Before Ninja Turtles and Jackie Chan dazzled audiences with fancy footwork and artful agility, there was Bruce Lee in action movies and Kung Fu on the tube.
But even before those action heroes, there was Jhoon Rhee. Mention Jhoon Rhee to anyone who grew up in the Washington DC area in the 60’s and they’ll immediately respond “Nobody bothers me!” Jhoon Rhee, the Korean immigrant who taught Tao Kwon Do to congressmen in the Rayburn gym, brought the concept of self defense through martial arts to the nation’s capital in the late 50’s. His popular radio and television spots made him a local icon long before karate and other disciplines were regarded as sports.
Dennis Brown grew up in Washington, D.C., graduating from Eastern High. Although his first introduction to martial arts was a summer program at Howard University, he studied for years with Jhoon Rhee on his way to designation as a master of his craft and regular in Hollywood productions.
A cultural exchange with China gave Brown the opportunity to travel and train there in 1982. Realizing the Washington, D.C. area had a plethora of talent and great appreciation for the many disciplines of martial arts, he decided to organize an international competition. The first Capitol Classics was held at his alma mater, Eastern High School.
From there, the event has grown to one of the most prestigious martial arts tournaments in the world. The US Capitol Classics/China Open has earned the coveted NASKA 6A rating, and is sanctioned by the Amateur Athletics Union (AAU), Point MMA, China Open, USBA/WBA and other competitive organizations. It is also a qualifying event for Junior Olympics.
Master Brown, a resident of Bowie, wanted to bring the Classics to Prince George’s County. However, the continued growth and popularity of the two day event made it too large for any local venue.
When the Gaylord National Resort opened at National Harbor, it was a natural fit. The beautiful riverfront with its sweeping views of Washington and Alexandria was an attraction in itself. According to Master Brown, participants in international competitions have voted it their favorite venue. (“And that was before the Ferris wheel,” he noted.)
The 32nd Capitol Classics/China Open will be held July 31-August 1 at Gaylord’s, where it now fills two ballrooms. With all allotted rooms sold out, attendance is likely to top 4,000.
Competitors will come from more than 20 countries. They will be of all ages, practicing every discipline of martial arts. For the first time, Capital Classics will be part of an ESPN sponsored, year-long world tour that culminates in Orlando, Florida.
Capitol Classics is a family fun event — whether that family is yours, or the tight knit martial arts community. It has become a Washington-area tradition and one of the many reasons to visit National Harbor.