If you’re looking to expand your yoga practice or add a new workout to your current regime, check out Budokon, which is a contemporary yoga style that combines martial arts moves to make your practice more intense and fluid. Check out this video to get an idea of what it could be like:
This yoga form has been around for nearly 20 years, and was created by yoga and martial arts expert Cameron Shayne in the USA in 2001. But it’s only now that formal classes are being offered in Malaysia and it’s at one of the newest gyms in town, Babel Fit . (Before this, there were only a couple of freelance Budokon instructors offering private lessons.)
Before our review class at Babel Fit, all we knew about Budokon was that it was quite an intense experience and that many Hollywood celebrities and international athletes practiced it. Two of us went for the class; one who does yoga at home regularly and has attended several classes and another who isn’t really keen on yoga. Here’s what we thought:
“I absolutely loved it! It felt like a ‘stronger’ version of yoga, and I enjoyed the seamless nature of the asanas. It wasn’t easy, and while some of the moves were familiar, the martial arts parts of the class were mostly strange to me. But it felt ‘right’. It felt like I was using my muscles and my body in the right way. It felt very ‘non-violent’ as yoga experts would say, as in it felt quite natural to my body and I didn’t feel like I was struggling or pushing myself into uncomfortable poses. I definitely want to explore this further.” Seema Viswanathan, Editor-in-Chief, SHAPE
“Since Budokon was a combination of yoga and mixed martial arts – and because I could not comprehend that marriage, I went for the class, thinking that I’d be throwing some round house kicks, jabs and crosses (which I think, I’m good at), after a series of forced sun salutations (which I was dreading). But I was surprised at the stretches and sequences that finally led us to the martial art part, ending with a few animal movements, which I thought was fun. I totally loved the variations, and harmonious progress in that class.” Jay Jayaraj, Deputy Editor, SHAPE
We asked Babel Fit’s Budokon instructor and course facilitator Tony to tell us more. Tony is a Budokon yoga master who’s an expert in mixed movement art. He describes Budokon (which translates to The Way of the Spiritual Warrior) as a training regime that incorporates yoga, mixed martial arts, calisthenics and animal locomotion.
Q: What are the benefits of Budokon? Cardio fitness, strength, flexibility, mobility?
Tony: “Budokon, like many other movement and martial arts practices, has many health benefits, including increasing cardio respiratory capacity, improved muscle strength and endurance, joint mobility and muscle flexibility. There are also many mental health benefits to be gained from this kind of practice, which aims to empower its practitioners and challenge them to achieve more than they may have imagined possible. One of our mottos is to aim to live an extraordinary life.”
Q: What is its primary benefit?
Tony: “I don’t believe there is one primary benefit. Each person finds what they need and that is different for everyone.”
Q: Can I do Budokon as my only workout, or should I complement it with other forms of exercise?
Tony: “… if you were to practice all of the components regularly then you would have a well rounded fitness program. However, I believe that we should always try to train in as many different ways as we can in order to continually challenge the body and mind. But it really does depend on what you, as an individual, want to achieve. Incorporating any or all aspects of Budokon into your regular training program can only help you to find greater awareness and control of your body and that is transferable into all other sports and daily activities.”
Q: Say I’ve never done yoga before. Is Budokon suitable for me?
Tony: “Budokon is suitable for anyone, whether they have an established yoga practice or not. Budokon is a versatile practice and the movements can be broken down into bite-sized chunks, so even complete beginners can learn and enjoy the benefits.”
Q: What if I don’t exercise at all. Can I start by going for Budokon classes?
Tony: “As long as the person is in reasonably good health and is fit to begin physical exercise then Budokon can be practiced by those new to exercise. Budokon classes can combine high intensity body weight resistance training with low impact movement and stretching routines, which can improve joint mobility and build muscle strength and stamina.”
Q: Can pregnant women do this? Children?
