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NINJA: Hero or Master Fake? : Others Kick Holes in Fabled Past of Woodland Hills Martial Arts Teacher

May 01, 1988|JOHN JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

It's Friday night at the drive-in. As the pale-skinned hero of the season's hot new martial-arts flick snaps the bones of the Asian archvillain, the Winnetka 6 erupts in honking horns and flashing headlights.

The movie that has the big-wheeled pickups beeping is "Bloodsport." Advertised as the true story of an American who defeated all comers 13 years ago in a no-holds-barred international tournament of warriors, the movie opened last month at 800 U.S. theaters after successful exposure on the West Coast.

The film is the latest and most widely spread chapter in the improbable story of Frank Dux of Woodland Hills. It chronicles his training by a Japanese master warrior named Tiger and his eventual victory in the hush-hush competition in the Bahamas. And it lends credence to, although does not mention, other aspects of his romantic tales of warfare and adventure. His covert mission in Southeast Asia. His secret Medal of Honor. His battle against Philippine pirates to rescue a boatload of orphans.

Macho Fantasy

Dux, a powerfully built 6-footer who operates martial arts schools in Woodland Hills and North Hollywood, has told the story over the years to students and martial arts magazines. It's splendid stuff, obviously the stuff that movies are made of--and critics say it is about as real as the average macho fantasy.

Military records show that Dux never ventured closer to Southeast Asia than San Diego. His only known war injury occurred when he fell off a truck he was painting in the motor pool.

Dux's trophy from the Bahamas event was at least partially made in the San Fernando Valley, the trophy maker said. The ceremonial sword he won in the fights was sold, Dux said, in a failed attempt to buy freedom for the Philippine orphans.

Dux argues that his claims are difficult to prove or disprove because of the secrecy surrounding both his military record and the clandestine tournament. He said his life story can be verified by a few witnesses who say they saw the blood-gushing fight in the Bahamas and received top secret messages from him while he was in the military.

The real story of Frank Dux, say many who know him, is one of a bright but undistinguished young man who, using cleverness and chutzpah, re-created himself as a super-hero a decade ago, painstakingly authenticating his new persona with military medals, trophies and newspaper clippings of questionable origins.

Through the years, his story has flourished amid the hazy braggadocio of the American martial arts industry, a field peculiarly vulnerable to fakery, according to several experts.

"Anybody can buy a $4 black belt and set himself up," said Chad Minge, a martial arts instructor in the Valley.

As martial arts rose to new heights of interest in the United States in the 1970s, so did the competition to recruit students. Many instructors found that an exaggerated resume could increase revenue. The exaggerations led to hard feelings among other martial artists, and occasional threats.

"Paranoia abounds in the field," said David Weiss, editor of Ninja magazine in New York. "Most Ninja people I go out with won't sit with their back to the door." Most, however, "can't fight their way out of a paper bag."

Dux's magnetic character and legitimate martial arts skills drew students to his schools and propelled him into the spotlight. Armed and looking as dangerous as he always claimed to be, he appeared in national martial arts magazines, showed a network television audience how he taught martial arts to a cerebral palsy victim and impressed Sylvester Stallone with his kick-boxing.

Dux's version of his life story portrays him as a nerdy child in North Hollywood, the older of two sons of an immigrant European Jewish family. His father, Alfred, fought against the Nazis and would "play games with me to expand my awareness," Dux said. "Sometimes he would throw things at me unexpectedly to improve my reflexes," Dux was quoted as saying in a June, 1982, article in the Los Angeles Valley College magazine, Crown.

But young Frank was still a "joke" in the neighborhood when he said he was taken under the wing of a Japanese expatriate, who trained him in the ways of the ancient Ninja, the warrior class that arose in feudal Japan in the rural, mountainous Koga and Iga regions. Ninjitsu is the art of self-protection adopted by the Ninja, an art that so successfully taught hit-and-run attacks that the Ninja developed reputations as invisible warriors.

'Kinship Like No Other'

"We developed a kinship like no other," Dux said of his relationship with his "world-famous" teacher, Senzo (Tiger) Tanaka, who Dux said was the descendant of a warrior line 40 generations long.

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