conduct. Frank pointed out that the fighting surface of the stage can change in each Tournament to force the contestants to adapt their bodies and strategy according to the area being circular, rectangular and narrow, conical, on a roof, on mud or with a system that makes the surface to move according to the weight and location of the fighters.
In addition, he pointed out to Black Belt his following records that the magazine made public: The fastest knockout (3.2 seconds), the largest number of consecutive knockouts (56), the fastest knockout hit recorded (.12 seconds) and the faster hook kick (72 miles per hour). – All the aforementioned accomplishments were made public for years at International Fighting Arts Association/ Black Dragons Fighting Society log of records and later at their web site also for a long period of time -.
Frank Dux told Black Belt that some competitors in the KUMITE recognized him as an instructor of the Korean White Horse Corps and nicknamed him the flying horse for his aerial kicking and corpulence. (The patch of Dux’ martial art system bears the image of a Pegasus).
Time Later other two fighters claimed to be at the 1975 KUMITE: Big Jim McCune and David German. Dr. Lawrence Day declared to be at Frank Dux corner at The Kumite.
It was in 1985 based on this interview, published by Black Belt in November 1980, that The Cannon Group decided to make a film based on the participation of Frank Dux in The KUMITE and his records were also made public just before the credits at the end of the movie after the Movie Company corroborated the facts by its legal team since there exists a material clause with Frank Dux Contract listing the evidence of The Kumite. The Movie was shot in Hong Kong summer time in 1986 (Frank recalls that meantime it was Winter at the States, and with big Laugh he says even the flush of water at toilets whirls in opposite direction over there) To play the role of Frank Dux, Producer Mark DiSalle, choose an unknown actor baring an uncanny resemblance to Frank Dux when he fought Kumite who had come to propose himself as movie star at the offices of the Cannon Group, it was no other than Jean Claude Van Damme who would thus obtain his pass to stardom with the interpretation he made of Frank Dux. For the script the company hired Sheldon Lettich to work on it based on the narration of Frank Dux, who also directed the fight scenes. The movie was named Bloodsport.
There is no doubt that the provocative story and the spectacular fight choreographies by Frank Dux superbly performed by Jean Claude Van Damme, were key ingredients for this film to obtain cult status as years passed by. Bloodsport was a blockbuster that influenced the collective imagination to the point that soon a plethora of videogames reflected the influence of the scenarios and the fighting of the film, being the most successful of all Mortal Kombat, bloody martial arts video game franchise where warriors of the underworld and the “real” world participate in epic fights of great violence at a surreal nightmare Tournament that owes much to the history of Bloodsport, in fact the Video Game saga was about to name Van Damme one of the characters.
Five years after the premiere of the movie would emerge the Ultimate Fighting Championship first match with a “no rules” fight format (this was announced for advertising reasons, which is not entirely true, but that is the subject of another article) with a very clear influence of Bloodsport in the aesthetics of the combat stage. In fact, UFC producers tried for years to force Frank Dux to participate in at least one of their matches.
Being Bloodsport such a popular movie, eventually emerged a group rather strident in social networks and media that has been dedicated for years to deny both the story of Frank Dux in relation to their participation in the 1975 Secret Tournament and also the KUMITE itself, the existence of Senzo Tanaka and of course the records mentioned by Frank Dux that were published by Black Belt Magazine in 1980 and by International Fighting Arts Association and Black Dragon Fighting Society at the time (it is also relevant to point out that in this article we are referring to this organization from a historical point of view as it existed by the time of John Keehan and later at the times of Frank Dux).
The story told by Master Frank Dux is really exciting and keeps inspiring new generations of Martial Artist and competitors. It had the elements of Mystery, secrecy and honor that keeps intriguing everybody: The missing evidence due to the private and even illegal nature of the Tournament, so it was held outside US soil, gives added flavor to the story.
The duration of the fights of 15 to 30 seconds long and the amount of the matches per day is not unlikely if we consider that Frank Dux is six foot two inches tall, he was 21 years old at the time he declared his role in The KUMITE (1975) and did it as a heavyweight. Those of us who have known him since the mid 80s’ on his first visit to Mexico and later in 1988, parallel to the launch of Bloodsport, can attest to the unusual speed, strength and control he had when kicking – At this point it is interesting to consider that Frank Dux has a genetic condition, because he was born with his legs turned inside out (“pigeon legs”) and that although they were corrected with brackets by turning them to normal position, the fibers of his ligaments maintain an abnormal tension which allows him to throw roundhouse and other kicks with twinkling speed-.
(note from Alonso Rosado).