Tony: “Budokon is suitable for pregnant women in their 1st or 2nd trimester, after that it may not be advisable to continue higher intensity training. The Budokon kids programs have been very popular at our main training centre in Miami, Florida so yes it is suitable for children. Budokon has been taught at the German school here in KL where we have found that the animal movement provides kids with a fun new challenge.”
Q: How many calories can a 130 pound/5 ft 5in woman burn in a Budokon class?
Tony: “In order to answer this question we would need a 130 pound 5ft 5in woman to go through a class hooked up to a monitoring device to test it. I cannot give you an accurate measurement as calories burned during any exercise is entirely dependant upon the person, the intensity and duration of the exercise. I know from personal experience that a 60-minute Budokon practice can burn somewhere in excess of 350 kcal but this will vary depending on how advanced the practitioner is.”
Q: If I’m someone who already does another form of exercise (I’m a runner, or CrossFit-er, weight-lifter or swimmer, etc, how can incorporating Budokon into my routine help me?
Tony: “I believe that anyone who actively participates in another sport should be incorporating some sort of movement practice into their training program. We see this more and more with professional sports teams and the military using yoga not only for the physical benefits but also for increased body awareness, mental focus and stress relief. I believe we all can use some of that. Budokon is one option among many others and it is entirely down to the individual to find which practice suits them the best.”
Q: Which form of yoga does Budokon use?
Tony: “Budokon is what we would call a contemporary yoga style that blends aspects of Hatha and Vinyasa yoga with mixed martial arts. The primary focus of Budokon yoga is the movement and transitions from pose to pose rather than the postures themselves. We aim to create a flow state where the practicioner moves seamlessly through the sequence like a dance. This sort of movement requires a great amount of mental and physical strength and mastery of the body, which students can learn to achieve through regular practice.”
Q: What types of martial arts does Budokon incorporate?
Tony: “Budokon yoga is heavily influenced by Brazilian Jujitsu and students who also follow the mixed martial arts curriculum do practice Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ) and stand up striking (punching and kicking) alongside the yoga. We blend the best aspects of kickboxing, Karate and Muay Thai into our training.”
Q: How long do I have to practice Budokon before I can be considered an advanced student?
Tony: “In Budokon, we prefer to always remain a student with a beginner’s mind. We encourage students to practice without thought of mastery or achievement but rather to find what is meaningful to them. However, students who wish to can choose to study and test for belts that show their level of achievement. A student who practices regularly could go from white to black belt in around 10 years. Our black belts and higher ranking belted students (brown and purple) are considered advanced enough to teach all aspects of the practice.”
Q: How is it different from or better than yoga (is combining the various forms better than just yoga, and why?)
Tony: “I would not describe Budokon as better than any other yoga practice. It is different and that difference attracts a certain type of person. Budokon is not for everyone and it does not try to be one thing for all people. I believe personally that Budokon, when all of the aspects are practiced – yoga, martial arts, callisthenics and animal locomotion – can offer more as a training system than just doing one type of training.”
Q: What’s the toughest thing about Budokon? And how can someone overcome this?
Tony: “Most students would probably say overcoming the fear of handstands is the hardest part. However, I feel the hardest part is conquering ourselves and finding the determination to continue and strive to be a better version of ourselves every day both on and off the yoga mat. The only way to achieve this is through awareness of our selves, our true nature and in continuing to practice each day.”
Q: How often should I practice it a week?
Tony: “Budokon can be practiced as much as the student feels able. If you are practicing all aspects of the training you could be practicing yoga one day, BJJ the next and animal movement on another day. It all depends on the ability of the student and how fast they wish to progress. I would suggest beginners practice the yoga two to three times a week in order to become familiar with the movements and the sequence. In time, and with more practice, the student can increase the number of practices per week but we should always be careful not to over-train.”
*Babel Fit offers two Budokon classes a week. The new luxury-look gym is located at the rooftop of Menara Ken TTDI and boasts state-of-the-art equipment, unique classes (including cycling class Cync, the TRX-style Suspension, water workout Boga Fit and dance class GRIIND), a garden lounge (there’s an Eight Ounce Coffee in-house) and an outdoor infinity pool.