Sunday, January 4, 2009

John Bracy's Forty-Years Of Martial Arts



I had a very nice E-mail from John Bracy the other day, asking me to check out his website "Chiarts.com", at THIS LINK.
As you can see in the video above, Bracy is a skilled practitioner and instructor. He also has a new DVD on Internal Power available, and I hope to review it soon.
My first introduction to Bracy was through his book "Bagua- Hidden Knowledge In The Taoist Internal Martial Art". I really found this book to be helpful in both historical aspects as well as a good overview of Chinese Internal Arts.
From February 2007, here is my review of "Bagua" by John Bracy and Liu Xing-Han:

Taoism And The Martial Arts
I'd like to suggest anyone interested in the history of martial arts to get a hold of a copy of John Bracy and Liu Xing-Han's book, "Bagua: Hidden Knowledge In The Taoist Internal Martial Art".
Books that show technique are great, but the innovation of video has surpassed the book in that area. Books that describe the philosophy, motivation, conflicts, successes and goals of the ancient masters is where we learn the universal truths about our art. This unique book includes both.
Bracy describes in this book how the Taoists, mountain recluses with a history dating back to 500 B.C. influenced the Chinese intellectuals in 1800's China, and a new form of art was born.
In ancient times, warriors were often unkempt and crude, and looked upon with disdain by the upper class. In early studies, the Taoists were, like other alchemists, in search of the elixer of life. That external search became modified into a view that the human body was a microcosm of the universe, and internal yogic alchemy, or "Nei Tan" was practiced. The elixer of life, and rightly so, was believed to be achieved within ones own body. For many centuries in remote areas Taoists practiced this goal, and began to weave the martial skills necessary for survival in with their yogic health traditions, alchemy and mysticism.
It was in the chaotic times approaching 1900 that the intellectuals, generally Confucianist bureaucrats, realized that the "State" could no longer protect them and began to form secret societies and practice the martial arts. The deep analytical systemic thought of the Confucianists blended with the Taoist Yogic martial arts, (after all, why practice a mundane soldiers battlefield art?) and the clans of the upper class began a new level of martial study. It was at this time that the first publications about the internal arts began to emerge.
Communism cast a sooty grey pall over the continent for several generations, and in the late 1970's China was again "open for business". Martial arts had been supressed by the authoritarian government, many masters had been killed through the various conflicts, and many of the ancient skills were nearly lost. Bracy suggests in his book that "Although there are some exceptions, a comprehensively trained, true senior master living in mainland China today must have achieved base proficenicy before 1937".
In some ways, I believe it may at times be necessary to "re-invent the wheel". In our world today, we have more information available than at any other time in history. Our culture is not restrained any longer by narrow fundementalist thought and people are open to paths of enlightenment and deep introspective research.
With these tools in hand, I trust we will keep the old traditions alive and integrate them with new ideas, and our new "wheel" will be better than it ever was.
Bracy's book is widely published and available on Amazon.

Books and videos by John Bracy can be found at THIS LINK.

17 comments:

Scott said...

That kind of history is just embarrassing. What Upper Class are we talking about? You mean people who passed the exams? Late Ching Dynasty elites had an existential need to study gongfu? How? I could just as easily make an opposite argument.
Warriors? Which warriors? The ones that took slaves and did divination with their enemy's intestines? Dirty? Are we talking about dirty virtue or bathing habits?
Sure, there is a relationship between jindan and Baguazhang, but the same is true for jindan and painting...it doesn't tell us much about either.
You can do better.

Dojo Rat said...

Scott:
What the fu*k are you talking about. Get civil or get lost.

Patrick Parker said...

That was a pretty cool video - and a pretty good response to Scott's rant.

Scott said...

Hey, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be mean or rude.
I was just hoping to provoke you to be more accurate and specific about history. From what I've studied of Chinese history I wasn't able to make sense of your post. Your ideas are just too mixed up.
But hey, I know history is my religion, and I long ago accepted that most people aren't interested in being converted.
Part of the problem is martial arts writing often gets its history word of mouth from Mainland Chinese who have rather advanced cases of historic amnesia.
I still enjoy your blog.

Dojo Rat said...

I refer you not only to Bracy's Bagua book but also Douglas Wile "Lost Tai Chi Classics From The Late Ching Dynasty"

Scott said...

Hi Dojo Rat,
I don't have Douglas Wile's book but I do have a more recient 45 page essay by him called "Taijiquan and Daoism" in "The Journal of Asian Martial Arts." Brashly summarize all 45 pages, he says what I just said, that nearly everything written about the origins of Chinese Martial arts in 20th Century China is unreliable.
Just to take one of your points to task, I have trouble imagining any sort of Chinese urban elite (land owning, monetary, military, government appointed, or ethnic) deciding to put in the time and effort to create a new martial art when they could have gone out and bought a Colt 45. Not that there were guns everywhere, but if the government was indeed weak, I'm sure they could have picked one up in less time than it would have taken to create a new art.
Remember a minimum of 20 million people died in the Taiping Rebellion (Civil War) which was still being fought into the 1870's, they had guns.
http://www.ospreypublishing.com/store/The-Taiping-Rebellion-1851%E2%80%9366_9781855323469/

also check out taipingrebelion.com
-regards

Dojo Rat said...

