Frank Dux - The Real Hero of Blood Sport
I had just returned to LA after a year in Israel. During my year in Israel I began training in karate and I was looking to continue my training during my summer back home in Los Angeles, before heading off to college in New York.
My friend Robert suggested, "Why don't you check out Steve's brother, Frank, he teaches some sort of martial art'. Nah, I said, I'm not looking to train with 'a friend's brother', I'm looking for something serious. "But he is serious", Robert insisted. OK, I would check it out.
I found the store front with the sign that read "Dux Ninjitsu". I came in and filled out a new student form. It asked, "How did you hear about us?", I checked the box that said "other" and wrote, "Studied with his brother in yeshiva in Israel".
I went into the class, checked out all the cool ninja stuff on the wall, and joined the class. Frank was not there yet. Turns out over here he is called 'Shidoshi' which is ninja title and rank from Japan.
During the class Shidoshi Frank walks in, standing about 6 foot five, tall and muscular, he looks straight at me and says, "You know my brother Steve? How is he doing?"
After class he told me I could train for free as long as I wanted to. It was a great summer, I spent as much time at the dojo as I could. I wish I could have stayed and been tested but my plans to go off to college had been set. I will always remember that summer.
One day after class we were just sitting around, talking. Frank, Shidoshi, starts telling us about an offer from Hollywood to do a movie about his experiences in the Far East, something about some new actor. I recall saying "That's great Frank". I totally forgot about that conversation, until several years later at a Friday night dinner in Israel.
Some boys had noticed my somewhat disfigured hand and figured I must be some karate master, they arranged for the family to invite me for dinner. During dinner one of them asks about my hands. I tell them I train in karate. The calluses came from doing push ups on wood at the Kyokushin Oyama dojo in New York. "Aha! I knew he was a karate expert" one of the boys said. They asked whom I had trained with and I mentioned "Frank Dux".
The boys became very excited, "You trained with Frank Dux!"
I said, "Come on, how could you have heard of him? You're not from the Valley!" They said "from the movie, the greatest martial arts movie of all time,
. I told them I had never heard of it. They were shocked, "You, a student of Frank Dux, never saw the film!". Suddenly a vague memory came to me, sitting on the dojo floor and Frank saying something about Hollywood, China, a movie, some new actor. It all began to come back to me. That week I went out and bought the movie. It is, in my opinion, the best martial arts movie ever made.
In terms of Frank Dux the martial arts legend and all his many and impressive accomplishments, there are many sites on the web where you could read about that, for me, he will always be the great guy, the great teacher and friend I met all those years ago in LA. He is still an inspiration to me, and through me to my students over the years. By the way he just completed a comprehensive martial arts encyclopedia, keep your ears open, it should be out soon.
Frank Dux - Bio, The Man Behind Blood Sport
In 1988, the martial arts community was introduced to Jean-Claude Van Damme with the arrival of the movie BLOODSPORT. Van Damme displayed a unique fighting style that combined raw power, agility and speed. Due to the success of the film, Van Damme would be catapulted into. However, behind the Universal Soldier lies the story of Frank Dux.
The untold Frank Dux story is of a hard upbringing that included chapters written in struggle and humility. It is the story of a fighter, molded by traumatizing experiences of fear that would compel him to train and grab hold of martial arts and at the age of 19, become champion of the international fighting event known as the Kumite.
Frank was born in 1956, in Toronto, to parents who were holocaust survivors. Frank and his parents would move to California when he was seven.
Although he possessed tremendous athletic ability, Frank’s lack of financial means would direct him towards free lessons in martial arts.
“I started training in 1968,” recalls Frank. “I got into martial arts because I could not afford shoes. I had combat boots because that is all my parents could afford to buy me. When I went to high school, in order to play sports, you had to be able to buy cleats. I could not afford a deposit for helmets and shoulder pads.”
Frank’s natural athletic ability no doubt contributed to his career in martial arts. “I used to play [football] with Aaron Mitchell who went on to play ball for the Dallas Cowboys and even Aaron will tell you I was the only guy who could catch him. That’s how fast I was. Guy Sularz went on to be one of the top players with the [Minnesota] Twins, and I could out hit him too. I was a great athlete but when I could do martial arts, you didn’t need shoes.”
Not having the means to purchase cleats and other necessary equipment would prevent Frank from participating in organized sports. However, it wasn’t a love for fighting that propelled him to learn martial arts. It was a greater motivator, fear.
“It’s not about fighting. It’s about building character and getting over your fears. When you conquer your fear there is a tremendous amount of exhilaration that comes from that. I was about 10 years old when these two kids threw me into a garage because I looked odd to them. The kid reminded me that his father was a district attorney and buried a hatchet about two inches from my head. He could have split my skull. That had a profound effect on me. I never forgot that.”
