That Kung Fu Guy

By Gene Ching

Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine September October 2010 Some people smile with their mouth. Others smile with their eyes. Master Dennis Brown smiles with his whole being. It's a special kung fu skill - the art of the smile - the tool of politicians and preachers. A persuasive smile can be used for good or evil. A smile can conceal a dagger. Brown's smile is an expression of his unabashed love of kung fu.

The US Capitol Classics & China Open
At the China Open, another stage parent complains to Master Brown, "My eight-year-old must compete on a regulation wushu rug!" He flashes his pearly whites and sets out to smooth ruffled feathers and make things right. The stage parents are the worst. They just don't know what a privilege it is to be able to compete with Chinese styles at an American national event, a privilege earned for them by Master Brown. Back in the day, he couldn't even dream of competing on a competition wushu rug, as Brown's competitive career precedes such things by decades. Today, Brown parlayed his charming grin into becoming one of the nation's foremost tournament promoters. His flagship event, the US Capitol Classics, has been running for nearly three decades. Sponsored by the North American Sports Karate Association (NASKA), the Classics is an annual open tournament held in Washington DC.

Some see it as a contradiction for a kung fu guy to host an open karate tournament. "After 28 years of building this Capitol Classics up, someone came to me and said 'Why didn't you do this and build a kung fu tournament? Why did you go to an open tournament?'" says Brown. "Well, you have to understand the times." When Brown started out, he had to claw and scratch his way into the national circuits to get them to take him seriously. Why? Because he was a kung fu guy.

"There a lot of good Chinese stylists now and four or five years ago we decided, let's start the China Open," says Brown. The Classics already stage competitions for a unique showcase of martial arts beyond NASKA. There's Sport Jujitsu, Breaking, Extreme Tricking and even Kung Fu Hip Hop. But the China Open, which focuses strictly on Chinese traditional and modern styles, is nearest and dearest to Brown's heart. "I'm not going to throw away 28 years of doing this, but I think I learned a lot about promoting events. I've learned a lot about marketing and promoting tournaments. I think we could run a really good Chinese tournament so we changed it to the Capitol Classics - China Open, which is a separate tournament. We're starting to build that which is really gratifying for me because I run the Capitol Classics all weekend, Friday and Saturday and I have 1500 competitors. But I really love on Sunday when we have the China Open and we have a couple 100 competitors. Even if its 115-120, this is great because it's what I enjoy doing. It's been that kind of journey for me - back and forth - one foot in two worlds."

Chinatown Brown
As a teenager, Brown weighed in at about 120. He first fell in love with kung fu because, as Yoda says, "Size matters not." Brown explains, "Even in karate, it still came down to heavyweights and lightweights. It's yang. I felt I was still in that situation where I was never going to be the biggest guy in the room. I can overcome guys with strength and going straight ahead and driving force, but what if he knows karate too?"

During Brown's early days, kung fu wasn't even in the American lexicon. Fortune smiled and he found an underground kung fu class - truly underground - held in the basement of an elementary school. "They didn't even call it kung fu then. I think it was just Chinese martial arts. I think they called in quanfa (literally 'fist method') or something like that. I didn't know what it meant, just that it was Chinese. I had been studying Korean and stuff. Japanese styles were big then also. But what I noticed was that it was fluid and it played to my body style, to my build. I always liked to dance. I like to move. I liked the whole idea of the flow. We had this little guy, Jimmy Yee, that I thought was just the smoothest guy. Even the biggest guys would come at him and he'd drop under them and he would move. And I think in that first class, I kind of fell in love with kung fu."

This was long before you could google up vids on YouTube. Kung fu resources were slim back then. So Brown and his classmates would make a four-hour trek every weekend to New York City to do research. Those study pilgrimages weren't to the library, as there were no books on kung fu. They didn't go to the video store either, as home video systems weren't invented yet. They all climbed in Brown's beat-up old Volkswagon to go to Chinatown and watch movies. "They had five theaters up there, the Canal, the Sumsing, the Bowery, and they all showed double features on the weekends - kung fu movies. We'd go up, watch all ten of them, drive back late at night - I'd drive back, the rest of them would be asleep - and the rest of the week we'd just practice the stuff that we saw in the movies."