Frank also tells us that as a boy and youngster he was totally lacking in rhythm, which made him the object of cruel teasing, but, nevertheless, as he declares: “that was a blessing in fighting, because my broken rhythm or the total absence of it made my movements not predictable at all when it comes to fighting. ” If we add his military training, the unconventional practice that he carried out within the martial arts, based mostly on observation and deduction, it is clear that he would be a very difficult opponent to read. A formidable African American Karate and full contact fighter in the late 60’s and part of the 70’s, Sensei Vic Moore, has stated several times how it was the first time he met Frank Dux and that when they matched on an informal fight Frank broke his nose with a strange and fast movement (Vic Moore was first Black USKA World Champion and PKA Champion). Here I think it is important to emphasize Frank’s intense and profound mentality: he deduced the secret of the famous Dim Mak, the blow of death, empirically, showing us on several occasions how he could break a brick that we chose from a stack of 4 leaving the other three intact. The other example was in 1988, when he asked me to strongly bandage his eyes and then already blindfolded assigned a number to each of us the volunteers who surrounded him (10 or 12, I don’t remember exactly) and one by one he cornered us until placing one of his famous kicks millimeters away from our head, speaking out loud the number by which he identified us.
Returning to the story of Frank Dux on the KUMITE, at the part where he tells that the combat could be stopped if the central judge considered there was a bad intention or lack of honor on the part of one of the contestants I would like to point out in this regard that I would love that this code of conduct mentioned by Dux could be observed in the cage fights broadcasted on television where sometimes the lack of sportsmanship and martial ethics are more than evident. Needless to say, the changes in the length, materials and shapes of the combat surfaces that he relates existed in the KUMITE would be something really exciting to watch. Let us also not forget that in the 60s in the United States, John Keehan, whom Frank Dux knew, organized mixed martial arts events at a time when Bruce Lee pointed out in his interviews the need to practice the best of different martial arts and try them in as close to real scenarios as possible (the very argument of the Movie Enter the Dragon that propeled Bruce Lee to Martial Arts Icon category, revolves around a secret tournament on an island to detect talents and recruit them for criminal operations). In Brazil, on the other hand, there was the Vale Tudo: competitions with thin gloves and few rules where contenders fought in public and private matches representing Jiu Jitsu vs. other styles since the mid-50s (some argue that many years before that). The atmosphere was proclive to confrontations as indicated in the KUMITE narrative …
I think that the media especially took on Master Frank Dux while turning a blind eye to documented blatant lies by actors like Jean Claude Van Damme (In relation to his supposed World Full Contact championship) or Steven Seagal (His alleged Aikido Dojo that he ran in Japan and his role as agent of the CIA, among other shrill exaggerations). The aforementioned lies does not deny the faculties and abilities that these actors have demonstrated on and off the screen.
Much of the speculation, hearsay and falsehoods spun about Frank Dux and Kumite in online forums and the conspiracy blogs will predominantly not end regardless that there exist overwhelmingly evidence and court findings showing the event and participants have been verified true. In Frank Dux case his accomplishments are proven true in three different court proceedings . One of which ( Frank Dux vs FM Entertainment) resulted in Frank Dux Bloodsport film life story rights being returned to him from the producers of Bloodspsort 2 for breach of contract as they were not permitted to fictionalize his story – Dux Story.
There is something else I want to mention before concluding this article about the KUMITE and the figure of Frank Dux: As we already mentioned, Master Senzo The Tiger Tanaka referred to by Frank and from whom he would have learned unconventional techniques, in repeated occasions has been subject to constant attacks and many individuals on social networks have pointed out that it is a fictitious figure; however, as the years have passed and these have become decades, evidence has been found that he was a real character and there are documents that prove his stay in the United States; It is known which was the alias he used and also members of his family who have come to light are known, as well as the place where he grew up. It has even been pointed out that it was a double agent who carried out espionage work in favor of the United States and that in fact had knowledge of unconventional martial arts, but that, my friends, will be the subject of a special article in the near future.
On my behalf here ends this text about the KUMITE and the Bloodsport. You already have your own opinion in relation to Master Frank Dux, no doubt a living Legend of Martial Arts from whom there is much to learn. Ultimately there is not a single myth that I know that is not fed by a dose of mystery and controversy, essential ingredients of a Good Legend…
Alonso Rosado F.
Alonso Rosado F. (then Kuk Sool practicioner) Author of this article with Frank Duk in late 80’s
Journalist narrating gets cornered by Dux blindfolded
Black Belt Magazine (November 1980)
Chicago Judo and Jiu Jitsu Web Page
Katana Interview Archives with Master Frank Dux
International Fighting Arts Web Page
The Secret Man (by Frank Dux)
Put Up Your Dux (Documentary)