In the mid-1980s, screenwriter Sheldon Lettich, who was gaining increasing fame in the profession, was introduced by his friend Richard Bender to a certain Frank Dux, a martial arts instructor who told him some interesting stories. One of them was his participation in a secret tournament called Kumite organised every five years by the International Fighting Arts Association (IFAA). The story was also confirmed by Bender. To back up his words, Dux showed a paper from the trade magazine Black Belt. The newspaper pointed out at the beginning that it had only been able to verify some of the facts, but there were enough of them to consider the story worthy of publication. According to Dux, the secret tournament involves fighters from all over the world, fighting in a full-contact format. Each fighter fought 20 bouts a day – 10 in the morning and 10 in the afternoon. This was made possible by the relatively fast fights, which were expected to last an average of 30 seconds. The fights took place three at a time (thanks to weight class divisions), right up to the final. The difficulty level increased. At first, the fights were carried out on a large mat, then on a smaller one, and finally, on the last day, on the roof of a building. The defeated opponent had to leave the tournament the same day. The competition lasted three days and determined the ultimate winner – the best fighter in the world. This tournament was won by Frank Dux.
Dux claims that he owes both the invitation and victory in the tournament to his master, Senzo Tanaka. It was he who was said to have trained Dux in the martial art known as Koga Yamabushi Ninjutsu from childhood. Tanaka himself was to win a Kumite tournament in his youth. To be admitted to the Kumite, one had to be a member of the IFAA, and the organization’s envoys would test the prospective fighter’s skills before sending an invitation. For an article in Black Belt, Dux posed with a large trophy received for his victory and boasted of having acquired a ritual sword. He also told Lettich about his experiences in Vietnam, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor, and mentioned his work for the CIA. Sheldon was not interested in Dux’s war experiences, as he himself was a Vietnam War veteran, but he was very interested in the story of the secret tournament. He wrote a script based on it, which was bought out by Cannon Films, the legendary b-grade action film studio. The film was an incredible success, earning $65 million worldwide on a microscopic budget of 2.3 million, and made van Damme an action movie star. However, the success caught the attention of many. The words “the movie was based on true events” and Frank’s impressive record shown at the end of the movie were of particular interest to viewers.
Now let’s check Frank’s claims.
Kumite is a secret martial arts tournament held every five years. The only people who confirm its existence are Frank himself and those around him. The aforementioned Richard Bender, who not only confirmed Dux’s claims but even claimed to have seen the tournament with his own eyes, later recanted everything. According to his words, Frank was supposed to have persuaded him to lie. It is also hard to find any trace of the IFAA organization that Frank refers to. In his words, the organization is not secret but “does not seek publicity.” Anyway, in the 1980s, the organization was supposed to have been disbanded. Interestingly, a journalistic investigation revealed that such an organization had actually been registered in the states for some time and its official address was… Frank Dux’s home address. The man himself explained that his victory in the tournament was intended to show the IFAA’s management the prowess of the Americans and that Dux was thus to be appointed the organization’s unofficial spokesman in order to recruit more fighters from the United States. Another inaccuracy is the organization’s websites with that name. One is poorly made. The other website is a little better, under which we can find information about the organization, its history and members. The problem is that the gallery mostly hangs pictures of Frank and another very famous martial arts “expert” – Count Dante. More on him later.
According to an article in Black Belt magazine, each athlete had 10 fights in the morning and 10 in the afternoon. This means that there must have been at least 20 other fighters in addition to Dux. However, the same article also mentions a weight division, so the number must have at least doubled, if not tripled. An additional rule was that the defeated player had to leave the tournament grounds, the same day. Therefore, if on the second day, a fighter was fighting 20 fights again, there had to be even more competitors. How many are we talking about? 100, 200? In addition, there are the team members (coaches, medics) and the audience. Then there was the technical staff – the fights were to be recorded by 16 special cameras, which had to be operated by specialists in such matters. From a logistical point of view, this is a very big event. All the things involved, such as accommodation, catering, put into question the secrecy of such a tournament. Finally, we come to the financial side. It would have to cost a fortune to organize such an event. Where would an organization unknown to anyone get the funds to do this? Dux claims to have been misunderstood. There were to be 20 competitors and they were to fight each other one by one. That is, each fighter had to face the 19 remaining opponents. This explanation makes the case look even more absurd. Leaving aside even the bizarre structure of such a tournament (how do fighters get eliminated?) there remains the question of knockouts. Frank claims to have knocked out 56 opponents in a row in one tournament. How could he have done that if he was winning the tournament after beating the other 19? Well, unless his opponents didn’t care about such trifles as losing consciousness, they just got up and kept fighting. Given that the same people also fought each other (each had 10 fights in the morning and 10 in the evening), this meant that the average fighter was knocked out several times a day(!). Who would want to watch a fight with a frazzled person on the verge of falling into a coma?
Frank posed for a magazine with a large trophy as a prize for winning Kumite tournament. However, journalists discovered that the trophy had been ordered by Frank himself from a specialist souvenir and trophy shop. This shop is located just a few miles from where Dux lives. An invoice issued in the name of the “winner” was also revealed. The person concerned denied everything, claiming that anyone with access to a photocopier could have fabricated such a document.
Even more interesting is the case of ritual bushido sword that Frank received for winning the tournament. Dux claimed that with its help he had ransomed kidnapped orphans from the pirates. According to his version, while in the Bahamas, he stumbled upon the trail of a pirate shaykh trafficking children. Frank allegedly ransomed one of the orphans, giving up his sword in return.
