In the realm of martial arts, few names have garnered as much global attention as South Korean instructor, DK Yoo. With his unique blend of over 15 different martial arts styles, Yoo has carved out a niche for himself, becoming a YouTube sensation and earning comparisons to the legendary Bruce Lee. His approach to martial arts, which emphasizes the harnessing of natural energy and the interconnectedness of all movements, has resonated with enthusiasts worldwide.

What attracts me is that he approaches every kick or punch not as an isolated movement but as a wave of energy pulling power from the earth passing through the joints. His take on how the body works efficiently is useful for any type of movement or sports. I got the opportunity to attend one of his training seminars in Bucharest, Romania.

Karate Kid

My own martial arts background goes back to the time I was a kid. At age eleven I started practicing Shotokan Karate and dabbled at Ninjutsu. The Karate Kid was my favorite movie of course. At a certain point I was about to become one of the youngest in my country to attain his black belt in Shotokan.

Then I went off for an exchange year in the States, college years came and I quit. In my early twenties I was attracted to Tai Chi, so I practiced that for a while. I think in those days I was more into the gracious appearance than feeling the chi-part. Over the years, martial arts always had my interest.

Chi, prana

Through my yoga teacher training, ayurveda and philosophy, the concept of prana was introduced. Prana is the Indian perspective on ‘life force’, Chi is referring to the same translating into ‘natural energy’ but from a Chinese medical viewpoint. On a subatomic level, we are atoms, made up of electrons, neutrons and protons, all particles of energy. So the human body, just like everything we see around us is made of pure energy.

Where the sun provides life on earth, the energy from the earth is the easiest force to recognize and most tangible in the form of gravitation. When you consider your body to be a vehicle to transmit and transform different forms of energy, it makes sense to see the body as part of the energy from planet earth. Everything and everyone becomes interconnected.

Understanding the basic principles of natural energy is essential in recognizing and developing inner power. Harnessing chi will make you more efficient as you no longer solely depend on physical abilities or strength. Chi-running is an example of how runners can benefit from existing forces by adapting to a more natural gait, cadence and form.

DK Yoo: Three states of the body

In the West, fitness regimes and sports mainly focus on muscle power or stamina to increase performance. There’s not a lot of attention for the inner physical state, let alone for relaxation. It has to be bigger, bolder, faster, better. When sport becomes competitive and we move into the professional realm things are shifting. More and more pro athletes cross borders to get their competitive edge from other disciplines. Look at Connor McGregor training with Ido Portal or Carlos Condit working with Erwan Le Corre.

First off DK Yoo explains he sees the body having three different states. The first state is active, where the muscles are tense to perform a certain action. The second state is relaxed, when there’s no actual physical demand. The third state is a higher physical state, a seed of power in a relaxed body (where he sees all pro athletes to be at conscious or unconscious). In the third state someone appears to be in state two, relaxed, but has explosive ‘nuclear’ action at his disposal.

Now the last state is a state of alertness. It’s like meditation where your mind is totally relaxed but completely aware and sharp. Getting to the third state means you need control and understanding of the first two states first. Most people are stuck in stage one and two. In stage one, too much tension blocks the free flow of energy. You cannot move efficiently. But it’s not helpful to be a sack of potatoes either. Although relaxation is the key to performance beyond your perceived physical capacities, your goal is to prepare your body for a state of alertness.

DK Cham Jong Gong

DK Yoo talks a lot about movement from the pelvis and the spine. Basic position of the spine is curved. An exercise named DK Cham Jang Gong focusses on a straight spine to help grounding and teach you to harness and feel natural power. It’s a similar concept as found in Tai Chi, but with an added twist. When the body is in right alignment, feet are shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, spine is straight or as he says ‘hooked’, you sort of sink your sitting bone pointing towards the ground. You can stay there for a while first. Energy will accumulate in your lower body, around the pelvis.

A progression in the position is where you send energy to a different part of your body, i.e. your hands. Additionally, you hold your arms slightly bend in front of you, relaxed, with hands open. Now you visualize squeezing your fingers tightly. But it’s just mental, you don’t move any muscle at all. At this point you should feel energy accumulating around your hands. According to DK Yoo, in this disconnect between brain and body, turning on the switch to a straight spine is where explosive power lies.

When all your joints are flexible and at the same time your body is able to relax completely, you can absorb energy from forces coming in or you can amplify forces going out. If you relax, your body can react like a spring. In case of a punch, the spine and other joints act like a whip generating a forceful wave beating down with your fist at the end.

Finding rhythm

During the seminar DK Yoo points out the importance of rhythm in every movement. Every kick or punch flows out of a sense for action-reaction. You move with your whole body. Thus having a feeling for rhythm helps you move in a natural pace in order to build up momentum and master your spring like reflexes. Did you notice the specific choice for certain music in his Youtube-clips? This is why. So next time you shuffle, try to move to a beat.

State of calm

Another reason I like DK Yoo’s approach is that he’s not being mystical about meditation. He takes it as a given fact that it’s beneficial for everyone willing to develop awareness and inner power. It is not a matter of preferring one meditation technique over the other. It is about pure practice. As long as you keep practicing, sitting daily, even if it’s only for 15 minutes, you will progress to a calmer mind.

He uses the extremely simple So-Ham meditation-technique. So-Ham resembles the sound of your breath. It works as follows. You sit in a comfortable position, spine straight, breathing through the nose. You focus on your breath going in and the breath going out. While you breathe in you mentally say the word ‘So’, while you exhale you mentally say the word ‘Ham’. It’s as simple as that.

The effect of meditation is that you take time to disconnect the brain from daily unuseful chatter. You pay attention to your inner world. The breathing will activate you parasympathetic nervous system bringing your body in a state of relaxation. If the brain is consistently in overdrive and overthinking, it takes up all your energy, creating stressful physiological reactions. You may not even be aware of this process.

Adding inefficient movement or heavy loads from sports just adds more stress to your body. Remember, natural power can only flow in a flexible and relaxed state.