Historians of American martial arts will cite the blaxploitation genre as a significant period in the spread of the kung fu Diaspora. In the '70s, blaxploitation kung fu stars like Jim Kelly (ENTER THE DRAGON, 1973 and BLACK SAMURAI, 1977) and Tamara Dobson (CLEOPATRA JONES, 1973 & 1975) had a profound effect on African American culture which can still be felt in hip hop and rap. Brown was part of the avante garde for that movement. Film had a tremendous impact on Brown that set him on his lifelong warrior's journey. "I liked the culture of it. I liked the story of it. I just thought kung fu wasn't just about fighting. I think even then I knew I wanted to be more than just a fighter. I wanted to live the art. I wanted to get into something that I felt I could be a part of. I never walked around trying to look, you know, with the long skirt and the thing down the side. Other guys in my day did. Everybody was straightening their hair, especially the black guys, and they would tie little ponies. Me, I never did. I just always liked the culture and I liked everything about kung fu." Brown kicked around with that elementary basement group for many years until the '60s ended. He decided to train with Jhoon Rhee, considered the Father of American Taekwondo, but soon left him when his true master showed up. "I ran into Lin Shiquan - his name is Willy Lin."

Traditional Kung Fu Made in Taiwan
Grandmaster Willy Lin was one of the first kung fu teachers in America. He emigrated from Taiwan in 1970 and opened his school shortly after. Lin is the inheritor of T'ien Shan P'ai (heaven mountain sect) and a direct student of Wang Jueh Jin, one of Chang Kaishek's top military instructors. Brown remembers Lin's school when he first started there. "Even then, he was running the school called 'Lin's Karate.' Nobody knew what kung fu was. But in little letters down the side, he had a thing in the window that said kung fu and tai chi. I slid in and said, 'I'm willing to join Lin's Karate but. . . '" Lin was teaching a version of Tracy's karate, but Brown focused on the kung fu. "I knew clearly then that I didn't want to do the other stuff they were teaching and I started training with him. And within a year, I quit my good government job and said, 'I'm just going to train at the school full time.' And 40 years later, I'm still at the school training."

Unlike the other local kung fu schools, Lin opened up way outside of Chinatown in Washington DC proper itself. And Lin taught to non-Chinese, which was also against the grain back then. "It was kind of crazy because he didn't have anybody in the school that was Chinese, I think until Christopher Pei joined." Despite his racial openness, Lin was still old school, especially when it came to teaching. Training wasn't open for public viewing like today's strip mall schools. "Every one of the schools we opened up with Mr. Lin, the first thing we did was build a ceiling-to-floor wall all the way across the front so you couldn't see in. It was that situation where you didn't come behind the wall. I don't care if you were a spouse or a mother - there weren't very many kids then but - you didn't' come around that wall. If I was there teaching and someone pulled the curtain back, the whole class would stop. I don't know what we were hiding then, what secrets we had, but it was a closed environment in that sense."

That "members only" atmosphere made the students more appreciative of the teachings. It inspired them to train harder. "We said, 'Whatever he teaches me, I'm going to work that to death,' because that was it. The instructor would always say to us, 'You can pay your little $40-50 a month - that just allows you to join the school. You can't pay me to teach you. You don't have enough money for me to teach you my system. That is your membership fee.' So you understood that you had to work real hard if you wanted him to teach you something. When he taught you something, if you were going to learn anything else, you had to really impress him. So whenever you saw him in the room, you'd just burn your form. You'd work your weapon. He'd leave the room and you'd go, 'I hope he saw me so he'll teach me the next step and the next step.'

"We had this saying in the school - I don't remember if he gave it to us or whether we kind of just figured it out: 'You can hope but you cannot request.' That is, you don't ever go up and ask the shifu to teach you the next this or the next that. I remember as a chief instructor telling a student once, because he had gone up and asked. He saw shifu come through the room and he ran over and asked him if he could teach him something, and he kind of just blew him off and sent him back to me. He said, 'Well, when do you think he's going to teach me?' 'That particular form? You? Never.' He said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'Because you went up and asked. You can hope but you cannot request. You can't ask him to teach you something. Don't you think he's watching you? If he thought you were ready, he would have taught you.' That was the atmosphere we grew up in. It was a very traditional kind of school."

