Bai-si (拜師) quite literally translates to “begging for mentorship”. It involves a very special and specific kind of tea ceremony in Chinese tradition. Perhaps it’s the most important ceremony for a disciple that the consumption of tea symbolizes mutual loyalty and trust. The disciple pledges to learn everything the master teaches and to maintain the integrity of the taught system. The master pledges to pass on one-hundred percent of their knowledge to their disciple without holding anything back. Ultimately, the value in bai-si is to create an everlasting legacy.
Grandmaster Willy Lin was a pioneer of tien-shan-pai (天山派) known for introducing the martial art from northwestern China to Taiwan and then to the United States. In a bai-si tea ceremony on August 13th, 2007. Grandmaster Willy Lin bestowed a symbolic cup of tea to Dennis Brown, his student of over forty years to drink wholeheartedly. And he accepted full responsibility for passing along the tutelage of tien shan pai to future generations. In my opinion, this was the most significant event of Grandmaster Brown’s still-continuing career. For not only did it symbolize the legacy of tien-shan-pai, but managed to do so through the symbiosis of two very different people.
I suppose critics could claim that the reason Grandmaster Lin sought to popularize martial arts in the United States is because running successful martial arts schools is profitable, especially during the 1960s and 70s when the transnational diaspora of kung-fu action films proliferated across the silver screens of western markets, forever woven into the fabric of the American culture industry. This was and is mostly definitely still true in some cases. Hence the terms “McDojo” and “bullshido,” but not likely so in this case. I think Grandmaster Lin is seriously down with Dennis Brown, and so are others.
In 1982, Dennis Brown became the first African-American invited to study and train in mainland China. As an official tour, it included Eric Chen and Robin Shou, long before the commercialization of tourist-trap martial arts facilities. Whereas before, his martial arts career was fueled by pride and making a name for himself through sanctioned competitions. He gained a new sense of pious purpose after his odyssey to China.
Soon after he returned, the Chinese Embassy named Grandmaster Brown the Official Consultant of Wu-shu for the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Washington D.C. He stopped competing, and founded the U.S. Capitol Classics. He started it at a local high school gymnasium and it has become one of the most prestigious martial arts tournaments in the world. It is still running strong today. His long list of achievements combined with his continued work with youth and “character development” as he aptly puts it, led to the former Mayor of D.C., Marion Barry, to proclaim September 11 as “Dennis Brown Day” in 1982.
Even after all these years, Grandmaster Brown continues to stand by and fight in the name of tradition. He quitted a stable government job within a year of first training with Grandmaster Lin in 1970. Then he decided he would train full-time and devote his life to martial arts. Forty years later, he still trained and taught alongside his Grandmaster until accepting heirship to his tien-shan-pai system.
Currently, he runs three successful wu-shu schools in the greater metropolitan area focusing on both tien-shan-pai and Shaolin styles. From a family of poverty and humble beginnings, Grandmaster Brown has grown to become one of the most inspirational martial artists of our time. He helps new generations discover that, even in a postmodern world dominated by ground-and-pound spectacles, tradition matters more than ever.