No military documents confirm Frank’s presence abroad in the United States. Dux served in the military, but was never on any missions. A framed newspaper article praising his heroic service can be found in Dux’s apartment, but this newspaper does not have an article with such content in its archives. An investigation by an LA Times journalist revealed that Dux was only injured once during his military service – when he fell off a truck while painting it. Even more interesting is the story behind the Medal of Honor, the US military’s highest decoration. Dux was never able to present it, but as proof he would show friends a photo of him posing with a completely different medal. In 1998, the book Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History was published by B.G. Burkett, in which he focuses on imposters claiming military credit. Its author, exercising his right of access to public information, was able to gain insight into Frank’s file. It showed that Dux had never been to Vietnam and that he was not on the list of elite Medal of Honor winners. Frank responded by stating that his career in the CIA was classified and that an ordinary person, exercising his right to public information, was unable to obtain the relevant documents. The whole affair ended up in a lawsuit, which Frank brought against not the publisher of the book, but the trade magazine Soldier of Fortune. Why them? Because the magazine had published a review of Burkett’s book, praising it, and some reflections on the likelihood of Frank’s military career. Dux lost the trial.
One other unexplained issue is the duration of Frank’s service. According to Dux’s documents, he enlisted in the army in 1975 at the age of 18, while US troops had already withdrawn from Vietnam in 1972. Frank countered by claiming that he had performed some intelligence-related missions, although not in Vietnam but somewhere in the local area (the exact location cannot be given for reasons of official secrecy) and not during the war but after it ended. Dux’s unit mate does not recall him receiving any medals, as he had nothing to show for it. The medals were also alluded to by screenwriter Lettich, who confronted Dux with the facts, to which he denied mentioning any medal. Finally, it is worth noting that Dux’s official military papers mention mythomania.
Dux claims to have completed covert missions for the CIA between 1981 and 1987 under Director William Casey. He described these events in detail in his 1996 memoir The Secret Man: An American Warrior’s Uncensored Story (in the same book, Dux is credited with launching the MMA). Dux claims he was brought into the agency because Casey (CIA director) suspected a mole in it. Below is a direct quote from the interview with Dux.
The agency did and still does have counterespionage operatives – but Casey didn’t know exactly who he could trust. And when you’re dealing with problems at this level, and working within normal channels, information frequently leaks to the press or becomes public knowledge. Casey wanted to avoid that at all costs. In situations where things got really dirty and nasty, my job was to seek the truth. Once I discovered it I had authority to dispense justice as I saw fit. I was essentially acting as judge, jury and executioner.
Master Senzo Tanaka
Dux claims that he was taught to fight by Japanese master Senzo “Tiger” Tanaka. However, there has never been any Japanese associated with ninjitsu in the United States by that name. Nor are there any historical records of the Tanaka clan. Neither are any martial arts people familiar with him, including one of America’s most famous ninjitsu experts, Stephen K. Hayes.
Dux countered the allegations by claiming that his master was dead, but he was unable to provide the location of a grave, nor did he know anything about the Tanaka family’s subsequent fate. The persistent journalist searched the official death records for the period given by Frank and could not find even one person in California with that name who died during the period mentioned. Confronted once again, Dux said that Tanaka was not a real name, but a nickname, and that he would not give his real name. However, the journalist admitted that he had come across a lead. He told Frank that he had only found one person with the name Tiger Tanaka. It turned out that he was referring to the character Tiger Tanaka from the film “You Only Live Twice” Frank’s response to this was that his master had probably met Ian Fleming (the creator of the Bond character) and that’s where he got the idea for the name of the head of Japanese intelligence.
In 2017, a new twist to the story came to light. Frank Dux found evidence of Senzo Tanaka’s existence. He found not only a death certificate, but also a document issued to immigrants coming to the United States. Unfortunately, we won’t find out much from these documents, as they don’t show any other data, so a person who could have lived anywhere in the United States is involved. Well, and it doesn’t explain why Frank didn’t know anything about his master or his family living with him.
Process with JCVD
In 1998, Frank Dux sued JCVD. It was about an unrealized joint project called Kumite. The two men had been friends since Bloodsport, and Dux had even dated the Belgian star’s sister-in-law. In the first half of the 1990s, Dux and van Damme worked together on a script for a movie called Kumite. Unfortunately, the company producing this film, went bust. Van Damme abandoned the project and began filming his directorial debut, The Quest. Dux decided that The Quest was a mere reworking of their joint project and demanded a fee and inclusion in the credits. The case went to court. Dux claimed that he had a verbal agreement, with JCVD. Their conversation on the subject was supposed to have been secretly recorded on a cassette tape, unfortunately the recording was destroyed in the earthquake. However, the defence called Dux’s neighbor as a witness, who testified that Frank’s house suffered no damage during the aforementioned earthquake. Dux lost the trial.
After the success of Enter the Dragon, martial arts schools sprang up like mushrooms in the 1970s. By the 1980s, the market was already saturated. Some “masters,” in order to attract more customers to their schools, tweaked their resumes a bit. Such a person was a certain Count Dante, calling himself, “the most dangerous man on earth.” It was he who invented the Dim-Mak (the touch of death – i.e. killing an opponent with one blow), later copied by Frank. Dante also published a comic strip showcasing his adventures and extraordinary skills. Like Frank, he created among his friends a lot of legends about himself. This brought him great fame and clients. By creating fictional stories about himself, Dux probably wanted to replicate Dante’s success. His links to Count Dante, for example, can be seen from the above-mentioned photos on the IFAA website, and from certain recurring terms thrown around by both men (Dim-Mak, Black Dragon Society, etc.).