After meeting DK Yoo at a two day seminar in Bucharest, I was convinced his knowledge and methodology are beneficial for anyone interested in better movement while deepening their practice in self defense or martial arts. Not only is he free from lineage or secretive rules from any organization, he’s a nonconformist at heart with a very accessible approach. Practice wherever you see fit (exercises like visualization, breathing, meditation can be done anywhere). And as you practice consistently, results will surely follow.
When my brother and I planned a trip to visit our birthplace Seoul, training with DK Yoo was top 3 on our list of things to do. Getting an appointment a year in advance was kind of a challenge because of his busy schedule, but 2 months before our departure we were happy to see our reservations confirmed. One of our goals was to get a better understanding of how punching fits in with natural movement, without depending solely on muscle power. In this article I’ll share a few takeaways from our first private session.
Spine mobility and grounding by standing still
We start off with a grounding exercise standing still, placing both feet firmly on the ground, shoulder width apart. You should feel an even distribution of body weight throughout the whole base of the feet. As you straighten your spine, tilting your pelvis (straightening the spine), the center of gravity should sink towards the floor.
In this basic stance you can imagine a string attached to the crown of your head slightly pulling you up as you tuck your chin in. As your head and tailbone make a very subtle move in opposite directions, your spine will slowly stretch.
What we’re doing here is working on the foundation of our house. Legs are strongly rooted keeping the lower body firm, but relaxed. Then we stack the upper body on top of a stable pelvis. By doing so there will only be some tension around the core and lower back (buttocks are relaxed). From here Chi-energy will develop that can be channeled to the fingertips or fists.
The lower end of the spine sits in the pelvis connecting the lower with the upper body parts. The spine has the most joints within our physical structure, if we’re able to mobilize this part our body, it won’t be rigid depending on muscle power only, and it can function like a whip in tandem with gravity.
Visualizing inner power
From this basic grounding stance we start to work on amplifying the feeling for Chi energy through imagination. By visualizing energy accumulating around the fingertips Chi can travel from its central point around the pelvis towards your hands.
A great way to train Chi-sensibility is by taking the grounding stance and lifting your arms as if you were holding an imaginary ball. This is a simple exercise to strengthen both rooting and energy transmittance.
To get a clear idea of what Chi-energy feels like you can rub your hands together, slowly pull them apart and then push back slowly (repeat a couple of times). You should feel an energy field comparable to that of two magnets pushing each other away. Your hands will start to feel warm too. Imagine you can send this energy to your fist following your movement when you punch, making it travel inside your opponent’s body.
Pelvis leads the motion
Progressing from a basic rooting stance with legs shoulder width apart we can start loading the pelvis. Keeping the arms totally relaxed and by simply moving from the pelvis from left to right, your arms will swing along in a pendulum motion.
As you’re swinging from left to right, the next step is to add momentum by turning your pelvis to the side as if you’re stretching an elastic band and then letting go. The arms will swing more; the impact of your fists falling will be heavier. Imagine what happens when you add Chi-energy to this.
Understanding and internalizing this feeling of physics, you will quickly get a grip on how little muscle power is needed to create impact. With less tension in the body you allow yourself to move as efficient as possible. Basically, you need a proper understanding of structure and energy transmittance plus consistent practice in feeling subtle sensations in your body.
Training alertness: H’sing-I
Visualization and the power of the mind have always played a role in martial arts. Unfortunately many people dismiss all things non-physical or non-material. But when we stop focusing on the outside appearance of martial arts and sports in general, there is so much more to discover. For example how built up tension is actually preventing you from freedom of movement.
“Only when the body is free of tension and the mind is calm, one can react purely, without hesitation.”
DK Yoo illustrates this concept with a term from Shaolin Kung Fu called ‘H’sing-I’. It can be translated into a form of ‘internal boxing’. H’sing-I focuses on the interaction between body and mind or between the heart and mind if you will. The heart is the seat of emotions; it controls the body and is responsible for its reactions.
Punching: “just connect”
When it comes down to punching according to DK’s WCS principles, it’s not a matter of landing your fist with as much force as possible, creating tension in both parties. It is more about truly connecting with your opponent’s structure. Training your ability to ‘connect’ sends energy from the punch inside the body, not through. This is where DK Yoo’s Systema background shows. So instead of punching ‘hard’ think of it as sending out your punch to ‘just connect’. Imagine an alert state of mind creating a snappy motion reacting to something sharp, but instead of pulling away, you’re throwing your fist.
Most important thing you’ll have to learn is to relax only allowing a short burst of tension at impact. While relaxing both mind and body, your movements should become smooth and natural. With the mind turned inwards, you concentrate on subtle movements and breath. Eventually mind and heart will be in balance. Without fear in the heart you can react without thinking, thus leaving no space for being overly cautious or hesitation.
In this small clip you can check how DK Yoo moves his arms as part of his whole body. From here a punch can flow out of natural movement with minimal muscle tension, but with energy coming from the motion. Once you grasp this concept you’ll understand that power doesn’t necessarily come from big muscles.
More reading: Essential learnings from DK Yoo