Scott;
If the article in JAMA is as you describe then Wile has completely reversed his well documented position in "The Lost Classics", which describe in detail from the original Chinese how many elite families studied Martial Arts in the 19th century.

JAB said...

Rat
Scott has a solid point. The majority of the "historical" info out there on CMA is nothing more then pure speculation.

On a different note.....
I am surprised no one has mentioned anything.....
You may not want to associate yourself on any level with Bracy. He is a convicted pedophile, and sexual predator. Regardless of his skill in martial arts (which IMO is nothing more than some Kenpo applied to the IMA) this is not a person you want to be associated with on any level bro. It will sully your reputation, and ultimately drag down the CMA (which are not exactly doing great as is).
Best to not even agknowledge the guy!

Jake

Wayne said...

Hi folks. I came on this blog and need to chime in.

I am a former student of John's and have some personal insight on this to offer.

First off, John is originally a student and teacher of Kenpo Karate. At least half of his 40 years of experience up into the mid 1980's were strictly his form of Kenpo that he called Kuan Chuan Fa and taught in Tustin. This was an amazing school, and Sifu Bracy was a highly skilled teacher that I benefited a great deal from. However, there were many problems in the school too.

John was very charismatic, which made his students seek his general approval. He unfairly used this by favoring students with means, or from families with means, with extra attention. He also taught that his art, which was admittedly a mixture of internalized Kenpo, Chin Na, mediation, and sticking hands sensitivity training, had Taoist influences from the Chinese upper class, and that we were then better than practitioners of other forms of martial arts that were used by peasants. I.e., Kuan Chuan Fa was a high class martial art. I thought it was self serving arrogance, but I do think that what was taught as Kuan Chuan Fa was an amazingly effective martial art. That speaks volumes about John Bracy as a martial artist.

John also interfered in and controlled the lives of many of his students to the point where many of us felt it was like being in a cult.

Although we already did a lot of internal energy training, John started to become more interested in the classic internal arts as students that had studied Tai Chi became his students. These students started teaching this for John's school as a way of offering more classes, and making more $$.

To the best of my knowledge, John's first exposure to Pa Kua, or Hsing I Chuan, was in books I had bought, but didn't understand. I first showed them, and then loaned them, to John, but ever got them back. Amazingly, when I asked for them, he claimed no memory of ever having been loaned those books. I left the school shortly thereafter (1984), and never returned.

I can see now that John must have found that these soft style internal arts all dovetailed into the way he had been teaching his Kenpo, which was to never muscle it, and use leverage, technique, breathing, and chi.

Even before I left, John was making inroads to be accredited with Chinese martial arts organizations because of how the lineage factor is a strong selling point on the quality of a school to potential students. The problem with that approach is that it misleads the reader of his background into thinking that this person has been a direct student of some Chinese master where he gained his MA knowledge, which is not the case. However, John probably has done some training with these folks over the years.

On a more personal note, many of us thought that John was either gay or bisexual. At one point I thought he was interested in me personally as more than a student or friend because of some calls he made to me, but I never knew of any in appropriate contact or touching.

Shortly after I left the school, I read about accusations having been levied at him about in appropriate touching of child students. I can see how that could have happened innocently considering the amount of acupressure type touching that went on the meditation classes. I have since heard that he was convicted of a sexual offense. Not exactly surprised, but it is sad because, even though I could never recommend him or his school, I know he is an extremely talented and dedicated martial artist, and a highly effective MAs teacher. I respect his dedication, and abilities, in spite of his personal failings. Keep in mind that he is just a flawed human being like the rest of us, and one that I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.

One final point is that I find his website to be dishonest in it’s portrayal of him as a 40 yr practitioner of internal martial arts like Pa Kua and Hsing I. While John has a long history in martial arts, at least half of that was strictly his form of Kenpo without Tai Chi, Pa Kua and Hsing I Chuan. His website mentions nothing about his background in Kenpo, and his training in Garden Grove under Sifu Rebrasin (phonetically correct if not spelled correctly). Instead it suggests that John is in a direct lineage from masters back in China. This distortion of history is essentially lying to the public, which is a common trait of narcissists.

Haz said...

I am also a former student of John Bracy's. He is definitely a talented martial artist, but the personal issues that Jab and Wayne bring up are accurate.

Mark said...

Recently I visit your blog and got some useful information regarding martial arts supplies.Your blog is a very good source for martial arts equipment and other type of arts and am agree with your thoughts that's Martial art is one of the best ways for self defense and can be learnt very easily. Once you know the Techniques involved in Martial Art you will be able to protect yourself from any danger.

Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I am a former student of John Bracy's and can attest that what Wayne and Jab bring up is accurate with respect to relations with students. I knew him to have trained in Kenpo, but he did not reveal to myself or fellow students the extent to which his background was compromised of kenpo.