A Kung Fu Guy Where There Was No Kung Fu
"People remember the end of my career when I was the premiere guy in my local area and in the top ten in the ratings for nationals." That was the mid '80s when the competitive circuit was dominated by Californians: Anthony Chan, George Chung and Cynthia Rothrock. That period was filled with Brown's triumphs, but it wasn't always so. "No, you don't remember the first five or ten years. I'd go to open tournaments and they'd look at me like I was crazy. I'd be there in these pajamas, number one. . . A guy at Howard University told me once, 'Do you know where you are?' Back then, they weren't even wearing kung fu uniforms."

A kung fu guy was looked on like some kind of freak. Brown was oppressed due to anti-Chinese prejudice. "Have you ever run a really good form and heard the whole crowd screaming and looked over and the judges are holding up zeroes? Have you ever gone to New York and the judges - all karate - get up and turn their back and the timekeeper said, 'You have to leave'? And I'd show back up the next week and the next week because what I knew then that I was there to show kung fu. I believed in kung fu."

But Brown wasn't just a forms competitor. He liked to fight too. "I had done the full contact fights. My big career fight for me was fighting Paul Vizzio." Just as MMA questions the practicality of kung fu today, karatekas posed the same challenge back then. "Back in those days, people thought we were dancers. 'They're pretty, they make a good movie, but when it's time to fight, you need to get in karate.' And my guys, we were there to show them. . . I've been to the West Coast. Those schools have been fighting for years. I've been to New York. I've seen good kung fu schools. They just don't go out. The kung fu schools that are really strong and can really fight, you don't know anything about them. They don't come to this stuff. I was different. I wanted to shut them up. I wanted to go out and I wanted to compete. I wanted to perform. I wanted to fight. And I was always about, 'Let's show them.' My guys used to go out and knock people out.

"So the early part of my career was humiliating, but I was out there. And I remember when it started to turn, when all of a sudden it got to the point when I'd come in and they'd say, 'Oh, that kung fu guy. That guy's good!' Until the end of it when I felt I had to quit because there's no real kung fu guys competing, and if I just walk in, if I don't do anything real bad, more than likely I'm going to win, because they just know. And so it became less of a thrill."

One of the Guys Who Brought Back Wushu
By the '80s, Brown had amassed an impressive record after competing steadily for nearly a decade. He began to wonder what was next. Where was the next frontier? Then in 1982 he was invited to go to China. It was one of the very first large tour groups to go to China for martial arts. On tour with him was Eric Chen, Robin Shou, Cindy Meng and others. "I knew nothing about wushu. Everybody was from California except me. These guys are already into wushu. . . I'm running like a dog just to try and get caught up with this. I'm always a little bit behind it. My career has always been like that."

China and wushu were eye-openers. The tour group started in Anhui at the National Championships. "I sat in the stands for ten days. And we watched that competition and we saw the best that they had in China competing at a level that I had never seen. Can you imagine that the first time you go to China and you get thrown into that kind of competition - a national level competition? And these guys - I just thought they were magic. Nobody can jump this high. Nobody had seen butterfly twists and all that kind of stuff. They were just so quick and sharp. And I'm looking at this going, 'What have I been doing? This is crazy.'"

From there, the group travelled to Nanjing to train. "It was like taking a sandlot team and putting them in with the Superbowl champions or something. They put us on the same floor with these guys and I remember just being overwhelmed thinking, 'My God. Who will ever get this chance?' And then, unlike what they do now, they looked at us and said, 'What do you want to learn?' If I wanted to learn staff, they brought in the champion from the team to teach you, not just some side instructor. So we got a chance to work with the top. The guy who had just won the broadsword competition at Anhui was teaching us broadsword. Their top staff guy was teaching us cudgel. The guy that taught me rope dart - wow, this guy was just amazing. There was no secrets, no secret that they wouldn't teach you. The only secret was they'll teach you anything if you can learn it. I tell people that means, 'If you can't learn it, don't ask me.' If you physically can do it and you have the ability, I'll teach you. But if they're not teaching you it's because you can't do it. There was no secret stuff going on. It was just great, great training.