That experience would cause Frank to seek out training in martial arts. Frank had the desire to protect himself, coupled with his athleticism, it would propel him forward but not before humbling training experiences that would make great material for any martial arts movie.
“John Leone would let me sit in on classes on qi energy and that’s what I learned from him. Then on Van Nuys Boulevard I would go see Bob Osman who was one of the strongest karate men in the world. Bob taught me the idea and concept that one punch is all you need, and that is all you should have to use in fighting… and develop your strength and power… and I became a knockout king and that is where I got that from. When I went to Bill Usagi’s school, you’d see Bruce Lee in there. He wasn’t Bruce Lee as we know him at that time. He was friends with Bill Usagi. What I learned from Bill Usagi was focus and speed.”
Since Frank couldn’t afford to pay for the class at Bill Usagi’s school, he had an unwritten arrangement with Bill Usagi that allowed him to learn. Frank would clean up in front of the school and in return Bill would open the window blinds so Frank could see inside.
“Bill would look at me and guide me through the window. I didn’t have parental permission. I couldn’t afford lessons but he wanted me to learn. I would practice on the sidewalk and everyone would make fun of me. ‘Look at this stupid kid out there.’ I had to overcome the humiliation because I wanted to learn.”
In middle school the “sidewalk dragon” was already a proficient fighter, attributing much of it to genetics. “By the time I was 14, I was knocking out grown men. I loved training but when I was a kid I was huge. In school I got a lot of ridicule because of that.”
This was referenced during the opening to BLOODSPORT where a young Frank Dux is depicted as being much taller that his school classmates.
Frank’s financial state would cause him to develop a sense of maturity and seriousness that lent them to his training regimen. “I was mature. You have to be when you are poor to survive. It makes you grow up quickly. I did not have much of a childhood. ‘How are we going to eat today?’ We’d go collect bottles so we could have food and my mom was sick and it was hard to buy medicine. Through that kind of adversity I trained myself and through the kindness of many people I learned martial arts.”
In BLOODSPORT, a young Frank is caught trying to steal a sword. This leads to a meeting between his parents and future trainer. During the meeting, his father mentions that he owns a vineyard.
Frank described how the script strayed from reality. “That’s not true. What the producer was trying to show was that martial arts redeems you and that scene was a quick way to tell that. My dad didn’t work in a vineyard. My mother was really sick and my parents were immigrants from the holocaust. They came to the country with nothing.”
Mention of a vineyard was a part of Frank’s philosophy when discussing young martial artists. It’s a principle he taught during seminars. “Children are impressionable and anybody can be a child in martial arts. You can be 30 years old and still be a child in the martial arts. To really learn, it’s like cultivating a grape. You have to expose it to the elements and at the same time you have nurture it, to really grow and get the fruit of the vine.”
In high school, Frank trained with Jack Seki and Senzo Tanaka. The latter was a former Kumite champion and gateway for Frank’s introduction to this elite fighting event. “Jack, was one of the few guys who put on a program where you could attend classes for a buck 25 a month. It was low enough that if I could collect bottles… I would turn them in to the local liquor store and get a nickel. That was basically me finding two bottles a day on my way home from school.”
Despite his skill in martial arts, Frank was quiet and timid. “I had a few friends, not many. High school was rough. I did not fit in. I was wearing combat boots, a military fatigue jacket and two pair of jeans that I had to make work. My biggest [problem was wondering] where is my next meal coming from?”
After high school, Frank joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He couldn’t discuss his activities while in the military but he took the time to clear up any discrepancies regarding his veteran status. “From 1975 to 1981, I was in the Marine Corps. My DD 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) establishes that I was an intelligence specialist. I was in reserved status. I wasn’t a Vietnam War veteran. I was a Vietnam-era veteran. That’s all I can tell you.”
As our conversation continued, I shifted focus to the topic of the Kumite and how Frank came to be involved in the fighting circuit famously depicted in BLOODPSPORT. It turns out that none other than John Keehan, the eccentric martial artist known as Count Dante, was involved. “[John Keehan] died and I ended up going instead. The myth is that he was involved in some type of robbery but he was too flamboyant as far as the [Black Dragon Fighting Society] were concerned and they had him killed with the Dim Mak strike but these are just rumors and allegations.” (See related article on John Keehan for more details.)
Frank was given the opportunity to join the Kumite because of his affiliation with Tanaka, a former Kumite champion, also because of his relationship with Jack Seki. While BLOODSPORT placed the Kumite in Hong Kong, Frank provided the details on the true location of the three-day event which he attended alone.
“To make sure that they kept out people, they held the event in secrecy in the Bahamas. I got there and I fought and I won. After that, there were private planes. They took me here. They took me there. Fighters got shit but the promoters made a fortune… I went by myself. I was scared shitless. I wanted to leave. I thought, ‘Am I going to get killed? What am I doing here?’ I couldn’t sleep. I was so anxious.”