Ultimately as I saw it, John's use of one-on-one training for sexual contact and favorable treatment of cooperative students contributed about the closing of his school in Costa Mesa. Also, nobody I knew there was aware of the police reports of the earlier child abuse, and when they came to light, that in combination with his approach to selecting sexually cooperative students for higher quality training resulted in the closing of the Costa Mesa school. In the end there was just too much deception on his part for things to continue.

In my mind there is no requirement for a martial arts master to rise above one's own humanity, but honesty and fairness are requisite for the standing.

Anonymous said...

My background is tai chi (CMC and Wu style) with some dabbling in Hsing-I and Bagua, after years of hard style karate.

I understand the criticisms of Bracy,and understand why someone might be reluctant to patronize him. But on the same token I bought the 30 day subscriptions to some of his videos. I thought they were very helpful and after a short time I was able to use much of what he taught.

Anonymous said...

All I know is my experience with Sifu Bracy. I only visited the Costa Mesa school for level promotions. I studied with him and about 4 to 5 other students in LA, at a tennis court and near Dodger Standium. I have 32 yrs. of study, with such Sifu as Shi Ching Wang, Jimmy Woo and Duke Y L Cheung. Sifu Bracy was absolutely exceptional and a teacher and his Bagua and TaiChi skill was fantastic. I studied with him in the early 1990's and took some private lessons as well. Let me put it this way, when I started studying with Master Wang, all-China free fighting champion and forms champion in 1984 and 1985, he was blown away by things I knew and could do, structure-wise and energy-wise. I am not going to say that others with direct, first-hand problems with Sifu Bracy are wrong. However, even with people who studied a short time with him, there can be a lot of BS and old fashioned gossip and rumor about people, especially great people. There are complete trolls, people who never put in the years of dedicated study, who love to talk shit.. but who are completely inept losers in the arts.From CC Chen in NYC, to Danny Inosanto in Torrance, I've studied with the best. I can truly say that not only did Sifu Bracy show me lots of photos from when he LIVED and studied in China for 12 yrs., but none of my other Sifus have had the knowledge of body structure and the invading and defeating an opponent's structure as he did. Not even close. In closing, maybe the charge WAS true that he plead to (the others were obviously BS, or the DA would have charged him with them). But do you remember the McMartin Preeschool trial, where the mother and son molested numerous little kids? It was all BS after all... they were found to be 100% innocent... yet, all those kids were sure that they had been messed with..............

babysteps said...

I know this man, he tried to coerce me into sexual contact. While talented. He's most certainly gay and a molester.

Dyspeptic said...

I too was a student of John Bracy for 4 years in the mid 1980's at the Tustin dojo. I studied his Kuan Chuan Fa system as well as Tai Chi, Ba Gua, Ching I and various traditional forms of Chinese medicine. For the first year (1984?) he was quite active and taught many classes personally, but eventually he seemed to reduce his involvement in most classes and focused on private lessons for good looking kids from wealthy families. This change followed several incidents where he displayed uncontrolled rage which included punching holes in dojo walls and actually striking an instructor/student out of anger and frustration. He also got into a financial dispute with the mother of one of his favorite students, whom he dated for a short period and had lent money to. He placed the responsibility for repayment of debt on the young kid for what seemed at the time entirely irrational reasons.
In 4 years of Tai Chi, Ching I and Bagua he only actually taught these arts for the first year. Many of these classes had no permanent instructor at all and were basically taught as stress relief for bored housewives and overworked professionals. He rarely mentioned his background in Kenpo Karate and liked to cultivate the image of someone with decades of training in secret Chinese martial arts. In fact, he consistently disparaged Japanese martial arts and claimed they were completely inferior to Chinese internal martial arts. Sometime around 1986-7 he had a legal dispute with a martial arts association that owned the Kuan Chuan Fa name. Rather than pay them the fees they demanded, he changed the name of his system to something like Hsing Chen.
After achieving the rank of Senior and while studying for the Advanced rank I suffered a serious back injury and had to cease training in martial arts around 1988. Since that is the only martial arts training I ever had I can't compare him to other martial arts masters or pass judgement on the effectiveness of his training techniques other than to say my self defense ability, which was basically nonexistent before, was greatly improved by the experience.
Because of his charismatic personality and his claimed background in psychology he has the ability to create a cult like following. This is a trait that I can personally attest to. I once described him to a board certified psychiatrist/neurologist who was treating me for severe headaches and he immediately labeled Bracy as a cult leader, which at the time angered me, but in retrospect was a very astute observation.
Several years after quitting martial arts I remember reading an article in the Orange County Register which covered his arrest for child molestation. He had been caught fondling one of his "patients", a teenage male student, during a private acupressure session. The article said that he told police that it was normal to do this under Chinese custom! I found this revelation to be shocking, but somehow not surprising given what I had witnessed personally. He was subsequently convicted of child molestation and sent to prison for several years. As far as I know he no longer teaches martial arts to the general public although he does have a website and has authored several books. But I wouldn't take lessons from him if he offered to come to my house and give them for free!