"I came back with a whole different feeling for martial arts period, specifically the kung fu. All the grandmasters that were walking around and claiming they were great this and great that, I looked at them differently thinking I've seen people in China that you couldn't carry their shoes. It's not just the professional team that we were training with. We got a chance to go out into the streets and in the parks and see all the old guys walking around the trees doing bagua. And you could not help but look at that and come back and see the guys that were faking it and go, 'Hey guys, let me tell you something, there's stuff out there that you haven't even seen.'"

Today, thousands of martial artists go to China for training, but China has changed so much since Brown's first trip. "I don't know that anybody will ever see China the way we saw it. . . It was just post-Mao so everybody still had the green hats on. You had green, blue and grey. That was it. The whole country was green, blue and grey. On Sundays, they wore the white shirts and the blue pants. That's it."

Brown continued to make regular trips to China to train. He visited Shaolin Temple before the tourists came in, back when it was just a temple in the mountains. He visited the birthplace of tai chi, Chen Village, long before there were any martial arts facilities there. Over the years, Brown kept returning because he wanted to absorb as much as he could while it lasted. He vividly remembers when he first saw Kentucky Fried Chicken outside Tiananmen Square. "I went, 'Awwww. Okay, it's over. It's growing up. It's changing.'"

Today, in the wake of China's spectacular Beijing Olympics and Shanghai World Expo, it's hard to imagine a land filled with ox carts, bicycles and Mao jackets. "I'm happy that the country is growing up and blowing up because, hey, as much as I love seeing that, they deserve to have the same life that everyone else has - the same technology and all that. But a part of me says, 'Wow, that was a time that most people see in the movies, but they'll never ever get a chance to see that China. A lot of the youngsters in China that are growing up now will never get a chance to see the China that we saw. Walking through villages way away from Beijing and small towns, that was all part of the training."

That first trip changed the course of Brown's warrior journey. "The mayor of DC declared 'Dennis Brown Day' because I was the first constituent to ever go to mainland China. There must have been 700 counsel people (who) met me at my kung fu school - blew my school up for another decade. Put me right in the limelight." The attention even got him a movie deal.

The Dancing Warrior
Brown confesses, "I'm one of those guys that was always lucky, you know, 'Ready, shoot, aim.' Stuff great would happen to me and I'd find out later it was great. I went to China on a whim, found out later we were one of the first groups to go in. I didn't realize how great until years later." His film deal was like that too. Brown was contacted by a person involved with the Sumsing Theater in NY's Chinatown. He had heard Brown was the first African American to study kung fu in mainland China. Brown had no idea. "Okay, that's cool," he thought. "I'm the first! In February, I'll get to do lectures: You could be the first at something (laughs). But I don't know that it was any big thing. I just knew I was way over my head trying to keep up with everybody." Through that connection, Brown was cast in THE DANCING WARRIOR, a kung fu film being filmed in Hong Kong and Taiwan. "So there I found myself in Taiwan. They met me at the airplane with the full thing of cameras. And this old guy - I didn't know who he was - named Chang Cheh met me at the airport and took me to the press conference. He was sitting there with his arm around me saying, 'This is my new find,' and the whole nine yards."

For those unfamiliar with kung fu film lore, Chang Cheh was a maverick of the industry. He was the man behind the ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN and FIVE DEADLY VENOMS franchises and the top director of Shaw Brother studios during their golden period. Chang directed nearly a hundred films. Directors John Woo, Yuen Woo-Ping and Quentin Tarantino all confess deep admiration for Chang's legacy.