Frank spoke on the various fighting styles at the event and why Kumite was better than UFC. “The fighters came from everywhere. They had [as] much stuff as they could get in there, people from every indigenous country. We had a guy from Brazil who did Capoeira and I saw some Monkey kung fu. When [UFC] put in all of these rules they watered it down. It’s like a big old brawling match and wrestling. It looks like the WWE for real. You got Brock Lesner spitting on people.”
In BLOODSPORT, Frank must defeat the feared fighter “Chong Li,” played by Chinese martial arts film star Bolo Yeung. Yeung executed his role effectively, coming across as vicious and ruthless but he did not come close to capturing the essence of the real Chong Li according to Frank. The real Chong Li lost and Frank went on to win the title.
“Bolo Yueng looks like a pussycat compared to the real Chong Li,” Frank recalled. “He was huge. He was taller than me. People think Koreans are small. That’s not necessarily the case. People’s logic was that the Orientals are smaller than me. That’s not true. The biggest guy in the NBA (Yao Ming) is Chinese.
Our discussions of Chong Li provoked Frank to share information pertaining to a previously undisclosed element of the Kumite and the martial arts community as a whole. “I want people to understand the prejudices that contaminated the event. I knew plenty of Black fighters, a guy from Nambia, and they wouldn’t let him fight because he was Black and they had elitism. I fought him one day and I beat him but he was a magnificent fighter. This Nambian never got his fare share.
“Another guy named Irving Soto, who was part Puerto Rican, they would never let him out of the second tier to fight and he was itching to fight me. He is one of the few guys who can actually do Iron Palm [during demonstration] and bust the bottom brick. He gets viciously attacked on the Internet and what it really comes down to, honestly is that there are so many of these guys out there who are of Oriental descent, that want to keep this myth going that they are superior to us. It’s never about a person being born in Korea or Japan or ‘their race makes them superior.’”
One of the challenges Frank faced was in fighting misconceptions in the martial arts community about him and other pioneering martial artists in America.
“I had a big run-in with Black Belt magazine. They were going to say that I was one of the first American ninjas, like in the movie… before Stephen Hayes. Hayes was not even around when I was doing what I was doing. I did not go along with it. I’m not the first. If you really want to talk about the first then the distinction belongs to Ronald Duncan and they wouldn’t give him credit. I feel bad for Ron Duncan. Here is a guy who did a tremendous amount for the industry and teaching people.”
“People got locked out. Another guy, Benny Urquidez, tried to fight in the Kumite. He wasn’t permitted because he was Spanish.”
(Benny “The Jet” Urquidez was a competitive, American-born martial artist of mixed Spanish and Amerindian descent who has appeared in a number of martial arts films, most notably WHEELS ON MEALS and DRAGONS FOREVER alongside Hong Kong action masters Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao.)
Frank spoke about Vic Moore who was considered for the Kumite but not allowed to participate because he was Black. “There was so much prejudice at the time. They were not going to allow that to happen. People forget that in the ’60s we just had the Civil Rights Movement. You’re talking about five or six years later, in 1975, people did not change that quick. People don’t realize martial arts was behind the Civil Rights Movement, it wasn’t in step with it. [Moore] never got the credit he deserved. He beat guys like Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, Mike Stone… Vic Moore beat everybody but the only person he will tell you that he never beat was me.”
According to Frank, The Kumite was sponsored by the Black Dragon Fighting Society and the IFAA (International Fighting Arts Association) which was composed of several organization and promoters. “This wasn’t sanctioned,” explained Frank. “It was a small elite clique of the top martial artists in the world saying, ‘I’m going to send my best against your best’”
Frank’s post-Kumite career had him engaging in two to three fights a week over the next several years. He compiled a record of 329 victories, without any defeats. These fights would be the impetus for another Van Damme movie.
“The fights started to look like LIONHEART (1990). That’s why LIONHEART was made,” said Frank. “They fought me so much because I became an expert on how to avoid being hit and at the same time delivering one hit to drop a guy. My longest fight in my fight career was one minute and forty seconds. Any of the Black Dragons who ran the event will confirm it. I’m quoting what they told me. That’s professional fights… when I was first on the scene. I lost an amateur fight and that was not counted.”
“The fight scenes themselves – fighting in a pool, fighting in an ice rink, fighting with cars all circled around – those all came from me talking to Sheldon Lettich.”
Frank’s mention of Lettich shifted conversation to the creation of BLOODSPORT, Frank’s brief career as a fight choreographer in Hollywood and what would become a broken relationship with Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Frank was friends with Lettich, writer of BLOODSPORT and subsequent writer-director of LIONHEART.
