John Lennon once said that the ‘60s gave us a glimpse of the possibilities that we all had. For Grand Master Dennis Brown, one of the possibilities that he did not foresee was the tremendous growth that martial arts had in America.
In the basement of a little gym at Benjamin Banneker Middle School, Brown and a small group of guys began practicing martial arts in 1965. Brown recollected at the time when martial arts were virtually non-existent in the country.
After earning his black belt, Brown began competing in the national circuit where he became a top-three ranked fighter in the country. When China began opening up and sending athletes to compete in America in the 70s, he became one of first five Americans (also the first African-American) in 1982 to be sent over to Mainland China to train and study the sport at the Shaolin Temple.
As the official consultant of Wu-Shu for the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, (named by the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C.) it was after eight years of competing when he began to realize that some of the toughest competition we had was in the Maryland area.
“The only reason that some of these great fighters in the area were not known is because they couldn’t afford to get on that circuit, [considering] traveling expenses and no sponsorships,” said Brown.
It was then in the early 1980s when he decided to stop competing and launched the first U.S. Capitol Classics at a local area high school. Brown had a vision that it was going to become a major event.
“I went back to my alma mater and we had about 500 people, but immediately it became the biggest tournament in the area – right in that gym,” Brown recollected.
Sure enough, all the top fighters and forms began showing up and by only the third year, he upgraded from the local high school to the Washington Convention Center; his event received a national rating after that transition.
Over the course of the years, Brown has held the event at various venues including the Patriot Center, JW Marriot, and Crystal Gateway Marriot.
It wasn’t until somebody asked him, “Don’t you live in Maryland? Aren’t all your schools in Maryland? So why don’t you hold it in Maryland?” Around four years ago, somebody told him about the brand new facility, the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. Since moving the event to Prince George’s County, the event size doubled and skyrocketed in exposure.
“You got to see this facility he’s holding his tournament in,” when Brown realized that this is the place people wanted to come to.
What separates Brown’s tournament from the other three major tournaments in the country is how it’s run.
“There’s 4 at this size; One in Disney, Minnesota, Los Angeles, then us. They all get a couple hundred thousand in sponsorship money. We do this (My wife and I) from our kitchen from about $15,000,” – Brown states.
From the scene at the event, it was evident how well it was operated. Throughout the convention center, there were approximately 30-40 rings running at one time throughout the two-day event. Helping to keep everything moving were the 150+ workers including timekeepers, scorekeepers and judges. “Everybody you see working are all volunteers because they want to see this event in the area,” said Brown.
Out of the 365 days of the year, Brown spends 363 of them traveling a lot and attending about 50 tournaments a year to make this happen. As the joyful and proud Brown talked about the future of the tournament and the sport, he believes there will be a day that every person will study martial arts.
“We’re not in the fighting business, I believe through martial arts that we’re in the character development business. I believe in China, that’s what it was always about: making better people, making better warriors, more disciplined people,” Brown says.
Brown has been training in Martial Arts for 48 years, claiming he will never retire. However, with the Dennis Brown Shaolin Wu-Shu Academy in two locations including Lanham (Prince George’s County) and Silver Spring (Montgomery County), Brown will be able to teach kids to be more disciplined.
This year’s event saw teams travel from across the globe including Israel and the Caribbean. Looking ahead to next year’s classics,
Brown already has commitments from South African teams, a huge team from Beijing, among many more he anticipates. “We don’t know everyone that’s coming in next year yet, but we know that it has turned international now,”
“We have a unique thing we can do through Martial Arts, as through any arts of sport, it has opened up a lot of doors for us in China; and we want to use it and use what we learned there to bring it back home and make changes in our community,” Brown said.
Despite the long hours of preparing and running the main event that ended close to midnight, he hopped on a plane 9 hours later with a group of kids from his Prince George’s County school to train martial arts at the Shaolin Temple in Beijing. Brown continues to give those kids the same opportunity he had growing up; use what he learned from training at the Temple for the possibility of bringing it home to make changes in the community.