The Director & Filmmaker
Wu Style Tai Chi with Master Ma Yeuh Liang. 1976
England… The Beginning
I started training in martial arts mostly out of necessity. I grew up in a tough neighborhood in a working class area of Sheffield, Yorkshire. I was watching Kungfu with David Carradine on television and Bruce Lee was in theaters in The Big Boss. I was sixteen and needed the self defense skills and confidence that I knew martial arts would give me. (Martial Arts Beginnings). I joined a Shukokai Karate school run by the legendary Roy Stanhope. My other Karate instructors at this time were Stan Knighton and a tough ex-marine called Phil Milner. I also trained under Tatsou Suzuki in Wado Ryu Karate. Martial arts were booming in England. I was at Art college studying fine arts and photography and holding down two part time jobs, but I still got to the dojo three times a week. Those teenage years seeded a passion for the martial arts and photography that have remained with me until today.
I gained my black belt in Shotokan Karate at twenty one and a year later I switched to training in Tai Chi Chuan when I met Wu style teacher, David Barrow. It was great opportunity and he is still one of the UK’s leading Tai Chi exponents. I was studying to be an architect and still holding down two part-time jobs. I used the first wages from my work as an architect to take a trip to Japan which rekindled my love for Karate and I returned to the dojo. After ten years as an architect, I made the life-changing decision to leave England and move to New York in 1990.
America… Empty Mind Films
In the USA I began working in digital media and video. I made my first documentary in 1997, a few years after moving to Miami Beach. Empty Mind Films was founded four years later with the first release, The Empty Mind followed by The Zen Mind. I opened a film studio in the Wynwood Arts district and dedicated myself to documentaries on martial arts and Asian culture. A year before the 2008 Olympics, I was hired by China’s largest publisher to work for four months in Beijing designing media. It was here that I met journalist Betty Yuan who became my assistant for the next ten years. Our first film was Warriors of China then Masters of Heaven and Earth. In 2009 I released A Natural Way on traditional Chinese medicine.
Shotokan Karate Dojo. Miami Beach. 1996
Wudang Mountain, China. 2002.
China & Japan…New Home
A year after the release of Art of the Japanese Sword in 2009, I moved to Beijing to start filming The Shaolin Kid. With Beijing as my base, I formed a core group of collaborators to film projects in China, Japan, Hong Kong and India. Wing Chun was the second release from my Beijing studio followed in 2012 by One Shot.One Life in Japan and In the Foosteps of Buddha filmed in India. This productive period culminated in the ambitous Warriors of Budo series filmed in Japan. Narrated by professor Alex Bennett, this series of seven episodes on traditional Japanese martial arts took almost four years to film and edit, during which I moved my studio to Japan.
In this period I returned to China to film one important movie, The Immortal Path at Wudang Mountain. This kept a promise I made to myself to make one more movie on Wudang martial arts with Grandmaster Priest Zhong Yun Long. It was the end of 2015.
America… Returning Home
I had been on the road non-stop for five years and ready to return home to America. It was February 2016 and my return home lasted just four weeks when a project about an Ultimate Fighting champion took me to India to make A Fighters Journey. I have a love for India and could not turn down a chance to film there once more. “Is there no end?” I thought. “Have’nt I filmed all the martial arts?” Those words led me to make two more films in South-East Asia, Fighting Sticks of Arnis and The Island Art of Silat. I had produced twenty eight documentary films.
Jon Braeley, Baptiste Tavernier, Alex Bennett. Kendo Championships 2014
"Jon Braeley is the pre-eminent Martial Arts documentary filmmaker in the World today"
Kendo World Magazine
As I say goodbye to 2020, I join the rest of the world who are fortunate to say “I am so happy I made it to 2021.” But should I ever look back at the past year?
Interview with Empty Mind Films director Jon Braeley by Kendo World Magazine
Unabridged interview on history of Budo with Professor Uozumi, who teaches and researches at the International Budo University.