After the warm reception, Brown was left alone in a hotel for ten days. He called back to America and said, "I think they dropped me off and forgot me." The complaint got back to Chang, who told some of the other actors to hang out with Brown. "Whenever you go anywhere, take him along." His newly-assigned friend was none other than Lu Feng, one of the Venoms crew. "Lu Feng and those guys, they took me everywhere. We had a ball. We rode those little scooters everywhere. They had put me on the cover of a bunch of entertainment magazines in Taiwan, talking about the upcoming movie. I'm seeing myself on the stands. We get on an elevator and people are staring at me. It's not China. This is Taiwan. This is kind of strange because, in Taiwan, they're used to seeing us over here. That's a whole other story. I felt like Michael Jackson, like, 'Wow, what is that?' But I'm in Taiwan. So I'm going to reach to sign an autograph and I realize they're not looking at me. They're looking at Lu Feng and these other guys. Girls are falling out. And these are the guys who were put on me to take me around to places and show me stuff, so I'm feeling kind of like, hey, I got these guys to take care of me. 'So are you guys kind of famous or something?' 'Yeah, we've done some movies.' They took me to the theater that night and we're sitting there. And they did a little opening and we got a little corn on the cob. We're sitting there enjoying the movie and all of sudden I see him go flying across."

When he finally got to film, it was another challenge for Brown. "I'd shoot a scene, they would say, 'Do it again, do it again'. I'd do it like two times and they would say, 'Cut!' 'I just got it!' The two choreographers would go, 'I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this,' and they'd work it out right there. Then they'd look at me and say, 'You got it?' They would show it to me once or twice, and if I didn't get it, they would look at me like, 'Amateur!' I'm thinking, 'But I only did it twice.' I'm used to learning a fighting set over here and you get to do it for a year before you have to perform it on stage. They do it twice. 'You just did a 15-move fight scene and I'm supposed to get it and do it full speed?' I finally learned how to do it. You just have to be really totally focused. But I felt really stupid for a bit.

"But it wasn't until years later that I was looking at something and realized who Chang Cheh was. I didn't know who he was. I didn't know what a presence he was, what an honor it was to have done a movie with him. When he died, I went on the web and read the stuff about him, and it turned out the movie we did with him, they said was one of the first European movies he did. I think meant non-Chinese movies. As much as I enjoyed the two months and making it and all that - I didn't want to come home - I didn't really appreciate who he was until years later and people started telling me about this guy. He was like a pioneer with the Shaw Brothers for a while. He first got this whole Chinese movie thing going. I look back at that and I tell my wife, I got to put that on my resume in bold type now because I just said I went over and did a movie. I don't think I even mentioned his name."

The Kung Fu Guy Goes Wushu
While he hasn't yet credited Chang Cheh, Brown has been credited as a pioneer of wushu. Once again, he found himself with one foot in two worlds. "I remember being at a tournament and somebody asked me, 'Do you consider yourself a kung fu guy or a wushu guy?'" says Brown. "There were the wushu people and there were the kung fu people. Again, I'm walking the line because I came from a very traditional background in kung fu. My instructor was from Taiwan. Taiwan, Hong Kong was kung fu, if you will." Traditionalists felt threatened by this new crowd-pleasing style and were annoyed that it was ineffective in combat. Brown felt as if he was being asked to choose between the two. "For me, it was never any of that. It was all about Chinese martial arts. I just love Chinese martial arts. I thought all of it was amazing. I enjoyed being a practitioner. I didn't see a conflict between it, to be honest with you."

For a traditionalist, Brown was very open-minded about wushu. "I looked at it as kung fu - as we define it, is a fighting art. It's self defense. Wushu that we were learning, the competition teams, they were performing teams. It was a performance group. And I didn't see where that conflicted with what we did because it came from what we did - it was a performance of our kung fu - anymore than I would hate looking at Chinese opera, the Monkey King or something, and say, 'I don't want to look at that stuff.' It's dance, but it has its root in kung fu. So why can't I study if I'm a kung fu stylist and also want to learn wushu, the beautiful performing arts? They never claimed that they were great fighters or anything. They were performers. And so in a performance competition, they would probably win, but not always. If there was traditional type of competition, they would win. Now if it came to fighting, the kung fu guys, I'm going to put my money on them because that's what they're into. But I never saw why there was conflict between the two and you had to pick one or the other.