“Sheldon wanted to show that he could write and have a career in Hollywood. In order to do that he needed something published. So he decided to make a 16mm short, a 20-minute film called FIREFIGHT. He asked me to put up money which I did. We got it made and he was in the office of an editing studio, cutting it, and met (producer) Mark DiSalle. Mark confided that he wanted to do a movie on martial arts but he could not get interest. He remembered the story about me in Black Belt magazine and about the [Kumite]. He started discussing this with Sheldon. Sheldon said, ‘I know Frank Dux. He is here in my film.’”
Soon after, Frank met with DiSalle and shared his story. DiSalle commissioned Lettich to write the movie and they moved forward shortly thereafter, managing to get the movie done.
Frank went on to explain why he never appeared on film with Van Damme. “I did all of the fight choreography in BLOODSPORT. Van Damme was trained in Shotokan (karate) and ballet but he did not fight like me and I had to train him. I have to give Jean-Claude credit. He really did a fantastic job compared to what he had to work with. You have to remember this was a small-budget film. The uniform you see Jean-Claude wearing, that was my stuff. They had originally got him a bunch of silk pajamas and sowed the crotches shut. What’s interesting is that he never allowed me to appear in the film. My kicks were quicker. They did not want me to outshine him and I was told that specifically.”
What drove a wedge between Frank and Van Damme was the actor’s first self-directed film. Like BLOODSPORT, the film was to be based on the life of Frank Dux and was originally to be called THE KUMITE. Yet when a deal involving the original script fell apart, Van Damme rewrote Frank’s story, shot it and released it under the new title, THE QUEST. Released in 1996, the film became a box office flop that only exasperated Van Damme’s already troubled career that had begun its downward spiral with the box officer disaster that was STREET FIGHTER.
Due to a decision made by the Writers Guild of America, Frank received none of the box office take from THE QUEST, only a credit for writing the story. In response, Frank filed a suit against Van Damme, one that he ultimately lost. Frank claimed the trial was unfair and cited instances of perjury. Regardless, this episode was a turning point for both men. It not only ended their relationship, it marked the end of Frank’s involvement with Hollywood and proved that despite having creative control, Van Damme couldn’t rescue his own career from a slide into direct-to-video oblivion.
In recalling the fallout from their rift, Frank essentially took credit for making Van Damme. “His career tanked. I was really the driving force behind his career. He’s a fantastic performer but without being told what to do or given the right words… I wrote a lot of his material and never got credit for it. Without me there telling him what to say and what to do, his career went into the toilet.”
According to Frank, Van Damme has tried to make contact with him in recent months in an effort to gain his participation on a new movie. (It’s been rumored that Van Damme has been trying to get a new tournament film off the ground.)
Frank’s fallout with Van Damme isn’t the only controversy the martial artist has faced. Over the years, Frank’s involvement in ninjitsu has caused many to question his credibility. I asked him why all of these “internet ninjas” attack his reputation. “There’s a lot of people who engage in what’s called trade libel and they want to have everybody in the world feeling like they are the only legitimate martial artist of that ilk. Anyone with knowledge in that area, they attack them. It’s like one guy saying, ‘I’m the last Indian and all of these other Indian nations are full of shit. I’m the only real one.’”
Frank described a great deal of confusion that he was involved in during the ’80s ninja movie boom. He shared stories of his school being broken into several times. A guy who knew about the incident was run down by a car. Another man had his hand cut off on his front porch.
“This is like a cult that went crazy. There was so much garbage going on in that ninja boom with guys running around like they were real ninjas. It was insane. I’d find grown men running around in my backyard in ninja outfits. This is prior to BLOODSPORT.”
When you consider that BLOODSPORT was a low-budget film and that THE KUMITE was never created, it’s fair to say that Frank’s story has yet to be told. It’s an intriguing story that includes a shadowy military background, involvement with an underground fighting society and a personal story of perseverance
The Reunion - June 2012
After many years the long awaited reunion finally took place. Shidoshi Frank Dux, one of my first martial arts instructors, came to Israel. Luck was on our side and he showed up just in name for Day Two of our
Tour and Train
Shidoshi Frank stayed in my home as an honored guest and joined us for a week of training and touring. Teacher and student were reunited.
We covered many aspects of Krav Maga and Shidoshi Frank immediately saw the practically of our training. After all these years it was wonderful to receive such an endorsement.
We toured the Judean Desert, Masada and the Dead Sea. We spent a day at the Caliber 3 training camp where the Krav Maga and shooting instructors were overjoyed to welcome their childhood hero. Shidoshi was also able to learn from the Israeli experts and humbly thanked them for their teaching.
Shidoshi Frank displayed both martial arts and combat expertise alongside great humility and kindness.
Frank Dux with IKI instructors Israel
Frank Dux explaining IKI gun disarms to students, Israel 2012