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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

"When the boy reached 16 years of age, Tanaka brought him to Japan, to the legendary Ninja land of Masuda," Dux said in a manuscript he and an associate wrote about the Ninja and Dux's role as the modern heir of a great line of black-robed fighters. "There, the boy's outstanding abilities shocked and pleased the Ninja community when he tested for the right to call himself Ninja."

Pressed in an interview for details, Dux said he did not know where Tanaka's family is and said he is not even sure if Tanaka is dead or alive. The manuscript states that Dux's teacher was found dead on July 30, 1975, and was buried by a Ninja clan in California.

No trace of Tanaka could be found in historical texts or from independent martial arts experts. California state death records show no Tanaka dying on July 30 of any year in the '70s. Told of the findings, Dux said the man was living under an assumed name.

Shoto Tanemura, a Japanese who is one of a select group of recognized Ninja masters in the world, said in an interview in Los Angeles last week that he had never heard of Dux or Tanaka. "There is not Mr. Tanaka in Japanese history" of the Ninja families, Tanemura said.

Well-Known Master

Tanemura, who was interviewed over tea at a meeting with American martial arts instructors, said the nickname Tiger was used by a well-known master in Japan, who is dead. "Many crazy guys stand up as Ninja masters," Tanemura said.

That is not to say that the Tanaka name has no meaning. Millions of Americans were first introduced to Tiger Tanaka in the Ian Fleming novel "You Only Live Twice," in which Agent 007 befriends a Japanese agent by that name.

"Ian Fleming used to base his characters on real people," Dux explained.

Dux said it was Tanaka's dying wish that his student go to the Kumite--an invitational tournament without rules--being held in Nassau, Bahamas, to choose the world's champion hand-to-hand warrior.

Dux claims he became the first Westerner to win the championship, decided every five years, setting world records, including most consecutive knockouts (56) and fastest punch with knockout (0.12 of a second).

'Nobody Understood It'

"I discovered my own way, my own method, my own style," Dux said. "Nobody had ever seen it before. Nobody understood it."

Few martial arts experts seem to believe the story. "I don't think anyone in the world can do that," Curtis Wong, editor of Inside Kung Fu magazine, said of the knockout streak.

Jim Coleman, the editor at Black Belt Magazine in Burbank, said the movie is built "on false premises and poorly acted. From what we can ascertain, there never has been a competition like this."

"It's a nice story," said Chuck Cory, a Kung Fu instructor in Burbank, but he said he does not believe it.

"We have no recollection of such a tournament," said Kenneth Wilson, a spokesman for the Ministry of Sports in the Bahamas. Told that the tournament was a secret, he said: "We would know. No, never. It can't happen."

Dux said his critics are part of a conspiracy to discredit him involving a Moriarty-like archenemy half a continent away.

"They're all in this melodrama," he said of a roster of critics.

The enemy Dux refers to is Stephen Hayes, regarded by many as the best-known Ninja trainer in the country. Dux said Hayes perceives him as a threat and, as a result, he or his agents have tried to undermine him in California martial arts circles.

Hayes, the author of several books who lives in Ohio, denies that. Hayes also said he has taken steps to protect himself against threats from both coasts.

"There's quite an extensive security system that operates around me," Hayes said.

A brochure for Dux's ninjitsu schools lists him as "one of the most decorated veterans of the Southeast Asian conflict."

Visitors to his home were shown newspaper articles about him, including an editorial titled "A Silent Hero" that Dux said he clipped from the Washington Star. Told later that the newspaper's archives have no clippings about him, Dux said he could not remember the source of the editorial.

The piece quotes from a commanding officer's diary:

"We're hungry. We're tired. We're all out of ammo. We all might go mad if not for a spunky kid named Duke for short." The diary describes Dux crawling through a mine field to rescue an Asian baby that he later turned over to a Taoist priest.

"When we almost gave up, the Duke, by himself, charged the gun. The next thing you know, the Duke was behind the gun, cutting the enemy to pieces. He must have killed a hundred . . . at least. He turned defeat into victory."

'Flighty Ideas'

The story evaporates upon inspection, according to military records. The Marine Corps said that Dux served from 1975 to 1981 and that there is no indication he ever left the United States.

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