"I've always seen it all as one big part of the whole - no more than someone says, 'I'm a kung fu school. We can't study tai chi.' Wait a minute. It's all the same to me. A total martial artist should learn all of it. You can learn internal arts, you can learn kung fu. You can learn weapons. You can learn wushu. You can do all parts of it. That's what for me made the Chinese systems so inviting. It made it never-ending. There's always some more. When you think you know it all, you go and you see these guys doing butterfly twists and you realize that's from kung fu. How can you fight with a butterfly twist? Okay. Maybe it's a basic move. I've been around long enough that if you give me any movement - roll your head - and I can show you use that to apply, to make it a strike. Another crazy thing - I don't believe there's offensive and defensive movements. Kung fu is just movement. You can learn any movement. I can just have you wave your hands like that and I'll show you how you can turn that into a block or show you an instance where you can use that - wax on, wax off - we're martial artists. We're masters of movement."

Six Decades of Martial Arts in America
Master Brown is part of America's Baby Boomer generation. He believes that the growth of martial arts in our country has followed the Baby Boomers. It's an enticing point of view, especially when it comes to his predictions. Brown categorizes America's martial arts history into decade-long fads, starting with the '50s. "When I was a young kid, I remember everybody did judo," remembers Brown. "Maybe it's because the soldiers brought it back from the war. I don't care if you kick, punch or whatever, it was judo and if you didn't do judo, forget about it."

After WWII came the Korean conflict. "A lot of Koreans started showing up and grandmaster Jhoon Rhee hit the United States." Rhee actually arrived in the '50s, but his impact was felt during the '60s. He is regarded as the Father of American Taekwondo and opened up right in Brown's area, Washington D.C. "We were in kung fu, but we were very aware that we were in a taekwondo town. This was a decade of taekwondo. If you think back of all the great stars - the tang soo do and the Korean era, Chuck Norris - it was their time."

"We had our time in the '70s. That was the time of Bruce Lee, David Carradine and Curtis Mayfield singing, 'Everybody was kung fu fighting.'" Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest became grindhouses churning out countless kung fu films that trickled into America's B-film theaters. But America always moves on.

Brown saw the '80s bring a new wave of martial arts. "It moved on to what I like to call the ninja style. Even the Japanese schools weren't Japanese anymore. Everybody was ninja. It was AMERICAN NINJA. It was Ninja Turtles - anything that had to do with ninjitsu. It was a big time. We were in kung fu and we realized, 'Wow. It's the time of ninja.'

"The '90s rolled around and, to be truthful with you, we had been back from China - we went over in 82 and we thought the '90s was going to be the decade of wushu. America is just going to fall in love with wushu and that's just going to be it. But we got usurped by Tae Bo. Everybody was kickboxing or Tae Bo or whatever you call it, but every school in America, every gym, was into Tae Bo-ing. And even the most traditional schools had Tae Bo schools, and we thought that was the way of the future. But again following the 10-year change, every decade America seems to move on to something else."

We're still in the first decade of the new millennium, and the current wave is obvious. "Let's just face it, MMA, the grappling, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu, have owned this decade. From 2000 on, even before then, it started coming in, but it has owned this decade." In Brown's eyes, MMA isn't about the Baby Boomers anymore. It's the product of the generation that followed the Baby Boomers: Gen X. With their penchant for the extreme, MMA fits Gen X as perfectly as a pair of baggy pants. "I know that everybody likes to think that that's going to be it forever now - there will never be another art like MMA. But those of us who are old enough to remember, to watch the change, we know that America moves on. The slang that I used, 'Can you dig it?' and all that stuff, my kids would never use it. Not that there's anything wrong with it, it's just that my father's generation loved that. The other generation loved that. I think every generation wants its own new thing, whether they change their clothes - we can't wear bell bottoms, we can't wear this, they're always going to move on. I think that this generation has moved on to different things as they've gotten older and they will move on to the next thing. Not to say that MMA won't be as big as it ever was, because taekwondo is still huge. It's still in the Olympics and all that. Kung fu is still big. People are coming over from China and they're learning. All those arts - judo, every art that we named, even kickboxing, you still can go to gyms and see it. They don't disappear. But when I say that they 'own the decade,' I think that the generation moves on and looks for something different."

