By Frank Parlato;
For nearly 30 years critics have disputed martial arts legend, Frank W. Dux’s claim that he was taught as a boy by an elderly and mysterious Japanese martial arts master named Senzo ‘Tiger’ Tanaka.
An 1988 LA Times story – which came out shortly after the movie Bloodsport became a surprise hit in theaters – all but called Dux a liar, claiming the only known Senzo ‘Tiger’ Tanaka they or their martial arts expert sources could find was a character of the same name in Ian Fleming’s novel “You Only Live Twice.”
The movie Bloodsport depicts Dux, played by Jean Claude Van Damme, as a martial arts hero, and there are scenes in it where an elderly Japanese teacher guides young Dux into the spirit of martial arts and its code of honor. These were dramatized scenes, taken in part from Dux’s early days with his mentor, and teacher, Senzo Tanaka, Dux claimed.
The LA Times reported in their (May 1, 1988 Ninja: Hero or Master Fake) story that “No trace of Tanaka could be found in historical texts or from independent martial arts experts” and added that the Times didn’t find any record of Tanaka’s death in California during the 1970’s based on a limited search criteria.
Artvoice, having the advantage of internet records unavailable at the time of the Times article, has uncovered that a one Senzo Tanaka evidently did live and died in California.
His death is evidenced by this link:
Below is a screen shot:
In addition to this, another document shows Senzo Tanaka came to the USA.
It can be seen at https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-G5GV-YDX?mode=g&i=139&cc=1916078
Below is a screen shot:
Senzo Tanaka traveled with his wife, Sae.
He was a farmer and came from Kumamoto which is in the island of Kyushu, Japan.
It is a place steeped in martial arts.
Kumamoto is where Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s legendary samurai warrior, spent his final years and wrote his world-renowned book on martial arts, “The Book of Five Rings” [ca. 1640]. In Kumamoto, Mushashi also refined his Niten Ichiryu swordfighting which utilizes two swords against an opponent. Martial arts students in Kumamoto still practice Niten Ichiryu.
Also in Kumamato is Kumamoto Castle, one of Japan’s National historical sites, where many battles and the gathering of the samurai clans were part of this castle’s fighting history.
According to Dux, his teacher, who he identified as a man named Senzo Tanaka, taught him a martial arts style called Koka Yamabushi Ryu Ninjustsu.
Ironically, there is, and was, a strong presence of the Yamabushi in the region all around Kumomoto.
In not too distant Nagasaki, Japan, there is a surviving Tanaka clan member, Emiko Tanaka, who still teaches ninjutsu.
The Senzo Tanaka whose records Artvoice found, listed his occupation as a farmer.
Kumamoto is ironically the home of the “Farmer Samurai” where farmers function historically as protectors of society. In other parts of Japan, the Samurai and the farmer are distinct by class, but in Kumamoto, alone, farmers were often Samurai.
Much of this came from the fate of the island. There was a Chinese immigration after the fall of the T’ang Dynasty, and Korean and Mongolian invasions. Samurai became farmers. When the government became in their minds too oppressive, the otherwise peaceful farmers would leave their fields and revolt with martial force. There were farmers’ uprisings in Kumomoto, the most famous being the Shimabara Rebellion.
Additional records show that Senzo Tanaka traveled to Hawaii in 1906 with a one Shigigie Tanaka, who was a known member of the Tanaka clan who brought Koga-ryu ha Kurokawa Ninjutsu to Brazil.
Tanaka registered for the draft at age 53, after the United States entered World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, most likely to prove he had renounced allegiance to the Emperor of Japan.
At present we know little of Senzo Tanaka by the records.
He was born on 19 December 1888; he died September, 1975. at 87 years old.
In the familysearch’s death record the zip code, partly redacted, lists XX723 as the place of his death.
That may be 90723, a zip code in Los Angeles County, California.
Dux said he met a Senzo Tanaka around 1969 in Los Angeles.
Dux said Tanaka was old man but remarkably lucid and physically able to teach.
The Senzo Tanaka of the records would have been 79 or 80 when he met the teenager Dux.
There have been notable octogenarians among the legendary martial arts teachers of Japan.
Could this Senzo Tanaka whose records exist be the same Senzo Tanaka that critics said Dux made up, or stole from Ian Fleming, for the last 30 years?
There are students of Japanese espionage and martial arts who offer an interesting twist on the ‘Dux stole Tanaka from Ian Fleming’ theory.
According to ninjutsu authority Rev. Dr. Christopher J. Bashaw, PhD, archives of the Imperial War Museum, Japan, (遊就館 The Yūshūkan) and the noted historian Richard Deacon, author of ‘A History of Chinese Secret Service,’ ‘A History of British Secret Service, and ‘Kempai Tai,’ there was a Senzo Tanaka, who was a ninjutsu expert, who came from Japan, lived in Manchuria and China for a time, and became a Kempai Tai agent operating in 1930’s in England.
Ian Fleming was acting Deputy Director of MI5 (counter‐intelligence) when he purportedly encountered Tanaka.
It is known that Fleming, author of the James Bond books, wrote from his experiences in counter intelligence and that he would fashion characters in novels after people who had inspired him in real life.
The theory offered is that Fleming learned of the Ninja warriors. [It is said that Senzo Tanaka, in the early 1900’s, was a champion of “the Kumite” hosted by the Genyosha “Black Ocean” and Kokuryukai “Black Dragon Society”.]
Fleming was to create a Ninja spymaster character in his book “You Only Live Twice” who he called Senzo Tiger Tanaka. The book was published in 1964.
A few years later, Senzo Tanaka met a boy named Frank Dux who he would train to become a champion- like he was himself- of the Kumite. Dux said he won the championship in 1975. The year of Tanaka’s death being the year that the mantle was passed..
A fable? But who can say that any or all of it couldn’t have happened.
It is a stunning fable if it did and the mystery only adds to the legend of martial arts hero, Frank Dux.