It was the summer of 2008 when I was casually reading through my emails that I found a nice message from Brian who at the time I did not know. After a short introduction Brian was very kind to compliment us on an article we wrote back then when were really starting to scratch the surface of Chinese martial arts history. I was a bit surprised and wondered how he came across that paper, he explained that our mutual friend Stanley Henning had forwarded him a copy due to Brian’s interest in the same topic. This would lead to a decade long friendship, mostly via emails where Brian was always willing to help as much as he could with anecdotes, papers, contacts etc.
For many people Brian and his wife Elizabeth are well know due to their wonderful “Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey” (2005) and “Jingwu: The School that Transformed Kung Fu” (2010) books. However, Brian and Elizabeth’s research on Chinese martial arts in general and their development on the island of Taiwan in particular was published in earlier publications, which in fact were the basis for their first book.
The Dragon Times was a publication with a news paper format published over several year until 2003 when it evolve to a full magazine, the famous “Classical Fighting Arts Magazine” (CFAM). In those early issues of Dragon Times, Brian was already discussing topics such as “The History of Hsing Yi Training Manuals” or “Chinese Military Training Martial Arts Manuals” to name a few, in addition to his entries in CFAM, Brian was also a regular contributor to Kung Fu Taichi Magazine and the now defunct Journal of Chinese Martial Studies. Brian worked as a criminal law professor in Taiwan, pursuing in parallel to his profession the practice of Chinese martial arts which he started in 1976. He also took on the study of western boxing & wrestling. Brian learned Taiji, Bagua, Xingyi and some Shaolin styles and also trained with Andy Wang a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt who was part of the team that competed in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 5 during Brian’s fifteen years living in Taiwan. Brian’s interests also included the study of Taiwanese Daoism and was planing a book on Daoist training manuals.
Brian was not only kind but honest and down to earth, when it came to describe the estate of Chinese martial arts (CMA) practice in the island, quiet often people would approach him seeking advice on where and who to train in Taiwan. Brian did not sugar coated it, there were few teachers who actually knew or could teach how to apply CMA in a real situation. For Brian there were more qualified teachers elsewhere. By 2008 Brian started to plan to return to the USA to care for his sick brother and help him in his business, a move Brian completed the following year.
After moving to the USA Brian had planned to teach his own method of martial arts based on his previous training. In the draft brochure he sent me in 2009, Brian called his style “Guang Ming Li” or Bright/Radiant Village. Brian continued practicing Wu style Taiji and started learning Kali and BJJ, in the latter Brian achieved a brown belt and even competed at his level. Brian’s last Facebook post was a proud picture of the first stripe he earned on his brown belt at the age of 61 years young. On his post Brian commented on how lucky he felt to be able to train in BJJ, the friendships he had forge through the art and how much he was looking forward to continue its practice. A true testament of his dedication, unfortunately destiny had other plans. For those who knew Brian, he was a loyal friend and would fiercely defend those he admired against internet trolls and similar characters out to criticize for the sake of it.
There is no doubt the Chinese martial studies and martial arts in general had lost a pioneer and influential figure. For those of us who had the luck to correspond with him. We lost a friend, a mentor and a true gentleman. Our heartfelt condolences go to his lovely wife Elizabeth and those who had the luck to share the time with him on the mats or at the park practicing. Brian you will be greatly missed, while in heaven keep on “rolling”.
“It has been interesting to me to see how much my martial arts have helped me deal with the chaos of my brother’s death and me having to immediate step in to deal with the business concerns, the creditors and all the rest. Martial arts training really does have a lot of use beyond self defense, the mental and character development that goes with martial arts training is invaluable.” – Private correspondence with the author.
Brian L. Kennedy, 1958 – 2019