The Next Decade
So what will the next decade bring? Brown thinks it'll be more cerebral. "They're looking for the internal arts. They're looking at the Chinese culture and saying, 'We're ready for that.' We had to evolve in to it. As the first generation of American martial artists, I don't know that we were truly ready for all of the internal arts of martial arts. We kind of knew you should meditate - close your eyes - before you fight. We were fond of showing somebody up on a mountain doing his tai chi in slow motion because that showed we were deep. But we weren't really ready for the internal arts.

"We didn't really understand qigong. It was still kind of spooky to us. I remember in the early days people were still a little leery about coming in and studying tai chi with us. Does it go against my religion? We hear that that's Daoist. Is it Buddhist? What philosophy are you teaching my kids? Well, we've kind of gotten over that. We realize that there's the philosophy and there's religion and you can learn the philosophy without having to change your religion. You can if you want.

"So I think that we had to grow up mentally to become ready for internal arts that were coming from the east, specifically the arts coming out of China. That is my prediction. I think in the next decade we're going to see a turn towards internal, and that's not to say that any of the other arts are going to disappear. But I think America is ready for it. The baby boomers are getting older. We're looking for something that will keep us in the martial arts, keep us healthy. We're ready to stop just talking about martial arts as mentally, physically and spiritually keeping you strong. We want to actually get that spiritual, that mental side of it.

"A lot of schools have that in their motto: mental, physical and spiritual. But when you get into the school, you just fight and do forms. When do we get to that part I see at the Shaolin Temple in movies? I'm thinking as I get to the next belt, eventually we're going to get to that part where the old master is sitting there and he's teaching you the philosophy. And it never comes. I think kung fu schools - the good ones - are uniquely positioned to be there for that. I know my teacher made us do fighting. He made us do forms. He made us do weapons. We had to do all of it. But he also always made us understand the value of the strength of the internal arts - tai chi.

"I'd like to say that I loved it my whole life. I studied tai chi in the early days in the '70s because Mr. Lin made me. I just wanted to do my forms and spar and do weapons. But he insisted that you had to be a total martial artist. I now call it 360 degrees of martial arts. I don't want kung fu students. I don't want black belts or black sashes per se. I still believe I'm trying to train students for life. I'm trying to teach people to be martial arts for life - to live the arts - not just train people who can fight better. 360 degrees - you have to learn the internal and the external. You should be able to fight with weapons as well as open hand, long weapons as well as short. You have to understand nutrition to keep your body straight.

"A true master has to master the other arts also. You have to be well read. All my seniors have to read the ART OF WAR and be well-versed in it. We teach it in the class. But I also make them read the 47 RONIN. I make them read the BOOK OF FIVE RINGS. I tell them I don't want illiterate kung fu students. That is like if you can speak the language but you can't read and write. Who cares? You're still illiterate. You can fight but you can't sit down and have an intelligent conversation about martial arts. You're illiterate. So I tell them to start reading as youngsters. We prescribe books for them to read. Why do we have to study that? I can tell you more about tang soo do then most tang soo do people. I can talk to you about sumo and I'll never do sumo. I know about bando."

Martial Arts as a Way of Life
"Some would walk in my school and say to me, 'You know, I used to be a martial artist.' I say 'No, you weren't.'" To Brown, true martial arts is a way of life. "I'm a martial artist for life. I'm a kung fu stylist for life. I think that if you are ever a martial artist you will always be that. If you're not now, you never were. You were just somebody who saw a movie, enjoyed it, dabbled in it for a few years and moved on to something else. Those of us who have dedicated our lives to it, we have stayed in it through all the changes. . .

"All the changes that have been martial arts in America, all the changes that have been in the Chinese system when it was quanfa or guoshu (national art, an old Taiwanese term for Chinese martial arts) or kung fu or wushu, I really don't care what it's called. I just enjoy the whole life that I've been blessed to live. I will be a kung fu guy forever. I'll still be driving to New York to watch kung fu movies, I guess. . .

"I just want to be an old guy sitting on my porch one day, and as the young guys come by laughing at me, and I want to be able to look at them and say, 'You know what? I've seen some things.'"

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KFTC Sep/Oct 2010

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Written by Gene Ching for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM

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